In my opinion, in order to understand suffering you must experience it. So we need to suffer to live and grow. Isn’t this true?
Dear Dhamma Follower,
This is an interesting question. But the first thing we must do is understand what we mean by the word “suffering.” The Pali word (the language most associated with the time of the Buddha), the word is “Dukkha.” It is a combination of two words: “du” meaning “unconducive, bad or unwholesome” and “kha” which means “space or a hub of a wheel.” So the image is that of a wheel of a wagon that is unbalanced and throwing everything else in the cart into an unbalanced ride. It can also mean an unwholesome space or a state of being where the experience just isn’t correct and perfect.
The use of the word suffering for Dukkha is a less than perfect choice, but in some aspect it still has its correct application. There is dukkha-dukkha, which is all forms of physical suffering. Sankhara- dukka refers to the unsatisfactory nature of all existing phenomena. Viparinama-dukkha is the suffering that comes from change.
Since all things that come into existence are impermanent and temporary, we suffer because our minds willfully avoid that truth and cling to the possibility of permanence.
We suffer because we unwholesomely cling to permanence in objects, people, our identity as if we have the ability to ignore the truth that all things are temporary.
Since all things are codependent– existing only because of the effect of other conditions existing– and since all things are relational — existing in definition only by the observer– we suffer because we do not see the reification of the world around us. We see a chariot and think that his is true. But it is only a chariot to those who use it as such. To a farmer it may be a pushcart. To a termite it is a meal. To an elephant may be a chair.
The physical world around us are like clouds: continually changing in form, constantly identified by our imagination and perspective, seeming solid but actually just mist. The mind does not suffer to understand this truth, but does suffer trying to live it.
Finally there is physical suffering. This suffering (dukkha-dukkha) is the most conventional and easiest understood of all suffering. In this area, I may agree that without the suffering of a match, we do not learn the harm of fire. Nevertheless, I have seen many children who have never been burned and understand that truth. I have seen an equal amount of children and adults who continually get themselves burned failing to develop the mindfulness to use the wisdom of fire safety.
Since all creatures that exist are subject to sickness, age and death, we suffer the experience of impermanence and contact with the world. This suffering is unavoidable, but in many ways the most bearable. It is the suffering that does not require us to forgo the ego, where the more subtle but more significant suffering exists.
What is important is– although the Four Noble Truths speak of suffering, Buddhism is not about suffering. It is about understanding why we have dukkha so that we can understand it and develop ourselves to live without it. Buddhism is about learning how to live without suffering by being totally awake and mindful. This is how we can live life to its fullest.
Life is like death…it happens whether you like it or not. So embrace the truth of both, be present for both, and do not miss out in the experience of both by avoiding eventuality or clinging to “might have beens.” Pull life over you like a warm quilt and when you finally fall asleep, be content with with the fullness of experience.
(side note: Yes that is a Steelers v Eagles game from the play offs a few years ago. Yes, I did take that photo myself.)