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(2/12) Life is just suffering
November 12th, 2018 (November 17th, 2018)

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

(2/12) Life is just suffering

(intro to the series at
Question 2, and its answer provided by the spam:
If life is just suffering, as Buddhism claims, why is it some of us don’t see it this way? Why do some of us see life as wonderful rather than filled with suffering?

Buddha’s observations about the world seem to come from his direct experience; the entire religious system is built on the notion life is filled with suffering with no positive value on the individual. But what if the individual doesn’t see the world in this way? What if the individual, even though he or she experiences hardship, understands the value of this experience and does not see it as suffering?

Well, either the spammer is misinformed or he's misleading… because no, Buddhism does not claim that life is just suffering. Far from it! There's in fact an entire sutta (SN 22.60) rejecting two caricatures: "this form is exclusively suffering" and "the form is exclusively pleasurable"… in which "this form" applies to any phenomenon.

I suppose I could just point to « The Buddha never said that “life is suffering,” just that there is suffering in life. » Let's see if I can complement it a bit.

« Buddha Dharma does not teach that everything is suffering. What Buddhism does say is that life, by its nature, is difficult, flawed, and imperfect. (…) That's the nature of life, and that's the First Noble Truth. From the Buddhist point of view, this is not a judgement of life's joys and sorrows; this is a simple, down-to-earth, matter-of-fact description. » — Surya Das
In fact, this quote is an improvement on the spam, but it's still biased (taken out of context, a quote which was appropriate might lose its appropriateness)… because, in fact, Buddhism acknowledges that some lives (in higher realms, or simply in the 'higher' rebirths —incl. among humans) are so good that they constitute hindrances to spiritual practice: the beings suffer so little that they have no motivation to develop their ethical understanding, their compassion for others, their understanding of a wider reality than their self-centered pleasant experience, etc.
So, sometimes, people assert that the Buddha said (e.g. to Anurādha) « I teach only suffering and the end of suffering » (SN 22.86) but, as courageously explained by the famous translator bhikkhu Bodhi (who made the mistake too earlier in his career), there is no “only” in the sentence, and the purport of the words is not categorically exclusive. Cf.

First, translating dukkha is complex, because it's a rich notion therefore different translations would be possible, depending on the context at hand. And yes, in some context, it plain and simple means 'suffering'… but not always! In most contexts, in fact, it means 'unreliable' (in terms of providing long-lasting —or even eternal— satisfaction).
Thus, the first "noble truth" is key to Buddhism, yes, but it does not state "life is only suffering". It usually states "life does not move according to one's wishes" (and sometimes one gets 'better', sometimes 'worse', than what one sought!). Clinging to a narrow, fixed translation of some Buddhist doctrine is anti-Buddhist in and of itself, cf.
Another translation could be "Life is pleasurable and ordinary minds can't get enough of it" ! Now, this might seem stretching the first noble truth, and yet that's exactly what the first truth means, and for the avoidance of doubt, the second "noble truth" precisely indicates that dukkha comes from craving, i.e. from the fact ordinary minds aren't easily content, they can't get enough of life, of pleasures, of drama, of 'feeling alive'! Buddhism doesn't assert that life sucks, it asserts that ignorance sucks! cf.

Second, speaking of "noble truths" might well be problematic in and of itself in Buddhism; if one reads the suttas, they appears as pedagogical 'tasks' rather than 'truths': they're not necessarily 'objective' statements or 'truths' about the world, since the 'world' co-dependently arises with each listener, is relative to each listener, is not objective!
If one looks at these as tasks, then the four "noble truths" become the four "tasks of the noble ones": • "fully understand the suffering in life" • "move from the understanding of suffering to weakening (letting go of) our attachments —the causes of suffering" • "weaken our attachments enough so that they cease" • "finally experience a new way of life, free from greed, hatred and delusion (thus free from suffering)." Cf.
When one attains nibbāna / nirvāṇa, one does not vanish in thin air, one still lives (Buddhism considers one even still experiences 'karmic residues', even if one has stopped creating new karma)… and one lives without suffering, thus directly contradicting the perspective that life is just suffering! Buddhism asserts that they're a way out of suffering, and still be alive!
And at that point, one might stop confusing the ignorant and naïve interpretation of the word 'suffering' (itself a poor translation of dukkha !) and start enquiring into what Buddhism actually means by dukkha. Because the Buddha living "without dukkha" still had to face injuries (foot hurt on a stone —cf. SN 1.38), backache (from earlier meditative practice), a murder attempt (by his cousin), conflicts within the saṅgha, etc. and die by what seems like food poisoning! So, clearly, a naïve understanding of 'suffering' is not what we're talking about!

"Life is suffering… but you can be alive and without suffering" is self-contradictory. If the Buddha was a great teacher and philosopher and psychologist, then it's surprising the summary of his teachings would immediately be inconsistent. Guess what? That's indeed not what the Buddha taught.
"Study worldly suffering, study its causes, study how to cease the causes (in order to cease the consequence), apply the antidotes" isn't contradictory, and maps four 'tasks' rather than four 'truths'.
So, what is Buddhism? Studying and applying… Being present, avoid cognitive pitfalls and engaging… And, in this light, the lists of perfections, faults and remedies that practitioners are fond of ( suddenly make a lot more sense.

Being present, avoid cognitive pitfalls and wisely engaging is reflected e.g. in how the Buddha dealt with his foot injury (SN 1.38, not giving it more importance than it ought to have when looking at a wider context) or in the simile of the two arrows (SN 36.6, not letting the mind compound worries and useless mental fabrications on top of a situation which simply asks to be dealt with, not labelled this-or-that).

In fact, the Buddha made clear that, before as well as after awakening, life can be full of "pretty things": «
The pretty things remain as they are in the world
But the wise remove the desire for them.
» — SN 1.34
It becomes about appreciating 'pretty' phenomena without clinging, without immediately rushing toward the fear of loss, the anticipation of an end, the desire for more, or for longer… Appreciation of what's present rather than worrying about whatever future perturbations which might/will come!
And indeed, among what can be appreciated, one may find 'lessons' drawn from difficult experiences! So both the question and the answer of the spammer simply show ignorance of what Buddhism teaches… or constitute an attempt to mislead readers by voluntarily misrepresenting (for the sake of evangelism, based on lies?) what Buddhism teaches.

#Buddhism #Dharma