Pain and S(t)uffering

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Do you have enough? Think about the last thing you really, really yearned for. Why was it so important to you to have it, to possess it? What lasting value would it have brought to you? I’ve been thinking about the drive to buy things, to have stuff, and how we actually quantify when enough is enough? What is the metric for that? Sometimes I think that our collective attachment to things is one of the key causes of our suffering, or what I like to call s(t)uffering.

In Buddhism, the first noble truth is that suffering exists, it is, if you like, the human condition, its our baseline, living in what is known as samsara where we are chronically addicted to sense pleasures. I think much of the root of the addiction and especially clinging to the material and tangible objects we so crave is a lurking fear of our own impermanence and vulnerability. While that fear is so profound, it makes complete sense that we would look to what we see as ‘real’ for comfort. The tricky thing is – everything is impermanent and nothing that we perceive is real in and of itself. I know, that is a large concept, a cup of tea and a good lie down may be required here!

Confused? Let’s clarify with an example. Imagine a cake: we think of a cake as a solid thing that exists. You’ve eaten a cake (um, many), you know that a cake is real and three dimensional, and yet a cake does not exist as an intrinsic thing—it only exists as the culmination of all the things that make it a cake: eggs, flour, sugar, fats, air, heat, a greased tin  and  its  other  ingredients. A  cake  isn’t  independently existent, it’s made of components. And so is everything else. You  can deconstruct anything and come to the same conclusion; things only come into being as a result of their causes and conditions, and the causes and conditions have their own causes and conditions, and this goes on and on and on. The Twitter version of this is that everything is interconnected and nothing exists—including us humans, without the dependencies that arise from causes and conditions. It is an epic mind-bending consideration, but one that, when firmly entrenched in the brain, is strangely freeing  and comforting.

 

Because all things are interdependent and in a constant state of change, all things must also be impermanent. When we adopt the view that everything is impermanent, we are released (in theory at least) from attachment and, in this school of thought, from the suffering that comes with striving to hold on to something that is not going to be around forever, or the sorrow that comes with loss. If we behave in the mode of impermanence, it pushes us to be in the moment, to appreciate what we have in the now. It forces us to accept the peace that comes with knowing that if everything is constantly changing, there will never be a void when something leaves. Cause and condition will always instantly find a set of elements to replace it with. The problem is that we know this and yet we continue to cling to things as if they were permanent, because we want these things to last (at least during our  lifetime). That  doesn’t  mean  it’s  easy  when  we  lose something or someone that is precious, it just means that the recovery from suffering is able to be understood at a heart and mind level when we learn to see things as they really are—impermanent.

 

Polly McGee