I just finished teaching a class on the subject of Suffering for an on-line Bachelor's program in Liberal Studies for the University of Philosophical Research. The first time a new class is taught, it is
always interesting to see how the many long hours of development and preparation lead to insights and learning for the participants. There are some interesting tidbits that came out of the experience that I would like to share.
Kind of an obvious truth, people suffer. I haven't met a person who hasn't suffered over, because of, in spite of, in some way, shape or form at some time in their life. It is what I refer to as: The Human Dilemma. You
can't get through life without some kind of suffering. It is inherent in the human experience in life.
First, there are many philosophies, religions etc., who have profoundly spoken on the subject of suffering. Buddhism, for instance with the Four Noble Truths which state, 1) the truth of suffering; 2) the truth of
the cause of suffering; 3) the truth of the end of suffering; and 4) the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. More simply put, suffering exists; it has a cause; it has an end; and it has a cause to bring about
its end. Buddhism offers the 8-Fold Path to detach from our attachment to things which, it says, is the cause of suffering. The good news is there is a path before us that others have trod successfully that can offer hope.
Second, how do you deal with it? And there are so many people dealing with it...Some, well. Some, not so well. All of the suffering people who choose mind-altering substances to alleviate their suffering in an effort to
distract, avoid, deny, numb out, etc., from feeling and knowing what kind of pain they are in....often discover even more suffering.
Third, Why? If you believe in God. Why, would the earth and all the people be created just to suffer? Since we have already established that it is happening. Many people feel the need to understand what's happening and to make
sense of the God element of the equation.
I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I can say that I believe there is purpose in suffering and that is: To inspire learning and growth. I believe we come into this world into a particular body, into a particular
family, into a particular culture, into a particular region, because that "life" would provide the opportunity to suffer in a particular way that could/would lead to the particular growth needed/desired by that particular soul.
Not everyone responds to their life experiences by choosing to grow, but they certainly have the opportunity.
When you consider the "how people deal with it" question. It is obvious that there are some people who deal with suffering in a manner that is all about becoming a better person, a more enlightened person and there are others
who are brought down by it.
A good example of this dicotomy comes from Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search For Meaning in which he says, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others,
giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given
set of circumstances, to choose one’s way."
Ultimately, this is what I believe suffering is all about: to find that spark of humanness in the midst of our instinctual human reactions that enables us to rise above, regardless of the circumstances.