I think we can all agree that there is much suffering in the world. I have yet to find someone that doesn’t feel this to be true. However, as a practitioner of the Dhamma, it is important to realize the cause of suffering. Why are we suffering? Once we understand the causes of our suffering we are in a better position to address the causes. You already know there is the potential to end suffering by walking the Noble Eightfold Path. I like to look at suffering not just from Buddhist definitions, but also from a personal perspective. I would hazard to guess that most of the things I consider the causes of suffering are pretty universal and will resonate with you.
Suffering is caused by:
- Craving – It’s pretty obvious that all those things you crave only bring suffering in the end. You might be craving material things, sex, alcohol, drugs, money, status, or any number of stupid things. Time spent craving something inherently brings you pain, feelings of unease, a focus on the future, and dissatisfaction with what you have. For most of us, craving is the #1 cause of suffering and encompasses other causes.
- Ego – For me, this means a sense of self that craves recognition because I have some inflated view of myself. We all want to be special, but a life that is driven by ego will forever feel disappointing. We create an image of ourselves based on what we do for a living or how talented we think we are. This is a false self, one we create for this world we live in, not our true nature.
- Envy – To some degree, we are envious of others because we crave what they have. We perceive their life to be better than our own. Envy often manifests itself in resentment. We resent that the others have it so much better than we do. They are more successful, have more money, are more attractive, have more leisure time, and the list goes on and on. Instead of being grateful for the small things in life we are envious of someone or some group of people and this causes suffering.
- Death and Aging – We realize that someday we or someone we care about will die and leave this earth. This fact alone causes us to suffer, knowing that our time is limited and that we have wasted much of it. As we age we experience pain and the inability to do what we did when we were young and healthy, thus causing more suffering. Sometimes it just comes down to the underlying fear of death that hovers over us every day of our life.
- Attachment – “If you observe yourself and others then you will see that people crave for pleasant experiences, crave for material things, and crave for eternal life. We are attached to sensual pleasures, wealth and power but also to ideas, views, opinion, and beliefs. Taken together, the four types of attachment are the main problems that Buddhists need to understand. The four types of attachment are 1) sense objects, 2) opinions and views, 3) rites and rituals, and 4) self-hood.” Buddhism seeks to break this attachment to these things and ideas.
There are possibly dozens of other causes of suffering, but recognizing that any of these causes may be the root of your dissatisfaction is really a good thing. Without understanding the cause of suffering all the meditation in the world will not lead to its cessation. This is maybe the most fundamental truth that Buddhism seeks to address. Life is suffering, there are causes, there is a solution, and the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.
You will never change your behaviour by changing the way you think until you realize what are the primary causes of your own suffering. These defilements or taints you suffer from must ultimately be addressed and eradicated. There is no Nibbana for someone that does not address their issues with ego, craving, envy, and their own mortality. In my next post, I will make a case for moving your thinking from ego and craving to service, which is another key tenant of Buddhism.
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