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.