One of the things that I think is so obvious, though it seems we miss it growing up, is that basically everything we do and every decision we’ve made is to protect ourself from pain. We distance ourself from pain, and this creates suffering for ourself and also for others. Seeking to protect ourself, we imprison ourself in painful conditions, all to avoid our pain, to avoid being our pain. This is the cause of suffering.
Our suffering is not caused by pain itself; it’s caused by our trying to avoid or escape from pain. That’s where the suffering comes into effect. So what Buddhism teaches is the cause of suffering is our self. We form this ego-self, this façade, in order to protect our self from our pain. What Zen says is, you don’t have to go through all these steps, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and so on; you can do it all suddenly, at one time. Be one, be one with your pain.
So all the first koans are about being one with: be one with the sound of a distant temple bell, be one with a distant sailing boat, be one with the fighting across the river. You could just as well say, how do you stop suffering? How do you stop the suffering from your pain, or of yourself, how do you stop that suffering? Well, the secret is just be it, just relax into it. Just like with the distant temple bell, be one with it, ‘bong, bong, bong,’ be the sound, be the sailing boat. You be the pain, and when you’re the pain there’s no suffering, because there’s no self to suffer.
So the self and our suffering are created precisely by our trying to escape from pain. All our attachments, our addictions, all of them are coming from the desire to escape what is, which is pain, it’s painful. And the joy comes when we allow ourself to just be one with the pain. And there’s joy in the midst of the pain, because there’s no-self. When there’s a self, it’s not true joy; when there’s no self, then there’s joy. It’s really quite simple, but somehow it takes us forever to figure it out. I mean, there’s the whole Buddhist teaching right there.
— From The Six Paramitas Workshop, August 2019