The Reality of Suffering

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Suffering of discontent and mental unhappiness

While we can easily identify with unavoidable suffering, there is, as well, a great deal of suffering that arises around our wanting, our expectations and our attitudes.

Reflect on some examples in your own life of this suffering from meeting the unwanted.

Having what we want taken away from us
The Dalai Lama talks eloquently of Tibetans being refugees who have lost their countries, many separated from family and loved ones. Have you suffered from losing something? Someone?

Not achieving what we desire
We may exert great effort and still end up suffering.

Despite breaking our back working in the fields, the harvest fails; despite working night and day at a business venture, it is not successful. Ethics for the New Millennium

Have you suffered from not getting what you wanted and worked for?

Our world is not under the control we often wish for. We don't know when trouble will strike. Does this uncertainty create insecurity and anxiety in you?

Furthermore, the Dalai Lama suggests that accepting suffering as part of everyday experience requires awareness of a subtler but profound suffering: feelings of discontent and mental unhappiness.

Generally speaking, for instance, you feel happy if you or people close to you receive praise, fame, fortune, and other pleasant things. And you feel unhappy and discontent if you don't achieve these things or if your rival is receiving them. If you look at your normal day-today life, however, you often find that there are so many factors and conditions that cause pain, suffering, and feelings of dissatisfaction.

What are some of the conditions and factors in your day-to-day life which bring you suffering and dissatisfaction?

Since this is the reality of our existence, our attitude towards suffering may need to be modified. Our attitude towards suffering becomes very important because it can affect how we cope with suffering when it arises. Now, our usual attitude consists of an intense aversion and intolerance of our pain and suffering. However, if we can transform our attitude towards suffering, adopt an attitude that allows us greater tolerance of it, then this can do much to help counteract feelings of mental unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.

Can you relate your own suffering to "lack of contentment"? Above and beyond what does or does not befall you, beyond your failures or success, does there remain a dissatisfaction, a dis-ease? Even when you have achieved what you have striven for?

How can you make the distinction between suffering, which is inevitable, and dissatisfaction, unhappiness, or discontentment?


Even further, there is often suffering in the midst of just the experiences in which we seek pleasure!

Think about pleasurable experiences you sought out. Can you think of an experience where the attainment at first was satisfying but soon became the cause of unhappiness?

Sometimes when we are seeking something that we hope will offset our experience of suffering, what we identify as pleasurable is only so in relation to the suffering we're trying to avoid. That is, we choose something that ultimately leads to suffering, because in the moment we think it might alleviate a current discomfort. So our trying to avoid one suffering leads to more suffering.

Have you ever had this experience of being hungry and eating to eliminate your hunger: the first mouthfuls did assuage your hunger, but you continued to eat seeking more pleasure and ended up with a stomach ache — with more suffering?

The key to this kind of suffering is the notion of contentment.

Do you know what contentment is? How is contentment different from pleasure?

Contentment implies being happy with what one has, as opposed to always seeking something else to make us happy.

How is contentment related to ethical discipline (behavior)?