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Life Sucks

"Doctor, it hurts when I do this!"

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

June 30, 2013 - 3:00 pm

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Once upon a time, there was a young man named Siddhartha in a place called Kapilavastu. Siddhartha was a good kid, but an astrologer named Asita had told his father Śuddhodana that Siddhartha was destined to be either a world conqueror, or a great holy man.

His father was the king — actually, it appears he was elected to the position, but I’m telling this the traditional way for now — and he really didn’t like this whole holy man thing at all. So he saw to it that Siddhartha was raised with everything, from palaces to gardens to hot and cold running dancing girls, and he protected Siddhartha from any knowledge of unpleasantness.

If you think of Siddhartha as the child of wealthy Hollywood types, raised in Beverly Hills, you won’t be far wrong.

Siddhartha was so protected, in fact, that he was an adult before he actually saw a lot of the unpleasantness in the world. Then he saw, first, an old man, then a sick man, and then a corpse.

And Siddhartha said, “This sucks!”

Then he found out that he would also eventually get old, and sick, and then die, and he said, “Wow, this really sucks!”

Then he saw a monk — Suddhodana had kept monks and priests away too, just to keep Siddhartha from having any ideas of being a holy man — and learned that these monks were trying to find a way to escape from the unpleasantness. So once he had a son, thereby having done his duty to the family and all, he ran away to become a monk. He was determined to find an answer to the problem of how much life sucks.

Fast forward now to six years later — I promise I’ll tell the whole story another time — when Siddhartha had found an answer and first explained it to five friends who became his first followers. What he explained is called the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life sucks. It’s full of anxiety, dissatisfaction, unhappiness.
  2. All the anxiety is in our heads; we do it to ourselves by trying to live in a make-believe world in which we can cling to pleasant things and shut out unpleasant things.
  3. We can release ourselves from the anxiety by seeing ourselves clearly, understanding what is real.
  4. And there are skills we can learn to help us live in the real world.

The Sanskrit word for the First Noble Truth is duhkha, which is normally translated as “suffering” — another translation by the Victorians that causes no end of confusion now. When we hear the word “suffering” we tend to think of something like the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream,” or one of those pictures of Saint Stephen the Martyr.

Luis_de_Morales_-_St_Stephen

Which is fine, but it’s too narrow — duhkha is just anything that makes you unhappy, anything that’s unpleasant. In fact Siddhartha — they called him Buddha by this point — explained in some detail that duhkha comes in many forms. There’s the usual pain and suffering thing; stub your toe, it hurts, that’s regular duhkha, duhkha duhkha. (No really, duhkha duhkha is the way it’s said.)

But then there’s another kind, the kind where you’re anticipating suffering to come. The kind where you look at your 13-year-old cat and realize that you’re almost certain to outlive him, or the kind you feel on the next to last day of a ten-day cruise when you realize that pretty quickly you’ll have to go home and get your own breakfast.

Then there’s a third kind: the kind where you look at the universe and feel like it’s really not, somehow, good enough. This kind makes me think of the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.”

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What Buddha saw through was that it’s not the bad things that happen so much as it’s the way we think about the bad things happening. When we stub our toes, we don’t just think, “Ow!” We think: “Ow! That hurts! Damn, I wonder if I broke it? Am I going to be able to put on shoes today? If I can’t wear shoes I can’t go to work. But if I take a day off from work they’ll fire me. I can’t get fired, I’ve got a mortgage payment!” Or we think about losing a cat and we anticipate how sad it will be, and get depressed thinking about how sad it will be when it happens.

Or we think, late at night when we’re trying to sleep, that nothing ever seems to work out and there just doesn’t seem to be any point.

The First Noble Truth really comes down to saying: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this!”

The Second Noble Truth is Buddha saying: “So don’t do that!”

But that’s another column.

Charlie Martin writes on science, health, culture and technology for PJ Media. Follow his 13 week diet and exercise experiment on Facebook and at PJ Lifestyle

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Look... My prospective is different, complaining and worrying about what MIGHT go wrong is a pointless waste of perfectly good emotions you could put to better use in enjoying the few things that make you happy.

a few years ago, I fractured 7 vertebrae in my back, had a cervical reconstruction which fused my neck from C-3 to T-1, and still have 4 ruptured discs in the lumbar and thoracic areas.. I live on pain meds, which barely hold it in check under the best circumstances.. in short, my life is one long endless nightmare of pain.. waking up is misery, missing the correct time to take the Oxycontin can be pretty terrible.

So I don't dwell on the things which MIGHT go wrong, because I have to focus on the things which take my mind off self as much as possible. So what could take the pain away for someone like me?

Family.. my wife.. our two glorious children, I can't dwell on me, because they need me, and being needed is the key, the setting aside of self, to help and care for someone you love more than your own life. Our kids are still young, 11 and 14, my wife works full time, and is too tired after work to bother coddling me. So I do the laundry, clean as much as I can handle, cook, so she doesn't have too.. help the kids with their every project and issue, even when you have to bite back the pain from standing too long..

I would call my life, actually fairly content, and as lucky as a man with a loving family can be.. they do worry, and do try to keep my stupid pride from making the pain worse... but they still have a role for me in their lives, I'm not just a bystander watching from the side lines..

and that can make all the difference..

You cannot make life pain free and perfect, what you can do, is MATTER in the lives of those you love.. your friends.. don't feel sorry for yourself,.. don't wonder why me?... why not me?.. I believe nothing happens, which doesn't serve a greater good in the end, I'm a Christian, and I believe that a life lived without service to those you love, is a wasted life.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
In other words, stop worrying about things you have no direct control over, and once you've done all you can do, stop worrying about it because it's out of your hands.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (24)
All Comments   (24)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Interesting..
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Make the most of it while you're here .....

As my 92 year old father says: "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

If you're born to hang, you'll never drown.

In the end, we're ALL fertilizer anyway.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"What Buddha saw through was that it’s not the bad things that happen so much as it’s the way we think about the bad things happening."

Book recommendations: Total Freedom, Jiddu Krishnamurti

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well; Garrison Keillor has nothing to worry about. (And neither does Baxter Black).
Damn birds splashed all the water out of the bird bath again. Will they ever learn?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't think worrying is always bad and debilitating, sometimes it's just anticipating future events and planning practical solutions "just in case" (I live in a flood zone so this kind of thinking is necessary). However, if it goes too far it can slip into paranoia. Counting your blessings is always a good option.

Thanks for the welcome Peggy Lee song. She makes our current crop of female singers look pretty paltry in comparison.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Depends on what you mean by "worrying". Planning a head, anticipating situations, good. Getting your stomach tied up in knots about them: duhkha. When I was a kid, I'd wake up early in the morning afraid the nuclear war had happened overnight. That's duhkha.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Look... My prospective is different, complaining and worrying about what MIGHT go wrong is a pointless waste of perfectly good emotions you could put to better use in enjoying the few things that make you happy.

a few years ago, I fractured 7 vertebrae in my back, had a cervical reconstruction which fused my neck from C-3 to T-1, and still have 4 ruptured discs in the lumbar and thoracic areas.. I live on pain meds, which barely hold it in check under the best circumstances.. in short, my life is one long endless nightmare of pain.. waking up is misery, missing the correct time to take the Oxycontin can be pretty terrible.

So I don't dwell on the things which MIGHT go wrong, because I have to focus on the things which take my mind off self as much as possible. So what could take the pain away for someone like me?

Family.. my wife.. our two glorious children, I can't dwell on me, because they need me, and being needed is the key, the setting aside of self, to help and care for someone you love more than your own life. Our kids are still young, 11 and 14, my wife works full time, and is too tired after work to bother coddling me. So I do the laundry, clean as much as I can handle, cook, so she doesn't have too.. help the kids with their every project and issue, even when you have to bite back the pain from standing too long..

I would call my life, actually fairly content, and as lucky as a man with a loving family can be.. they do worry, and do try to keep my stupid pride from making the pain worse... but they still have a role for me in their lives, I'm not just a bystander watching from the side lines..

and that can make all the difference..

You cannot make life pain free and perfect, what you can do, is MATTER in the lives of those you love.. your friends.. don't feel sorry for yourself,.. don't wonder why me?... why not me?.. I believe nothing happens, which doesn't serve a greater good in the end, I'm a Christian, and I believe that a life lived without service to those you love, is a wasted life.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wish more people out there would take your approach to things. Meantime, have you looked into nerve sclerosis as a means to deal with your chronic back pain?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here's what I got from that:

Siddhartha, a spoiled brat, didn't like how life was hard. So, as soon as he had a child to please his family, he abandoned it to go pursue philosophy and learned what being a parent, basically, would have taught him - be patient.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
You missed the part where he developed a philosophy that changed world history by shaping how billions of people understand their worldview.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
You make Buddhism sound like cognitive-behavioral therapy :)
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yup. Fair bit like the Stoics, too.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
You say that like it was a bad thing...
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
In other words, stop worrying about things you have no direct control over, and once you've done all you can do, stop worrying about it because it's out of your hands.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
According to my Calvinist roots, if you're enjoying it, you're doing it wrong... ;) Doesn't quite square with pain being nature's way of saying 'stop doing that.'
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's odd, to me at least. I've been a Christian all my life, but just became a Reformed Presbyterian about ten years ago, and I have found Calvin to be quite liberating. The main idea is the sovereignty of the Lord. He is either there, in all the details, making things happen according to His perfect will. The alternative Biblical interpretation is that He is sitting on the bleachers watching it all happen and can't wait to find out how it will all end.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hey RT,

Having followed the Buddhist and Christian (and objectivist) trains, it's fair to say that all three will tell you not to increase your 'sweat load' beyond necessary. If you aren't dying in a ward somewhere without proper meds, you probably can sweat a little less over whatever's bugging you. If you aren't dealing with a very sick child, you probably have room in your life for a little more space. In other words, the choice bromides apply; Don't make matters worse, don't stand in the way of your own light, don't pick at scabs, don't give 'them' the satisfaction, etc. etc.

If God is God-The-Father, he knows that some suffering is 'good' for all of us from time to time, just as I know that my boys need to take one on the chin once in a while. On the other hand, God can surely discern what constitutes unnecessary suffering and we (the 'we within' and the 'we without') would be the source of it.

I do look forward to your take on things.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's not the pain, it's the fussing over the pain. Some months ago I bought a FitBit super-duper electronic pedometer, and promptly lost it on my desk. Today, as I was reorganizing my desk for a second monitor, it reappeared again, so I carefully put it aside so I could find it later. And I sure wish I knew where. Now I'm obsessing about it; I keep getting distracted to look for it again. THAT'S duhkha.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
You'll find it in the last place you look....;^D
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Did you look next to the Oreos ? ;)
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Charlie, it is exactly where you left it. If you have a wife, she will know exactly where to look even though she had no part in its placement! Proof that there is a common thread in the universe.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
You wouldn't happen to know where that is, would you? I remember it was a really good place, where I'd be sure to find it again.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's on top of the curio cabinet.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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