Why there is suffering in this world

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We have six sense organs – the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the skin and the mind. These sense organs get sufferingtheir signals by interacting with their objects in the external world – visible objects, sound, odour, taste, touch, and thoughts respectively.  Each of the these six  ‘sense organ’ – ‘sense object’ pairs have the capacity to work independently according to their base natures, without any conscious control of the organism in which they are present.

For example, we don’t have to make any conscious effort to see anything. Our eyes seem to work on their own, locking on to visual objects of most interest to us. Similarly, our nose doesn’t seek our permission before detecting the presence of a fragrant flower. The same applies to the remaining ‘sense organ’ – ‘sense object’ pairs that each one of us possess.

I’ll now explain what happens due to the functioning of the ‘eye-visible object’ pair. The same logic can be applied to understand the consequences of the functioning of the remaining ‘sense organ’ – ‘sense object’ pairs.

Let me explain by taking the example of a fictitious character. Let’s call him Ricky.

When Ricky was walking towards his college, his eyes noticed a beautiful girl walking down the opposite side of the road. Notice here, that Ricky’s sense organ – his eyes worked without his permission. The sense object – the beautiful girl too appeared before his eyes without his permission. These two interacted without his permission or concious approval. As a result, an ‘impression’ is created in his mind. The ‘impression’ that the girl is beautiful is created in his mind by the working of his eye ‘sense organ’-‘sense object’ pair. Because of this ‘good’ impression, now a pleasant ‘feeling’ arises in his body. Usually, he won’t be aware of the pleasant sensations that pass through his body and give rise to this pleasant ‘feeling’. Now his mind starts working without his permission. Every mind has the same basic nature –  to develop a craving for pleasant sensations and to develop aversion for unpleasant sensations. Hence, all our minds develop a liking for whatever feels pleasant to us and an aversion for whatever feels unpleasant to us.

Thus Ricky’s mind develops a craving for the pleasant feeling that was created when he saw that beautiful girl. Unfortunately, the girl quickly walked away and he soon lost sight of her.

The moment the sense-object is removed from contact with the sense-organ, the pleasant sensations can no longer be produced. This is a fact of life that nothing in this world is permanent. Everything has a beginning, a period of existence, then it starts decaying and finally ends. The same is true for all sense-objects. The beautiful girl cannot always be present in front of Ricky’s eyes to continue producing the pleasant sensations for him to enjoy. Alas, Ricky doesn’t realize this fact and as soon as she disappears from his view, his eyes start searching for her. He loses his peace of mind and becomes a victim of his mind’s habit to crave for anything that causes pleasure, even though no source of pleasure that is present in the external world can be eternal.

Out of his craving, the urge to ‘grasp’ and obtain the sense-object forever arises in his mind. This leads him to commit some actions – good or bad. He could either try and win her love so that she would willingly be with him all the time or he could try and kidnap her and keep her in his presence forcibly for as long as he wishes. Either way, sooner or later, her very nature will change. He has no control over her. She may fall sick and turn ugly, or she may grow old and turn ugly or she may even die. So sooner or later, he will lose her anyway. So craving leads to grasping and failure to keep the sense-object in his grasp forever leads to frustration. Helplessness in the face of this frustration leads to sorrow, anger and suffering. This is one way that suffering arises in this world.

One can make a similar analysis of each of our other sense-organ and sense-object pairs and how their interactions with the external world leads to all our suffering.

The key to not remain trapped in this vicious cycle of suffering is to change the habit pattern of our mind. We need to train our mind to be aware of the functioning of our sense-organs and to not react by developing a craving or aversion each time a pleasant or unpleasant sensation is produced in us. This way, we will remain equanimous under all conditions, no matter what life throws up at us, with the understanding that nothing in this world is permanent – be it good times or bad times.

So, instead of just lamenting that there is so much suffering in this world, we will understand that all the suffering each one of experience actually arises inside each one of us. So we do have the ability to control or eliminate our own suffering. Of course we cannot control or eliminate another’s suffering. If Ricky decides to pine for that beautiful girl and if that beautiful girl is not interested in him, he cannot come out of his suffering of not being able to attain her. Nobody can help him in this case. Only he can come out of his suffering, by giving up his attachment to the girl.

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