One of the things that I think is so obvious, but maybe we miss it, and certainly we miss it growing up, is that basically everything we do, every decision we make to protect ourself from pain is a way that we distance ourself from the pain. We encapsulate, or imprison, ourselves in our sense of our self, all to avoid — not accepting, but being one with our pain.
That’s the cause of suffering. Suffering is not caused because there’s pain, it’s caused because we try to escape the pain, or get away from the pain. That’s where the suffering comes into effect.
So what Buddhism teaches is the cause of suffering is our self. We form this self, this primary self, whatever you want to call it, this façade, in order to protect our self, this ego self. What Zen says is you don’t have to do all those steps, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and so on; you can do it all at once: be one with your pain.
So all the first koans are about being one with. “How do you stop the sound of the distant temple bell?” How do you stop the suffering of your pain? Well, you be it, just like with the distant temple bell you go ‘bong bong bong,’ you be the sound, you be the pain. And when you’re the pain there’s no suffering, because there’s no self.
The self is created exactly by trying to escape from the pain. This goes for everything — attachments, addictions — all of it is just 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. There’s joy in the pain, because there’s no self. When there’s a self, it’s not 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.