Why do we Suffer?

All the joy the world contains
is through wishing happiness for others
All the misery the world contains
has come through wanting pleasure for oneself
(8.129 - Shantideva - Bodhicharyavatara)


"We are healed of suffering only by experiencing it to the full" Marcel Proust

"One often learns more from ten days of agony than from ten years of contentment" Merle Shain

"one must have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star" Fredrich Nietzche

"One of the many paradoxes about soul-making is that its reward is the most valuable and unique a person could have, and yet its raw material is often the most despised and common" Thomas Moore

"the way through the world is more difficult than to find the way beyond it" Wallace Stevens

"the uncertainty about what I and the patient are there for, is what we are there for" James Hillman

Without forgiveness life is governed by... an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. Roberto Assagioli

"true strength is delicate" Louise Nevelson

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it."
- Rabindranath Tagore

Whatever you do, don’t shut off your pain; accept your pain and remain vulnerable. However desperate you become, accept your pain as it is, because it is in fact trying to hand you a priceless gift: the chance of discovering, through spiritual practice, what lies behind sorrow.

“Grief,” Rumi wrote, “can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

Sogyal Rinpoche

The times when you are suffering can be those when you are open, and where you are extremely vulnerable can be where your greatest strength really lies.

Say to yourself: “I am not going to run away from this suffering. I want to use it in the best and richest way I can, so that I can become more compassionate and more helpful to others.” Suffering, after all, can teach us about compassion. If you suffer, you will know how it is when others suffer. And if you are in a position to help others, it is through your suffering that you will find the understanding and compassion to do so. Sogyal Rinpoche


Buddha, The Four Noble Truths & The Eightfold path

Gautama Siddhartha, the Sakyamuni Buddha, was born in 620 BCE in India on the Nepal side. He ascended in 543 BCE. The Buddha sought a way to free people from suffering pain and reincarnation.

The Sermon at Benares is the Buddha's equivalent of 'Jesus' sermon on the Mount. In it the gist of Buddhist teaching is given. The "Four Noble Truths" that are contained in this document.

  1. "Existence is unhappiness" / "unsatisfactoriness" - suffering
  2. "Un-happiness is caused by selfish craving"
  3. "Selfish Craving can be destroyed"
  4. The eight-fold path is the fourth truth, by which this can happen. The Path's steps are:

In his Enlightenment, Gautama Siddhartha was shown that pain and suffering is caused by attachment to the process of living and other people. The cravings of life can never be satisfied. this attachment results in frustration and negative action that generate karma. Life creates karma which makes the necessity for further lifetime, as karma is both made and cleared while in the body.


Buddha taught Life is suffering / dissatisfaction - but he also taught the causes of suffering, the end of suffering and who to end suffering. (The Four Noble Truths, The eightfold Path)

When Buddha said life was characterized by suffering/ disatisfaction what did he mean?

As Buddha taught:

Birth will end in death.
Youth will end in old age.
Meetings will end in separation.
Wealth will end in loss.
All things in cyclic existence are transient, impermanent.

Whatever prosperity or pleasure we may achieve within cyclic existence, it is totally subject to decay.

(There are several levels of suffering.)

The Eight Types of Suffering in Cyclic Existence:

Buddha described humans as beings inescapably subject to eight difficult types of suffering: the sufferings of:

1. Birth
2. Illness
3. Old Age
4. Death
5. Constantly facing undesirable things
6. Being separated from desirable things
7. not fulfilling our desire
8. The suffering of being bound by the chains of the suffering nature of the five aggregates.

The suffering of Uncertainty.

Kadampa Lama Chen Ngawa always reminds us:

Unless we look more deeply into our impermanent nature and uncertain situation and thus see the nature of suffering, we can hardly appreciate whatever fortunate state we have at the moment and be content. Without contenment, we can never enjoy our lives, however many material comforts we may have.

Looking at the nature of Suffering

Lama Tsong Khapa says:

Looking into the nature of suffering is, in fact, seeking the right way to attain peace and true happiness.

Shantideva mentions the advantages of being aware of suffering:

Unless we control the craziness of our unceasing desire, there is no way for us to gain tranquility and peace. The only way to control desire is by being aware of the suffering nature of life. Furthermore, realization of suffering helps us to endure whatever hardship and difficulties we have to face. It also reduces our pride and helps us to develop great sympathy towards those who experience similar sufferings.

Above excerpts from. 'Awakening the Mind, Basic Buddhist Meditations, by Geshe Namghyal Wangchen


As Buddha says:

Sufferings originate from nowhere else but our own unsubdued mind. If we wish to acheive a true state of happiness, the best way is to train ourselves in eliminating our negative states of mind.

Law of Karma

Buddha also says:

Negative states of mind such as anger, hatred, jealousy or pride, lead us to say and do negative things. These actions bring us undesirable results in the future. Positive states of mind lead us to positive actions of body and speech, which bring us desirable or happy results.

Therefore our future is dependent on our present actions. However, do not think that there is no hope and that just because we have done bad actions in the past we deserve to suffer and can do nothing about it. The point is that we can abandon our suffering and improve our conditions. If we stop doing negative actions and develop virtuous mind, virtuous speech, and virtuous actions, we can purify all our past negativities. Hence it becomes essential to discipline or train our mind, body and speech in virtue. This is the practice of Dharma as taught by Buddha.

Through disciplining our mind, body, speech we can achieve a stable and clear state of mind, whereby we can gain realization of the ultimate truth. This leads us to complete freedom from all delusions and their resultant suffering.

Above excerpts from. 'Awakening the Mind, Basic Buddhist Meditations, by Geshe Namghyal Wangchen

Self-Cherishing attitude - the cause of misery & unhappiness

The eigth century Bodhisattva Shantideva says:

All the joy the world contains
is through wishing happiness for others
All the misery the world contains
has come through wanting pleasure for oneself
(8.129 - Shantideva - Bodhicharyavatara)

It is the self-cherishing mind that always causes us endless suffering. Therefore, when we neglect ourselves and consider others to be more important, we automatically become happier and happier, because we are not so anxious about our own prosperity and do not have much desire.

"When we have really grasped the law of karma in all its stark power and complex reverberations over many, many lifetimes, and seen just how our self-grasping and self-cherishing, life after life, have woven us repeatedly into a net of ignorance that seems only to be ensnaring us more and more tightly; when we have really understood the dangerous and doomed nature of the self-grasping mind’s enterprise; when we have really pursued its operations into their most subtle hiding places; when we have really understood just how our whole ordinary mind and actions are defined, narrowed and darkened by it, how almost impossible it makes it for us to uncover the heart of unconditional love, and how it has blocked in us all sources of real love and real compassion, then there comes a moment when we understand, with extreme and poignant clarity, what Shantideva said:

If all the harms
Fears and sufferings in the world
Arise from self-grasping,
What need have I for such a great evil spirit?

"And then a resolution is born in us to destroy that evil spirit, our greatest enemy. With that evil spirit dead, the cause of all our suffering will be removed, and our true nature, in all its spaciousness and dynamic generosity, will shine out."

Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse of the Day (25th Sept)

Five Kleshas

The Vedas describe this project in terms of the five Kleshas, or causes of human suffering. They are:

1. Ignorance about the nature of reality
2. Identification with the ego
3. Attraction toward objects of desire
4. Repulsion from objects of desire
5. Fear of Death

1. Ignorance of reality is solved by delving deeper into the mind. Awareness dives deeper than the material level to find its roots.

2. Identification with ego is solved by learning to identify with these deeper levels.

3 & 4. Attraction to outside objects - and repulsion from them - is solved by valuing the inner life above all.

5. Fear of Death is solved when the soul is experienced directly since the soul is born yet never dies.

As with the causes of suffering, the five solutions all grow the first one. 'If you explore the true nature of reality, all pain will eventually come to an end,

Some insights and Examples - Attachment & Ego

GOD = Man - Ego (Sathya Sai Baba)

The attachment to ego desires / craving, or identification with self causes suffering.

The difference in between what ego's wants (or is attached to) and what manifests as real, ends up as suffering.

We suffer because of our attachment to the cycle of karma & rebirth - Birth & Death, Pleasure & Pain - Duality & Polarity, our attachment to Body-mind .

After pleasure / birth comes pain /death - this is natural law of cyclic existence.

You only suffer if you are attached to something, some action / non-action, outcome, or person.

eg. the degree to which you are annoyed by somebody breaking your arm is the degree to which you are attached to your body!
you would be more annoyed if your writing hand was broken!
But you wouldn't be so annoyed if were a school kid who didn't want to take notes!!

Likewise if you are attached and in a co-dependent relationship with your boy/girlfriend and s/he dumps you might be devastated. In fact it is your ego self, not the true unconditionally loving you, that is hurt, "I did so much for him / her, ungrateful so & so", "I'll show him / her (hint of revenge/ hostility). 'What did I do wrong?!' (insecure, poor me, victim)

Notice that I didn't say 'if you love boy/girlfriend...' because true love is unconditional - based on acceptance, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, service etc. If you truly loved your partner you would understand being dumped maybe for the highest good of all (ie. relationship stale, or both moving in different directions. ) and your ego would not be in pain, because your love wants the other to be happy.

If however you were dumped, but you already had a backup partner you would not be so much in pain, because you were less attached. I am not advising you to have a spare partner ready and waiting, because moving from one partner to another may be worse, because your underlying pain maybe covered and obscured, and not put in the light of awareness, clarity & understanding.

I'm just saying the more attached we are to a certain outcome, the more we are in pain if we do not get what we want. Hence, spiritual masters throughout the ages say; 'Do your best, but be detached from the outcome!'

The ideal is to be at peace with yourself (true self). Knowing your true nature and being connected with it. This will mean that we won't be attached to external objects for our happiness. Whatever happens, happens. 'Que Sera, Sera'. I am not saying give up on life - be detached but be involved. In fact we will be connected with the true source of happines within. This is known as self-referal rather than object-referal.


Take away your opinion and there is taken away the complaint ,'I have been harmed.' Take away the complaint, 'I have been harmed,' and the harm is taken away. (Aurelius)

Spontaneous comprehension - Krishnamurti

We never say, "Let me see what that thing is that suffers." You cannot see by enforcement, by discipline. You must look with interest, with spontaneous comprehension. Then you will see that the thing we call suffering, pain, the thing that we avoid, and the discipline, have all gone. As long as I have no relationship to the thing as outside me, the problem is not; the moment I establish a relationship with it outside me, the problem is. As long as I treat suffering as something outside-I suffer because I lost my brother, because I have no money, because of this or that-I establish a relationship to it and that relationship is fictitious. But if I am that thing, if I see the fact, then the whole thing is transformed, it all has a different meaning. Then there is full attention, integrated attention and that which is completely regarded is understood and dissolved, and so there is no fear and therefore the word sorrow is non-existent.

read about Who am I? to see who is it that suffers


Excerpts from Diamond Mind by Rob Nairn

pp87 -89

Let GO -

Letting go is a very highly disciplined action. It is the action of training ourselves to see and know and be present with that moment of arising (thought). Then to see the compulsive cycle of buying into the incoming thought through the three modes of grasping: grasping desire by trying to grab, grasping rejection by trying to push away, and grasping negation by trying to block it out. All three of these constitute grasping becasuse every time we engage in one of these we get caught in whatever thought or feeling is there, because it is all reactive. Any reactive movement within the mind leads to bondage as it does in life.

Let thoughts pass, let it happen

The Buddha illustrated this point

One day when Buddha was giving a lecture and a Brahmin got up and began insulting him. He raved for while and when he had finished the Buddha said,

"If somebody laid out a banquet in front of me, to whom would it belong?

"Obviously it would belong to the person who put it there," replied the Brahmin.

"And if the person offered it to me," continued the Buddha, "and I declined to accept it, whose would it be?"

"Well obviously it would remain the property of the person who put it there."

"Just so," declared the Buddha. "just so."

In our external relationships if people insult us and want to fight with us then that's their banquet, It becomes ours only if we choose to accept and engage it. It is exactly the same with all our thoughts and feelings. They are arising and passing but are problematic only because we pick them up. We make them ours, thus bringing a sense of egocentric possession to a situation that could have remained neutral. Only when the decision is made to appropriate the thought to ego-territory does grasping arise. When we don't do that then the mind relaxes, it is no longer caught up with all the thoughts and feelings and we understand what is meant by freedom. Freedom from thought.

The mind is now becoming more and more stable because it is no longer possible for the average change in thought / feeling to overwhelm the mind. The basis for this instablility is no longer there. Once again the basis for instability is our compulsive conviction that whatever arises has to be experienced in the sense of being grasped in one of the three modes. We no longer have that belief. We've learnt that we no longer have to do that.


God is the Only Doer

"Things are happening of their own accord. There is no need for me to make any struggle or effort, there is no need for me to fight for anything, I can relax and be." Osho

"The essential man is not a doer. The accidental man is, of course, then in anxiety, tension, stress, anguish, continuously sitting on a volcano. It can erupt at any moment, because he lives in a world of uncertainty and believes as if it is certain. This creates tension in his being; he knows deep down that nothing is certain."


Surrender to the Divine

Memo from: GOD:
Reference: LIFE

I am God.

Today I will be handling all of your problems. Please remember that I do not need your EGO's interference and fear. If life happens to deliver a situation to you that you cannot handle, do not attempt to resolve it without me.

Kindly put it in the SFGTD (something for God to do) box. It will be addressed in My time, not yours. Once the matter is placed into the box, please do not hold onto it. LET IT GO!!

If you find yourself stuck in traffic; Don't despair. There are people in this world for whom driving is an unheard of privilege.

Should you have a bad day at work; Think of the man who has been out of work for years.

Should you despair over a relationship gone bad; Think of the person who has never known what it's like to love and be loved in return.

Should you grieve the passing of another weekend; Think of the woman in dire straits, working twelve hours a day, seven days a week to feed her children.

Should your car break down, leaving you miles away from assistance; Think of the paraplegic who would love the opportunity to take that walk.

Should you notice a new gray hair in the mirror; Think of the cancer patient in chemo who wishes she had hair to examine.

Should you find yourself at a loss and pondering what is life all about, asking what is my purpose? Be thankful.

There are those who didn't live long enough to get the opportunity.

Should you find yourself the victim of other people's bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities; Remember, things could be worse. You could be them!!!!

Should you decide to send this to a friend; You might brighten someone's day!


Practical Intention to Become Enlightened - free from Suffering

When your aspiration to become enlightened is firm, you should implement it in deeds. These are called Bodhissattva deeds, and principal among them are the six perfections:

1. Giving includes (1) donating material things such as money, clothing and food (2) Giving love (3) giving the teachings of spiritual doctrines and practices; and (4) giving relief from fearful situations to all beings - including animals; help even an ant out of a puddle

2. Morality; which refers mainly to the alturistic attitude and behaviour of bodhissatvas

3. Patience, which is exhibited in stressful situations, or used to sustain difficult endeavours, such as learning teachings and practicing over a long period

4. Effort, which maintains enthusiasm for virtue and assists all the other perfections.

5. Concentration, which is the practice of stable and intense meditation

6. Wisdom, which is necessary for understanding the nature of cyclic existence and impermanence, as well as dependent arising and emptiness

The six perfections, in turn, can be condensed into the three trainings of Bodhisattvas - training in the perfection of morality (which includes the perfections of giving and patience), training in the perfection of concentration, and training in the perfection of wisdom. The perfection of effort is required for all three trainings. This is how the six perfections are included in the three-fold practice of morality, concentrated meditation, and wisdom.

Source:How to Practice The Way to A meaningful Life, by His Holiness Dalai Lama, Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Shambhalla Publications

The Three Boddhisattva Trainings:

The eightfold path of Buddha is related to this.


Some tips for Ethics

Law of Karma. The law of cause & effect. What goes around comes around. As you sow shall you reap.

This can also prompt us to improve our actions of body, speech & mind.



See above and also karma page

Some tips for View

We have already discussed that cyclic existence is characterised by suffering & impermanence. Rather than develop a fatalistic view of life, this helps us develop compassion for others, who similarly to us suffer. This can also prompt us to follow the teachings of Enlightened Beings, such as Buddha, who attain liberation.

Some tips for meditation:

Two types of meditation:

Engaging Content

The mind is enslaved because it is continually engages content, identifying with thoughts and feelings as they arise and getting glued to them. With the development of bare attention this will change and the compulsive reactive response that causes us to pick up on thought will weaken.

The main reason we engage is that the mind carries messages which say,"it is normal", "this is how I am", "I should do this." This attitude of mind constitutes an inner authority that dominates and sometimes tyrannizes our thinking. The result is we can't observe our thoughts objectively, but are compelled to get in and change, control, get rid of (especially unwanted feelings), and so on. The basic steps are:

Until we understand this and challenge the underlying compulsive response, we remain in bondage.

Observer Consciousness and Activity Mind

The essence of meditation is training in mindfulness. This is done by resting the attention on an external meditation support (eg. breath, mantra, mudra etc.), and returning to it every time it drifts away into thought. This action is possible because one part of the mind observes and identifies with thoughts and feelings as they arise. If we did not have this capacity for self-reflective awareness we would not know or realize we were thinking when thinking happens.

We call the part of mind that observes "observer consciousness," and the part that thinks and gets observed "activity mind". When we talk of the "thought", the word includes feelings and emotions.

Meditation Support

When we begin meditating, we need a reference point for the mind to prevent it getting lost in distraction. This is called a support. Breath is generally used. Sound is also a good support.

....Our task as meditators is to gradually create the conditions for the removal of what stands between us and the experience of the enlightened condition: the obscurations of the mind.

The obscurations are rooted in what we call mind poisons: greed, hatred, delusion, pride, an jealousy. (Lamas say that westerners have invented the sixth: guilt.)

In simple terms it means facing and becoming free from negativity. The path is neither to dwell on the negative nor deny it. It is a mature middle way of acknowledging the existence of negative and then setting out to do something about it. The path to freedom from negativity has the development of mindfulness as the foundation.

...p 24

Mindfulness can be defined as knowing what is happening while it is happening, no matter what it is.


Source: above excerpts from 'Diamond Mind, A Psychology of Meditation' by Rob Nairn


The quality of life in the realm of the gods may look superior to our own, yet the masters tell us that human life is infinitely more valuable. Why? Because of the very fact that we have the awareness and intelligence that are the raw materials for enlightenment, and because the very suffering that pervades this human realm is itself the spur to spiritual transformation.

Pain, grief, loss, and ceaseless frustration of every kind are there for a very real and dramatic purpose: to wake us up, to enable, almost to force us to break out of the cycle of samsara and so release our imprisoned splendor.

Sogyal rinpoche, www.rigpa.org

Life can be difficult & chaotic,
beyond logic and the rational mind.
Once this truth is understood & accepted,
the fact that life is difficult, no longer matters!


related books

'Awakening the Mind, Basic Buddhist Meditations, by Geshe Namghyal Wangchen

'Diamond Mind, A Psychology of Meditation' by Rob Nairn


related pages:


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