suffering in buddhism ... the existence of suffering 2. the causes of suffering 3. the cessation of

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  • Dukkha: Suffering in Buddhism

    Awareness and Transcendence

    By Nobue Urushihara Urvil (Ph. D. student of the Institute for the Medical Humanities)

  • The Buddha: the Enlightened One

    Buddhism is not a simple phenomenon.

    From the original, single source of this religion, Gautama, who is to be known as the Buddha for his Enlightenment, Buddhism has flowed into countless different forms of expression.

  • Theravada Buddhism:

    Practiced mainly in Sri Lanka and South East Asia. In the south of India, Theravada Buddhism remained close to the Buddha’s teaching and aimed at acquiring ‘Nirvana’ – complete detachment from worldly concerns.

    Mahayana Buddhism:

    Practiced mainly in Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. In the north, Mahayana Buddhism incorporated a deity and various ‘intermediaries’ known as Bodhisattvas, people who strive to attain perfection during their lifetime. Nirvana was replaced by Sukhavati, the heaven of sensuous pleasures, and elements of Hindu and Taoist superstitions, such as devotion to statues and relics and the use of magic to ward off evil spirits were included.

    Theravada (Lesser Vehicle) Mahayana (Larger Vehicle)

  • Gautama Encounters Suffering (1)

    Gautama, a young prince protected from any sign of suffering and pain of this world, starts on his journey to enlightenment when he first encounters phases of suffering on his drive to the countryside. Firstly, he sees a sick person. On the next occasion, he saw an old person, and on the third, a dead body, prepared for cremation. Gautama is upset at these three disconcerting sights of men which are strikingly contrasting to the beauty and pleasure of the life in his palace.

  • Gautama Encounters Suffering (2) On the fourth drive, he sees an ascetic, who “anticipates death by practicing detachment from all worldly entanglements in this life.” Gautama immediately leaves his palace and luxurious life, deserting his wife and son and threw himself into the practice of methods of austerity and detachment. Gautama was twenty-nine years old. John Bowker, The Meaning of Death (Cambridge UP, 1970), 168-169.

  • Dukkha (“suffering” in Sanskrit)

    • A word of far greater depth and complexity • In addition to an ordinary reference to

    pain, grief, or misery, it also refers to impermanence, emptiness, lack of wholeness or perfection.

    • Thus dukkha rather refers to the general nature of the universe than to particular instances of suffering

  • The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths

    1. The existence of suffering 2. the causes of suffering 3. the cessation of suffering 4. the path that leads to the cessation of


  • The Noble Truth of Suffering • Birth is suffering. • Ageing is suffering. • Sickness is suffering. • Death is suffering • Sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair

    are suffering. • Association with the unpleasant is suffering. • Dissociation from the pleasant is suffering. • Not to get what one wants is suffering.

  • Dukkha on Three Levels

    1) Suffering inherent in the life-process: birth, old age, sickness, death, and all other accidents in life.

    2) Suffering of sentient, conscious creatures who know the gap between what they desire and what they obtain and who are aware of transience

    3) Suffering that is inherent in what human nature is, arising from the aggregates of existence

  • Change and Decay

    • The context in which every individual lives out his life.

    • He is not distinct from his context, that he himself is a part of that same “change and decay.”

    • His own self is not exempt from the process of change

  • What Is Then the “Self”?

    Who or what is the “self” that becomes aware of the reality of dukkha and of its own participation in the process of change?

  • No Self (1)

    • What is felt to be the “I,” the self residing in the body, is nothing of the kind.

    • There is no soul or self which exits as a separate essence or entity, or which experiences physical and mental happenings.

    • There is only the human complexity, made up of the elements and energy which have flowed together in a particular human form, and which are in a constant state of change

  • No Self (2)

    • The sense of being a “self,” or of being an individual, is a result of the way in which physical entities and energies have been combined in human form.

    • Therefore, instead of talking about a soul or self, which might be supposed to exist (and survive) independently of the body, it is far more realistic to talk of “not-self.”

  • No Self (3)

    • To understand no-self, it is crucial to understand the third level of suffering: Suffering that is inherent in what human nature is, arising from the aggregates of existence.

    • It is to realize that the aggregates which constitute a human being are no more permanent than those which constitute a blade of grass.

  • No Self (4)

    • It is a folly and delusion to try to rescue something from the wreck.

    • There is no self. There is nothing that can be disentangled from the body and be isolated from the inexorable process of the body’s decay and death.

  • No Self (5)

    • It is terrifying ! No self!? No way! • The Buddha himself hesitated whether he

    should try to teach anyone else the doctrine aiming at the extinction of “thirst,” aiming at detachment, cessation, Nirvana.

    • Someone, who believes in permanent, abiding, everlasting, unchanging existence, then will “mourn, worry himself, laments, weeps, beating his breast, and become bewildered” (Bowker, 242).

  • Sharing Intellectual Enlightenment

    • Individual instances of suffering are contained within the general truth of universal dukkha.

    • So it is better to point out the universal condition and the way of its complete cessation than to give relief to particular instances of suffering within that condition.

    • Thus suffering in Buddhism is a universal condition which appears to be inescapable and unbreakable. (Bowker, 265)

  • Is Buddhism Pessimistic? (2)

    “Take the Book of Ecclesiastes, remove from it every reference to God, and you have a fair representation of the philosophy which forms the basis of Buddhism. ‘All is vanity.’”

    -H. Moore, The Christian Faith in Japan (London: S.P.G.,1904), 27.

  • Is Buddhism Pessimistic? (2)

    No! “To describe Buddhism as pessimistic is mistaken. Awareness of suffering, without any pretence or deception about it, lies at the very root and foundation of Buddhism.”

    - John Bowker, Problems of Suffering in the Religions of the World (Cambridge UP, 1970), 237.

  • Bodhisattva (1)

    • A person who directs his essential being towards the attainment of enlightenment.

    • When the bodhisattva is on the edge of nirvana, s/he voluntarily turns away from his/her own realization of nirvana and returns to help others in the world. S/he postpones final attainment, out of compassion for his fellow beings who are entrapped in bondage and suffering.

  • The Bodhisattva and the Tigress(1)

    One prince, seeing a tigress suffering from having given birth to seven cubs and having nothing to eat, scarcely alive and very weak, thought that she would either eat her own young or die from hunger. He decides the time had come for him to sacrifice himself.

  • “For the weal of the world I wish to win enlightenment, incomparably wonderful. From deep compassion I now give away my body, so hard to quit, unshaken in my mind. That enlightenment I shall now gain, in which nothing hurts and nothing harms. Thus shall I cross to the Beyond of the fearful ocean of becoming which fills the triple world!”

    The Bodhisattva and the Tigress (2)

  • The Bodhisattva and the Tigress (3)

    The prince went into the lair of the tigress and threw himself in front of her. He noticed that the tigress was too weak to move. He therefore cut his throat with a sharp piece of bamboo and fell down near the tigress. Seeing the bodhisattva’s body all covered with blood, the tigress in no time ate up all the flesh and blood, leaving only the bones. (Bowker, Suffering 263-264)

  • The Bodhisattva (2)

    “I take upon myself the burden of all suffering. I am resolved to do so, I will endure it. At all costs I must bear the burden of all beings. I that I do not follow my own inclinations. I have made the vow to save all beings. All beings I must set free. The whole world of living beings I must rescue, from the terrors of birth, of old age, of sickness, of death and rebirth, of all kinds of moral offense, of all states of woe, of the whole cycle of birth-and-death, of the jungle of false view, of the loss of wholesome dharmas, of the concomitants of ignorance, --from all these terrors I must rescue all beings.”

    (Bowker, 264-265)

  • The Bodhisattva (3)

    • Bodhisattva compassion is not just an intellectual content and concern.

    • It implies specific and practical action in re


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