“In the gathering darkness a light appeared.” ~ Mark Booth
We have been discussing the emotional realm of consciousness in the previous five articles, including the positive and negative aspects of emotion. In this article we will explore the concept of ‘suffering’ in general, as it is a common question for people to ask, why does life seem to carry so much suffering?
Of course the idea of suffering, and how to eradicate suffering in your life, is the central tenant around which Buddhism revolves.
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are:
- Suffering exists.
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires.
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path consists of:
- Right understanding – free from superstition and delusion
- Right thoughts – elevated and worthy of intelligence
- Right speech – kindly, open and truthful
- Right action – peaceful, honest and pure
- Right livelihood – bringing hurt or danger to no living being
- Right effort – in self-training and in self-control
- Right mindfulness – the active watchful mind
- Right concentration – deeply meditating on the realities of life
As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, “But when you move amidst the world free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end; and you live in the wisdom of the Self.”1
This relates to the ability to transcend polarities. For instance, when you are able to transcend political polarities and empathize with both conservatives and liberals (and all in between) and to see the valid concerns of each, then you will be filled with compassion and find peace of mind regarding politics and those with differing political beliefs. You will see yourself in all others. This is the path to wisdom.
We will now take a look at a non-Buddhist view of suffering that is rooted in the esoteric tradition. It will examine suffering in general and suffering according to a scientific and a religious viewpoint.
“There are as many kinds of suffering as there are kinds of joy, and there is no one simple answer that can be given.
The meaning, nature, dignity or shame of suffering will be interpreted according to your systems of belief.
Illness and suffering are not thrust upon you by God, or by All That Is, or by an outside agency.
They are by-products of the learning process, created by you in themselves quite neutral.
On the other hand, your existence itself, the reality and nature of your planet, the whole existence in which you have these experiences, are also created by you.
Illness and suffering are the results of the misdirection of creative energy.
They are a part of the creative force, however.
They do not come from a different source than, say health and vitality.
Suffering is not good for the soul, unless it teaches you how to stop suffering. That is its purpose.
Suffering is not a virtue, yet certainly many individuals seem to seek suffering.
Suffering cannot be dismissed from human experience as a freak matter of distorted emotions of beliefs.
Suffering is a human condition that is sought for various reasons.
There are gradations of suffering, and each person will have his or her definitions of what suffering is.”2
Illness & Suffering – A Religious View
“For many centuries the structure of the Roman Catholic church held [Western] civilization together, and gave it its meanings and its precepts.
The church’s view of reality was the accepted one.
The world’s view was a religious one, specified by the church, and its word was truth and fact at the same time.
Illness was suffered; was sent by God to purge the soul, to cleanse the body, to punish the sinner, or simply to teach man his place by keeping him from the sins of pride.
Suffering sent by God was considered a fact of life, then, and a religious truth as well.
Some other civilizations have believed that illness was sent by demons or evil spirits, and that the world was full of good and bad spirits, invisible, intermixed with the elements of nature itself, and that man had to walk a careful line lest he upset the more dangerous or mischievous of those entities.
In times past in particular, though the custom is not dead, men purged themselves, wore ashes and beat themselves with chains, or went hungry or otherwise deprived themselves.
Some sects have believed that spiritual understanding came as the result of bodily agony, and their self-inflicted pain became their versions of pleasure.
They suffered, in other words, for religion’s sake.
It was not just that they believed suffering was good for the soul—a statement which can or cannot be true—but they understood something else: The body will only take so much suffering when it releases consciousness.
So they hoped to achieve religious ecstasy.
Religious ecstasy does not need physical suffering as a stimulus, and such a means in the overall will work against religious understanding.”3
Illness & Suffering – A Scientific View
“The entire scientific view of illness is quite as distorted.
It is as laboriously conceived and inter-wound with “nonsense.”
It is about as factual as the “fact” that God sends illness as punishment, or that illness is the unwanted gift of mischievous demons.
Ideas are transmitted from generation to generation—and those ideas are the carriers of all of your reality, its joys and its agonies.
Science, however, is all in all a poor healer.
The church’s concepts at least gave suffering a kind of dignity: It did come from God—an unwelcome gift, perhaps—but after all it was punishment handed out from a firm father for a child’s own good.
Science disconnected fact from religious truth, of course.
In a universe formed by chance, with the survival of the fittest as the main rule of good behavior, illness became a kind of crime against a species itself.
It meant you were unfit, and hence brought about all kinds of questions not seriously asked before.
The “new” Freudian ideas of the unsavory unconscious led further to a new dilemma, for it was then—as it is now— widely believed that as the result of experiences in infancy the subconscious, or unconscious, might very well sabotage the best interests of the conscious personality, and trick it into illness and disaster.
In a way, that concept puts a psychological devil in place of the metaphysical one.
If life itself is seen scientifically as having no real meaning, then suffering, of course, must also be seen as meaningless.
In a species geared above all to the survival of the fittest, and the competition among species, then any touch of suffering or pain, or thoughts of death, become dishonorable, biologically shameful, cowardly, nearly insane.
Life is to be pursued at all costs—not because it is innately meaningful, but because it is the only game going, and it is a game of chance at best.
In that framework, even the emotions of love and exaltation are seen as no more than the erratic activity of neurons firing, or of chemicals reacting to chemicals.
Those beliefs alone bring on suffering.
All of science, in your time, has been set up to promote beliefs that run in direct contradiction to the knowledge of man’s heart.
Science has denied emotional truth.
It is not simply that science denies the validity of emotional experience, but that it has believed so firmly that knowledge can only be acquired from the outside, from observing the exterior of nature.
Science, however, seeing the body as a mechanism, has promoted the idea that consciousness is trapped within a mechanical model, that man’s suffering is mechanically caused in that regard: You simply give the machine some better parts and all will be well.”4
“Your over-reliance upon physical norms, and your distorted concepts concerning survival of the fittest, helps exaggerate the existence of any genetic defects.
You affect the structure of your body through your thoughts.
If you believe in heredity, heredity itself becomes a strong suggestive factor in your life, and can help bring about the precise malady in the body that you believed was there all along, until finally your scientific instruments uncover the “faulty mechanism,” or whatever, and there is the evidence for all to see.
There are obviously some conditions that in your terms are inherited, showing themselves almost instantly after birth, but these are of a very limited number in proportion to those diseases you believe are hereditary—many cancers, heart problems, arthritic or rheumatoid disorders.”5
Children & Suffering
“It is usually said that animals, and also man, avoid pain and seek pleasure – and so any courting of pain, except under certain conditions, is seen as unnatural behavior.
Suffering is not unnatural. It is an eccentric behavior pattern.
It is natural for a child to be curious about suffering, to want to know what it is, to see it—and by doing so he (or she) learns to avoid the suffering he does not want, to help others avoid suffering that they do not want, and to understand, more importantly, the gradations of emotion and sensation that are his heritage.
[As an adult] he will not inflict pain upon others if he understands this, for he will allow himself to feel the validity of his own emotions.
Children play at getting killed. They try to imagine what death is like.
They imagine what it would be like to fall from a wall like Humpty-Dumpty, or to break their necks.
They imagine tragic roles with as much creative abandon as they imagine roles of which adults might approve.
Many children daydream not only of being kings or queens, or given great honors, they also daydream about being tragic figures. They daydream of cruel deaths. They glory in stories of wicked stepmothers.
They imagine, in fact, every situation that they can involving human experience.
To an extent adults do the same thing. They are drawn to cinema or television dramas that involve tragedies, sorrows, great dramatic struggles.
This is because you are alive as the result of your great curiosity for human experience.
You are alive because you want to participate in human drama.”6
Illness & Suffering as Motivation
“Illness is used as a part of man’s motivations.
One man might use it to achieve success. One might use it to achieve failure.
A person might use it as a means of showing pride or humility, of looking for attention or escaping it.
Illnesses are often misguided attempts to attain something the person thinks important.
[Sickness] can be a badge of honor or dishonor—but there can be no question, when you look at the human picture, that to a certain extent, but an important one, suffering not only has its purposes and uses, but is actively sought for one reason or another.
Most people do not seek out suffering’s extreme experience, but within those extremes there are multitudinous degrees of stimuli that could be considered painful, that are actively sought.
Man’s involvement in sports is an instant example, of course, where society’s rewards and the promise of spectacular bodily achievement lead athletes into activities that would be considered most painful by the ordinary individual.
People climb mountains, willingly undergoing a good bit of suffering in the pursuit of such goals.
Many people do indeed equate a certain kind of suffering with excitement.
Sportsmen, race-car drivers, mountain climbers – all seek suffering to one extent or another, and find the very intensity of certain kinds of pain pleasurable.
You might say that they like to live dangerously.”7
Illness & Suffering as a Catalyst for Sympathy
“Many tragic conditions serve to keep man’s sympathies alive.
I make a distinction between sympathy and pity, for a lively sympathy leads toward construction, toward the utilization of abilities, even to social discourse, while pity can be deadening.
If you deny yourself the direct experience of your own emotions, you muffle them, say, through too-strict discipline, then you can hurt others much more easily, for you project your deadened emotional state upon them—as in the Nazi war camps [men] followed orders, torturing other people— and you do that first of all by deadening your own sensitivity to pain, and by repressing your emotions.
Man’s vulnerability to pain helps him sympathize with others, and therefore helps him to more actively alleviate whatever unnecessary causes of pain exist in society.”8
Suffering as a Way of Learning, Growing, Understanding
“Each person’s experience of a painful nature is also registered on the part of what we will call the world’s mind.
Each, say, failure, or disappointment, or unresolved problem that results in suffering, becomes a part of the world’s experience: This way or that way does not work, or this way or that way has been tried, with poor results.
So in that way even weaknesses or failures of suffering are resolved, or rather redeemed as adjustments are made in the light of those data.
In that regard, each person lives his or her life privately, and yet for all of humanity.
Each person tries out new challenges, new circumstances, new achievements from a unique viewpoint, for himself or herself, and for the entire mass of humanity as well.”9
As Henry Miller wrote, “Something dies, something blossoms. To suffer in ignorance is horrible. To suffer deliberately, in order to understand the nature of suffering and abolish it forever, is quite another matter. The Buddha had one fixed thought in mind all his life, as we know. It was to eliminate human suffering.
Suffering is unnecessary. But one has to suffer before he is able to realize that this is so. It is only then, moreover, that the true significance of human suffering becomes clear. At the last desperate moment – when one can suffer no more! – something happens which is in the nature of a miracle. The great open wound which was draining the blood of life closes up, the organism blossoms like a rose. One is “free” at last, and not “with a yearning for Russia,” but with a yearning for ever more freedom, ever more bliss. The tree of life is kept alive not by tears but the knowledge that freedom is real and everlasting.”10
We will end now with one more quote, “We are not here to cry about the miseries of the human condition, but to change them when we find them not to our liking through the joy, strength, and vitality that is within us; to create the spirit as faithfully and beautifully as we can in flesh.”11
- Bhagavad Gita 2:64-65
- Roberts, Jane, Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul, Amber-Allen Publishing, 1972
- Roberts, Jane, Dreams, Evolution and Value Fulfillment, Amber-Allen Publishing, 1986
- Miller, Henry, The Rosy Crucifixion II: Plexus, Grove Press Inc. 1965
- Roberts, Jane, The Nature of Personal Reality, Amber-Allen Publishing, 1974