3 Oct
2019
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Suffering

What is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, and death is suffering. Disassociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering…. There is this Noble Truth of Suffering.
— Samyutta Nikaya LVI, II

“Oftentimes, the First Noble Truth is misquoted as ‘All life is suffering,’ but that is an inaccurate and misleading reflection of the Buddha’s insight. He did not teach that life is constant misery, nor that you should expect to feel pain and unhappiness at all times. Rather, he proclaimed that suffering is an unavoidable reality of ordinary human existence that is to be known and responded to wisely….

Suffering is derived from the Latin word ferre, which means ‘to bear’ or ‘to carry.’ Helen Luke, the late Jungian analyst and classics scholar, likens the true meaning of conscious human suffering to a wagon bearing a load.

“She contrasts this definition of suffering with grief, from the Latin word gravare, which refers to ‘the sense of being pressed down,’ and affliction, from the Latin word fligere, which means ‘to be struck down, as if by a blow.’

“When you deny or resist the experience of your own suffering, you are unwilling to consciously bear it. It is this resistance to accepting your life just as it is that makes suffering ignoble, despicable, and shameful. It is a mistake in perception that can cause you additional suffering. In the first insight of the First Noble Truth, the Buddha asks you to carry your suffering without judgement and without resistance and in just this manner, to bear it with compassion and mindfulness in your heart.

“When you are overcome with resentment and aversion to suffering, your resistance is indeed an affliction. When you feel ashamed, depressed, and defeated by your suffering, it presses you down, causes you to contract.

“But if you can learn to separate your resistance to suffering from the actual pains and difficulties in your life, an incredible transformation takes place. You are able to meet your suffering as though you were a wagon receiving the load being placed on it. Paradoxically, the effect is that your load is lightened, and your life can roll forward, whatever its destination.

“The first insight of the Truth of Suffering is realized when you are able to distinguish between carrying the weight of your life with all its loss and pain, and collapsing underneath these difficulties. You nobly accept your suffering and acknowledge that your life is being characterized by it, despite your preference for it to be otherwise.

“When you learn to be with the truth of your suffering and the suffering of those for whom you care in a mindful, compassionate manner, you are ennobled. Being able to bear your pain with dignity empowers you to examine your suffering and bring an end to it.”

— from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

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