As has been previously stated, the Buddha said “Life is dukkha” a Pali language word that has no English language equivalent but is variously translated as meaning suffering, or discontent, or dissatisfaction, or stress, or pain, or discomfort. It might be considered as a perception that things are not as they should be, manifesting in human experience in varying degrees between despair (things are vastly different from the way things should be) and a vague uneasiness (things are not quite as they should be). For the purpose of convenience I’ll simply utilize the word suffering.
I’ve noticed that despite the Buddha’s observation most people would deny suffering in their own life. It’s become the commonplace in our worldview that we normalize suffering because of a fundamental belief that we can’t do anything about it. This belief seems to apply to the suffering surrounding our personal life circumstances as well as suffering we experience due to identifying with situations we see in the world. For many people the questions arise such as 'Why is there so much suffering?' and 'What can I do to relieve suffering for myself? and for others?' Seeking answers we engage the primary tool of the thinking mind which, founded on the language of opposites (duality), is the same tool that created the story of suffering in the first place due to its ignorance of the true nature of the oneness of reality.
A common question brought to satsang is “Is it our responsibility to reduce suffering in the world?” This reflects a belief that the world should be different than what it is, and it also pretends to know what might be better. When the desire to fix the world takes on a quality of duty, or what one ‘should’ be doing, this becomes a perfect setup for ego to invigorate itself. It not only identifies with its thoughts about global suffering, but may also be attempting to resolve one’s personal suffering through action, which may only increase feelings of helplessness, unfairness, inadequacy and selfishness. I’m not suggesting inaction, only that one needs to be clear about their source of motivation and the underlying beliefs.
Fortunately for us there have been saints, sages and teachers that have evolved beyond personal suffering and who offer pointers so that we might find our own path to bring about a state of happiness and contentment. I hope some of the following quotes might prompt your own exploration that might begin with the question “Where can I find suffering in my own experience
When the Buddha said that life is suffering, he did not mean only neurotic suffering. He was referring to the more fundamental understanding that there is bound to be suffering in the life of the ego, because one is not seeing reality correctly; one is taking oneself to be something that actually does not exist. It is a problem of mistaken identity.
~ A.H. Almaas
The ego says, ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer,’ and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it.
~ Eckhart Tolle
Pain is physical,
suffering is mental.
Beyond the mind there is no suffering.
Pain is essential for the survival of the body,
but none compels you to suffer.
Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting;
it is a sign of our unwillingness to move one, to flow with life.
Suffering is the sandpaper of our incarnation. It does its work of shaping us.
~ Ram Dass
Memories of the past or hopes for the future are often spoken of as being spiritually unsound. But these are not actually the cause of your suffering. In fact fond reminiscences and future fantasies can make this moment quite rich and full. We need not always be focused on the task at hand to lead rich and fulfilled lives.
The real culprit it turns out is to be found in the denial of whatever it is that is happening now. This denial takes shape in our "shoulds" and when this happens there is suffering.
The way out of this quagmire is in simply seeing what is going on. When there is a recognition that the denial of reality is at the root of the suffering...the suffering automatically begins to reduce. So the Living Teaching exhorts you to look! Look at what is happening, if you can! Take stock of yourself as you are, if you can! Inquire into your essential nature, if you can!
~ Wayne Liquorman
The problem is not with the mind, it is the personal identification with thoughts that creates suffering.
~ Jac O’Keeffe
The fact of the matter is: it is His Will which has always prevailed;
it is His Will which is now prevailing;
and it is His Will which will prevail in the future.
That is a fact.
The longer it takes one to accept that fact, the longer one will suffer.
~ Ramesh Balsekar
Running the idea of a desire is a natural movement of the thinking mind. However, believing your thoughts and imagining that satisfying desire will make you happy is suffering. Watch the unending play of desires and see if you can recognize that the absence of desire allows the arising of an innate natural peace and happiness. Mind will quickly conclude that this state is boring or empty or lacks experience and opportunities. Recognize that this is the re-emergence of desire again, seeking something better.
~ Jac O’Keeffe
Suffering occurs when you clash with reality. When your illusions clash with reality when your falsehoods clash with the truth, then you have suffering. Otherwise there is no suffering.
~ Anthony de Mello
Suffering is simply a symptom of incomplete knowledge. Suffering is a symptom of lack of realization, lack of complete awareness. We experience lack of awareness, of realization, and of knowledge as suffering. As we begin to understand this, our attitude toward suffering changes: it is no longer something bad happening. We realize that there is simply something that we don’t understand, that remains to be seen. Our suffering is a symptom, a sign coming from our nature, which is the deepest guide. Our suffering beckons us closer to the truth, shows us the way to peace. Through our suffering, our true self tells us that there is more to realize. Our suffering is connected with our guidance, and it’s better not to try to silence it. The only approach to suffering is to understand it. Suffering is silenced in the final silence, in the Absolute.
~ A.H. Almaas
Relief from your suffering is not a matter of getting better at what you think you need to do. It is about finding out how you ended up where you are in the first place.
~ Byron Brown
Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.
~ Ajahn Chah
Vedanta explains the 5 kleshas (reasons) behind all human suffering:
1. Not knowing the true nature of reality.
2. Clinging to, grasping for, or holding onto that which is ephemeral, transitory, illusory, insubstantial and therefore not real.
3. Fear of, aversion to, running away from, revulsion to that which is ephemeral, transitory, illusory, insubstantial and therefore not real.
4. Identification with a false and constricted and habitual self that we call ego.
5. Fear of death.
And, all 5 kleshas are contained in number 1.
~ Deepak Chopra
Nothing and nobody can make me suffer.
Suffering is always my own resistance
to the way things are right now.
~ Jeff Foster
Whereas pain is
A physical experience
Suffering is a mental one.
It is the sense that
Things should be
Other than they are.
~ Wu Hsin.
There is no separation, no entity. So all your life now this paradox is trying to resolve itself. This is the suffering—the turmoil of dissatisfaction, of seeking, of feeling incomplete, of the feeling of something missing. That’s where it comes from. That’s what’s driving it. That, that only.
~ Ilona Ciunaite
Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether we scrub floors,
or whether we are leaders of great nations;
unless we know that we are merely playing a part
on the stage of time,
we will suffer from the dualities inherent in the consciousness of
being identified with these different stations and conditions.
Stage actors do not bemoan their particular parts,
but enact their roles to the best of their ability,
knowing they are temporary portrayals.
Do you see?
It is only when we take life too seriously that we suffer.
~ Paramahansa Yogananda
People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. . . . Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered,
but that when I didn’t believe them,
I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being.
Freedom is as simple as that.
I found that suffering is optional.
I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.
That joy is in everyone, always.
~ Byron Katie
Addiction is neither a choice nor primarily a disease, genetic or acquired. It originates in a person’s attempt to solve genuine human problems: those of emotional loss, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection. It is a forlorn and ultimately futile attempt to solve the dilemma of human suffering.
~ Gabor Mate
My teacher called this world ‘the great heartbreak.’ When we really begin to wake up to our true nature, we become more conscious of the suffering around us. We feel the people and the events of our lives more profoundly, not less profoundly. We become more present here and now. What we see is that, even though our vision may have expanded, even though we may have woken up not just to reality, but as reality, still we can’t control anyone. Everything and everyone has their own life to live, and we can’t just wipe away their suffering because our hearts are open. Although we would love to have everyone wake up and be happy, part of the heartbreak is accepting this moment, this world, just as it is.
Some people awaken spiritually without ever coming into contact with any meditation technique or any spiritual teaching. They may awaken simply because they can't stand the suffering anymore.
~ Eckhart Tolle
Suffering is to the mind what pain is to the body. When you put your hand in the fire, you experience pain. The pain is not a mistake, it’s not something that’s wrong. The pain is the intelligence of the body, telling you: take your hand out of the fire. So pain is working on behalf of your wellbeing. Suffering is exactly the same at the level of the mind. It is cooperating with your desire for happiness. It’s telling you, you’ve got your hand in the fire. In this case suffering is telling you: You have mistaken yourself for a seperate limited awareness. Take a look. That’s what suffering is. It’s a wakeup call. It’s saying: You have mistaken yourself for an object, a limited self. Have another look!
~ Rupert Spira
You are the Self. Believing that you are otherwise brings suffering and pain.
There is no place to go and nothing to do to make you more of what you already are.
How you experience yourself is up to you.
~ Jac O'Keeffe
You see people suffer and you seek the best way of helping them. The answer is obvious - first put yourself beyond the need of help. Be sure your attitude is of pure goodwill, free of expectation of any kind. Those who seek mere happiness may end up in sublime indifference, while love will never rest. As to method, there is only love - you must come to know yourself - both what you appear to be and what you are. Clarity and charity go together - each needs and strengthens the other.
Don't take the world upon your shoulders.
You don't have such a responsibility.
Your responsibility is to find and be your Self.
Nobody can save this world. Leave all to God.
Also it is good to know and have this attitude
that nothing in this world belongs to you—not even 'you'.
Everything is Him alone.
When you know this, all suffering and sorrows will go.
The space that remains is your true Self—who is He.
Our biggest avoidance is the avoidance of feelings and emotions. This creates the worst part of suffering, as to do this, we have to live only in our head and we have to cut off pleasure feelings as well – as they come together. So as we shut down feeling painful feelings we then shut down the pleasurable ones as well. So life becomes numb. We become very unclear about how we feel or what we want – we become dead, like robots.
~ Lisa Cairns
Any suffering is simply indicative that
you are not in communion with existence,
that the fish is not in the ocean.
Do good in this world. Everything is holy. Everything is sacred.
Do not believe that some things are sacred and some things are not.
Everything is sacred, even man's inhumanity to man,
the dastardly situations that appear in the world.
It is hard for the human mind to understand these things,
but everything is very sacred, everything is God.
God is all there is, there's nothing else.
So how can there be an evil situation someplace and also be God.
This is duality, and we know and understand that duality does not exist.
There is only the one, and the one is everything that exists.
You consequently have to start feeling this in your heart,
that your heart center is omnipresence, all-pervading,
it includes the whole universe.
~ Robert Adams