Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Making Sense of Suffering

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Judeo-Christian theologians and philosophers, while admitting to the horror and uselessness of suffering, are struggling to make sense of it. Not so, I would suggest, in Buddhism.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the central question is whether suffering is a good thing or a bad thing. Not so, I would suggest, in Buddhism.

Seen through Judeo-Christian eyes, since suffering cannot be eliminated, and, in an attempt to make it bearable, suffering is portrayed as somehow beneficial.  Not so, I would suggest, in Buddhism.

From a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective, God created suffering to purify and/or punish us for our sins. Thus, suffering is part of the divine order. Not so, I would suggest, in Buddhism.

Many Judeo-Christian thinkers suggest that suffering is a necessary test of faith. The greater the suffering, the stronger the faith.  Not so, I would suggest, in Buddhism.

In Judeo-Christian terms, suffering is not inherently negative and serves a higher purpose. Not so, I would suggest in Buddhism.

Often in Judeo-Christian thought, those who see themselves as “saved” or “chosen,” see their suffering as somehow special, different from the suffering of others. Not so, I would suggest in Buddhism.

And finally, in the Judeo-Christian traditions, the answer to the question “Why me?” is that God acts in mysterious ways, ways we cannot know. Not so, I would suggest, in Buddhism.

In the Buddhist view, suffering is neither good nor bad.  It is neither to be borne nor to be endured for the sake of some higher good. It is not the creation of a God. It is not the source of salvation. In Buddhism, I would suggest, suffering is not inexplicable and it does not need to be justified. For Buddhists, faced with the challenges of suffering, there is no question “Why me?”

In Buddhism, suffering is the result of ignorance, errors in our way of perceiving our true nature and the nature of reality, errors which ripen into faulty actions (karma).  If, by dint of diligent, hard, spiritual work, we trade ignorance for wisdom, suffering ends. Therefore, to a Buddhist, the end of suffering is entirely in one’s own hands. We can increase it, decrease it, or eliminate it, depending on how we think and what we do. It really is that simple!