Ignorance is the cause of all suffering
Sometime near to 3000 years ago, the Buddha achieved his enlightenment and the understanding that ignorance is the cause of all suffering.
As a consequence of his realisation he described the eightfold Path that we know today as Buddhism. But this is not a belief system, it's an experiential life path referred to as 'Dharma' that everyone can follow. It's like a mathematical formula that brings peace of mind and a lifetime of happiness that is independent of external phenomenon.
The most basic ignorance that the majority of people suffer is that of their identity. If you don't know who you are, how can you possibly live your life in any meaningful way?
What is suffering?
Suffering is the antithesis of joy and happiness. This means that if your life is more unpleasant than pleasant, and that any pleasantness that you do find in life is dependent on experiencing pleasant external phenomenon such as nice food, nice people to be around or substances that dull the mind to the point that consciousness is subdued, then you are locked into suffering.
Everyone suffers to some degree and we often make simple mistakes like falling down, offending people and being offended. But we fall down because we are ignorant of the relationship between our body and the environment. We offend people through our words because our words contradict ideas that they are attached to and people offend you for the same reason.
So attachment to ideas and beliefs creates the foundation for suffering. But the only reason we become attached to ideas and beliefs is because we don't know the truth of our existence. In other words we don't really know who we are, but we formulate an idea about who we are which enables us to live in a reduced manner because we are dependent on the sanctity of that idea.
The physical suffering that most people must endure in this world such as sickness, violence and hunger is driven by the attachment to ideas and beliefs that cannot be proven as real. The term the Buddha uses is 'inherent existence'.
Inherent existence is something that exists of its own volition and as yet despite the advancement of science, there is nothing in this universe that is inherently existent. In other words, there is nothing in this universe in which we reside that is permanent and unchanging.
How to free ourselves from suffering?
Firstly we need to realise that in a sense we are only dreaming but our dream is real. In other words we need to stop taking life so seriously. Sure we exist, but our existence is contextual within our environment.
We have this human body that has a range of strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths is that it serves as a vehicle for our life experience but as weakness is that it is dependent on the need to eat and excrete as well as needing some regular maintenance.
We have this capacity that we call mind, and this is a pretty cool calculator that works within the parameters or the amount of information stored in memory. But our mind is inventive as over the many generations our species has existed, we have given names to the observable phenomena in our world and it is through our mind that we have learned to manipulate the phenomena of the world.
In other words, we have given everything a name and defined some purpose for a great deal of the stuff in our environment. Some plants we grow and eat, some things we transform into some usable product such as all the earth materials that go into manufacturing a computer.
Yet for all our ingenuity in transforming oil into plastic, turning forests into newsprint and so many other short-term activities that see these consumables end up in huge landfills which then degrade the quality of our air and water, then eventually poison our bodies which creates another form of suffering and premature death.
So to free ourselves from suffering we must realise that we as individuals and as a collective, we are setting ourselves up for perpetual suffering. If we look at our world today there are very few people who are free from suffering because in a sense they have stepped out of the human race to coexist with nature.
In some ways freeing one's self from suffering is a little like any addiction recovery program. First you must recognise that if you are not naturally happy all the time, you must recognise those certain external phenomenon are necessary for temporary happiness and nurture them to a certain extent provided that does not cause anyone else to suffer.
You must recognise the domino effect in that this existence is one of cause and effect. This is called karma and the actions of your ancestors and mind set up the conditions in which we live today. But it is our behaviour today that sets up the conditions for the next generation and if we look at the world today it's not pretty.
The modern world of the 21st-century has resulted in an unprecedented level of suffering which has included the extermination of many species in which we once shared an interdependency. The most obvious example of that is the deforestation. The trees absorb carbon dioxide and give us oxygen and in return we absorb the oxygen and give the trees carbon dioxide creating a sustainable cycle. Buses we have chopped down most of the trees, the level of atmospheric oxygen is falling and we must adapt to doing with less which means less physical energy.
Most of us recognise the difference between right and wrong, but the need for temporary happiness to relieve the sense of suffering that we feel drives us to cause harm to others, even when its indirect. For instance the growing demand for palm oil, a product we could do without us causing massive deforestation and the end product that we use is laden with harmful chemicals that makes us sick - this is karma in action.
- Make time to sit down and relax.
- Make time to interact with nature, even of us just a walk or sitting in the park.
- Recognise that knowledge requires no belief and that ideas and beliefs are only mental constructs without any reality. Play with your ideas by all means, but give up your beliefs because beliefs inhibit mental function and create suffering for one's self and others.
- Become more socially responsible so that you are not harming yourself, other people or the environment.
- There are countless individual people who have achieved enlightenment and Buddhahood. Many of these people have described all the actions they needed to take to achieve their enlightenment, therefore look to them and follow in their footsteps.
- Begin exploring and learning to use the tools provided within yoga and meditation.
The words used to describe the pathway to enlightenment, the pathway to liberation or freedom from suffering, the pathway to wisdom and knowledge of the ultimate reality of our universe varies from person to person. Some of these pathway descriptions are more challenging than others and yet this ancient wisdom says that each and every one of us must make this journey. Yet this is more than a journey, it is a deep primal calling and the need to know the absolute truth of our existence.
So it's simply a matter of when. If you are enjoying your suffering so much, perhaps you want to take a slow path, but if the suffering in your life and in the world around you is making you so mad, then find a guru and take a short path!