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A Hermeneutical Analysis of The Buddha

By Ola Abozid

Life is an amalgamation of suffering, or at least it can seem that way. It is the catalyst that begins, continues, and eventually ends our existence in our lovely and polluted world. When talking about suffering, we tend to think of it as an inconvenience, a nuisance. We think of suffering as this stepstool we overcome to get to the “good part.” An inevitable crack in the steps; it is something that just happens to us; inescapable. The ominous fate of our existence. However, what if suffering was not a concept of determinism but, instead, escapable and fully preventable? What if we were the architects of our own nightmare? The Buddha certainly saw it that way. The Buddha saw that while suffering is inevitable, it is rooted in our own carnal nature. It was rooted in our desires, our clinging. He found the concept of suffering, or Dukkha, particularly pertinent to our existence. In fact, he discussed the phenomenon extensively.

The Four Noble Truths, foundational tenets of Buddhism, are a doctrine to the Buddhist’s view on suffering. The first noble truth, The Truth of Suffering, can be summed up to one of the Buddha’s most famous words: “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering.” In essence, this statement is awfully morbid. If life, truly, is just an amalgamation of suffering, what’s the point? The Buddhist explains, “If property comes to the clansman while he works and strives to make an effort, thus, he experiences pain and grief in protecting it.” Even the things that we desire, the things that bring us joy, bring suffering along. Every action, every thought, and every emotion is a double-edged sword. This first truth is intended to address the disease that afflicts us all: an ongoing state of dissatisfaction.

The Second noble truth, The Origin of Suffering, provides the first step to understanding the cure for our ever-present disease. It does so by analyzing the origin of the cause of this psychological oppression. The Buddha states, “It is this craving. . . accompanied by delight and lust.” It is the “craving for sensual pleasure, craving for existence, craving for extermination.” It is that carnal predisposition to crave that is the quintessence of our suffering. We suffer because we desire. Disappointment is rooted in expectations, loneliness emerges from the need for validation and comfort, and heartache stems from our innate need to be loved. The nourishments of life that we harvest are the same ones that often poison us. Does that mean we should become apathetic? Soulless? Are desire, emotions, and connections not what quenches our ever-thirsty souls? It is the dilemma that drives the continuous question: “Do I care too much? Too little, maybe?” We are constantly appraising our level of involvement in our own lives, living dubious of whether we are being fair to ourselves and those around us. It is an incessant battle and as beautiful and enlightening as the literature and philosophical conceptualizing of humanity is, it can never truly assess what the answer would be.

The third noble truth, The Truth of Cessation, says that the cessation of suffering consists of giving up and relinquishing cravings. If we do not crave, we cannot suffer, because we want for nothing. In this Noble Truth, there are three main objects of craving: sensual pleasures, eternalism, and extermination. Sensual pleasures mean desire and appetite, i.e. sex and good food. Eternalism means self-preservation, the craving for existence, and even the belief in reincarnation. As for extermination, we crave the annihilation of all that is bad in the world: poverty, depression, failure, etc. We seem partial to trying to change the world to accommodate our desires rather than changing our desires to accommodate the world. In a sense, this is due to our predisposition for solipsism. As humans, we naturally assume that our needs are of primal superiority. Infants, for example, do not develop empathy until about the age of two. They only do so once they conceptualize themselves as an entity separate from those around them. Ergo, we are not born compassionate and empathetic, it is a learned behavior. Similar to that, we as humans prioritize our pleasures, eternalism, and externalism. We desire it so much that our peripheral vision is blurred. We focus on the desire in itself, ignoring the possibility that that very desire could be what is bringing forth our suffering. 

Lastly, The Truth of the Path: There is a path for us to follow that will bring us to nirvana. These three noble truths were preliminary schemas for the path by which suffering is overcome: The Eightfold Path. Nirvana is a transcendent state of enlightenment in which all pain and suffering are eradicated. The Buddha believed the Noble Eightfold Path to be the trackway for peace and enlightenment. This path consisted of eight concepts: Right Understanding, Thought, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration (right effort, mindfulness, and concentration). These concepts are variables compounded in order to create the path necessary to achieve true nirvana in life. In life, chaos is assumed while peace is sought out. Ergo, although concepts such as the Eightfold Path may be seen as mere self-help hippie agendas, they do hold truth and substances in our lives. Of course, The Buddha was no stranger to the fact that humans are innately flawed. It is those flaws that create our depth. That being said, those flaws were also the burgeoning of philosophy and schools of thought such as this one. Humans are naturally unstructured. Hence structures such as this, and other ideologies, are necessary in order to reach true nirvana. For us to truly cease our suffering, we must recognize that suffering, in itself, is not punishment. Just as joy, suffering is water from which our roots are fed and sprout with whatever our experiences shape us to become. It is not to suffer that is the issue. It is to suffer blindly. Suffering and misery are necessary. The bee sucks honey out of the bitterest flower. The good could never be were it not for the balancing existence of the bad. It is that synchrony that allows for serendipity in life.

Image Bio:

Imagined Fungal Emergence by Kate Rusek

Reclaimed aluminum and aluminum fasteners

“Using reclaimed aluminum blinds, Rusek creates an immersive tapestry inspired by clusters of fungi. Referencing both natural and manmade architectural structures, the installation features archways and openings that invite visitors to navigate through the suspended forms. Notice how each cluster draws strength from its neighboring component while also relying on the supportive embrace of the trees. Crafted predominantly from waste sourced in New York City, this work challenges preconceived notions of value, and imagines a future where each element holds regenerative potential.”

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