Most parents I know prefer to protect their children in front of the hardnesses of life. The little princess, the little prince shall not come in touch with poverty, suffering, illness, aging and death.
This utopian dream was also dreamed by the father of Siddhartha Gautama in India about 2500 years ago. As the legend tells us it was seemingly possible for him as rich ruler to shield as long as possible from the world outside and to give him the impression: Life is some sort of land of milk and honey in which exists neither poverty, illness, aging nor death. But you don’t do your children a favor, if you keep them away from the hardnesses of life and lay a paradise at their feet. A life which doesn’t know suffering remains superficial. Above all we don’t have it in our hands. The broken appendix or the broken skull through a bike accident come out of the blue.
And so it happens to Siddhartha, who is in the age of 28 confronted with illness, aging and death when he visited the city. The encounter with the suffering in this world must have shaken him deeply, for he leaves his parents, wife and child, and starts out to search for the meaning of life.
He joints different religious groups, fasts and lives in poverty. He leads a life, which is total contrary to the life he lived in the palace. But both lifestyles don’t bring him to the target of his wishes: Finding fulfillment or the meaning of life. Understandable. The by his father imposed never-never-land as well as the life of the Brahmin and ascetics remain foreign to him. A human have to find his own way. That sounds modern. But this is only a timeless truth.
Siddhartha finds for himself the “middle way” far away or better said: right through the extremes luxury and asceticism. In meditation he comes to enlightenment: The essence of life is suffering. You wrong the Buddhism, if you therefore call it as a negative religion.
Life is suffering. Causes of suffering are greed, hate and dazzlement. When the causes extinguish also the suffering extinguishes. The Noble Eightfold Path leads to the extinction of suffering.
The doctrine of the Noble Eightfold Path shall lead the human to liberation (nirvana). The Noble Eightfold Path consists of: Right view, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, consciousness.
Well, my long-term occupation with Buddhism exceeds the short quoted articles in wikipedia. Therefore I summarize Buddhism with my own words. According to Buddhas opinion suffering arises by a wrong self-image of the human. Because he / she understands himself / herself as an independent human. If he holds on to this wrong ego-understanding of himself he has to suffer. If he selfishly defines himself to be his body, name, reputation and possession, he / she has to suffer, when he / she is threatened by poverty, aging, illness, death or by other people. Finally in Buddhas opinion is the I, an independent self or an individual soul of the human an illusion. What becomes reborn after death is not identity but energy.
If he / she in contrast lets loose him / herself because he has discovered his true essence beyond name and form, he doesn’t have to suffer any longer. I indeed understand the logic if I’m not attached to my television any more, it doesn’t mean anything to me any more or every other possession, it’s easy to give it away without suffering – to name a simple example. Or when I’m in distance to my self – who am I already? – being free and detached, when another one in insulting me and drugs my reputation in the mud. But toothache are toothache. Dot.
There I can let loose myself and being loose from myself and without ego, they are hurting. I may look through their transientness but when I have pains here and now, I’m suffering. And that is only a small example.
What about everything else? What about hunger, suppression and tortures of the weakest? What about boat people just drowning? What about the maltreated and sexual abused? Can I such easily say them – sorry Buddhists – let go your suffering, you are not only your body but the whole universe?
But my maybe exaggerated statement and by Buddhist possibly judged as being polemic hits the spot: To say it like Buddha: Life is suffering. Yes. But life is suffering and is not so easy to overcome by letting go. Buddha may not only believed but experienced this, but my reality looks differently.
Someone else speaks of suffering and letting go 500 years after Buddha. He has been growing up in the Jewish tradition: Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake, the same will save it. For what does it profit a [hu]man if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own self?”
Jesus, who different than Buddha knows God and who examplifies us a human God, knows that we as humans are not alone on our ways. Finding your self means to him to forget your self. That could also Buddha say, but for Jesus means forgetting yourself to find God like he.
God, whose being is beyond a fixed concept of God, who is nameless, who is “I am who I am”. God, who is above-personal incomprehensible for us humans, but who also has become attackable and vulnerable human and who has taken shape in Jesus. God, who became a “You” for us. Because God became in Christ to a You, I can freed from myself more than ever be myself.
God doesn’t remove the suffering out of the world. But we experience by the suffering of Christ, that God isn’t apathetic or insensitive as an absolute being but quite the contrary: God shares the suffering of his humans in our crucified brother, Christ.