Day: December 20, 2020

Root of suffering according to the Buddha

This little graphic above is a quote I shared on Instagram. In my previous post, I wrote about the Cause of Suffering from my own experience. Here I would like to discuss the root of suffering as spoken by the Buddha from the Pali Canon one of the earliest discourses on what the Buddha actually said.

The backdrop to this discourse occurred when the Blessed One was dwelling in a town of the Malans named Uruvelakappa. The Bhadraka the headman approached the Blessed One and he said to him “It would be good, venerable sir, if you would teach me about the origin and passing away of suffering.”

The Buddha goes on two provide three examples that illustrate how desire is the root of suffering:

  1. The people of Uruvelakappa
  2. The headman’s son
  3. The headman’s wife

The premise here is for those that the headman holds desire and attachment, will ultimately cause suffering if they were executed, imprisoned, fined, or censured. For those where there is no desire or attachment, there is no suffering. Here is an excerpt from (SN 42:11; IV 327-30)”

“What do you think headman? Before you saw your wife or heard about her, did you have any desire, attachment, or affection for her?”

“No, venerable sir.”

Then was it, headman, only when you saw her or heard about her that this desire, attachement, and affection arose in you?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“What do you think, headman? If you wife were to be executed, imprisoned, fined, or censured, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair arise in you?”

“Venerable sir, if my wife were to be exectured, improsoned, fined, or censured, even my life would seem futile, so how could sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair not arise in me?”

“In this way too, headman, it can be understood: ‘Whatever suffering arises, all that arises rooted in desire, with desire as its source; for desire is the root of suffering.'”

In this example from the Pali Canon, the Buddha is posing the question to the headman what if one of those terrible things (execution, imprisonment, fined, or censured) happened to people of his town that he knew and cared about, his son, or his wife. So, in this case, the word desire is also synonymous with people that the headman is attached to.

This desire or attachment may also be applied to material things, status, or power. Think about it for a while. Our whole society fosters desire, claiming that desire is necessary for achievement whether it be a new home, a new car, or a new business or job. We are told that desire equates to achievement, but never to suffering. People with great desire are put on a pedestal and celebrated for the desire that drives their work ethic and attainment of material things.

The Buddha was not wrong, desire begets attachment and attachment will only lead to suffering. What happens when the new car gets damaged in an accident, your son is killed in a war, and your parents die. Even the mere fact that you desire immortality due to your attachment to your life and others will ultimately lead to suffering. Understanding that desire will cause suffering is the first step in the abandonment of suffering.

Namaste

Reference: In the Buddha’s Words, An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, edited and introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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