Saturday, September 25, 2021

Is There a Purpose to Suffering? Part 4

      Last week we looking at how painful situations can be an impetus to growth and grace.  But is that the only purpose of suffering?

     Lately, I've been toying with the idea that learning and growth in our suffering are not for us alone.  Let me explain.

     Not doubt you have heard that "we are all one," or "we are all in this together."  On a metaphysical level, I believe that we are indeed all one, just are each individual drop is part of the ocean.  We are all parts of Life.  Individuality is just an illusion.

     So if I go through a period of profound suffering, I may learn some important lessons, such as gratitude or forgiveness or self-discipline or tenacity.  But those lessons, I believe, are not for myself alone.

     If we are all one, then the lessons I learned become part of all of us.  My newly-learned tenacity helps all of us by adding that much more strength and resolve to tackle the problems that face humanity.  Your newly-learned compassion helps us to look at each other with greater understanding and kindness.  Another person's gratitude helps us all to be aware of the beauty of life.

     So, suffering does have a purpose.  And it's for all of us to learn from it, because its purpose is for all of us.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Is There a Purpose to Suffering? Part 3

      Last week we were exploring the idea of karma as the root cause of our suffering.  In some cases, we can say that our thoughts or actions are directly related to our suffering, as when we treat others cruelly and suffer loneliness, or when we speed through a school zone and get upset when a police officer issues us a ticket.  In those cases, we reap what we sowed.

     But what about the suffering that comes to us when we didn't do or think something that precipitated it?  Let's say we suddenly lose our job because of a pandemic that caused the business to close.  That's through no fault of our own.  Or if we suddenly experience a serious illness.  Or someone dear to us dies.  How do we find purpose and meaning in those painful experiences?

     If we take the attitude that life is about learning and growth, perhaps we can find ways to bring meaning in those situations.  Perhaps you had a well-paying job until the pandemic caused the business to close.  Were you too free with your money and spent it frivolously at times?  Is this the time to learn how to be conservative with your money and to cherish the things you already have?  Is it the time to swallow your pride and ask for help from those who might be willing or able to provide it?  Is it the time to follow some intuition and create a business for yourself?

     Or if you experience a deep loss of health or a loved one, what can you learn from your pain?  Can you find ways to be grateful for what you had?  Can you cherish the times when people reach out to you to offer words of compassion and healing?  Can you use your pain to give life more beauty and meaning, much as salt will give things more flavor?  

     These attitudes give suffering more meaning and purpose, and help move you through the experience with more grace.  

     But I think there is another possible purpose to suffering.  More on that next week.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Is There a Purpose to Suffering? Part 2

     Last week we were discussing what suffering is and a couple of approaches to how some people deal with suffering in their lives.  Today, let's talk about karma and its role in suffering.

     Some people believe that suffering is caused by some wrong action or thought pattern that a person has done in the past, whether in this life or in a previous life.  To me, that speaks of some sort of retribution on the part of Life on someone because of an evil act or some unhelpful thoughts they had.  I find that people who preach this often come across as judgmental and lacking in compassion.  It's as if they blame the person for their suffering, say "Tsk, tsk, bad karma," and walk away.  I find that very unhelpful.  

     Karma, put simply, means what you sow, you will reap.  In other words, if you eat unhealthily and don't exercise, the consequence is a flabby, unhealthy body.  Or if you are a constant fault-finder and alienate all your friends, your loneliness is a consequence of your words. That's karma, and there is wisdom in learning from that. 

     But if a person experiences suffering when there is no obvious antecedent to the situation, such as when a child has cancer, can we blame some thought or action from a previous life as causing this?  To me, saying that Life punishes us for transgressions from previous lives is like hitting a puppy on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for peeing on the carpet three lifetimes ago.  It makes no sense to the puppy, and it makes no sense to us.

     So, what is the purpose of suffering, then?  More on this next week.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Is There a Purpose to Suffering?

     Part of living is experiencing suffering.  There's no escaping it.  But why do we suffer?

     Suffering, according to the Buddha, comes in three forms:  pain, such as illness or death; the change of a situation from pleasure to pain; and the pain that comes from the impermanence in life.  We suffer because we falsely believe that things will not change for the worse, or that we are somehow immune to pain in life, or we are too attached to things, people or situations.  

     So many people, when met with a painful situation, ask, "Why me?"  Their pain is then compounded by self-pity.  Their pain is all that they can think or talk about, and pain is added upon pain.  They fall into a rabbit hole of misery.  

     Some recognize that others in this world are suffering much more than they are, and ask, "Why not me?"  Or they find some measure of gratitude that their situation is not far worse.  They know that focusing on the negative only makes things much more difficult.

     But if life is about learning and growth, then what is the purpose of suffering?  Let's explore some ideas next week.