Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Life Is Suffering? Hardly.

Posted by Michael Dickens on June 7, 2010

I was just reading some Buddhist philosophy, and I came across something quite interesting. You may have heard that old saying, “life is pain.” You may have heard that people are meant to suffer, that true happiness is impossible because everyone must suffer, that all good things must come to an end. But, perhaps fortunately, this sort of thinking is flawed because of its biased perspective.

We, liking happiness and disliking suffering, naturally divide the world into happiness and non-happiness. When we do this, we see that happiness never lasts and that all good things come to an end. I do not dispute these facts. However, I offer an alternative perspective. If we look at the world from the other side, dividing it into suffering and non-suffering, then we can just as easily see that true suffering is impossible because everyone must be happy at some point. In addition, all bad things — in much the same way as all good things — must come to an end. We can never truly suffer because all suffering, just like all happiness, is temporary. In fact, in this world we live in, nothing lasts forever.

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4 Responses to “Life Is Suffering? Hardly.”

  1. Matt Helm said

    That’s a good way to put it! It’s good to see that your glass is half full =D

  2. Kelly Dickens said

    I think a philosophy or world-view which espouses that “existence is suffering” is an attempt to DESCRIBE a life one sees as filled with suffering, striving, work and pain. It is not an attempt to explain the existence of the (perceived) suffering so much as an acknowledgment of the terms of discussion. The premise is followed at some point by an explanation of a way to escape the inevitability of life’s pain, through good works, enlightenment, salvation or the like.

    One might also conceive a philosophy in which “existence is joy,” proceeding from there to reconcile the seeming universality of suffering. This is one of the central problems of religions espousing a beneficent deity.

    Life is neither suffering nor joy. Individuals and societies find themselves in circumstances which they presume to have existed for all time, then attempt to explain why it should be so. In cultures dominated by men, this has given rise to mythologies explaining suffering in misogynistic terms, mistaking causes with effects. Similarly, humans have placed themselves at the center of the universe and created gods in man’s image.

    Jesus proposed a radical alternative to his culture’s prevailing philosophy: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29 RSV) Oddly, this alternative seems to be entirely ignored by our nominally Christian culture.

    Sorry for blogging on your blog.

  3. Vicki said

    I had never heard that phrase. Neither have I ever considered life as pain. I see life as constant in it’s changes.
    As Kelly pointed out, many things in our Christian culture seemed to be ignored, but one thing is consistant to all who truly believe what Christ taught. And that is something different than your statement, Michael on nothing lasts forever. God’s love for us is forever. It is beyond life as we know it, and therefore beyond change.
    Just some thoughts. V

  4. Pieter said

    I don’t think that Buddha taught us that life is suffering, but that suffering is an unavoidable aspect of life. think of illness and death; of being separated from one we love or being forced to be with persons we hate; or think of the temporary nature of things which can make one can make one sad.

    You say that suffering is temporary. That is correct. However, this will not take away all suffering.

    If your head is aching, you suffer (fysical suffering). You can worsen your pain if you are angry that other people do not have headaches, or that you did not have headaches before, or if you are worried how long this headache will last. If you know that your headache will not last forever, and if you stop clinging to your own illusions (such as “My life should be pain free”) you will suffer less. Only your fysical suffering will remain.

    To get back to the start of your posting, some people mis-interpret buddhism as a pessimist philosophy that only sees misery in life. It is not. Buddha showed us how to enjoy life, I think. By seeing things as they are, and not clinging to illusions.

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