In response to greenfrog’s post in In Limine today.
Labels are concepts. A way we identify things in our world. We are conceptual beings and cannot escape this nature (until enlightenment, maybe). We apply concepts to self more than any other thing, in an effort to define our actions and affirm our existence. Labels are a tool, and like any tool sometimes we misuse them, but that does not make the tool itself bad (nor good). Just like there is no good or bad karma, there is just action. It is our reaction (to the label, situation, etc.) which decides good or bad, positive or negative, happiness or suffering. That reaction is certainly colored by experience, our own and others'.
The self experiences things. The self has the potential to experience things. This ability & potential is the ground of basic goodness. It does not depend on karma, or our actions, or the outcomes of those actions. It just is.
"It is not just an arbitrary idea that the world is good, but it is good because we can experience its goodness." -- Chogyam Trungpa
Just like we apply labels to ourselves, so we apply labels to our experiences. That car accident was a bad experience. But was it? Did it allow you to have compassion for the other driver? To deal with anger? To apply equanimity? Did it, for that split second when you knew what was about to happen and also knew you couldn’t do anything other than squeeze your eyes tightly shut, did you wake up just a little in the moment? Did you realize anything about your life? So was it a bad experience?
This is not about trying to whitewash everything. To say nothing bad ever really happens. That is delusion. This is real life and in real life there is always a little pain, but pain does not have to become suffering. They are not the same. This is a truth we need to realize.
“In working with ourselves, cleaning up begins by telling the truth. We have to shed any hesitation about being honest with ourselves because it might be unpleasant. If you feel bad when you come home because you had a hard day at the office, you can tell the truth about that: you feel bad. Then you don’t have to try to shake off your pain by throwing it around your living room…Still, fundamentally speaking, our existence is all good, and it is al launderable.” – Chogyam Trungpa
I love that idea. My life is launderable. Whatever my experiences, whatever has gone before, I’ll just put them in the washing machine and wait thirty minutes. When they come there are colors I never saw before, good smells, and soft fabrics. I can look back and see the pain without labeling it suffering. I can look forward and see pain, sickness, old age, and death, without labeling it suffering.
There is a poster hung here in the shop where I work: “You will never be able to reach a non-conceptual state by blocking conceptual thoughts. Take these very thoughts themselves as your object and focus right on them. Conceptual thoughts dissolve by themselves. When the clear away, a non-conceptual state will dawn.” -- Wang-ch’ug dor-je, the IXth Karmapa. (The Karmapa is the head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Trinlay Thaye Dorje, is the current & 17th Karmapa.)
(Side note: the only difference between this shop and all the many others I have been in is that instead of pictures of naked chicks on the walls, they have posters which say stuff like that.)
Suffering an unnecessary label, a concept which we can transcend.