Suffering is the experience of physical or mental pain or discomfort, often as a result of illness, injury, or difficult life circumstances. It is a universal human experience, and one that can take many forms, from physical pain and discomfort to emotional distress and suffering.

Suffering can be caused by a wide range of factors, including physical illness or injury, mental health disorders, poverty, social isolation, discrimination, and trauma. It can also be caused by more abstract factors, such as feelings of meaninglessness or despair, or a lack of purpose or fulfillment in life.

Suffering can have both physical and emotional effects on a person, and it can interfere with their ability to function and enjoy life. It can cause feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair, and it can lead to a wide range of physical and mental health problems.

There are many different ways to cope with suffering, and the most effective approach will depend on the individual and the specific cause of their suffering. Some people find relief through medication, therapy, or other forms of treatment, while others find comfort in spiritual or religious practices, or through the support of friends and loved ones.

Ultimately, suffering is an inescapable part of the human experience, and it is something that we all have to confront at some point in our lives. However, by learning to cope with and manage suffering, we can find ways to alleviate our suffering and find meaning and purpose in the face of adversity.

Arthur Schopenhauer on suffering

Schopenhauer had a rather pessimistic view on the nature of human existence, and his thoughts on suffering are central to his philosophy. He believed that suffering is an inherent and unavoidable aspect of life, and he expressed this in his concept of the "will."

According to Schopenhauer, the will is the driving force behind all human desires and actions. It is an insatiable and blind force that perpetuates a cycle of wanting, striving, and ultimately dissatisfaction. He saw suffering as a result of the constant striving and unfulfilled desires inherent in the human condition.

Schopenhauer was influenced by Eastern philosophies, particularly Indian philosophy, and he drew parallels between his ideas and the concept of suffering in Buddhism. He believed that the cessation of desire and the denial of the will could lead to a state of liberation from suffering.

One of Schopenhauer's famous quotes encapsulates his view on suffering: "Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom." He saw pain and boredom as the two dominant forces shaping human experience, and he explored ways to mitigate the impact of these forces.

In response to the inevitability of suffering, Schopenhauer proposed various strategies for coping. One of them was the aesthetic experience, particularly through engagement with art. He believed that the contemplation of art allowed individuals to momentarily transcend the suffering of everyday life.

While Schopenhauer's perspective on suffering is bleak, it's worth noting that his philosophy also contains elements of compassion and empathy. He believed that recognizing the universality of suffering could lead to increased compassion for others and a more ethical way of living.

Bhikkhu Buddhadasa on suffering

Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, being a Buddhist monk, approached the topic of suffering from the perspective of Buddhism. In Buddhism, the understanding of suffering is a fundamental concept and is encapsulated in the First Noble Truth. Buddhadasa's teachings on suffering align with these foundational principles.

In Buddhism, suffering is referred to as "dukkha." Buddhadasa acknowledged the universality of suffering and emphasized the importance of recognizing its nature to attain liberation. He explained that suffering is not limited to physical pain but encompasses a broader sense of unsatisfactoriness, discontent, and the inherent impermanence of all phenomena.

Buddhadasa explained that the root cause of suffering, according to Buddhist teachings, is craving and attachment (tanha). Humans suffer because they crave for things to be a certain way, and they become attached to things, ideas, and outcomes. The cycle of craving and attachment perpetuates suffering.

One of Buddhadasa's key teachings was the practice of mindfulness (sati) as a means to understand and overcome suffering. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment, observing thoughts and feelings without attachment or aversion. By cultivating mindfulness, individuals can break the cycle of craving and develop a deeper understanding of the nature of suffering.

He also emphasized the importance of insight meditation (vipassana), which involves penetrating into the true nature of reality and gaining direct experiential knowledge of the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-self nature of all phenomena.

Buddhadasa advocated for the practice of letting go and non-attachment as a way to alleviate suffering. By recognizing the impermanence of all things and understanding the nature of craving, individuals can free themselves from the causes of suffering and attain a state of inner peace.

Erich Fromm on suffering

Erich Fromm, a German-American psychoanalyst and humanistic philosopher, addressed the topic of suffering in the context of human psychology and social dynamics. Fromm's views on suffering were influenced by existentialist and humanistic philosophies, and he explored the psychological, social, and existential dimensions of human pain.

Fromm argued that there are different forms of suffering, including physical pain, emotional distress, and existential angst. He believed that some forms of suffering were inevitable and intrinsic to the human condition, while others were the result of societal structures and psychological factors.

One of Fromm's notable contributions to the understanding of suffering is his distinction between "productive" and "unproductive" suffering. Productive suffering, in his view, is a necessary part of human growth and development. It involves facing life's challenges, learning from them, and using the experience to mature emotionally and spiritually.

On the other hand, unproductive suffering results from neurotic or irrational responses to life's challenges. This type of suffering is characterized by a sense of futility, a feeling of being trapped, and a lack of growth or learning. Fromm believed that unproductive suffering often arises from destructive social structures, such as oppressive political systems or alienating economic conditions.

Fromm also explored the relationship between freedom and suffering. He argued that the human quest for freedom comes with a certain amount of anxiety and responsibility, and individuals may experience a form of existential suffering as they navigate the complexities of making choices and taking responsibility for their lives.

In addressing the alleviation of suffering, Fromm emphasized the importance of human connection and love. He believed that authentic human relationships, based on love and mutual respect, were crucial for overcoming various forms of psychological and existential suffering.

Jianzhi Sengcan on suffering

Jianzhi Sengcan, also known as the Third Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, is traditionally credited with writing the "Xinxin Ming" or "Verses on the Faith-Mind." In this text, he offers insights into the nature of mind and the path to enlightenment, which has implications for the understanding of suffering.

Sengcan's verses emphasize the importance of perceiving reality directly, unclouded by conceptual thinking. He points to the inherent purity of the mind before it is disturbed by discriminating thoughts. The famous opening lines of the "Xinxin Ming" express this idea: "The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised."

In the context of suffering, Sengcan's teachings suggest that it arises from the dualistic thinking of attaching to or rejecting phenomena. The mind becomes clouded when it is entangled in likes and dislikes, desires and aversions. By letting go of preferences and seeing things as they are, one can transcend the mental habits that contribute to suffering.

Sengcan also emphasizes the importance of not seeking enlightenment outside of oneself. He suggests that the realization of the true nature of the mind is not something to be attained or acquired but something to be recognized. This recognition involves a direct insight into the nature of one's own mind, unmediated by intellectual or conceptual understanding.

Furthermore, Sengcan encourages practitioners to avoid fixating on dualities such as good and bad, right and wrong. These dualistic judgments contribute to mental turbulence and suffering. Instead, he points to the need for a mind that is free from distinctions and judgments.

Meister Eckhart on suffering

Meister Eckhart, a medieval Christian mystic and theologian, explored profound spiritual concepts, and while he did not directly focus on suffering, his teachings touched on themes relevant to the human experience, including challenges and difficulties.

Eckhart's mysticism emphasized the direct experience of God and the union of the soul with the divine. He spoke about the importance of detachment and inner stillness to allow the soul to experience God more fully. In the context of suffering, his teachings suggest that true understanding and peace come through a deep connection with the divine rather than through external circumstances.

Eckhart's approach to suffering may be understood through his emphasis on detachment. He believed that individuals should not be overly attached to the transient and ever-changing aspects of life. By letting go of attachments to worldly concerns and desires, one could find a more profound spiritual connection and a sense of peace that transcends the ups and downs of life.

One of Eckhart's famous quotes is, "The more we possess the less we own, and the more we don't possess the more we are possessed." This points to the idea that our attachments can become burdens, leading to suffering, while letting go of possessiveness and ego-centered desires can lead to a sense of liberation.

Eckhart also spoke about the importance of inner transformation and the birth of the divine within the soul. He believed that through a deep contemplative life and surrendering the ego, individuals could experience a profound spiritual rebirth that transcends suffering and leads to a union with God.

Thich Nhat Hanh on suffering

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, peace activist, and renowned spiritual teacher, has provided profound insights into the nature of suffering and its transformation. His teachings are rooted in mindfulness, compassion, and engaged Buddhism.

Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes the practice of mindfulness as a transformative tool for understanding and alleviating suffering. He teaches that by being fully present in the current moment, individuals can develop awareness of their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This awareness, cultivated through mindfulness, allows one to see the roots of suffering and make skillful choices in response.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh's key teachings is the concept of "interbeing," the interconnected nature of all things. He suggests that understanding the interdependence of all phenomena helps cultivate compassion and empathy. Recognizing that suffering is not isolated but linked to the suffering of others can inspire individuals to work towards collective well-being.

Thich Nhat Hanh introduces the practice of "mindful breathing" as a means to come back to the present moment and anchor oneself in mindfulness. By paying attention to the breath, individuals can release tension, calm the mind, and gain insight into the impermanent and ever-changing nature of life.

In dealing with emotional pain and difficult circumstances, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages a compassionate and mindful approach. He teaches the practice of "embracing" one's suffering, acknowledging it with tenderness and understanding. By facing suffering directly and embracing it with mindfulness, individuals can begin the process of healing.

Engaged Buddhism is another significant aspect of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. He believes in applying mindfulness and compassion to social and environmental issues. Addressing the roots of collective suffering involves active engagement and working towards positive change in the world.

Suffering Texts, Tubes & Books

 The Myth of Normal, Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture

The Myth of Normal

Maté traces the roots of our current health crisis to the trauma and stress that are endemic in our society. He argues that these factors contribute to a range of chronic illnesses, including addiction, depression, and heart disease. Maté offers a path to healing that emphasizes self-compassion, understanding, and taking responsibility for one's own health. He argues that we need to create a society that is more supportive and less stressful in order to promote genuine health and well-being.

Mount Fuji, Painting

The view on reality and the way to end suffering

If we rely on the assumptions that there is one reality and that this reality is understandable – and those seem to be the assumptions Buddhism relies on - then the most advanced climbers will have the same in front of them when they reach the summit. Although this is true, they will describe their view with different languages, terms and concepts. The authors at the root of the Pali Canon and the Platform Sutra seem to have reached the same position what we assume to be the summit of human existence.