Working Stiffs

Ajahn Pasanno

Working Stiffs

The Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna…taught that the pleasant feeling is pleasant when it persists and painful feeling is pleasant when it subsides. Our misguided goal is to maximize the extension of pleasant feeling and to minimize, to wipe out, to push away the unpleasant feeling. That’s where we get tied into the desire process—into kama tanha, bhava tanha, vibhava tanha. We get tied into the feelings with the desires that the Buddha says are the cause of suffering.

It seems completely justified. Why wouldn’t we want to experience pleasant feeling longer, and try to minimize, to push away or annihilate the unpleasant feeling?

But there’s a problem between the response to the feeling and the reality of what we set in motion.

We use the pleasant and unpleasant feelings to measure our success or failure. If we experience something pleasant, we think we’ve succeeded. If we experience an unpleasant feeling, we think we’ve failed. This measurement comes from a place of becoming, what we have become through bhava tanha or vibhava tanha. We judge it, we measure it through the desire to maximize the pleasant and minimize the unpleasant.

We don’t recognize that the pleasant feeling that we seek is like seeking a wage or compensation. So we end up being like the idiom of “working stiffs.” We give up the world, and we end up like working stiffs, trudging around trying to get our pleasant feelings. The idiom of “working stiff” is applicable in how it is used for the working class, the day-to-day wage laborer, mindlessly going about his or her life, from paycheck to paycheck.

Because of ignorance and desire, that’s how we tend to relate to our seeking of pleasant feeling and seeking to maintain pleasant feeling. Whether it is pleasant because of extending the amount of pleasant feeling we experience or because we are trying to get rid of the unpleasant feeling we experience, it is inextricably linked to us being like wage-laborers, and we fail to notice that.

The idiom of “working stiff” is also applicable in the sense of “stiff” as somebody who is dead. There’s a certain quality to the search for pleasant feelings that we stifle ourselves; we die to our true nature by constantly following that pull without recognizing it. We end up trying to gratify ourselves in various ways, trying to make ourselves feel comfortable and secure. We get upset and irritated and end up in conflict with people around us because we’ve died to the reality of our opportunity to awaken.

We blindly follow the eye, form, eye consciousness, eye contact, feeling arising from eye contact and do the same through all of the six senses. We blindly follow the becoming and are hopelessly enmeshed, entangled.

And usually it is not enough for us to entangle and enmesh ourselves. We then spread it around and entangle others, drawing others into a web of complication and difficulty and suffering.

This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the booklet, On Becoming and Stopping, (pdf) pp.16-19.