The Nature Of Suffering, According To Buddha…

The Nature Of Suffering, According To Buddha

According to the Buddha, all life is suffering. The first two Noble Truths elucidate this:

The First Truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. In other words, by Life. Stripping the Noble Truths of all emotion, one understands a fundamental reality: Suffering is wanting things to be different. The implication being: If one were to stop wanting, one would free himself from suffering. Which leaves an awkward question to trail behind: Why come into life at all?

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Advaita offers understanding for this concern, if not the concrete answer that we seek. At least not the kind of answer we most crave and desire. Nothing personal on which to fix. Understanding, as a spiritual trait, is impersonal. Suffering is as personal as it gets.

A helpful hint is embedded in my last sentence. After all, one conception of an answer to our question states: We come into life precisely to be personal. Or, as the rarefied atmosphere of Advaita might suggest: Awareness becomes personal in order to experience all the details of its eternal/infinite being. We are the result. And fundamentally, all suffering comes from our identification with our personal selves. In truth, we are Awareness. But our selves are the only way Awareness has of looking at itself. The same way we cannot see our own face except as a reflection. If our mirrored images thought that they were real, we’d have a plot of horrors.

And suffering.


So much wretchedness in this world. How are we not to suffer? At a minimum, from one’s own well of deep compassion. Consider this. When one reads a book, one becomes the eternal/infinite Awareness attending to a story. Rarely, unless the book is overly compelling, does the reader truly suffer for the characters. Empathy serves with understanding, not suffering. As does compassion. As soon as Awareness disengages, stops attending to the story, the suffering ends. The reader returns immediately to his own concerns. There is still a further truth here.

Awareness, primary Awareness, the singular non-duality, is not personal. It does not crave, nor desire, for it lacks nothing it could want. To experience craving and desire, it must limit and constrain itself. It must become mortal. As soon as Awareness obscures itself, we are born. And then we suffer. And in our limitation, we cannot know Awareness. We can only be Awareness knowing us as we suffer. Thus, when we are born, we experience lack. And craving. And desire. We wish, often desperately, for things to be different from what they are. We suffer. We suffer all the time.

The Angel

At the end,

With wings aloft,

Walking barefoot on the shore;

Head bowed low,

She walks alone,

No more holy,

No more whole.

So, how are we to handle all this suffering? I suppose, like the angels who have come to earth, as best we can. But certainly, most effectively, with empathy and compassion. Exactly what our reader shares for us. Never forgetting, of course: We are the reader.

In truth, we lack for nothing.


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Joel R. Dennstedt

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Joel R. Dennstedt travels the world and writes. He carries all he owns in a rugged backpack. For six years…

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