A therapy client who, due to the complicated aftermath of a serious illness, had been suffering a lot, opened a therapy session by asking if there was, as the Buddha is said to have taught, an end to suffering.
In posing this question, she was referring to the "Four Noble Truths":
1. To live means to suffer, because birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering.
2. Our suffering has a known origin which is our attachment to transient things, along with our aversion to them.
3. The end of suffering is attainable by a human being.
4. There is a known path to the end of suffering.
Although I rarely record any psychotherapy hours, this one happened to be recorded, and, with the permission of my client, and in response to the numerous questions I am asked about how best to deal with suffering, I offer that recorded session here. To hear it, just click on the tab at the edge of this window.
By the way, the reference in this conversation to the "dead Zen master" comes from a story I once shared with the client, after which that phrase, "dead Zen master," became a kind of shorthand between us:
The emperor of the central country hears reports and rumours regarding a Zen master who lives a great distance from the capital city. This man from a remote and rustic region of the realm, is revered widely for the depth of his wisdom and the breadth of his understanding. Aching for the answer to his most burning esoteric question, the quandary that torments him whenever he cannot manage to banish it from his mind, the emperor has the old man summoned, and when he arrives at court, commences to question him.
"They tell us that you are a great teacher of Zen, a Zen master," begins the emperor.
The old man just bows.
"Well, if you are such a great Zen master, tell me this," commands the Emperor. "What happens when you die?"
"I am sorry, sire," replies the old man, "I cannot say what happens when you die. I may be a Zen master, but I am not a dead Zen master."