Is suffering part of life? To live means to suffer because human nature is not perfect, and neither is the world we live in.
During our lifetime we inevitably must endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death. Through all this, we must endure anguish which presents itself in sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and at times depression. There are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences that arise from it.
The truth is that suffering is terrible. While still alive most of us would prefer peace, comfort, and happiness. Yet life in its totality is imperfect mostly because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to retain permanently what we have struggled to archive.
Just as happy moments come our way, so do moments of sorrow. Suffering in a broad sense is an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm. Suffering is the basic element that makes up the negative valence of affective phenomena. The opposite of suffering is happiness.
The origin of suffering is an attachment
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance that all is vanity.
Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and in a greater sense all objects of our perception.
Ignorance is the lack of understanding that our mind is attached to temporary things. The reason for suffering is that “Man has dominated man to his harm” Ecclesiastes 8:9. People often suffer because they are victimized by imperfect, selfish, and cruel humans. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable which leads to suffering. Objects of attachment also include the idea of “self” which is a delusion because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is simply an imagined entity since we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.
How can one attain the cessation of suffering?
The cessation of suffering can be attained through detachment which means dismantling sensual craving and conceptual attachment. Suffering can be tamed by attaining calmness which extinguishes major forms of unnecessary attachment. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of surrender. Suffering is curtailed by freedom from all worries, complexes, and fabrications. Humans often suffer “because time and unexpected events overtake them” Ecclesiastes 9:11 meaning, people are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can reduce suffering by not being careless.
Which method can one apply to tame suffering?
The path to the end of suffering is a gradual course of self-improvement. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism or pleasure-seeking) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism) which leads to the end of the cycle of gratification. Excessive self-indulgence and excessive self-mortification are just like wandering wheels because they do not have a final objective. The path to ending suffering can involve many trials in which the individual find him/herself craving and in delusions, but the good thing is that these effects will disappear.
The best precepts on suffering
These precepts are a condensed form of the Ten Commandments that we have in the Holy Bible which every individual is encouraged to adhere to. We are created with intelligence to apply these rules in the best possible way. However, it is the spirit of the precepts and not the text that counts. The guidelines for ethical conduct must be seen in a larger context. These precepts are mandatory for every person who wants to achieve serenity of body, heart, and mind. One must put an effort to abstain from …
…harming living beings.
…taking things not freely given.
…false speech and speaking when not prepared.
…intoxicating drinks and drugs causing heedlessness.
…taking untimely meals.
…use of garlands, perfumes, and personal adornment.
…accepting gold or silver simply because it has value.
The above phrasing of taming suffering is very concise and leaves much open to interpretation. One might ask, for example, what exactly constitutes false speech, what are untimely meals, what constitutes sexual misconduct, or whether a glass of wine causes heedlessness. And, the weird mime. All this may sound outdated. Yet believe me, by their sensible phrasing and their relevance to modern lifestyle provides a valuable foundation for happiness.
When aware that suffering causes destruction of life, one gets committed to cultivating compassion and good ways that can safeguard the lives of others. We become determined not to let our lives be controlled by feelings but by common sense. When we become aware that suffering promotes exploitation and oppression, we commit ourselves to be responsible, to cultivate loving-kindness and well-being of creation. We must be determined not to be the cause of suffering but instead to preserve and promote happiness. We must do everything in our power to protect humanity from any form of misconduct. When ware that suffering is caused by hate speech and the inability to listen, we commit ourselves to cultivate politeness and attention to the person. When aware that words can create either happiness or suffering, we commit ourselves to speak truthfully and to inspire others to live joyfully.
When we are aware that suffering is caused by careless consumption, we commit ourselves to cultivate good health both physical and mental for self, family, and society by being mindful of how and what we eat and drink. We must be committed to consuming only items that preserve our lives and the generations to come. We must be determined to minimize the consumption of alcohol and other items that contain toxins. Food is not only for the stomach but can also influence our minds; thus, we need to mind which TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations we like.
We need to be aware that to damage our body with these poisons is to betray God who created us as an impeccable treasure. We must work hard to transform minds from getting to violence, anger, and confusion. All in all, proper diet is crucial for self-preservation and the transformation of society.
In summary, let us always have the right mindset, good intention, proper speech, correct action, balanced livelihood, concerted effort, and focused concentration. Through these practices, it will be possible to alleviate suffering or at most to face it meaningfully.
Why be careful?
One final word about suffering is that most people confuse it with pain. There are two different situations in human life. There is a certain amount of pain involved whenever growth is taking place. When people are moving to a higher level of intellectual activity, there is a struggle that must take place and in that struggle there is painful.
When people who are great athletes are pushing through the limits of endurance to get to new records, there is constant pain. There is a pain when one is running a mile or two at top speed when the lungs are gasping, and the body wants to quit.
But there is also the overwhelming joy that comes when one finally does breakthrough into that new dimension.
This kind of pain is not the same thing as suffering. Some people do not recognize the difference between the suffering that is caused deliberately by evil and the pain that comes about through striving to reach a new plateau of experience. Such pain merely marks the transition period of going from one level of accomplishment to a higher level while suffering suffocates life.
Our consolation is that all suffering however damning is temporary. It will all pass away when Jesus Himself returns to the earth. The Bible says that: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4
Fr. Paulino Mondo