“Suffering is necessary until you realise it is unnecessary.”
Suffering is a universal condition of human existence. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed that while all life forms suffer, humans suffer more because we are self-aware and are endowed with the ability to contemplate the past and anticipate the future. This subjects us to new forms of suffering such as remorse about the past or anxiety about the future.
I grew up in a culture that embraced suffering and conditioned me to equate suffering with growth. It was ingrained in me since an early age that perseverance through trials came with great honour and that suffering was noble. This belief was so firmly fixated in my mind that I devoted much of my life to withholding pleasure and inflicting punishment on myself in the hope that this will be a catalyst for growth. In fact, I took pride in the fact I had the iron will to discipline myself and considered the suffering to be necessary to prove my worth to others. Later on, through my spiritual awakening, I came to the realisation that much of the suffering that I imposed upon myself was unnecessary.
Suffering is a great teacher in life as there would be no depth of being, humility or compassion without it. Yet, I do not believe that suffering is the only way to learn and achieve personal growth. There comes a point when the suffering is sufficient for an awakening, beyond which the suffering becomes unnecessary. As Eckhart Tolle said, “The purpose of the world is for you to suffer, to create the suffering that seems to be what is needed for the awakening to happen. When the awakening happens, with it comes the realisation that suffering is unnecessary now. You have reached the end of suffering because you have transcended the world.”
Beyond the existential suffering that is inherent in life itself, most of the suffering we experience is unnecessary. The idea of unnecessary suffering is mainly used in the context of animal welfare legislation to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals. However, it is not just animals which are subject to unnecessary suffering. We have to come to the realisation that we inflict unnecessary suffering upon ourselves and upon others consciously and unconsciously through our thoughts, words and actions. Learning to reduce unnecessary suffering for ourselves and for others is a higher order of spiritual growth than embracing all the suffering that is possible. As Bryant H. McGill said, “Through spiritual maturity you will see new ways to avoid unnecessary suffering; wiser ways to endure unavoidable hardships with grace, and opportunities to turn your pain into lessons of service and healing for others.“
The end of unnecessary suffering is only possible through liberation from the conditioned mind. In a world of impermanence, unnecessary suffering is caused by the identification with form and cultural conditioning. It is also caused by resistance to the flow of life and resistance to the very idea of suffering – this resistance only serves to perpetuate unnecessary suffering. Through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we can deconstruct these false mental attachments until only the ultimate ease remains. True freedom from unnecessary suffering can only be found in the present moment when we choose to live consciously. As Eckhart Tolle said, “True freedom and the end of suffering is living in such a way as if you had completely chosen whatever you feel or experience at this moment. This inner alignment with Now is the end of suffering.”
p.s. Leave a comment if this resonated with you. I love to hear your stories!
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I love this post! I also grew up in a culture that praises the outcome of suffering. Agree with your…
What an excellent article–insightful and rich! Thank you for sharing with us! Namaste
Everything may be a path but some paths should be avoided.
Nice post. Bob
You write like a true Buddhist. Hope you find enlightment without suffering. Namaste.
It is through the dark that we find our light. I love this thank you.