A note on suffering

To the editor:

The Stoics sliced up the problem by advising to focus on the part of it that you can control. The Epicureans masked its odour with the sweet scent of pleasure. The Christian mythos has the son of God endure it on the crucifix, and promises its end only in the afterlife. The Hindus declared that it is all part of a grand illusion, and the result of Karma of previous lives. The Buddha arrived at the noble truth that it was caused by desire. The Jains cover their mouths so as to not inflict it even on the microorganisms they may breathe in. Descartes claimed that no other being than man experienced its qualia. Schopenhauer concurred with the East and recommended we curtail our ambition, and avoid it. Nietzsche sought to organize a rebellion against it, preached even seeking it out, and claimed that if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. What am I speaking of? Suffering of course.

What is one of the chief aims of any great philosophy, art or organized religion? To provide alleviation, or at least consolation, against suffering. If the world is made of only atoms and space, as Democritus said; if there is no inherent meaning to life, and one has to subjectively ascribe a meaning to it; then what is more profound than the great and never-ending task of lessening extreme and unnecessary suffering, first of our own, and if our strength allows it, that of any creature capable of such suffering. If Sisyphus must fill his heart rolling the boulder up, only to watch it roll back down again, then let him choose as his boulder, this very mission.

I hear endless discussions about the meaning of life. Why we seek the meaning of life is perhaps an important question. However, let us consider when we seek the meaning of life. Do we seek it when we are completely engrossed in the moment such as when creating a work of art or playing a loved sport? Do we seek it when we have to hustle to eke out a living or address an urgent and pressing matter? Do we seek it when we are in great physical pain and desperately seeking its abatement? No! We seek it in leisure — when all our basic needs of food, shelter, security and comfort have been satisfied, and the present moment no longer has our undivided attention. Wondering about the meaning of life is akin to a worker standing next to a pile of dirt, shovel in hand, looking up at the heavens, and asking, “Oh logos! What is all this for?” The mud of life is suffering — look at what is right in front of you, the here and now, and shovel it away with every tool at hand.


Nandan Pai

Lake Placid


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