The first of the “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism is that “Life is Suffering.” I always thought that “life is suffering” sounded so pessimistic. Sure, part of life is suffering but part of life is joyful too. Couldn’t the Noble Truth instead be “Life is Joyful”?
Again, I’m not a Buddhist, but I really like what the Dalai Lama has to say. In reading more of his books, I came across an explanation of the Noble Truth that “life is suffering” that made a lot of sense to me.
It is indisputable that we experience suffering at various times throughout our lives – friends/relatives pass away, failed marriages, disappointing grades, lost tennis matches, unrequited love, being laid off from work, that huge fish that “got away,” etc. So, we must acknowledge that we will encountering suffering in our lives. That is just a sad fact of life that is beyond our control.
There is also an “extra layer” of suffering that we feel when we encounter suffering and think “I shouldn’t suffer,” “this is not fair,” “why does this always happen to me?” and so on. We are upset that we are suffering and, on some level, believe that we shouldn’t have to suffer.
However, it is not accurate to think this way (nor useful). EVERYONE suffers. In that sense, it is fair that we are suffering because that is part of life. It might sound pessimistic but it is actually realistic. Although we cannot control whether we suffer in life, we can control how we think about our suffering. We do not have to suffer twice – from the original suffering and from thinking that we shouldn’t have to ever suffer.
The second layer of suffering – from the belief that we shouldn’t have to suffer – is something that we can control by accepting the fact that part of life is suffering.
If you try reminding yourself of this…even meditate on it at times…you can learn to mitigate the effects of the second layer of suffering. This is not a switch that you can just easily turn on, you must practice it on a daily basis in your life.
Just to give a brief example in my life, I mentioned in a previous post that my hard drive crashed. I had recently backed up (almost) everything, so it was not a complete disaster, but it still was tremendously frustrating – as many of you unfortunately know. It took me a lot of time and money to get things rolling again. Part of me grew very frustrated as I kept saying to myself things like, “just my luck,” “why does this always happen to me?” Then I realized that part of working with computers is that they just don’t work right 100% of the time. Files and email get lost, programs crash, hard drives fail, etc. We can do our best to back things up, buy quality brands, and so on but the fact remains that we will encounter “technological suffering” at some point. Denying this reality – feeling that you are being singled out by some malevolent force or bad karma – only exacerbates your suffering.
I know that once I accepted the fact that I will encounter suffering as I work with technology, I felt a sense of liberation from some of my suffering. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not endorsing that you throw caution to the wind and do not nothing to back up your data or protect yourself from various harms in life. We definitely can take actions that will help us to avoid or mitigate much (but not all) suffering. Making judicious decisions will help us conquer many adversities. Hold on to this truth AND accept that you will still encounter suffering at times. Control the controllables and let the rest go. Accepting this will take away at least some of the sting when you suffer.