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Why do we care so much about suffering?

KeromeKerome Lovingness is the wayThe Continent Veteran
edited March 13 in Buddhism Basics

The last few months I have called a bit of a halt to the reading of spiritual books, attempting to introduce a period of quiet reflection in the same way that we let agricultural land lie fallow for a time before introducing a new crop. It’s allowed me to integrate some of the older attitudes in my life with the new, and this has brought up a few questions.

Before I came to Buddhism, I always thought that my experience of the world was more or less in balance. There were things I was sad about — that I had missed out on having a mother for such a large part of my childhood, the frustrations of carrying a few extra kilograms of bodyweight, the pain and depression of a work-related injury — and also things I was happy about — a successful career, my good relationship with my father, the joy of some fun hobbies. It seemed to me then that one should bear up stoically under momentary unpleasantness, and one should enjoy and take quiet pleasure in the fun things.

And so now when I look at the story of the Buddha, how he was sheltered in his early life by his father and how ageing, sickness and death came as a shock when he drove out of his palace, a terrible fate to be overcome, it seems to me that this is a very strong reaction that someone who has led a more balanced life might be at odds with. The Buddha during his enlightenment was looking for a way to end suffering, he saw endless lives and excessive suffering as he sat beneath the Bodhi tree, and he achieved cessation, Nirvana, the ending of rebirth.

Which led me to wonder if in looking at a life as a whole, there are not always peaks and troughs, moments of pain and moments of happiness, times of good health and times of illness, the exuberance of youth and the weariness of old age. Buddhism is wonderful in how it approaches peace and aspects of self-knowledge, how it brings equanimity, and it is a very worthwhile study, but do you not think that cessation is a step too far, just to avoid a little suffering?

Why should we care so much about suffering that we should end this kind of life, when even if we believe in reincarnation with each new life the memories of the old are erased? I’m not saying that Buddhism is not good for lightening the load... the small things resulting from Buddhism can make a big difference to ones life, and there definitely is suffering, as per the first noble truth.

Comments

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited March 13

    You need to read the book recommended by @Choephal ..."The Feeling Buddha", by David Brazier who is both a Shin Buddhist teacher and a psychologist.

    Through analytical study, and in-depth investigation, he has come up with a very different interpretation of the word Dukkha, and its implications.
    Besides, we have had countless discussions on this rather sombre, but badly-deserved meaning and translation of the original Pali word. It has been found wanting for quite some time.
    It's not 'suffering' in the constant pejorative sense. Look again.
    and do read the book. I have recently begun it, and already it's an eye-opener...

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran
    edited March 13

    A few thoughts come to mind.

    I think it is helpful to understand that Buddhism defines three levels of dukkha, gross, subtle and very subtle. Gross is the basic kind we all understand, even animals; a broken leg, a loved one dying, etc.

    There's some controversy in my mind about the definitions of the 2nd and 3rd, but traditionally subtle dukkha is the suffering of change, how the pleasures in life not only are fleeting but aren't true sources of happiness. They contain the seeds of pain within them. The happiness of eating is largely the change in state from being hungry to being satiated. If happiness truly lay in eating then we could eat more and become happier, instead if we continue eating it turns to suffering. Seeking happiness this way is a tightrope walk that we are sure to fall from at some point.

    To scratch an itch is pleasurable, but to be without an itch is more pleasurable still ~Nagarjuna

    Very subtle, again traditionally speaking, has something to do with having a notion of self. Even a seemingly blissful god has this kernel of suffering remaining.

    Another thought regarding the goal of cessation and rebirth is in that cosmological view human rebirth, or higher, is pretty rare. We spend most of our lives in much more miserable states.

    JeffreyKerome
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited March 13

    @Kerome

    This is like asking if the dreams of our delusions are really preferable to not dreaming at all. To the dream enthralled, is this not a suicidal invite?
    Here, the inertia of identities mantra offers it's relentless purpose of misdirection.

    How do you offer freedom to a lifelong prisoner whose greatest fear is the loss of their own shackles?

    Ren_in_black
  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran
    edited March 13

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the book @federica although as I explained I am currently going through a period of no-spiritual-books in order to let things settle, let my mind return to its ordinary state, and hopefully get a better grasp of what is truly important to me.

    I’ll put it on the list of books to consider when I re-open the floodgates.

  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran
    edited March 13

    @how said:
    This is like asking if the dreams of our delusions are really preferable to not dreaming at all. To the dream enthralled, is this not a suicidal invite?

    It’s an interesting metaphor, because do we not need sleep and dreams? I’ve been through some prolonged periods of very little sleep when I was experimenting with consciousness and after a while I found that a good nights sleep was by far preferable.

    But I do get it, you’re pointing to enlightenment and it’s various effects, clear vision and so on. I’m not saying one should stop looking for those things, only that pursuing an end to suffering via cessation is perhaps not the right path for me. In a way you could say that cessation and nirvana is the ultimate suicide.

    How do you offer freedom to a lifelong prisoner whose greatest fear is the loss of their own shackles?

    It’s possible that what happens when you don’t read dharma books for a number of months and instead focus on deconditioning is that older patterns reassert themselves. But I don’t think it is fear that is the driving force, I genuinely get a lot of joy out of being alive on this world.

    Buddhism has taught me the importance of not clinging, of knowing when to let go, about some of the finer points of the emotions and many other things, some of which have been very beneficial. But I’m getting the impression that focussing on just dukkha is selling the rest of the world short.

    The Buddha left many wonderful teachings, and it has been said that by mastering any one you could come to see the others. If that is so, I’m sure it will penetrate my thinking eventually.

  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran

    @federica said:
    You need to read the book recommended by @Choephal ..."The Feeling Buddha", by David Brazier who is both a Shin Buddhist teacher and a psychologist.

    I’ve done a little research into it, and from reading blurbs, reviews and criticisms it looks to me like Brazier tried to make the Buddhist teachings fit with psychotherapy. It seems to be a reworking of the Buddha’s teachings by someone who doesn’t know what it is all about. I’m not sure I will read the whole thing.

  • ChoephalChoephal UK Veteran
    edited March 14

    It’s actually by someone who has been a Buddhist teacher for decades and who became a Buddhist at a young age, and that led to him to train in psychotherapy. It was that way round. That’s quite a common sequence of events among some western Buddhists who realise that due to the nature of western culture a proportion of seekers an intermediate stage before being able to plunge into Dharma. The late Akong Rinpoche used to say that quite a number of people who came to learn meditation were simply were not ready for it. They had issues they had to acknowledge first , or else they just circled the airstrip endlessly.
    I have been a student of Dharma for several decades and David Brazier definitely knows more about than I do..😊
    Whether a particular approach suits us as individuals is of course due to a number of factors.

    KeromefedericaShoshin1
  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran
    edited March 15

    @Choephal said:
    I have been a student of Dharma for several decades and David Brazier definitely knows more about than I do..😊

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply he knew very little about the dharma. But in terms of knowing what it’s actually about I don’t think anyone does that except for the Buddha himself, and I find any attempts to recharacterise the core of it need to be looked at with a critical eye. What I understand is that Brazier had a go at pretty much rewriting the 4NT, which seems a bit forward. Surely whatever your opinion of Buddhism’s final goals, the 4NT are the 4NT.

    The most you could say, I think, is that they are over-emphasised. When someone is introduced to Buddhism, it’s one of the first things they get told about, which is perhaps not necessary. I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach, of talking about mindfulness and walking meditation.

  • ChoephalChoephal UK Veteran
    edited March 15

    It’s interesting..over on another Buddhist forum I know and occasionally drop into some Zen students and many Vajrayana students point out that their traditions hardly mention the 8FP or 4NT at all. Of course that’s a huge generalisation. But in my own case I attended talks at my local University Buddhist group and so learned about them early on. But subsequently I attended retreats and teachings in Tibetan centres and from that day to this no one mentioned either the 8 FP or the 4NTs at all, ever. It’s not that some Vajrayana schools neglect or reject them, it’s just that they start from a different platform. This is a common experience among students of the Vajrayana and I believe it’s true of many Zen schools too. People who approach Dharma through the Theravada often find it hard to believe that there are sincere practising Buddhists who have hardly heard of the 4NTs!
    Just as it seems strange to them that there are forms of Buddhism which are based more on the teachings of other Buddhas like Vajrasattva than on the teachings of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha.

    Kerome
  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    @Kerome said:
    ...and he achieved cessation, Nirvana, the ending of rebirth.

    Are we to assume that for the 45 years or so after achieving enlightenment, in which the Buddha still ate, slept, pooped, and endeavored to teach, he didn't also encounter ups and downs? Not saying he experienced it anything like we do, but did Nirvana mean he never saw those distinctions again?

    After he died did he go someplace else, where the enlightened few go, or did his body decompose and transform just like ours will?

    I'm sincerely asking questions here so I hope I don't sound argumentative. But what if cessation is not an end to this kind of life but a transformation of it?

    Does experiencing pain and unsatisfactoriness in a different way truly lead to giving up joy? The phrase "giving up" itself implies dukkha, so theoretically an enlightened person would have to be in dukkha to be free of dukkha. But if you are in dukkha how can you be in Nirvana?

    Personally I don't think things (including joy) end for anyone, even (from my own little POV) the Buddha. They change.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited March 15

    I think from some schools perspective the 4NT are not basic teachings and you only properly study them upon such time as 'right view' starts to accumulate. The first sermon at Deer Park was given to very experienced in meditation etc renunciate aesthetics.

    My teacher says many of her teachings are 'spiral learning' where the first time you hear it (with little accumulation of right view or ethics or concentration) you only get a vague sense for a moment but as you accumulate wisdom and merit then each time you spiral past that teaching you keep enriching your understanding. But she says the teachings in the Pali Canon are very beneficial and that from her tradition they can be viewed from a perspective of Mahayana or Vajrayana. So they are not discarded rather they are put in context or in light of her own teaching/understanding.

    ChoephallobsterShoshin1Kerome
  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    I think from some schools perspective the 4NT are not basic teachings and you only properly study them upon such time as 'right view' starts to accumulate.

    I think that’s true even for Theravada, I remember reading on access to Insight a short description of how the Buddha would give his sermons, and he would start with topics like generosity, leaving the 4NT until the end.

    @Ren_in_black said:

    @Kerome said:
    ...and he achieved cessation, Nirvana, the ending of rebirth.

    Are we to assume that for the 45 years or so after achieving enlightenment, in which the Buddha still ate, slept, pooped, and endeavored to teach, he didn't also encounter ups and downs? Not saying he experienced it anything like we do, but did Nirvana mean he never saw those distinctions again?

    It’s a good question. There are various explanations that I’ve seen, although I don’t recall the exact ins and outs and so won’t repeat them here. I’ve always thought it was somewhat strangely complicated.

    Ren_in_black
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited March 16

    He was of this world, but not in it. In other words matters touched him, but he was teflon-coated. Sorrow might arise, but it also falls away unhindered. He held, he didn't cling. He saw, but didn't absorb. He heard, but it didn't penetrate. He accepted, but he didn't keep.

    Is my view.

    lobsterChoephalRen_in_black
  • ChoephalChoephal UK Veteran

    Certainly the descriptions of the Buddha..(Shakyamuni Buddha that is, we in the west assume that it is the historical Buddha that is being referred to, an Asian Buddhist might assume something different, a Japanese Buddhist might mean Amida, a Tibetan could be referring to Padmasambhava or Vajrasattva and so on )but the descriptions of Shakyamuni, Gautama Siddharta that have come down to us via the Pali Canon show someone who dwelt permanently in equanimity (upekkha). This did not mean that he was immune to the ills of bodily living. The Paranibbana Sutta describes him saying that he was experiencing physical pain as he lay dying. But tt goes on to say that his equanimity was constant and undisturbed.

    Ren_in_black
  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    @federica said:
    He was of this world, but not in it. In other words matters touched him, but he was teflon-coated. Sorrow might arise, but it also falls away unhindered. He held, he didn't cling. He saw, but didn't absorb. He heard, but it didn't penetrate. He accepted, but he didn't keep.

    Is my view.

    Same for joy, in your view?

    @Choephal said:
    The Paranibbana Sutta describes him saying that he was experiencing physical pain as he lay dying. But tt goes on to say that his equanimity was constant and undisturbed.

    Same for pleasure (for example, a cool breeze and sweet-scented air), do you think?

  • ChoephalChoephal UK Veteran

    The indications are that he would have enjoyed cool,breezes and sweet airs, he was not a robot. But as Federica says, he would not have clung onto them or resented their changing.
    I have seldom experienced more than short periods of equanimity, but when I do I actually at those times enjoy things more rather than less.

    Ren_in_blacklobster
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Ren_in_black said:

    @federica said:
    He was of this world, but not in it. In other words matters touched him, but he was teflon-coated. Sorrow might arise, but it also falls away unhindered. He held, he didn't cling. He saw, but didn't absorb. He heard, but it didn't penetrate. He accepted, but he didn't keep.

    Is my view.

    Same for joy, in your view?

    Yes, Joy for Joy's sake, not for its longing...

    @Choephal said:
    The Paranibbana Sutta describes him saying that he was experiencing physical pain as he lay dying. But tt goes on to say that his equanimity was constant and undisturbed.

    Same for pleasure (for example, a cool breeze and sweet-scented air), do you think?

    Don't we also know that a breeze is transitory? We don't cling to the breeze, nor does it cling to us... it comes, it is, it goes. Such is Life. As we say, about everything, including Wind - this too shall pass... ;)

    lobsterChoephalRen_in_black
  • ChoephalChoephal UK Veteran

    Aye. Wind too shall pass. Sometimes in silence, sometimes in a windy gust.

    federica
  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    So does this mean that @Kerome can have his cake (happiness) and eat it (coming, going...cessation) too? =)

    Kerome
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    We are stimulation seeking creatures ...

    No problems? Boring ... We go out and OD on cake and try:

    • sympathy
    • 'never again' until the next black forest gateaux
    • sign up at the gym but never go

    oops ...

    Ren_in_black
  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran

    @Ren_in_black said:
    So does this mean that @Kerome can have his cake (happiness) and eat it (coming, going...cessation) too? =)

    It’s a good question. I think it would depend who you are asking. A Theravadin would probably say not. A Thich Nhat Hanh follower might say yes. A Zen devotee would probably stay silent.

    I will just carry on, and ignore the fart jokes ;)

    Ren_in_black
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Kerome said:... I will just carry on, and ignore the fart jokes ;)

    Farting is no joke, particularly to Theravada followers..
    They have no sense of humour.. so I have heard...😉

    lobsterRen_in_black
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited March 30

    @Kerome said:
    And so now when I look at the story of the Buddha, how he was sheltered in his early life by his father and how ageing, sickness and death came as a shock when he drove out of his palace, a terrible fate to be overcome, it seems to me that this is a very strong reaction that someone who has led a more balanced life might be at odds with. The Buddha during his enlightenment was looking for a way to end suffering, he saw endless lives and excessive suffering as he sat beneath the Bodhi tree, and he achieved cessation, Nirvana, the ending of rebirth.

    I see that premise a little differently and so that changes the resulting logical path slightly. The Buddha woke up in Siddhartha Gautama freeing Siddhartha from rebirth but theoretically, the Buddha could wake up in anyone even now (perhaps especially now) so the potential for Buddhas has not run dry. There is also the Bodhisattva ideal where the goal is to end all afflictions harming any and everyone. So while many are trying to get up the mountain to end the cycle, many are also on the way back to keep the wheel turning and help the rest of us wake up.

    Which led me to wonder if in looking at a life as a whole, there are not always peaks and troughs, moments of pain and moments of happiness, times of good health and times of illness, the exuberance of youth and the weariness of old age. Buddhism is wonderful in how it approaches peace and aspects of self-knowledge, how it brings equanimity, and it is a very worthwhile study, but do you not think that cessation is a step too far, just to avoid a little suffering?

    I'm not sure what this means. I don't think the cessation of suffering or even the cessation of the illusion of a separate self equates to the cessation of living. I do think we could live happily if everybody understood we are all simply unique aspects of the same process. This understanding makes compassion as much a matter of logic as a matter of morality.

    Imagine if we instinctively nourished the unique talent in absolutely every one of us for the benefit of the whole. Just our unique view of this world makes us useful and gives us something to bring to the collective table. Think about what we are wasting. Now turn it around and think about what we could be saving.

    Why should we care so much about suffering that we should end this kind of life, when even if we believe in reincarnation with each new life the memories of the old are erased?

    I’m not saying that Buddhism is not good for lightening the load... the small things resulting from Buddhism can make a big difference to ones life, and there definitely is suffering, as per the first noble truth.

    Once Buddhism makes a difference in our individual life, we can better make a difference for others. That's the whole point, imo.

    JeffreyShoshin1lobsterRen_in_black
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran

    @Kerome
    Why should we care so much about suffering that we should end this kind of life, when even if we believe in reincarnation with each new life the memories of the old are erased?

    This is obviously only a possibility but what if it pertains to the empty cup parable?

    How can you properly taste this leafs tea unless you empty your cup of the last?

    Ren_in_black
  • KeromeKerome Lovingness is the way The Continent Veteran

    @David said:

    @Kerome
    Why should we care so much about suffering that we should end this kind of life, when even if we believe in reincarnation with each new life the memories of the old are erased?

    This is obviously only a possibility but what if it pertains to the empty cup parable?

    How can you properly taste this leafs tea unless you empty your cup of the last?

    Well, the Buddhist practice is aimed at succeeding in the same way that the Buddha succeeded, namely by bringing an end to rebirth. But since at the start of each new life the memories of the old are taken away, what does it matter how many lives you live? Is each life not just new? Why should you dedicate your whole life to achieving enlightenment if all it does is get you out of the cycle of rebirths, which is not something you were personally experiencing?

  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    @Kerome said:
    Why should you dedicate your whole life to achieving enlightenment if all it does is get you out of the cycle of rebirths, which is not something you were personally experiencing?

    From where I sit I see what you mean, but I suspect the answer to that question arises (and not necessarily in a way that can be expressed to others in language) at, you guessed it, enlightenment.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    I think because though "you're" not born with memories of previous lives but you are born with a tendency for attachment and aversion. Therefore in the next life there is going to be suffering whether you remember your current life or not.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2

    There is the storyline of our identity which is the fearful denial of our own ephemeral existence
    and
    there is the meditative possibility of seeing what exists beyond such a dreamscape.

    The choices are a continuing dream world within the confines of our ego's sandbox
    or
    an awakening beyond such confines.

    lobstermarcitkoRen_in_black
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited April 2

    @Kerome said:

    @David said:

    @Kerome
    Why should we care so much about suffering that we should end this kind of life, when even if we believe in reincarnation with each new life the memories of the old are erased?

    This is obviously only a possibility but what if it pertains to the empty cup parable?

    How can you properly taste this leafs tea unless you empty your cup of the last?

    Well, the Buddhist practice is aimed at succeeding in the same way that the Buddha succeeded, namely by bringing an end to rebirth. But since at the start of each new life the memories of the old are taken away, what does it matter how many lives you live? Is each life not just new? Why should you dedicate your whole life to achieving enlightenment if all it does is get you out of the cycle of rebirths, which is not something you were personally experiencing?

    I don't know. I don't practice for enlightenment. I practice so I am progressively more aware so that I cause less suffering and allieve suffering currently being experienced. If not by myself than anyone else. That's it. There is nothing more than that that I need to be let in on.

    I mean, enlightenment is probably nice and all but it is more likely to be a means to an end rather than the end itself.

    KeromeRen_in_black
  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    I noticed in this thread that it started out discussing end of rebirth/nirvana but for some of the responses, including mine, the term changed to enlightenment. But couldn't one argue that those are not the same thing?

    David
  • dramaqueendramaqueen USA Explorer

    I haven't read the full thread, but I wanted to point out that what ceases is the ego, and not living itself. Best wishes.

    DavidRen_in_black
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited April 6

    @Ren_in_black said:
    I noticed in this thread that it started out discussing end of rebirth/nirvana but for some of the responses, including mine, the term changed to enlightenment. But couldn't one argue that those are not the same thing?

    Without trying to make a belief or held view about it, I could see the end of rebirth being the same as Nirvana where any being manifesting would manifest as another aspect of Buddha and not as a separate self seeing entity. I mean, if the goal is to end life then we may as well just be done with it. It could be that the ending of rebirth is the just the ending of the illusion of birth and death suffered by separate self seeing entities.

    Many see life as the opposite of death but the opposite of death is birth and both are aspects of life so are actually complimentary. The only opposite of life is no-life and that is just a concept.

    Ren_in_black
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