The Root Cause of Suffering: Anushka Fernandopulle

Length: 14 minutes, 17 secondscrop-short-e1301959846324-227x300

Memorable Quote:  “We spend a lot of energy trying to create a certain impression of ourselves in others, but it’s an exercise in futility. It’s like boxing with clouds.”

Synopsis: Anushka identifies craving as the root cause of suffering, or the “leaning” of the mind. We have craving for direct sensory experiences, such as pleasant tastes of physical sensations and the avoidance of unpleasant sensations. We also cravings toward certain ideas about ourselves, wanting either to be perceived as a certain type of person or avoid being perceived badly. For instance, when we meet someone new, we want to present ourselves a certain way, which can be exhausting. We have to manage this impression all the time, to make sure everyone thinks the same thing about us as we want them to. We have to say the right things, look the right way, and not be caught looking or sounding a certain way.

There are deep fears and desires caught up in these machinations. We spend a lot of energy shuffling around in this way, but it is an exercise in futility. It is like boxing with clouds. To more we come to terms with that, the more we can let it go, and rest more. There can be more peace. Buddhism offers a path promising peace and happiness. The contentedness it offers is one beyond changing experience, beyond what others think about you, beyond what the weather is, beyond what’s for lunch. In pain, in sickness, and in whatever physical condition, we can maintain this contentedness.

A phrase that’s often used in the teachings is “going for refuge.” What can we ultimately take refuge in? Where can we find safety rest? If there’s any peace to be found, it can only be found in this moment. There is no future. To check in on our well-being, it is helpful to examine our relationship to this moment, particularly this dynamic of craving for experience or a certain sense of self. Like a press office, we constantly attempt to convince others and ourselves of who we are. We need not necessarily stop this altogether, but maybe we can proceed with a different spirit. Maybe we can engage in these activities, and see where our intention, our drive to do so comes from. Is it from a desire to form a certain notion of self? Or might it originate from a more wholesome and free intention?

I like: I really appreciated the connection Anushka draws between craving positive sense experiences and craving a positive self-image. Just as we can love the taste of something, we can love how it feels to think about ourselves in our certain ways.

I wish: I would love to hear more from Anushka on what exactly “contentedness in the moment” consists of, and how to cultivate it.

Link to Full Talk

More about the speaker: Anushka is a lifelong spiritual practitioner who has trained for over 20 years in the Theravada Buddhist tradition in the U.S., India and Sri Lanka. She lives in an urban area and consider how the practices can translate for her fellow citizens with a busy modern life; she is most interested in bringing these ancient teachings to the contemporary world, informed by her love of creative arts, technology, politics and pop culture. To read more, visit

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