Tuesday, June 15, 2010

beauty and suffering

This is a photograph of a friend of a friend of mine. His name is Tyke, an old horse who comes for his breakfast every morning and if breakfast is late he may even come up close to the house to peek in her bedroom window. This is a picture of beauty and suffering both and I'll try to explain what I mean.

Buddha said the essence of life is suffering which on first glance seems a pretty morbid point of view. It doesn't seem as though it's correct. Yet if we examine any moment when we feel really fulfilled and happy we find that pervasive undercurrent of tension that tells us this moment will soon end.

The bittersweet process of mourning is not always suffering. Sometimes it is appreciation and sometimes it is love. Would any child, upon the death of their beloved parent, wish that they had never loved their parent? The lifecycle of desire, appreciation, passing, and remembrance is a net-positive experience, and one of the true joys of life. To love someone unconditionally, truly for their own selves, is a reward in itself that can never be taken away. Separation from an object of desire does not always end in suffering, and when it does, it does not cancel out the enjoyment.

Suffering is universal. In spite of the differences in customs, traditions, language, literature, art, and philosophy every society understands that harsh reality. Of course there's more to life than suffering and to acknowledge beauty only in suffering would be unbalanced but after thinking about it for a long while I realized that suffering is ennobling. It inspires feelings of compassion and empathy. Tears and sadness felt in sympathy with another feels beautiful to me. It is compassion and empathy that bring people closer together and without mutual understanding, without empathy no true bond between human beings can exist. Joy can be shared as well but balance is the key. Great joy and sorrow are the extremes of emotions that meet one another in opposition and both cause tears.

Buddhists know that desire causes suffering, ambition is suffering, being trapped inside ourselves is suffering. Our natural state is to expand and share with others and our suffering makes us human because it's what pushes us toward our potential. The higher we go the greater the tendency to leak or even break the vessel that contains our limited view of ourselves.

There's nothing wrong with existence. It's perfect.. but it's also very transient and that is both sad and beautiful.

16 comments:

  1. I think some of the most intense suffering I've ever done concerns my inability to help those who I love when they suffer.

    I think you have a good grasp of Buddhist principles and have explained why that particular philosophy appeals to me over other systems of thought.

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  2. Christ invited us to look to the "lilies of the field" and the simple way they are provided with all they need. I think we are also called to think of them for their transience.

    Wonderful, thought provoking post.

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  3. Hi Susan.
    You have provided an excellent tenet to Buddhist thinking which as you’re aware is religious only within the bounds of certain sacred texts and Buddhist strands encompassing a massive work exceeding 12 times the size of the Bible. Mostly however Buddhism is more philosophical than religious to suggest a way of life rather than reliance on any sacred belief systems and has much to commend it as you have eloquently explained.

    But whatever philosophy we adopt (such as in Buddhism to avoid harming sentient beings) much will depend on that application.

    Although consumers do not directly harm sentient beings at the dinner table we have the exact same effect if what we consume is inevitably as a consequence of the extreme suffering of animals- such as in intensive factory farming.

    But I also like the sentiment expressed within the ancient Greeks who suggested fulfillment can be derived from doing good through a virtuous life- a life that one enjoys immensely in service to reduce suffering or oppression for different people and animals. There is no doubting the reality to suffering but that need not be overshadowed by the satisfaction and enjoyment of what one is doing which makes for a good life.
    I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this and you and you will also see parallels in Buddhist philosophy.

    Best wishes

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  4. Really? That really happens. Such a beautiful photo.

    I saw an image of animal suffering today that made me so very sad. There is something about seeing innocent animals suffer breaks my heart more than any other suffering.

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  5. liberality - I do understand what you mean by that one; sometimes one would rather have an arm amputated without anesthesia.

    I've been practicing for a while so maybe one day I'll be able to call myself a Buddhist. It's a most holistic philosophy.

    steve - The interesting thing about flowers is that we go as individuals but they always return as an aggregate.

    lindsay - Buddhism as I understand it is a philosophy based on the ability of each of us as individuals to attain the ground reality of all being. It has nothing to do with having faith in a Godhead as such but is a method teaching us how to look for the ultimate meaning in ourselves.

    So long as we all participate in consumer culture at any level I think we have no choice but to be part of harming sentient beings. It's a fact that can only be ameliorated by our developing understanding.

    The Greek philosophers definitely had the right idea but didn't share the ideal with their slaves. Overall I believe we're growing in consciousness and compassion but it's a long road whose destination remains elusive.

    Best wishes

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  6. belette - Isn't it a great picture? When she sent it and told me the story I was delighted.

    I think the suffering of innocents is so difficult for us as adults to witness is not so much because they can't speak but that we know they don't understand. Neither do we much of the time.

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  7. Susan – I m not sure what you mean when you say that the Greek philosophers definitely had the right idea but didn't share the ideal with their slaves. Plato seems to me to be a very unlikely candidate as he was Socrates’ prized student who was ransomed out of slavery by rich friends and was set up in a donated property so he could he could teach philosophy. I can’t find any recorded history to suggest the Greek philosophers such as Aristotle or Epicurus endorsed slavery or indeed employed slaves although slavery was certainly rife in that culture and throughout the world at that time.
    Best wishes

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  8. Hi Lindsay,
    You're right about the philosophers and I apologize making a broad statement like that when what I meant was that it was an unfortunate aspect of classical Greek civil society that slavery was the norm. Democracy was an ingenious innovation that still had far to go to be the ideal inclusive system that defines the modern era.
    Thanks for mentioning that. It's so nice to be able to converse at a distance, isn't it?

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  9. I feel the earth suffering. It is a real and tangible feeling. It makes me so sad sometimes I think I can't bear it. That and the suffering of animals and children.

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  10. I suffer for the animals and plants of this planet daily, my heart is full of pain for the suffering that I can not stop.
    Many say that I should just forget it, but that I can not. It makes the trials of my own life story seem nothing when you look at what is really happening on our planet..

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  11. Hi Susan
    That’s what I thought you may have meant in relation to slavery within Greek society. Slavery’s cultural normalcy is also evident as both Christ and Buddha didn’t specifically speak up against slavery practiced within their respective communities.

    I do think western Democracy is facing a watershed moment since for some time we have been producing far more consumer goods than what we really need which is not sustainable. This means reducing our addiction to growth which would be greeted with shock and a bitter pill for some - not least governments which can’t keep borrowing infinitum.
    But materialistic democracies haven’t really made anyone happier so the transition may be a lot easier than we think.

    Best wishes

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  12. nancy - I've felt the same way these past two months; it's a dark shadow always lurking.

    gemel - You're right that it would be wrong to deny what we understand at a deep level. I've learned not everyone grows up at once.

    lindsay - I understand what you're saying and truly hope your evaluation is correct. Things can no longer continue as they have been; crisis is at hand.

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  13. what a touching post this was for me...you really got me straight in the heart, lady, and i wasn't sure if you didn't write the whole thing for me, to be honest, and i will admit that to you ;) anyway, thank you for the reminder, i always need one once in awhile and lately, mired down the way i tend to get, a gentle reminder with this sweet photo, really does soothe savage beast that can be my soul.
    xoxoxo my♥to you

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  14. linda - It was when you and gfid made those remarks to one another a few days ago that I decided it was time to sort out my thoughts about the matter. It was a good reminder for me too ♡

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  15. yes! i knew you'd nail it!!! just as dying is part of living, suffering is part of joy; tragedy is connected to celebration..... yin and yang. one cannot BE without the other.

    and my heart is so broken just now that i don't want to understand any of this. i only want to curl up in a mushy lump and cry.

    but i put on my big girl panties and go out in the sunshine.

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  16. gfid - I'm so sorry you lost your friend and I can empathize not only because I've lost people very dear to me but also because I've grown to treasure those I love and who are still here even more. When fear comes the only thing to do is to breathe through it and allow ourselves to understand we have the freedom to choose to change our unfounded assumptions about reality. Death can be a great teacher

    and Sunshine is a great healer :-)

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