Now, monks, what is the Noble Truth of suffering? Just this: Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering.
My paper that I am writing for First turning class is suffering. But I’m not totally buying that Life is suffering…
The second week of Buddhist classes consisted mostly of debates on whether Life is suffering or not. Many of the students could agree without a doubt that life was indeed suffering. Others had some trouble with the word suffering. And there were the few crazy students who firmly believed that Life is bliss. I was a crazy one of course.
The first problem that arises from the term suffering is the Buddha never said Life is suffering. Of course the Buddha did not teach in English. The term the sūtras ( Sanskrit)and suttas (Pali) used was duḥkha (s) or dukkha( p). Dukkha is more literally described as a bad axle hole. In other words the Buddha was using imagery of an imperfect wheel. With this more open understanding of dukkha we can explore what the Buddha was talking to convey.
Our First Turning teacher had us do an exercise where we gave our own meaning for dukkha and what the experience of life was. Some of the words we came up with was dissatisfaction, discomfort, uneasy and etc. I offered that the imagery of the wheel give me the impression that life was a bumpy ride. I like thinking of life in this way because it is neither a negative or positive view. Life is just the roller coaster and it’s up to each of us to decide how this experience will affect us.
I also suggested in another class that perhaps for some Life is suffering will ring truth. On the other hand for people like me it is more appropriate to say that when I have wrong view of life it is suffering.
Bhikkhus, there is this noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, and death is dukkha…
How we interpret the Buddha’s teaching is colored by our own perception. The Buddha after all had a different way of expressing his teaching depending on the people he was trying to reach. He clearly knew that we all have different views, strengths and weakness. But the one thing that most humans probably share in common is that we like to avoid unpleasant things. We want to avoid suffering. Of course there are the merry few who attach to suffering and avoid pleasure. Either way, most of us are in the cycle of avoidance.
With this in mind I like to think of the first noble truth as a wake up call.
” Look Life is going to suck. So deal with it.” Perhaps the Buddha was hitting us in the face with the part of life we run from the most. He was showing us that we can not escape it. The bumpy ride will continue so it’s time to get great tires.