“The essence of life is suffering, said the Buddha. At first glance, this statement seems exceedingly morbid and pessimistic. It even seems untrue. After all, there are plenty of times when we are happy. Aren’t there? No, there are not. It just seems that way. Take any moment when you feel really fulfilled and examine it closely. Down under the joy, you will find that subtle, all-pervasive undercurrent of tension that no matter how great this moment is, it is going to end. No matter how much you just gained, you are inevitably either going to lose some of it or spend the rest of your days guarding what you have and scheming how to get more. And in the end, you are going to die; in the end, you lose everything. It is all transitory.”
This passage from “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana sums up something that I have felt for many years. It is one of the Buddha’s main teachings, one that when realized propels us on the spiritual path. I have felt this truth long before I was ever exposed to this teaching. Although upon studying it I was able to understand it on a much deeper level. And while this teaching has become more true for me it seems much of society thoroughly denies it.
I can’t hop into other people’s bodies or minds to know how they feel. Maybe some people really don’t experience an underlying anxiety, void or dissatsifactoriness in their lives. Maybe it’s my predilection that projects phoniness onto people’s supposed happiness. Or maybe my understanding of happiness is different than what seems to be the dominant definition. What I’m trying to say is that perhaps this isn’t a universal truth but it’s a truth I feel viscerally.
I’m not here to drill this into your mind. If you haven’t experienced this, good. If you are truly happy, great. If that is the case there is nothing I can offer you with these words. But if this teaching sounds even slightly true, I encourage you to further examine it. Because this teaching is the catalyst for our transformation and the seed of our liberation.
Life is suffering was only the first of the Buddha’s teachings. Lucky for us he also taught 3 other truths; there is a cause of suffering, there is an end of suffering and there is a path that leads to the end of suffering. The cause of our suffering is aversion, attachment, and ignorance. The end of our suffering is the elimination of these afflictions. The path that ends suffering is the path of insight. It is the path of diligent meditation, of examining reality at its most subtle level. It is a path you would be crazy to walk unless you really understood that life is suffering. Unless you understood that true happiness is not momentary pleasure. Unless you understood that nothing external can ever truly satisfy.
If you understand this then join me on this path. Let’s untangle this knot of suffering and liberate ourselves. Let this liberation create the space needed to hold other’s suffering. So they could know that they are not alone and that there is a way out. We no longer have to run, we no longer have to hide. We can be with what is and we could realize who we truly are.