10 Houses of Suffering

I wrote these stories not only as a way to introduce Buddha’s Four Noble Truths to my students, but also as a way to reveal the general madness of the human situation…especially, the many ways that we all—ordinary people, living ordinary lives—make ourselves suffer. It is a special type of suffering Buddha calls Duhkha, which is similar to what is known as angst. And in virtually every case, the suffering has arisen because of an inability or unwillingness to accept and or take care of what is right in front of us.

The result is the pain we cause ourselves while persisting to look for our peace of mind everywhere else but within.

The people in these 10 Houses are all of us, in some way or another.

Lead-in—Imagine a row of 10 houses facing a creek. Each one is big and beautiful, except the last one, the tenth one, which is smaller and needs some upkeep.

Inside the first house is a man who suspects his wife is sleeping with somebody else. He spends every minute of every day, in a state of paranoid suspicion. Right now, listening to her phone conversation, creeping along, crouching under the row of expensive paintings in the long corridor, he hopes the floor doesn’t crack with his sneaky footsteps, giving him away, and betraying his jealousy.

Inside the second house is a 25-year-old woman with an eating disorder. At least five days of every week are spent alternately binging and purging, and taking no pleasure from the compulsive acts. Her throat, her teeth, and her stomach are destroyed, and she lives with the fact that she is killing herself, and can’t stop. The other two days are spent in isolation, hunger, and vile self hatred.

Inside the third house is a mother too afraid to answer the phone, yet simultaneously too afraid to stray too far from the house, because her son is in Iraq, and news of her only son’s status might be delivered at any moment.

Inside the fourth house is a 33-year-old aging cover model, losing jobs to 18-year-olds. She curses at her face in the mirror, and doesn’t have any more will to get out of bed in the morning. She owes 20,000 dollars in debt from lost pay, yet just accepted one more credit card offer to schedule plastic surgery on her neck and eyes, in the hope that it will make her prettier and simply… better, and that it will help her to like herself.

Inside the fifth house is a heroin addict. He is missing out on his children’s young years, but can’t stop. Making it worse, is his wife, who calls him a loser, taunting him daily for his weakness. Every time he tries to give it up for good, he gets violently ill, and gives in to the urge to shoot up again, even though he knows it is only a temporary pleasure. It’s gotten to the point where he stands to lose his job, his wife, and the house. He no longer enjoys being sober because of the sickness and because of the agonizing guilt that eats him alive.

Inside the sixth house is a 60-year-old woman who has just been diagnosed with incurable cancer. She knows her body will soon start to break down, and that she will have to soon face her death. She will have to come to grips with the fact that she will never see her grandchildren, or her husband, or her dogs, again.

Inside the seventh house is an 85-year-old woman who lost her husband five years ago. Having lost her will to live, she lies in bed all day long, surrounded by the dusty antique knick-knacks she spent her life collecting. Her social security checks go entirely to the caretakers, paid to help her go to the bathroom, bathe and to take her to the doctor. She refuses to leave her home and go to an assisted living facility.

Inside the eighth house is a 19-year-old boy with agoraphobia. Stepping outside of the house is like hanging off a bridge… sweaty fingers slipping, and no one to catch you. He takes his Xanax to relax a bit, and then sits in front of his computer, wearing the mask of his artificial identity, chatting in forums while projecting a witty and sarcastic online personality, while hating himself all the while on the inside. The loneliness and self-loathing never seems to diminish.

Inside the ninth house is a 30-year-old ambitious office worker, who just missed out on a promotion due to the fact that his scheming female colleague in the next cubicle claimed his idea as her own, taking all the credit and the rewards. He takes his seething hatred out on other women, in the form of abusive relationships that leave him feeling more empty and worthless, rather than potent, and valued.

Inside the tenth house is a newlywed couple who bought this fixer-upper because it was the only house they could afford, given their loan qualifications. Because their house is at the end of the street, they are forced to drive past the other more expensive houses every day, going to and from work. He imagines his neighbors’ luxurious lives… weekend parties and expensive toys; and she is filled with increasing bitterness toward him, for promising a new kitchen, and bathrooms that she can decorate in coordinated colors just like in the magazines, none of which have come to fruition. Their relationship is quickly turning bitter.

This is why it makes no sense to look for happiness on the outside.
This is why it makes no sense to look for happiness at all – it’s not a thing to get!
This is why the masters say to wake up to what is… to love what is.

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