Isn’t Suffering Good?

Sumitta,

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.)

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Categories: Buddha, Dharma, Four Noble Truths, Kharma, Lifestyle, Marriage, Meditation, New Age, Noble Eightfold Path, Philosophy, Theravada, Tibet, Virajana

Author:Sumitta

Born Joshua Hudson, Reverend Sumitta (his ordained name) finished a twenty-year career as a military photo-journalist, and became a Licensed Social Worker with continuing studies in Mental Health, Healthcare Advocate, and Buddhist Minister. Currently, he works as the Director of Psychological Health and Primary Prevention of Violence for the U.S. Air Force. Previously, he served as the healthcare patient advocate for the Veterans Healthcare Administration, and is a License Clinical Social Worker, with a Master’s in Clinical Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, working as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, public speaker, trainer and personal/family advisor. His dharma name "Sumitta," which translates to "Good Friend" in Pali.

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3 Comments on “Isn’t Suffering Good?”

  1. Tim Krupar
    June 22, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    Hello friends,

    I would like to share a response to the original post above…

    “…in order to understand suffering you must experience it.”

    Yes, we are not yet Buddhas. Therefore, we are going to inevitably experience suffering until we understand the Four Noble Truths. Once these truths are understood, however, and we’re earnestly following the Noble Eightfold Path, while our wisdom increases, subsequently the arising of suffering gradually decreases.

    So it seems logical that one must first experience suffering, over innumerable life times, to come to understand suffering, it’s causes, and to realize that there’s a path that leads to it’s end.

    “So we need to suffer to live and grow.”

    As mentioned above, only until the point we have our feet on the path and headed in the right direction. Undoubtedly suffering will arise along the way, but one sees with the eye of wisdom it’s impermanent, selfless nature, how it arises and passes away. It’s duration is much shorter, less intense, and arises less often.

    Eventually, these moments of suffering serve only as a reminder of when one might need to strengthen one’s practice. If, through practice, suffering is largely absent from one’s life, then when it arises it’s a clear sign that one isn’t living in accord with Dhamma. These moments become a time to check in, or have a check up of sorts, to be sure that one indeed has the Right Understanding of the Dhamma, and is really giving the practice the Right Effort. These moments are an opportunity to be sure we’re observing the precepts, and to check in on one’s Sila, to be sure one is maintaining strong moral conduct.

    In conclusion, suffering is a built in component of Samsara, which all beings will inevitably experience. But it is in this realm, in human birth, that we have the opportunity and capacity to work out accumulated Karma. One does so by understanding the reality of suffering, it’s causes, and then following the path that leads to it’s end. So suffering does play an important role in our growth, but it’s not nearly as important a factor as experiencing and following the noble teachings and path that lead to it’s end.

    • June 22, 2010 at 3:30 am #

      Tim,
      Thank you for your offering. Your words of sharing are grounding and have merit. Sadu.

      If I may also offer that enlightenment does not necessarily need to take innumerable life times. We only need to remember the story of Angulimala. He was a warrior and mass murder, who did not understand the dhamma until the Buddha met him and spoke to him. He was able to attain enlightenment within a single life time of seeking it.

      • Tim Krupar
        June 30, 2010 at 5:17 am #

        Yes, thank you Sumitta, for raising that very important point.

        Rereading, I can see how that sentence might be misleading!

        with Metta,
        tim

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