For Help To Carry The Burdens Of Life

Buddhism – The Five Great Burdens of Life

For Help To Carry The Burdens Of Life

by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw

In Buddhism everything associated with our minds and bodies contributes to our suffering. The Buddhia recognized this and prescribed a pessimistic review of life to wake us up from our reveries and become mindful of the harsh realities of our existence.

He wanted us not to be lost in a dream existence oblivious to the suffering we cause to ourselves and others in the cycle of births and deaths. He therefore advised us to focus upon our own minds and bodies and understand how suffering would arise from the aggregates of our own bodies due to craving.

That realization would lead to gradual inner awakening, dispassion, and detachment. The following short essay on the five khandas by Mahasi Sayadaw elaborates upon this theme.

A mindful attention to the five aggregates in the body leads to the conclusion that every aspect of our personalities is either the cause or an effect of suffering and their rejection is the only solution to resolve it. Jayaram V

The Burden

In the womb, the five aggregates appertaining to him have to be cared for. What is the heavy burden? The khandhas are the heavy burden.

Who accepts the heavy burden? Tanha, craving, accepts the heavy burden.

What is meant by throwing down the burden? Annihilation of tanha is throwing down the burden.

Heavy is the burden of the five khandhas.

Acceptance of the burden is suffering; rejection of the burden is conducive to happiness.

When craving is uprooted from its very foundation, no desires arise. An old burden having been laid aside, no new burden can be imposed.

Then, one enters Nibbana, the abode of eternal peace.

— Discourse on the Bhara Sutta

How Heavy Is the Burden!

How heavy the burden is! When a man is conceived in his mother's The mother is to give him all necessary protection so that he may be safely born to develop well into a human being. She has to be careful in her daily pursuits, in her diet, in her sleep, etc. If the mother happens to be a Buddhist, she will perform meritorious deeds on behalf of the child to be born.

When the child is at last born, it cannot take care of itself. It is looked after by its mother and the elders. It has to be fed with mother's milk. It has to be bathed, cleansed, and clothed. It has to be carried from place to place. It takes at least two or three persons to look after and bring up this tiny burden of the five khandhas.

When a man comes of age, he will have to look after himself. He will have to feed himself two or three times a day. If he s good food, he will have to make special efforts to get it. He must make himself clean, bathe himself, clothe himself.

To tone up his body, he will have to do some daily exercise. He must do everything himself. When he feels hot, he cools himself and when he feels cold, he warms himself up. He has to be careful to keep up his health and well-being.

When he takes a walk, he sees that he does not stumble. When he travels, he sees that he meets no danger. In spite of all these precautions, he may fall sick at times, and will have to take medicinal treatment.

It is a great burden to tend to the welfare of his khandhas, the five aggregates of psycho-physical phenomena.

The greatest burden for a living being is to fend for himself. In the case of human beings, some have to work for a living starting from the age of twelve or thirteen, and for that purpose they have to be educated.

Some can get only an elementary schooling and so they can get employment only as menials.

Those who can get a good education are profitably employed in higher positions; but then they have to work day in and day out without any break.

But those who were born into this world with past good kamma do not feel the burden.

A man born with the best kamma has been fed and clothed since childhood by his parents who gave him the best education as he came of age.

Even when he grows to be a man they continue to give him all support to raise him up into a man of position who can fulfill his desires and wants. Such a fortunate man may not know how heavy the burden of life is.

Those whose past kamma is not good never know affluence. As children they know only hunger, not being able to eat what they would to eat or dress in a way that they would to dress. Now that they have grown up, they are just trying to keep their body and soul together.

Some do not even have their daily quota of rice ready for the table. Some have to get up early to pound rice for cooking. Some do not even have that rice; and so they have to borrow some from their neighbors.

If you want to know more about this life, go to poor men's quarters and make enquiries yourself.

— Discourse on the Bhara Sutta

Carrying the Heavy Burden

This body, one of the khandhas, is a heavy burden. Serving it means carrying the heavy burden. When we feed and clothe it, we are carrying the burden. That means we are servants to the aggregate of matter (rupakkhandha).

Having fed and clothed the body, we must also see to it that it is sound and happy both in the physical and psychological sense. This is serving the aggregate of feeling (vedanakkhandha). Again, we must see that this body experiences good sights and sounds. This is concerned with consciousness.

Therefore we are serving the aggregate of consciousness (viññanakkhandha).

These three burdens are quite obvious. Rupakkhandha says: “Feed me well. Give me what I to eat; if not, I shall make myself ill or weak. Or, worse still, I shall make myself die!” Then we shall have to try to please it.

Then vedanakkhandha also says: “Give me pleasurable sensations; if not, I shall make myself painful and regretful. Or, worse still, I shall make myself die!” Then we shall have to hanker after pleasurable sensations to serve its needs.

Then viññanakkhandha also says: “Give me good sights. Give me good sounds. I want pleasant sense-objects. Find them for me; if not, I shall make myself unhappy and frightful. Eventually I shall make myself die!” Then we shall have to do its biddings.

It is as if all these three khandhas are perpetually threatening us. So we cannot help complying with their demands; and this compliance is a great burden on us.

The aggregate of volitional activities (sankharakkhandha) is another burden. Life demands that we satisfy our daily needs and desires and for that satisfaction we have to be active. We must be working all the time. This round of human activities gets encouragement from our volition prompted by desire.

These activities make threatening demand on us daily, indicating that, if they are not met, trouble and even death would ensue. When human desires remain unfulfilled, they resort to crime.

How heavy the burden of the sankharas rests upon us! It is because we cannot carry this load well upon our shoulders that we get demoralized into committing sin that brings shame upon us. Criminal offenses are committed mostly because we cannot carry the burden of sankharakkhandha well.

When criminals die, they may fall into the nether world of intense suffering or they may be reborn as hungry ghosts or animals. Even when they are reborn as human beings, their evil actions will follow in their wake and punish them.

They may be short-lived; they may be oppressed with disease all the time; they may face poverty and starvation; they may be friendless; they may be always living in danger or in troublesome surroundings.

The aggregate of perception (saññakkhandha) is also a great burden; because it is with perception that you train your faculties memory to be able to retain knowledge and wisdom which can discern good from bad and reject from your mind unwholesome things produced by unpleasant sense-objects. If the demands of the mind for pleasant sense-objects are not met, it will take up only evil, which does nobody any good. Regrets and anxieties arise because we cannot shoulder the burden of saññakkhandha well.

For all these reasons the Buddha declared the five aggregates of clinging (upadanakkhandha) a heavy burden.

We carry the burden of our khandhas not for a short time, not for a minute, not for an hour, not for a day, not for a year, not for one life, not for one world, not for one eon.

We carry the burden from the beginning of samsara, the round of rebirths, which is infinite. It has no beginning. And there is no way of knowing when it will end.

Its finality can be reached only with the extermination of the defilements of the mind (kilesa), as we get to the stage of the path of the Noble Ones (arahatta magga).

— Discourse on the Bhara Sutta

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Deciding Whom to Help: The Burden Load Principle

For Help To Carry The Burdens Of Life

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth”. 1 Jn 3:17-18

These verses tell us that if God’s love abides in us, we will put it into action. When we see a brother in need, we will not close our hearts against him but demonstrate our love by our deeds. We will “walk the walk”, not simply “talk the talk”.

But this challenge begs balance

Does God expect us to literally help every needy person we encounter? This would seem to contradict his commands of good stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30). But neither does He want us to be so overwhelmed with the challenge that we help no one. Trying to help everyone leads to guilt and frustration; helping no one leads to selfishness and a calloused heart.

A helpful guideline for keeping this balance is what I call the “burden load principle.”

Understand the difference between a “burden” and a “load”

Paul tells the Galatians to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. (Gal. 6:2) Three verses later he says “For each will have to bear his own load.” (Gal. 6:5)

Is he speaking riddles here? Which is it? Do we step in and help or do we let the person do it himself? The key is understanding the words “burden” and “load”.

The burden is comparable to a boulder – something that is impossible for the person to carry on his own.

In this text, it is used to describe someone who is overwhelmed with sin, but it could also be used to describe a financial, emotional or physical struggle as well.

The “load” in verse five is a small backpack; something that can be easily carried.

The lesson in these two verses is that we should not do for a person what he can do for himself; it is a healthy thing to “bear his own load”. However, when someone is so weighted down that they simply can’t handle the burden, we who are able should step up and help.

Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, in their “Boundaries” book series, stress that when we haven’t established healthy relational boundaries, we often act as a result of guilt, obligation or manipulation…not love.

Clearly understanding this burden/load dynamic will allow us to say “no” gracefully while choosing to say “yes” when the need is indeed a burden.

The difference is huge, for we are able to love only when we are free to choose to do so.

Think of this principle in Jesus’ life: he chose to raise Lazarus from the dead (burden), but he commanded others to roll the stone away and unbind his strips (loads). He fed the 5000 (burden) but had his disciples distribute the food and pick up the abundance (loads). Jesus did not do everything for everyone; he did and does do what we can’t do.

The problem with principles

The burden/load principle is a great one, but, many principles, it will miss the mark if applied legalistically.

Paul said, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Co 13:3.

Giving is a quality of someone who loves, but never a substitute for love.

Deciding not to help is not license for becoming judgmental

Have you ever become judgmental of a person who doesn’t carry the load she is capable of carrying? Don’t. While we probably shouldn’t enable that person by doing for her what she can do for herself, we nevertheless need to be a friend and have an open heart toward her. One can’t do this and also be judgmental.

We shouldn’t try to carry every burden

I may not be qualified, for example, to counsel a man who is abusing his wife. But, assuming that he wants help, I can put him in contact with a pastor or counselor who can. At any rate, I should not close my heart toward him.

We are called first and foremost to love. Our opening verses (1 Jn 3:17-18) are written to remind us that love isn’t love unless action takes place. By establishing guidelines, we free ourselves up to take those actions because we choose to.  This is love.

One more thought: when you are burdened by the needs you see around you, God will step in and help you carry that burden.  No burden is too great for Him.

Readers:  When you  feel overwhelmed with the needs all around you, how do you choose whom to help?

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