The Most Common Cause of Suffering According to Buddhism (and What You Can Do About it)

In Mind & Body, Philosophy & Culture
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Ever heard of the four noble truths of Buddhism? If you haven’t, it’s basically the four principles of life that govern Buddhism philosophy. They are:

  1. The truth of suffering (dukkha)
  2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
  4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)

In this article, we’re going to talk about the second noble truth on what causes our suffering and then discuss strategies we can use to overcome it.

What Causes Our Suffering

According to Buddhism, suffering arises from attachment to desires. These desires can vary from material objects, sensual pleasures or even your relationships. The reason desiring causes suffering is because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.

Buddhism says that the only constant in the universe is change, and by desiring you are trying to control and make something fixed. Suffering will follow because you are going against the forces of the universe, which is what causes anxiety, depression and negative emotions.

Suffering Ceases When Attachment To Desire Ceases

The end to suffering is when the mind experiences freedom from attachment. It’s letting go of any craving or desiring. This state of enlightenment is called “nirvana” which means freedom from all worries, anxieties and troubles. They say that it isn’t comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

How Do You Eliminate Desire?

It’s important to remember that it’s impossible to eliminate desire completely. In fact, most people that embark on this journey face the obvious dilemma that when you “try” to eliminate desiring, you are desiring not to desire.

What we really need to do is eliminate attachment and desire as much as we can.

In order to end suffering, Buddhists say we must follow the Eightfold Path. This liberation from suffering is what many people mean when they use the word “enlightenment.”

There are eight attitudes or paths you must follow to find freedom from suffering:

1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

What Are Some Practical Strategies?

Here is a brilliant article from Tiny Buddha on 6 ways to decrease suffering. I’ve summarized the most important points below. If you have time, I highly recommend you read it.

1) Let go of creating stories.

When we experience suffering, we tend to create “stories” about what happens. For example, when we face the end of a relationship, we tell ourselves things like “I will never find someone as good again” and “there is no way out of our suffering”. However, this simply adds layers of meaning that don’t exist within the original feeling. Instead, practice positive self-talk and living in the moment. You’ll find that things aren’t as bad as you think and your reality exists only in each moment.

2) Embrace Change.

Buddhism says that the only law in the universe is change. Keep in mind that all feelings, whether negative or positive, will change. This will give you hope during the bad times, and make you realize to enjoy every moment you can because they don’t last forever.

3) Smile, even if you don’t feel like it.

Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” This is a wonderful reminder that we have more power to change our mood than we realize.

4) Jolt yourself out of your usual routine. 

Whatever it is that may pull you out of your rut, give it a try and see how it changes the nature of your suffering.

5) Soften someone else’s suffering.

Everyone experiences suffering, and it’s helpful to realize that someone is probably suffering more than you right now. Be kind to someone else. Get yourself thinking about others and it will improve your well being.

6) Remember your basic goodness.

“Basic goodness” is a wonderful concept that comes from the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. It reminds us that no matter how chaotic or negative the circumstances of our life, there is a ground of basic goodness in ourselves and in the universe that we can count on.

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