Life is very difficult for most of us. Our abilities to handle life’s problems are becoming increasingly strained and as a result depression, anxiety, panic disorders, substance abuse, plus addictions of all kinds are plaguing our society. Americans spent over 200 billion dollars last year trying to deal with our issues.
There is a real need for us to step back and reevaluate how we are handling our problems. Statistics tell us that we need some help with how we interpret and respond to what happens in our lives. Our core philosophies are a perfect place to start. It might behoove us to revisit and relearn some ancient wisdom as human nature hasn’t seemed to have changed much over the past few millennia.
The life story of the Buddha begins about 2,600 years ago, when Siddharta Gautama was born. Although born a prince and had all the riches and privileges possible, he realized that conditioned experiences could not provide lasting happiness or protection from suffering.
Buddha learned that we all have one thing in common: if we think about our own life, or look at the world around them, we will see that life is full of suffering. This is not an easy world to live in and I’m sure we would all agree with this.
Suffering, he said, may be physical or mental. The Buddha's most important teachings were focused on a way to minimize the suffering he had experienced and had seen in other people. His discovery of the solution began with the recognition that life is and will always be filled with suffering. It is a major aspect of this life. His declaration is much more profound than you can imagine and has enormous ramifications in our perceptions and philosophy of life.
“I teach because you and all beings want to have happiness
and want to avoid suffering. I teach the way things are.”
– The Buddha
The central teachings of Buddhism are based upon the Four Noble Truths as taught by Buddha. It was from his experiences in searching for enlightenment that he became keenly aware that life brings with it many forms of disappointments that lead us to suffer. The experiences of illness, age, misery, conflict, and death lead him to search for a deeper understanding of how we live, and ways to overcome our suffering.
Suffering is indeed, a fact of life. There are four unavoidable physical sufferings; birth, old age, sickness and death. There are also three forms of mental suffering; separation from the people we love; contact with people we dislike and frustration of our expectations not being met.
Happiness is real and comes in many ways, but happiness does not last forever and does not stop suffering. Seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering unfortunately isn’t going to keep life’s problems from happening. It may even increase our suffering if we somehow believe that we shouldn’t be bothered with problems.
Buddhists believe that the way to end suffering is to first accept that suffering is actually a fact of life. So, does life have to be so difficult? I guess that it does. Life has been difficult from time immemorial and will continue to be difficult. It will not change so the only thing we can do about it is to change our perception of how it is supposed to work. If we know that problems are an integral aspect of our lives and are there for a reason, then maybe we won’t be so unhappy when the do happen.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
It is our internal conversation about our problems that cause us so much distress. When we have expectations of a flawless and carefree life we will surely be disappointed. The more we expect a problem free life, the greater will be our suffering.
The only way I know that will help us to change our conversations about events that create our suffering is to understand that it is only by working through our sufferings that we can rise above them. Our problems are our pathways to our higher consciousness. This places our problems into a new view. No longer will they be just a source of our sufferings but a necessary experience to help us grow. This can help immensely to diminish the intensity and duration of our suffering.
I know that this is not an easy transition to make. I have no illusions that most of us will ever reach a place in life where there is no suffering. I agree with Buddha that life is difficult and with his teachings, maybe we can do a much better job of handling our difficulties. Problems can be a gift if we are open enough to accept them. It is a lifelong challenge but one worth accepting.