Prajnaparamita. The Four Noble Truths. There is a Cause of Suffering.

Dear Friends,

In the immediate experience of suffering there is an absolute intimacy with just this where self and other are eradicated. This intimacy may look or feel like the loss of self, the destruction of the palace of identity. The clarity is so clean and bright and naked that there is an immediate reaction to either turn away in fear, attack the cause of the annihilation or cling to the remnants . In the moment of suffering we may try to ignore it by turning away, hate it and push it away or grasp and cling to the memories or dreams of what my self was or will be.  Paradoxically this deluding, aversion and greed are the forces that bring about suffering in the first place. Suffering is, from this perspective, an endless and beginningless mobius strip of activity.

When Shakyamuni left his golden palace after experiencing the suffering of others, he did not bring money, or healers, or scientists to stop the suffering, he set out on a search to know the root of suffering and to see if there was a way to eradicate it. In the process searched for the cause and from this beginning to his awakening at the bodhi tree he studied suffering and many of the different ways that spiritual practitioners were dealing with it. 

In buddhist sutras it is written that Shaktamuni defined three types of suffering or duhkha  (Sanskrit). These are psycho/emotional experiences of how we relate to suffering. 

  • The suffering of suffering. This is the suffering that arises as a result of our relationship to physical or emotional pain, discomfort, lack, or fear, to name just a few.
  • The suffering that is related to change or impermanence. The experience that life is not reliable or that there is no place to just land.
  • The sense of dissatisfaction with life due to this instability and unknowing.

In the primary moment of experiencing suffering there seems to be a timeless gap without these three types of duhkha. Then almost instantly the organism draws from the field of imprints, or memories of past experiences and steps in to take command; to try to fill the gap and replace the sense of loss of self, or loss of control. Shakyamuni thought that this gap-filling is caused by the three poisons or kleshas (Sanskrit). The three poisons and all the resulting tributaries of emotional and mental activity are considered to be the primary causes of duhkha. They are delusion, hatred and greed. or ignorance, aversion and passion.

In the first moment of experiencing or witnessing duhkha, when there is still a gap and before the habitual tendencies take hold, unconditioned compassion is present and it is the seed for beneficial actions in the light of suffering. Then almost immediately it is β€œpoisoned” to different degrees by one or all of the three kleshas depending upon our capacities to remain with the duhkha just as it is.

I think it is important to be clear right now, that in buddhism there is no judgment about this process. A being is not considered to be better or worse, more or less, good or bad depending on whether they fill the gap or with what they fill the gap. This is just the way things are as a result of being aware or unaware of the habitual tendencies and unconscious imprints of the psycho-emotional self. 

This unawareness can be considered the first klesha:  delusion. In general we think, especially in these moments of suffering, that the universe, just as it is, is not capable enough to bring about what is needed to relieve this suffering, or that the constant and universal goodness of reality will not act or provide us with the means to bring compassion and appropriate responses to these moments. This does not mean that we do not act, but that we act with awareness of our own history of suffering. Instead of reacting based on our habits of mind and emotion we look into the timeless pause which allows for the question β€œWhat is really needed here?” instead of  the delusional β€œWhat do I think is needed here?”

Another reaction that we may have in the space blown open by duhkha is the poison of aversion or hatred. There is the habitual tendency to avoid anything unknown or uncontrollable. This habitual response drives us to fill the gap with action, and to push away anyone or anything that doesn’t do the filling our way. This aversion spreads like an insidious virus and at its worst becomes hatred of anything, including people and cultures, that we think are related to our suffering or the suffering of our allies in filling the gap.

The third reaction is the klesha of greed. This is the habitual tendency to gather up all of the things that we think are needed to either hide or fill the gap. We shield our loss, fears, and uselessness in the face of suffering with accumulations. In my life this was the habit of seeking different spiritual practices and gathering them like shields to protect me from seeing or experiencing the gap. For some it might be self medicating, or keeping busy. In the case of another’s suffering, rather than stepping into the gap with them we take care of ourselves first. 

So what to do? Is there a release from this mobius strip of duhkha and kleshas? Is there an experience of not suffering? If so, what is that? In my imagination , Shakyamuni traveled and studied for years seeking out the causes and conditions of suffering and the multiple ways that folks of that time were practicing to relieve suffering, but to no avail. He could see the causes of suffering but all the practices either were ineffective or temporary. So, perhaps he switched the question: Is there relief from suffering and if so what are the causes and conditions for that?


With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.




Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:


  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link: 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.comΒ 


If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to β€œCheck In Appts.”

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