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Why Suffering Exists


Why Does Suffering Exist?

Why do some people live harder lives than others? Victoria, 12, f, New Mexico

Why are there so many wars, crimes and why not peace? Tiago, 12, Brazil

Why is there sin/drugs/war/alcohol? Logan, m, 14, Alberta


As to why things are so messed up, I think of this as a kindergarten planet. People have free will to hopefully learn from their mistakes. The media focus on violence. It may be that humans have always behaved like this but we didn’t have CNN and the Internet to let us know how widespread our troubles are.

Our closest relatives, with whom we have a common ancestor, are chimps and bonobos. Chimps, like humans, often solve disagreements and fighting over desired resources, with power, either physical aggression, or social power, building allies of groups of friends to back us up. The hormone testosterone is linked to aggressive behavior and rough and tumble play, in young chimp and human boys especially. The extreme is sometimes seen in athletes who take steroids and get very aggressive and even violent. It’s interesting though, that scientists don’t talk very much about bonobos who are headed by the females and solve tension and disagreement by having sex. Huston Smith tells us about experiments with macaque monkeys finding that 87% would rather go hungry, some for as long as two weeks, rather than give electrical shocks to their companions, so we do have instincts for altruism as well as aggression.[1]

On a positive note, for most of human history, we lived as small bands of democratic hunters and gathers, like the Bushmen of South Africa. Some archeologists, like UCA Professor Maria Gimbutus, maintained that early civilizations in Crete and Turkey were peaceful, with equality for women and men, in cultures that worshipped goddesses, until warriors invaded.[1]


Why is sin and suffering permitted on the earth? Amana, 15, f, Sudan


Why is there always suffering in life? What is the best cure of it?

Shashikala, 16, f, Nepal


Is life a bed of roses or is it completely covered with pointed pebbles?

Azba, 16, f, Pakistan


Why is life so unfair and so strange? Judge, 16, f, Tanzania


There is always something in the world that spoils and ruins our peaceful life: so many wars, catastrophes. Why do people from all over the world always suffer from hunger, earthquakes, and floods? Why don’t we live in peace?

Helen, 16, f, Ukraine


Nobody takes the time to realize how beautiful life is. They are all so caught up in what’s happened and all the drama but they never really look and see what is around them. Roz, 17, f, California


Optimism is hidden even in the worst of situations. In the over-crowded and polluted city, I find beauty in the eyes of that small child who is eating an ice cream with absolute innocence. In the most dead of graveyards, I find beauty in that lonely flower growing by thorns and bushes. Suffering is a test. In our life, problems are like challenges. Some people might say that if God loves us, why would he give us miseries and problems? He wants to test us and see how we react to the problems. That’s all. The better we face it, the more fruitful it is. Hassan, 17, m, Pakistan


Why is there so much evil in the world? Konstyantyn, 16, m, Ukraine

Because people are not evolved and imperfect. Abused people often abuse others.


Does karma actually exist? Laurel, 17, f, California

It means cause and effect, or, as the Bible, says, “As you sew [seeds], so shall you reap [grain]. See if you observe it in your life.


How can you avoid letting the bad things that happen to us stop us from doing anything at all? Jess, 17, f, Georgia

Look at them as challenges and opportunities for growth rather than bad luck.


Why does life always turn everything upside down when it seems to be going fine? Kat, 17, f, Indiana

We learn from the downs as well as the ups. The question I ask is about difficult times is what is this experience teaching me, why did I attract it into my life? Difficulties have caused me to change course for the good.


This is how Josh considered the nature of suffering in a California school essay on Enlightenment:


A Japanese Zen master by the name of Nan-in once entertained a professor who came seeking knowledge of enlightenment.  As they sat, Nan-in served the professor tea, and as the cup reached its fill, Nan-in continued to pour, until there was a small puddle on the table.  The professor expostulated, “It is overfull. No more will go in!” The Zen master replied, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can we discuss enlightenment unless you first empty your cup?”

I have come to the realization that, in order for me to better understand enlightenment, I too must first empty my cup.  I must throw away my preconceptions.  As always, they serve no purpose, and act only as a limitation. Life is suffering.  This is the first of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.  Human nature is rife with imperfections, as is the world we live in.  We encounter fear, frustration, sadness, depression, and inevitable death.  No one’s skin is impervious; we are all subject to the empty feeling of someone looking right through us.  Of course there is also good in this world.  Namely, comfort, love and friendship, but in its entirety, life is an incomplete mess.  It will remain this way until we finally end our self-centered desire.

The origin of suffering is attachment.  This is the second of the Four Noble Truths.  As long as we crave impermanent objects, we will continue to be blinded by their unneeded promise of fulfillment.  Unfortunately, the loss of such objects is inevitable, and upon their departure, suffering will occur.  We cling to what we now refer to as “self.”  One’s sense of separate self is an illusion; we are all intact within the universe.  “Self” is little more than a bag of skin and bones.

The cessation of suffering is attainable. This is the third of Four Noble Truths. Suffering can be ended by attaining a state of dispassionate tranquility.  The cause of suffering is attachment, so why not annihilate that cause?  Because it is fu—– hard!  The process of eliminating desire is a many-leveled one, as there are countless possibilities for attachment.  Consequently, few ever truly achieve nirvana.  Nirvana is freedom from angst, complexes, and ideas.  It is incomprehensible for those who have not yet achieved it.

The Buddhist path to cessation of suffering is eight-fold: correct thought, correct speech, correct actions, correct livelihood, correct understanding, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct concentration. One must follow this path.  It may last many lifetimes, and it may consume one’s every waking moment, but as one continues down this path, gradually, ignorance, delusion, desire, and eventually suffering will all disappear. This is the fourth of Four Noble Truths.

Do not liken enlightenment to a religious awakening.  It is anything but that.  It is not an answer, for there is no question. To be enlightened is to see past right and wrong, to surpass the notion of correctness entirely. It goes beyond belief.  Religion is temporary by nature, ever changing to suit its recipients. Unlike religion, enlightenment is not characterized as the pursuit of finding meaning, answers, and purpose.  It is the pursuit of rising above that. Purpose is a path worn out by humanity’s pointless striving for a definition. The need for either of those two terms, purpose or definition, is obsolete.

Enlightenment is a possibility for everyone. Many believe that only Buddhists strive for it, but this is untrue. An example of this is Walt Whitman in the 19th century, a new poet of a country in need of a new voice. His change in self was most appreciated through his poetry.  He was already a writer connected to the world through energy and immortality, but the wondrous secret of life was gently whispered into his ear, and he began anew.  “I cannot be awake or nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.” (Walt Whitman)

His change was noticeable even to those with unperceptive minds.  It was like his writing emerged from a sleep, which is essentially what enlightenment is:

The emergence and awakening from a deep slumber. Enlightenment exists free of constraints. In some cases one could devote one’s whole life to meditation, counting breaths and calming the mind, and one would be not a day further down the road than the moment one emerged from the womb. Yet enlightenment can also be triggered in an instant, by a meandering moment at a butcher shop, or a hike into mountains devoid of habitation.  It’s as if all of our brains are mired in a deep slumber, and then in one fleeting moment, a switch in the back of some blessed recipient’s head is flicked on. That moment is more than all of the emotions in life, more than any realization.  It is in this moment when beautiful tears grace the uplifted visage of a person who has risen above the act of caring. Being enlightened is to recognize that we are of the earth, not from it. It is the grasping of the concept that the highest mountains of Tibet are somehow connected to the small stream outside your window. The entire universe is intact.  How could it be otherwise?

I, unfortunately, am still asleep, literally or not. I perceive only what’s in front of me. I judge what I don’t know; yet I remain without curiosity towards that which I judge. I exist only to survive, partake in meaningless activities that serve as nothing more than distractions. I eat, drink and sleep. I guess love too, but it means nothing. I am still searching.  It is the rise above that search that is truly significant. Josh Allerd, 17, m, California


I would like a better understanding of pain and why certain things happen to certain people. Kara, 18, Northern Ireland


What does it mean to be human in the face of cruelty like WWII concentration camps, atomic bombing Hiroshima, and genocide in Rwanda, Tibet, Srebrenica, etc? Humans pollute the planet, fight wars in the name of religion, allow over one billion poor people to struggle for daily survival, and crime and domestic violence continues. The many authors of a book titled What Does It Mean to Be Human? started with Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s life motto of “Reverence for Life.” They give as examples 20th century prophets who enacted this caring for others: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Pope John XXIII, Laurence VanderPost, and Bede Griffiths. The first principle of what reverence for life means is that we protect children, according to lawyer Leonard Marks, then to respect all beings and their religions.[1]


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