A Complete End of Suffering

Matthew sitting under trees surrounded by people in a yoga class
Table of Contents

On Thursday (October 20, 2022) at 6pm I will be teaching another free yoga class at the Minnesota Arboretum. Whether it's indoors or outdoors, an evening class or a day-long retreat, I always seem to enjoy teaching in the Arboretum. It feels beneficial.

As the years tick by and I continue to go deeper and deeper into yoga, I feel more focused than ever. I prioritize activities like volunteering to teach at the Arboretum and let go of other pursuits. Happiness increases.

All of my activities are intended to increase my happiness and the happiness of others. It's been a long time since yoga was just something I did for an hour a day in the yoga studio.

Like everyone else, I stumble and fall. I understand that is not just part of the path, that is the path. Recently, I came across this passage by Bhikkhu Bodhi, which sums up nicely why many of us choose a path and continue to make effort:

"If we reflect carefully, it will become clear that the prime requirement is a way to the end of suffering.... The path has to lead to a complete end of suffering, to an end of suffering in all its forms, and to a final end of suffering, to bring suffering to an irreversible stop." (The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering)

Such an audacious goal! The complete end of suffering? Really? But why not? When I first started studying the Pali Canon with Bhante Kamala, the very first thing he said to me is to always keep the goal in mind: the complete end of suffering. His advice has served me well.

When I reflect carefully, I can't think of any particularly good alternative. "I want to be happy in the yoga studio but pissed off once I leave the room" doesn't sound like a fun way to live. As Bhikkhu Bodhi says, for most of us "real satisfaction seems somehow always out of reach, just beyond the next horizon." We spend our lives chasing after that next one thing that will supposedly make us feel better. "If only X, then I'll be happy."

I agree with Bhikkhu Bodhi. Why would I want to suffer even a little bit? Obviously, aging, sickness, and death are just a few aspects of life that are unavoidable. Ending suffering doesn't mean avoiding every future paper cut or stomach ache.

The practice of yoga, as Patanjali famously put it, leads to the end of the fluctuating states of the mind (yogas citta-vrtti nirodha). Nothing in there about rock hard abs. Rather, the path leads to a healthy mind. We're going to get some paper cuts, but we don't have to get super pissed off about it and stew for the rest of the day.

Ending suffering does not have to be a big, daunting task. In this moment, with our eyes on these words, we can make choices that support the end of suffering. For me, that means preparing for my class at the Arboretum. It means signing a contract with the Arboretum to lead a bunch of yoga classes and retreats in 2023. It can also mean pausing to notice this breath, right now. As the yogis often say, the complete end of suffering is right here in this moment.


Peter James Hartwich

1 year 6 months ago

Well said Matthew...yoga principles can be a resolution to living with our questions.  Besides answers are so rare....pjh