Last night, in an online discussion, someone raised the question of the requirement of suffering for spirituality. This person had suffered greatly in life and felt it was unfair that our spiritual path would require suffering.
After the meeting an answer of sorts floated to my mind: it isn’t the suffering itself but the realization that the world we live in can only bring suffering.
Suffering is a cornerstone of Buddhism, which says early on in the 4 Noble Truths that life is suffering. They also offer a way out of suffering by detaching from the world. For some though the question will remain, “how can someone say that life is suffering when there are good elements that match every bad?”
Life is Suffering
The suffering nature of life is based upon the idea that everything in this world decays. It is the physical aspect of entropy that all things gradually fall into disorder. This disorder can be disease, loss of income, and ultimately death.
As long as one attaches to these “things of the world,” they will suffer. Yet if one detaches, and accepts the things of the world, suffering ceases to a great degree. Hence the Biblical passage, “death, where is thy sting?”
To a carnal person the suffering (due to attachment) can be offset by gains in life. You loose all your money, well you can get back up and try again to get more money – like a sine wave, the highs and lows recycle and once again you’re back on top. If you get divorced, just get remarried. This theme of constantly hunting for the next new thing is throughout our media, movies, tv and marketing. Marketers tell us that last year’s model of iPhone is now trash, we now need to buy the new one. This is craving hedonism and it seemingly has no end. It is a constant play in the world of sleep and illusion.
Suffering is Necessary
You (or others) may not need to suffer directly in order to find the spiritual path, but it is required to know that the carnal world can not be a vehicle for lasting happiness. Without this knowledge of the world’s lacking appeasement, the average person will seek enjoyments in the world. If they find the world enjoyable, easing life’s pain with desire objects (sex, alcohol, chasing money and power, etc.), they will have no reason to enter a spiritual path.
There’s a very good reason Jesus was attributed to saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven.” When the mind is focused on wealth (either gaining or spending it) there is a constant requirement to navigate life’s waters to keep the gains high and the costs low. Focusing on money in such a way is an attachment to the world, and simply creates a stumbling block for the seeker.
I speak from experience. While I was never “rich” I did seek after riches at times in my life. My desire to be free of debts could become so strong that I would loose myself in the world. Months later I would realize that I hadn’t applied my spiritual path at all – that I was off course and I needed to let go of this misdirection.
In some ways life is like a casino. Some people have the karma to win well, and when they do they suffer the most. Their losses are spiritual. Instead of focusing on world outside the casino, they stay indoors and keep playing… keep winning… keep spending… living a “fun life,” which is ends up being empty. To tell such people that desire for things of the world will separate them from God, is unthinkable. Their whole identity is based on desire and accumulation.
Those that loose at the casino games, becoming depressed they leave the casino, they are the ones that now have the eyes to see. They can see that their desires didn’t amount to greater joy. Losses took away all that joy and now left penniless they are open to a greater truth. They have become empty of carnal desire, which offers the space for Divine infusion.
Perhaps you don’t need to be the one who looses all their money at the casino metaphor, perhaps you can observe how the casino works on others and how it eats up their income. After seeing this you walk away from the casino, without directly being affected. In this way one may not need to directly experience life’s greater suffering to see the spiritual call. Yet in the end we all will suffer who hold on to attachments rooted in this world.
As our attachments in the world will hurt us (over time), if we change our attachments to be sourced from the greater Kingdoms within – then we find less suffering as our attachment is to God and not a world of entropy and decay.