Some would answer that if cravings are not fulfilled, that causes frustration, and that is suffering. But frustration in an of itself would not seem to be a major burden resulting in something worthy of the word “suffering.”
No, the reason that cravings, and the resulting frustration, cause suffering is because they are based on feelings of insecurity and fear. That is also why they are so hard to let go of.
Think about it. The reason why you want things or people that you don’t have is because what you have doesn’t leave you feeling secure. You fear what will happen to you if you don’t get what you think you need to be secure. Whether it’s a job, a significant other, or money … you name it. That is why cravings are by definition desires that are not based in equanimity.
Now this may sound silly when applied to the cravings people have for owning the latest iPhone or other material object. But when you look deeper into even such cravings, the root is a feeling of insecurity, of fear. Whether we want these items to satisfy a craving for status or to be part of a group, we develop these cravings to counter feelings of insecurity, of fear. Many people are literally obsessed with such desires.
And so, recognizing this, it is once again clear that the path to peace and happiness is to be aware that all five skandhas, all our feelings and perceptions, are a product of our ego-mind. They are not reality, just the ego-mind’s reaction to reality. Fear is a product of the mind.
But being aware of this is not enough. The ego-mind is strong, aggressive, a bully, it will brook no disagreement.
And so it is important to continue with the other steps to free yourself from the control of your ego-mind:
To know that your ego-mind is not your true self. Your true self is your heart, your true Buddha nature, which is light, love, faith, trust, compassion, strength, courage, and wisdom. Fear and insecurity do not reside in your heart. But your ego-mind cannot grasp the feeling of faith or trust.
To affirm every day that what is most important to you, what you value most, is your peace and happiness. And that it is your intent not to let anything disturb the peace and happiness which is your heart, which is your birthright.
To open up your heart and embrace all aspects of your being and experience. All of it! And so nothing offends. And when nothing offends, all internal and external struggle ceases. When nothing offends, the catalyst for the ego-mind’s reaction is gone. And so fear and insecurity do not arise.
Know, however, that even with this solid practice, the ego-mind, which will always be part of you, does not rest and at any opportunity of weakness or unawareness on your part, such as when you’re feeling good and perhaps not as vigilant, it will attempt to assert itself. And so you must always follow the last step, which is to test any guidance you receive by holding it up to your heart to see if it is right for you. And if it is not right to reject it.
And what is the ultimate criteria of whether it is right for you? If it brings you peace and happiness, it is right and what the heart yearns for. If it causes you suffering it is not right.
This must be a person’s practice every day. Every day when we meditate, we need to affirm our intention to follow this path. You can’t take a few days off because the ego-mind is so powerful that if you don’t have these intents at the forefront of your mind every day throughout the day, you will be controlled by your ego-mind during times of unawareness and suffer.
Not only will you suffer, but it can cause you to question the value of your spiritual practice and be filled with doubt and confusion. It is not uncommon for people to say at such times, “Why is my spiritual practice not protecting me from this hostile world?”
The answer is that your spiritual practice is not sufficiently disciplined or deep to protect you from the influence of your ego-mind. And so instead of seeing things through your heart and thus experiencing things directly, with dispassion, nothing offends, your mind rests undisturbed, and you are at peace, you see things through your ego-mind and react accordingly and are agitated and suffer.
As the weeks and months and years of your spiritual practice go by, you will find that as, or better put, if, your practice deepens (one cannot take this for granted; it depends on the work that you put into your practice), your true Buddha nature will be strengthened by watering its seeds through your practice and your ego-mind weakened by not watering its seeds … by being increasingly aware when your ego-mind arises and not following its guidance.
It’s an incremental process. Even after years of disciplined practice, perhaps even a lifetime, one cannot expect that you will never be subject to the intervention of your ego-mind … even someone like Pema Chodron talks of occasionally experiencing feelings of aggression, for example. The difference is that at that point in one’s practice, your awareness is so powerful that before the ego-mind can pull you into its vortex, you stop, allow the negative feeling to subside, and go deep inside yourself to seek guidance from your heart.