Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Suffering

For fans of Calvin and Hobbes, this picture will be very familiar. Calvin, upon meeting a day full of challenges, would often don his lucky underpants (to little or no avail).

In another comic, Calvin, upon finding no butter in the butter dish when his toast pops up, laments, "Haven't I suffered enough???"

Sound familiar?

The 4 main tenets of Buddhism are known as the "Four Noble Truths" and are as follows (in a nutshell):

  1. Life is Suffering.
  2. Suffering is caused by a constant craving or thirst that we attempt to satisfy by something outside of ourselves.
  3. Through diligent practice, we can put an end to our craving or thirst. That state where the craving, or suffering, has ended is referred to as Nirvana, or Enlightenment.
  4. The Eight-Fold path is prescribed as a means of relieving the suffering and achieving Enlightenment.
The purpose of this is not to go into the Eight-Fold path or talk any more about Buddhist teachings. Rather, it's to merely point out that Buddha was on to something!

I think life does a very good job at making us forget that it's supposed to be hard. Everywhere you look, you see ads that ask you why you aren't happier than you could be. Is it because you aren't wearing the right jeans? Or maybe you haven't seen a certain movie yet? Or you haven't opened up a bottle of Coca-Cola, who claims to "Open Happiness"?

Is life supposed to be summed up as easily as Buddha did as suffering?

The Prophet Joseph Smith wondered the same thing. While in a tiny jail known ironically as Liberty Jail in Missouri, he asked, "Oh God, where art thou?"

I, too, have asked this question. I've wondered for myself, "What is the point of all this suffering? Doesn't God want me to be Happy? Why me?"

Here are some observations from my own "days of suffering":

  • Suffering causes you to isolate yourself. John Donne points out that "no man is an island, entire of itself," but when we suffer, it sure feels like we are alone in our suffering. The question isn't "why am I not happy and pain-free?" but rather "why is everyone else but me happy and pain-free?"
  • Suffering seems to be endless. Just like a Hydra, just when you seem to be free of one massive obstacle, two more pop up. The fun never ends!
  • Suffering is sometimes caused by your own shortcomings, but even your best efforts don't always stop the pain from happening. In a world where everything revolves around power, it can quickly make you feel powerless, helpless, and vulnerable.
  • Suffering alters your daily routine, which can knock you out of a "good thing" you had going. Life can quickly feel like it's spiraling out of control.

I don't claim to be Job. I don't claim to have suffered even a fraction of what many in this world suffer today. But I do know one thing: the amount I have on my own plate is insurmountable without divine help. Maybe that's why I'm grateful for my own version of the Eight-Fold path. Buddha points out that the way to alleviate suffering is through
  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration
Now, ask yourself this question: "What role does God play in my life?" For most of us, the answer is not enough. In all 8 areas, I have room for improvement. In all 8 areas, I have more to learn as to how attunement to that area can actually help me ALLEVIATE PAIN in my life.

As a Christian, I do, however, have one major advantage to the Buddha: I don't have to do this alone. Here's my modified 8-fold path:

  1. Eternal Perspective (the ability to see the End from the Beginning)
  2. Real Intent in Sincere Prayer
  3. Right Speech
  4. Charity in my Actions (forgetting myself and my own problems)
  5. Healthy Lifestyle
  6. Diligent Effort (Enduring through the Storms of Life)
  7. Teachable Mindfulness (What can I learn?)
  8. Right Concentration and Meditation
I didn't change all of them. But I see room in all 8 for Christ. To me, this is the key to suffering. This is the way through. This is the only way through.

I saw a book title once. It read: "If Life were Easy, then it Wouldn't Be Hard." Makes sense, I guess.

Sorry for the ramble. It feels good to write about suffering. At least it's easier to write about then actually go through.

And for those who might be wondering: God's response to Joseph? "My son, peace be unto thy soul, thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on High... all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."


  1. What a neat post Dan Hess. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Thanks Dan, I really needed to read this today. You are an excellent writer.

  3. I am sorry you are suffering :( But thank you for sharing, it amazes me that when people go through trials sometimes they turn away from God and blame Him for their suffering, but if we try and apply the principles you wrote about, He can help us and we will be stronger because of our sufferings. Just know though that you are pretty awesome:)