I know that I’m not the only one suffering. Everyone does. But what is the meaning of our suffering? If we are all born essentially perfect, as the teaching of the Buddha says, then why do we all suffer? I’m worn down.
Why Do We Suffer?
Dear Why Do We Suffer?
You have already come far in your practice. Generally, the reaction of people to their suffering is, “why am I suffering?” People, understandably, take suffering very personally. They either feel it is something that is being done to them or that they have done to themselves. Feeling victimized, they settle on the blame game.
Understanding that suffering is universal, that everyone ... regardless how rich or poor, how powerful or weak, how successful or not ... suffers is an important step to ending our suffering. Each person’s suffering may be different, we each have our own samsara that is caused by our learned experience, but there is no such thing as a human without samsara.
One day early in my practice, I met a traveling American Theravadan monk. He had spent years in the jungles of Thailand in forest monasteries and was fearless. At one point, I asked him why, if we are all born essential perfect, suffering is the common human experience. His answer was, “It’s just the way it is. It’s like the law of thermodynamics.”
When I heard his words it was like a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. While acceptance was still key to achieving peace and serenity, that acceptance was made easier by understanding that things are the way they are because it’s just the way they are … even if something still did have a negative label in my mind. It wasn’t really for me to accept; it just was.
Similarly, the age-old question, “Why me?” misses the point … it has nothing to do with “me.” While the karmic impact of cause and effect applies to each individual, the reasons why we do the things we do are beyond the individual. Having absorbed the teaching of “it’s just the way it is,” it was easier for me to accept my life and the world around me.
Thus the answer to your question is that there is no meaning to our suffering. No intelligent force or God-force has deemed that we must suffer to teach us something. It’s just the way it is.
That much said, it is important to note that if it weren’t for our suffering, probably none of us would have come to Buddhism and started to walk the path. It doesn’t give our suffering meaning, but it provides a productive way of looking at our suffering. It’s similar to the common saying, no pain, no gain.
I have compassion for the fact that you, like so many people walking that path, are worn down and tired. There are so many challenges and obstacles that confront us ... our egos (the sum of our learned experience) are strong and wily; almost everyone around us is acting in a way that feeds their own egos and shows no concern for the needs of others; and the messages that we receive from our culture do not support any aspect of the Buddha dharma - indeed by fostering endless cravings, it is in direct conflict with it.
The reason why I have written my books and started this website with its blog and advice column is to make the path with its benefits more accessible to all. I have had the good fortune to have had some powerful teachers who opened many gates for me. That teaching together with my own personal experience and delving into the Buddha dharma have allowed me to find much peace and happiness after a lifetime of suffering. Now it’s time for me to share that teaching and experience with others.