"Does God exist? The Buddhist is likely to answer,'It really doesn't matter one way or another since the human predicament remains the same in either case. Our job is to dispel illusion and alleviate suffering.'" - Richard Hooper
It probably comes as no surprise when I suggest the world is full of suffering. Just about any exposure to the daily news reveals countless stories of tragedy and horror. We find there are millions of people living in squalid conditions, going hungry, and suffering from physical traumas or disease.
Most faith traditions, as well as many secular relief organizations, actively minister to those who are physically suffering in the far reaches of the world. This is, of course, entirely appropriate and honorable. All of us would do well to support these efforts in any manner possible.
Yet, might I also suggest that there is a great deal of suffering among the wealthiest and most successful people of the world? In fact, there is suffering among our friends, families, and neighbors. There is suffering in our own hearts.
Our job is to alleviate suffering. Yes, sending money to humanitarian relief organizations is a wonderful idea; however, it does not end suffering. Sending money simply provides temporary physical relief, and suffering continues. Why?
According to some Eastern traditions, there are five main causes of suffering:
1. "Not knowing your true identity."
2. "Clinging to the idea of permanence in in a world that is inherently impermanent."
3. "Fear of change."
4. Identifying with the socially induced hallucination called the ego."
5. "Fear of death."
Isn't this interesting? Wouldn't you have expected a list like this?
5. Lack of education
When I hear of organized secular or religious groups striving to end suffering, I think of people actively engaging the issues on my second list. Yet, these Eastern faith traditions teach us that physical suffering is secondary to spiritual suffering--represented by the first list. In other words, the second list represents symptoms of suffering, whereas the first list represents root causes.
Eastern faith traditions suggest our job is to dispel illusion and alleviate suffering--in our own hearts. We are called to transcend space, time, and cause-and-effect by coming to realize our core consciousness is immortal (D.Chopra).
By recognizing that we have all come into this physical world from the same Source and that we are all connected on the level of our highest consciousness, we begin to value new things: love, peace, and fulfilled meaning--to name a few. And in inculcating these new values, we become the change we want to see in the world.
Indeed, suffering must end. It must end in our hearts.
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy