First truth: We all experience suffering
Buddhism is sometimes accused of being too “pessimistic” precisely because there is much talk about suffering, as is seen here. But isn’t it the role of any true religion to face up to and overcome suffering? The overall purpose of Buddhism has been “to eliminate suffering and to bring about true happiness
The first of the Four Noble Truths states, “We all experience suffering.” Isn’t that the truth! Even teenagers can agree with this, for while there is much happiness in life, there is also much suffering.
The Buddha specified eight kinds of suffering, which are:
- having to meet up with people and situations we don’t like
- having to separate from people and situations we like
- not getting what we want
- being attached to the five physical – psychological components that make up our experience
Now, let us look at each of these sufferings. As we do this you, you might ask, “Why is birth a form of suffering?” After all, when the baby is born the family and friends all celebrate the arrival of new life. The answer to this requires more space, so we will come back to this a bit later. Having said so, I’d like to ask you to begin thinking why “birth” is considered suffering and Buddhism.
Compared to birth, it is easy to see how aging, illness and death are considered suffering. Remember, it was seeing an old person, a sick person and a deceased person that shocked and pained the Prince who later became the Buddha. These experiences motivated him to leave his family and comfortable life to seek the spiritual path.
As for the 5th suffering of “having to face people and situations we don’t like,” we saw a perfect example of it within The Story of the Greedy Dog. There the puppy experienced this suffering when he faced the greedy dog that frightened him and ended up taking his bone. In our lives, examples of this 5th suffering include having to do that dreaded homework, losing a close sports match, and having to be in the same class or team with people we don’t like or whom we might even hate.
The 6th suffering of “having to separate from people and situations we like” also takes place often in our lives. For example, it includes having to say goodbye to our loved ones. We have done that when our grandparents passed away or when we parted ways from our girlfriend or boyfriend always still cared for him or her. Also, some of us had to leave the school or neighborhood that we love on account of our family moving far away.
Next, the greedy dog’s plight applies to the seventh suffering, “not getting what we want.” He wanted the bone so badly that he went so far as to steal the bone from a puppy. However, he lost even that belong to the river, leaving him with the state of suffering, for he was again “without what he wanted.”
Finally, let us look at the 8th suffering, that of “attachment to the five physical-psychological functions (or aggregates).” This one is a bit harder to understand for it looks at suffering from a more objective and psychological perspective.
These five functions that make up our experiences are the 1) body and five senses, 2) feelings, 3) thoughts, 4) intention, and 5) consciousness. According to the Buddha, we suffer because our five functions are tainted by our attachment or G. A. S. (greed, anger/hatred and stupidity).
For example, when the greedy dog saw and smelled the juicy bone through his senses of sight and smell, it was followed by pleasant feelings about the bone, which generated a desire for it. This feeling that led to his thoughts of determining that he could easily overpower the tiny puppy in order to snatch its bone. And then he raised the intention of taking it away from the puppy. Finally, the fifth function, consciousness, includes the decision he made to take the bone away based on his awareness of the previous four functions.
It was the self-centered attachments of greed and stupidity (two of G. A. S.) that led to the greedy dog wanting the bone (feelings), knowing that he could overpower the puppy (thoughts), then wanting to scaring and snatching away the bone from the puppy (intention), and finally making the decision (consciousness). While the greedy dog was experiencing all this, he was not at all at peace are happy; is greed and aggressive actions made him very anxious and agitated.
Certainly, he ended up suffering a lot when he dropped the bone into the river. He suffered a great deal because he became greatly agitated, frustrated and regretful.
We must remember that it wasn’t only the greedy dog that suffered, for the poor puppy also suffered. The puppy became terrified and upset when the greedy dog growled at him and stole the bone the puppy had looked forward to chewing. This goes to show that our action impacts not only our own happiness but also that of others.
(Chapter on Four Noble Truths with the next truth to be continued)