What is suffering? Suffering is an experience of unpleasantness or aversion, possibly associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm to an individual. In life, we often experience some sort of discomfort or unpleasantness from time to time, however, not every uncomfortable or unpleasant experience turns into suffering. Suffering only happens when our mind constantly dwell with negative thoughts and emotions that is associated and derived from the uncomfortable situations. On the other hand, sometimes minor irritations or pain can be ignored or dealt with easily without turning them into suffering. Today we will take a deeper look at what is suffering and how to end suffering.
First let us take a look at the difference between pain and suffering. People often associate pain with suffering, thinking the only cause of suffering comes from pain. But it is not true, for example: If I accidently kicked the corner of a table with my toe, while it is a painful yet temporary situation, it is not a form of suffering. If I am focused on the easing such pain and distracting myself with thoughts such as:“ I should not have walked this way, maybe then I wouldn’t have kicked myself in the toes; this table shouldn’t be here at all! Why are there always things in my way and I don’t want to feel this pain in my toe while I am so busy in life!” Notice how an irritation or painful situation can be turned into suffering when I focused our thoughts and emotions on complaining about such situation. I can simply let the thoughts and emotions go, or better yet, why focus on the toe that is hurting at the moment? Why am I paying attention to a uncomfortable situation that I caused a moment ago, does it help to ease the pain of hurting toe when I am focused on it? Most likely not, it will just amplified with more negative thoughts and emotions, turning minor annoyance into suffering.
Now that we have looked at pain and it is one of the potential cause of suffering. Let us take a look at other forms of causes for suffering. I am going to use Buddha’s teaching, one of the most enlightened being that ever walked on the surface of this planet. First Noble Truth of Buddha’s teaching: Life is suffering. What does he mean when he said that? Did he view life so negatively that everything he sees is a form of suffering? Of course not, such enlightened being had seen life in deeper truth, had seen the happiness and suffering in all forms of creation, from birth to aging, from healthy to sickness, from aging to death. Why did he think that all of such forms are suffering? This ties into the Second Noble Truth of Buddha’s teaching: The cause of suffering is desire (preference). The reason why we suffer through all stages of life is because of the desire. I would even go further to say that preferences can cause suffering as well. As I detailly explained in my previous article: How to Maintain Balance in Midst of Difficult Times, when an experience comes in through our five senses, we experienced and stored it in our mind, a like or dislike based on the nature of such experience, either comfortable or unpleasant energy vibration. Therefore, the next time something similar comes up, we already have our previous stored preferences to determine whether we should like or dislike such thing / event / person. With certain set of preferences, our mind is forming its wants and don’t wants, when we get something that we want, we are relatively happy at that moment; when we get something that we don’t want, we are frustrated, sad, angry, and such negative emotions can bring suffering into our life.
Now that we have a deeper understanding of suffering, we are naturally inclined to seek for the end of suffering. Here I would quote the Third Noble Truth of Buddha’s teaching: To end suffering is to end desire. The great way (path to enlightenment) is not difficult for those who have set their preferences aside. It is like saying: the best way to quit smoking is by simply stop putting cigarettes in your mouth. While it sounds very simple to understand, it is not so simple to do. A lot of sufferings in our life is self-inflicted through dysfunctional thought processes and mind conditioning, it will distort the reality completely and create more unconsciousness in ourselves and people around us. As long as we can understand this truth, then we can seek a way to end it. Ultimately, seeking to understand who we are is the first and most important step to end suffering. As I mentioned in my previous article, as long as we are identified with our body, mind, thoughts and emotions, we will be trapped in them with endless sufferings to come. That is what Buddha meant when he said Life is suffering. Once we understand who we are, and experience ourselves as pure consciousness, then suffering ceases to exist. We are able to align ourselves with the purpose of the universe, that is the universe is experiencing and expressing itself through us. That is to say, we no longer need suffering to become awakened; we no longer consider them as sufferings which were created by our mind; we no longer react unconsciously when challenges arise. Some traumatic event such as breaking up with your partner or divorce, generally people consider them as a terrible event, and most people will be trapped in the sadness, anger and sorrow for awhile before they can step out of the state of mind, that is if they are able to eventually see through the emotions attached with the event. For a conscious being, such event is an opportunity to become more conscious, remain in the present moment, appreciate and fully experience such event and transcend ourselves through these experiences. If we are able to learn and grow from this breakup / divorce, wouldn’t we be better off because it happened? Shouldn’t we appreciate such experience in our life? To quote a favorite author / spiritual teacher of mine Michael Singer: The highest life you can live is when every moment that passes before you is better off because it did.
Caterpillar experiences unpleasant death before it becomes a butterfly, and you cannot explain to the caterpillar about its transformation. That is the natural cycle of life form, we as human beings is no exception to this rule. Sometimes we ought to ask God: If you are such Almighty being, why do you let us suffer on this planet? We don’t seem to have the answer, but if we live consciously, we will experience such truth: The universe is awakening, experiencing and expressing itself through us! That is to say, God wants us to become a more conscious being through challenges and sufferings in life!
Thank you so much for your time and have a lovely day! Feel free to discuss any topics and share your thoughts about them. With Love and respect!