many years before I read it in my Existentialism class (4 credits) my freshman year at Stanford. It stuck in my mind. "Hell is the other."
He could just as well have expounded that "Heaven is the other." That glance that enlivens, the searing touch of flesh, the intimate connection with that particular other who makes meaning of your life, the secret playfulness, the private jokes, the joyful music of your mating--isn't that heaven?
But he didn't, and with reason. The marriage that falls apart, the lover who slips away into the arms of another, the gradual construction of a coffin of mis-understandings, slights and disappointments, the outright betrayal of the covenant of devotion--isn't this the conversion of heaven into hell?
And "the other" as friend or family: ears that cannot hear, mouths that spurt unkindness, eyes that glaze over to mask that friend you had in a foreign face--we have all suffered these disappointments--and we have all caused them.
The Buddha said it too, in a grander manner. "Life is suffering." There is nothing that can be counted upon, depended upon--there is nothing to hang onto. Our suffering is caused by clinging to that which is always in flux, changing, despite our most valiant efforts to immobilize and eternalize a little piece of our reality in the form of the beloved, who always proves the wanton maverick of change.
The Buddha, though, was more of an optimist than Monsieur Sartre, who wrote a play with the telling title, "No Exit." Buddha taught that there is a way out of our suffering, and he devoted the remaining 45 years of his life after his enlightenment to showing the way. During his profound and undeviating examination of inner reality, seated beneath the bodhi tree, the Buddha dissected matter down to its smallest units, called "kalapas" in Pali, and experienced the mind/matter phenomenon as a flow of these tiny particles which arise and dissolve with incredible rapidity. The Buddha knew the reality that physicists have since proven with theory and precise tools. The Buddha's only tool was his disciplined mind.
And his discovery was that all of our suffering is the immediate result of our reactions--not just to external events, as might be presumed--but to the bodily sensations arising with those events. All outer events are accompanied by sensation (as are all internal events), taught the Buddha, and therein lies our bondage, our suffering and the tool of our liberation.
On a very gross level, it may be true what Sartre proclaimed, that Hell is the other. But on a very subtle level, we are each the creators of our own Hell by means of our habit of reaction. We reject, negate and attempt to escape our own experience, and we compound our pain unknowingly, out of habit.
Vipassana Meditation is the way the Buddha showed for coming out of our habit patterns of reaction that continue to entangle us in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, what is known as "the wandering." Most fortunately for us living in this particular era, the technique the Buddha taught has been kept alive in its pure form for 25 centuries in the land of Burma, or Myanmar. The technique was brought to India by Mr. S.N.Goenka and has since spread around the world.
Come out of hell and find your real heaven within. May all beings be happy.