Suffering and Meaning

In other posts I have pointed out that life is the source of all suffering. I can’t claim to be profound; this is the First Noble Truth of Siddhartha Gautama. I’m only convinced that he was correct. Some Christians, of course, also see life as a “vale of tears,” only to be survived in order to be rewarded with relief in the afterlife. Hinduism and Theosophy also see existence in the flesh as something to be endured rather than a gift in and of itself.

So, why do we cling so tightly to this gift or trial or punishment, depending on one’s beliefs? Evolutionary psychologists and biologists would most likely agree that clinging to life aids the survival of the species (or of the “selfish genes” as Richard Dawkins would say). Surely, this is correct, but it may not be the entire answer.

Very soon after we are born, we also begin to form attachments. We not only love our own lives, but we love the lives of others. Many people resist the temptation of suicide because they “could never do that” to their parents, children, spouses, or friends. Some give in to the temptation of suicide because they care for no one and feel no one cares for them. Or, in some cases, people come to believe that their death will bring more happiness to those they care about. In some cases, they are correct in this as well.

So, love makes life extremely valuable but also excruciating. Our obligation, then, is to recognize the sorrow that is life. Recognize that it is a common feature of human existence. Recognize that all suffering is our own and do our best to help each other through. In so doing, we may find joy, bliss, and comfort along the way.

We may, in the end, feel that it is all worth it.

Randall Horton

(Some have said the Buddhist view is pessimistic. I’m not sure whether most Buddhists would agree, but I know that Arthur Schopenhauer, who was greatly influenced by Buddhism, classified Buddhism as a pessimistic religion. He also based his moral and ethical writings on the principle ideas of Buddhism.)

About ethicsbeyondcompliance

I hold a PhD in medical humanities with an major emphasis in ethics. I began teaching college-level ethics in 2000.
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One Response to Suffering and Meaning

  1. Bicabel says:

    I believe it is true that life can be considered as “vale of tears” or the source of suffering, but I don’t think this is a case of beliefs. Life is the source of every feeling we can have, for the good and the bad!It is true that sometimes we suffer a lot, but we usually suffer when we lose others, or because their life can finish before we expected due to an illness, or when we are far from the object of our love, or because our love cannot be corresponded, or when we cannot love a person that seems to be ideal for us, others are anxious due to economical problems, fights, quarrels, envy, jealous…and other miseries. But life is all of this! And thanks to life we also can have the wonderful experience of falling in love, having our first baby in our arms, receiving a call or a visit from a good friend when feel alone, enjoying with our friends, being satisfied professionally, being supported in case of need, win the lottery, etc.Probably our positive experiences in life would weigh much more than the negative ones, if they were able to be measured. But we tend to remember the negative ones more than the positive feelings. Apart from that we are always trying to look for happiness, and this is not always possible, because it does not only depend on ourselves, but on a number of circumstances that we cannot control. If this happens, people tend to think they are not lucky! Being pessimistic will not make us good. So it is better to think that bad moments would not last for ever, and after them good ones will come. We only must be sure that with time everything will be overcome.We must learn to love ourselves. That will be important to be able to survive in times of sorrow and to avoid committing suicide. We should not mind if there is or not life after death. Being able to be alive is a gift that we must appreciate as a treasure, and not just in times of abundance, but mainly in periods of shortage, just because in those critical periods, our life could be the only good thing we have.We must also learn to love our life as it is, and if things turn better, it will be wonderful! It will no be good to waste our lives looking for happiness somewhere else. Happiness is here, at every moment I can breath! So it is better try to “grow our own piece of orchard” without thinking that the “grass is always greener at the other side”. And have in mind that the suffering I could have now, probably has been or will be felt by the rest of humanity somewhere else or in another moment of their own existence.I don’t mean we must not fight for happiness – I am very far from being a conformist- but just not feel disappointed or anxious if we cannot be always in that mood.

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