“In life, you must choose between boredom and suffering.” – Madame De Staël.
After distinguishing suffering from evil and placing it in philosophical context, we are ready to examine its many forms. The purpose of this exercise is simply to remind the reader of the many types of suffering and thereby confirm its unavoidability and inevitability. From this effort, we will see that Buddha’s first noble truth is in fact credible and that suffering must be mastered for happiness and meaning to be achieved.
Suffering generally involves a deficiency or excess of necessities or pleasures or the presence or inexorability of discomforts. There are four broad categories of suffering: (1) Physical, (2) Internal, (3) External, and (4) Situational. Physical suffering includes for example pain, temperature extremes, physical and mental illness, disability, hunger, and thirst. Internal suffering includes fear, anxiety, despondency, feelings of disappointment and failure, guilt and shame, indecisiveness, and meaninglessness. Externally based suffering includes grief, loss, bondage, and oppression. Situational suffering includes isolation, loneliness, rejection, alienation, and subjection to environmental horrors such as natural disasters and war.
It appears that to expect to be free of suffering we need to be perfect so that we are never disappointed in work or love, never fail, and never err in social situations. We must never have any medical conditions, physical wants, fears, anxieties, emotional problems, material losses or loss of loved ones. We must not be subjected to or be affected by any social, national, international, or natural disturbances. Such a Garden of Eden or Utopia may appear to eliminate suffering, but as Madame De Staël observes, boredom would be the inevitable outcome, itself a form of suffering.
The conclusion of our examination is that suffering is unavoidable both empirically and logically. It is ontologic or existential for man and most likely for any sentient being. If there is a God, even He must experience some suffering due his observations of the failures of his creatures, and the harm that occurs to them from their errors and from natural disasters. The hope for us to be free of any form of suffering then is unreasonable. However, obviously we want to limit suffering as much as possible. Those who experience extreme suffering may hope for help from the more fortunate, but require a philosophical approach to their suffering as part of their search for meaning. That is the subject of the next post.