The main affliction of the human race. Suffering is caused by ignorance. If you don't know the processes that happen in your mind, then you can't control them. This is part of the Buddhist philosophy.

For example: attachment to objects and people causes suffering. By attachment, you depend on something to always be there, whereas the world is ever-changing. You are bound to suffer this way.
Another example would be the attachment of emotions to goals in life. If you are worried or anxious about something you loose your peace of mind, thus impairing your judgement and performance (ex: studying for a test, a job interview). How many times do you remember excelling when you didn't care?

A Note on the Suffering of Others

We don't like to see suffering, and so alleviating it wherever we see it is one of the things we want. Unfortunately, we expect others to help us pay the cost of relieving the suffering. But I don't see suffering as a total negative. I have suffered at times, and in response I changed myself. Had I not suffered, I wouldn't have changed. In that sense, suffering is an invaluable motivational tool for changing us.

When we relieve someone else of suffering, we take the risk that they will get themselves into the same mess again - that we have prevented them from changing in a way that makes their life better. We might realize this, but still go ahead and relieve the suffering anyway because we like the effect it has. In fact, if we like the effect enough, we may start to help people get into such messes so that we can relieve their suffering and benefit from it over and over again. In fact, this is the bread and butter of high-yield credit card companies.

When we cause someone else's suffering, for example by throwing them in jail for whatever reason, we run the risk of having them change in a way that reflects our motivations, rather than in a way that improves things. Of course, often they change in a way that improves things and reflects our motivations. This is the essential mechanism at work when parents punish their children.

So when we consider the suffering of others, let's first ask if the suffering is bearable enough to be allowed to go on while it might be making the sufferer change for the better. When we can't bear it, let's not force others to help pay the cost of relieving it - this is what leads to all the taxation used to support social programs. Instead, let's get together with our churches, our friends, our neighbors, and anyone else that can't bear it any longer and collect whatever voluntary contributions we can to alleviate it.

Those who relieve a person's suffering are his saviors, but if he was about to change in response to his suffering, then they are also responsible for keeping him down. This is a risk each of us needs to take on his own. The taxation used to alleviate suffering prevents those willing to help from being recognized as saviors, prevents those who would choose to let suffering do its motivational work from doing so, and keeps the recipients from becoming more productive toward their own well being.
What is the purpose of suffering? Of feeling pain far in excess of what is needed to keep us from injury? Many years ago I went on a snorkeling trip to Isla Espiritu Santo out of La Paz, in Baja California. I had too close of an encounter with a patch of fire coral! The pain was intense and I was stunned to the point that I feared I would drown! After dragging myself to the surface, I got my friends to pull me over the side of the wooden boat we'd rented. I flopped like a caught fish, gasping from the burning that pulsed through my hands, shoulders, stomach and chest.

I had by then long since settled on pandeism as my guiding spiritual principle, but as I lay there I wondered, why a thinking, designing Creator -- especially one destined to share in our sensations -- would create a Universe where such pain would be possible. The secretions of the fire coral, though dangerous in large doses, were not so deadly that my body should go so far to warn me away from such contact. The burning persisted for days, gradually declining, but forever marking my memory with that moment.

As I healed I came to realize that some suffering lets us know the blessing of the time when we are not suffering. The Creator that became the Universe did so in order to experience those things that it could not know -- not only pleasure for its own sake, but the pleasure of overcoming pain, even of escaping from suffering in the final surrender that comes with death. I was grateful that, over all those hours that I suffered from the fire coral burns, it touched only one surface of my body. Laying on my back on cool sheets helped ward off the pain.

Many look back on their painful experiences as psychic scars, shuddering to relive them but forever forgetting to cast a relative eye on their current and future circumstances. I revel in the fact that I was burned by fire coral precisely because this was a moment of revelation, a breakthrough. I revel because I healed; those parts of me that were in pain were ultimately at peace. And, I may be grateful to know that with such pain as I am capable of enduring, I am not now enduring it.

In a short time (compared to the life of the Universe), those who are living in this moment will no longer be, and whatever suffering we know now, will be known no more. And in some time beyond that, we all may return to a oneness from which we came, sharing all of these memories and sensations. You, my friends, may know how I felt at the moment I was burned with fire coral in the Gulf of California; and the seeming bliss of cool sheets against my back as I healed; you will know my joy and my peace when the pain had finally passed, and indeed my relative pleasure in all but a few moments of my life. Most parts of most of us rarely suffer, but we do not bother to recognize absence of suffering as a significant benefit. But in the end, the absence of suffering might resonate in our shared experience most resoundingly, for our suffering is fleeting even as joy endures eternal. Most particularly, we may share the joy of knowing how much better we spent most of lives feeling than could have been the case!!

Suf"fer*ing, n.

The bearing of pain, inconvenience, or loss; pain endured; distress, loss, or injury incurred; as, sufferings by pain or sorrow; sufferings by want or by wrongs.

"Souls in sufferings tried."

Keble.

 

© Webster 1913.


Suf"fer*ing, a.

Being in pain or grief; having loss, injury, distress, etc.

-- Suf"fer*ing*ly, adv.

 

© Webster 1913.

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