Translated by Thomas Cleary
Simply because they cannot get rid of one thing, namely craving, people crave fame and profit and become bound by fame and profit; they crave wine and flesh and become bound by wine and flesh; they crave status and prestige and become bound by status and prestige; they crave children and grandchildren and become bound by children and grandchildren. They bind up the true nature in all sorts of mixed-up ways, coming and going in the human world subject to unlimited suffering.
A fetus develops from the combination of the sperm from the father and the ovum from the mother. The amniotic sac is like a prison, constricting the body. When the mother eats something hot, it is like boiling water is being poured on the body of the fetus; when the mother eats something cold, it is like ice is being pressed against its body. When the energy is full and the fetus is complete, it urgently wants to get out; but it must first break through the sac. It takes a few days for the water to break: people only know of the suffering of the mother’s labor pains–they do not know that the infant suffers even more. Only at parturition, when it cries out, are the sufferings in the womb over.
Then there are sufferings affecting the whole body that subsequently come along. Inwardly there are hunger and thirst, outwardly there are cold and heat; fevers and rashes occur one after another. These are the sufferings of childhood.
When adulthood is reached, then one is faced with work. Those who become rulers worry about the land; those who become gentry and peasants worry about their persons and their families. Day and night they labor, uneasy even when sitting or lying down. The fires in the internal organs are all active, burning the natural harmony. Illnesses dog the body, without resistance.
People first experience the suffering of illness, wind up in the suffering of dying, and afterward have the suffering of retribution. It goes on through the ages, repeating endlessly. Buddhists speak of the suffering of separation from loved ones, the suffering of association with the hostile, the suffering of unfulfillment. The sufferings and miseries of people today are all self-made and self-experienced, personal experience of what they have created themselves. There are those who mistakenly get involved because they do not know this is suffering; there are those who clearly know this is suffering but cannot get out.
A proverb says, “Don’t talk about getting married early; after marriage it’s harder. Don’t say success is high attainment; after success work is greater. Don’t say sowing seeds is enough; after the sowing it’s more toilsome. Don’t say it’s better to be a monk or a priest; after becoming a monk or a priest it’s mentally harder.
Some may ask, while the suffering of worldly people are mostly physical, the sufferings of scholars are mental; they bind themselves with no rope and busy themselves with nothing. They cannot stop even if they want to–what should one do in such a case? The answer to this is that scholars suffer like this when they have not found authentic tradition. If you find authentic tradition, it is up to you yourself whether you stop or let go–what suffering is there? Indeed, learning the Way is a method of comfort; whoever talks about suffering over it is an outsider.
Source: Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body