The Reality of Suffering

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Creating our own suffering

While accepting suffering as a natural fact of human existence is critical, it's equally important to learn how we create suffering for ourselves.

How might refusing to accept pain and sorrow as a natural part of life create suffering? Are you aware of your own avoidance of the realities of your pains and sorrows?

We create suffering for ourselves when we come to see ourselves as victims and blame others for our problems.

Do you exacerbate your own suffering? Do you rehash injuries and hurts, blowing up "injustices" and imagining that what you are doing will fix a wrong? Do you personalize troubling situations, turning them into injuries purposefully inflicted on you?

You'll notice that what all these examples of self-created suffering share is a focus on the self — "my hurts, my injustices..." It's not an exaggeration to say that such thinking easily leads to a kind of paranoia in which we are the victims of intentionally perpetrated injuries.

Reflect on how easily this kind of thinking can become a pervasive pattern of relating to your family, friends and the world and how this becomes a significant source of misery.

What happens when you aggravate the reality of everyday life's inevitable problems with the idea that these are "unfair?" How does this affect your ability to focus on solutions to the problem?

Not only does such thinking inflame our anguish and unrest, we make one problem into two! And this second problem — the feeling of being a victim, of life being unfair — exhausts the very resources we need to address the problem we started with.

Blame — "Because of X ___"

Often our tendency is to try to blame our problems on others, on external factors. Furthermore, we tend to look for one single cause, and then try to exonerate ourselves from the responsibility. It seems that whenever there are intense emotions involved, there tends to be a disparity between how things appear and how they really are.

How does this relate to the nature of reality and cause and effect that you learned in the previous lesson?

The Dalai Lama urges us not to fall into this trap, yet another form of self-created suffering in which we see ourselves as powerless:

If you go further and analyze the situation carefully — looking at things in a holistic way and realizing that there are many events contributing to a situation — the reality of the situation emerges.

Afflictive emotions

Do you "suffer from" negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, greed, and hatred? Do you see these as self-created suffering, or do you tend to view them as afflictions from without?

We are not usually aware how such emotions cause us suffering. Let's look at one such emotion as an example: hatred. As the Dalai Lama points out, the destructive effects of hatred are very visible, very obvious and immediate.

When a very strong or forceful thought of hatred arises within you, at that very instant it totally overwhelms you and destroys your presence of mind disappears completely. When such intense anger and hatred arises, it obliterates the best part of your brain, which is the ability to judge between right and wrong and between the long-term and short-term consequences of your actions. Your power of judgment becomes totally inoperable — it can no longer function. So, this anger and hatred tends to throw you into a state of confusion, which just serves to make your problems and difficulties so much worse.

We also fail to see how such emotions cause others suffering. In addition to the obvious effects of expressing anger and hatred, even if we think we're keeping it inside, other people can sense it.

Can you sense when someone is feeling afflictive emotions, even if they are not "acting out" what they may be feeling? When you are feeling anger or jealousy or spite, do you feel that the emotions are being communicated even if you're trying to keep them in check? As the Dalai Lama describes it:

It is almost as if they can feel steam coming out of that person's body. So much so, that not only are human beings capable of sensing it, but even animals, pets, would try to avoid the person at that instant. The Art of Happiness