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It appears that Buddhism depends on a central premise -- that all worldly existence = suffering / dukkha.

Are there Buddhist teachers or traditions that teach a joyous approach to worldly life?

Are there any teachings that profess existence is a joyous, if sometimes painful experience, or at least a tolerably pleasant experience? An eternal roller-coaster ride of birth-and-death, joy and sorrow, that one need not seek to escape?

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You got "existence is suffering" right. Some people think "life is suffering", which is the wrong interpretation. Life as you say, is a roller coaster of many emotions and experiences.

In one's neverending existence, one is subject to birth, death, rebirth, experiencing endless ups and downs of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, gaining and losing loved ones, having unfulfilled desires, experience good and bad health etc. Nothing that is joyful lasts forever. Nothing that is sorrowful can be avoided forever. Just imagine undergoing these for eternity without rest. Not just as a human, but also in other realms. This is the first noble truth.

Of course, you are not compelled to try to escape this "suffering". If you enjoy your current state of existence and life, you should really continue with it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. There are many who come to Buddhism, for reasons other than Nirvana, like seeking peace of mind through the meditation techniques, even if it's only for a short time.

The second noble truth states that this suffering is caused by craving to what is satisfying and aversion to what isn't satisfying. Of course, one type of craving is to sensual pleasures that doesn't require explanation.

Another is the craving for "becoming", meaning, the craving to be a person, to live a life, to thrive, to seek happiness, to build a career, to raise a family, to be your own man or woman, to experience all that life has to offer, to have a personal history that is worth looking back to and telling to your grandchildren. But unfortunately, this will not last forever, and everything that you have built will pass away, just as you would. Family members could turn against you, wealth can suddenly diminish, careers can crumble, things that you desire can be taken away from you etc.

Then this leads to the third noble truth. That suffering can be ended, by removing this craving and clinging. When suffering is ended, Nirvana is reached. This source defines Nirvana in a number of ways including "the stable, the peaceful, the deathless, the sublime, the auspicious, the secure, the wonderful, the amazing, the unailing, the unafflicted, purity, freedom, the island, the shelter, the asylum, the refuge, the destination." In other words, the goal of Buddhism is to provide everlasting bliss in Nirvana.

But what does this mean to ordinary beings who are far away from the destination and refuge of Nirvana? Buddha wants us to seek joy, but not in things that are impermanent, because things that are impermanent will not provide you with that stable joy that you seek. But does this mean that we should avoid life and avoid pleasures?

This then leads to the fourth noble truth, that the path to Nirvana is through the Noble Eightfold Path, that supports a balanced life. So, that you may still live a life, seek happiness, raise a family, build a career, thrive, enjoy pleasures etc. but within a framework that will eventually lead you towards Nirvana, rather than spiralling towards the perpetuation of suffering.

Buddha also taught the practice of the Brahmaviharas. The first three of these are loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna) and empathetic joy (taking delight in others' well being). So, Buddhists are not meant to be dead serious. They are meant to radiate with joy.

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    I would appreciate comments on the down-votes. – ruben2020 Sep 13 '15 at 15:03
  • If my person would have done such: Because it's simply a personal idea and misleads., @ruben2020 Now, do you really appreciate it? – Samana Johann Apr 28 '17 at 5:07
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The gateway premise is not that "existence is suffering", it is that "something is wrong here". In other words, if you are perfectly satisfied with everything (are you?), if you are clear about the purpose of life, if you are a master in dealing with all possible kinds of situations -- then there is no reason for you to look out for anything at all, be it wisdom or liberation. If that is the case, then you are in a temporary heavenly state (to use Buddhist metaphorical language, wink-wink), which temporarily precludes any motivation to set on a spiritual quest to get to the bottom of things.

However, if you feel that you are not living the life you should be living, if you clearly see society as fundamentally messed-up, and are not willing to be complacent about that, if you are haunted by the underlying feeling of wrongness, of incompleteness, if you feel that something is missing - then obviously you will be very motivated to seek a solution!

Even if life is relatively good - still, if you are any attentive and smart, you may find yourself not being satisfied with superficial success, with solving problems at superficial level -- instead you may want to take a step back and solve the underlying problem, and the problem underlying the underlying problem, and the problem underlying that problem, and so on - you want to get leverage over things, you want to find the fundamental solution, the universal principle... You have a sense that the way you deal with things, however well, still leaves something to be desired - but what?

This feeling of deep buried wrongness, of aching incompleteness, of fundamental restlessness, of subtle unsatisfactoriness - that's what we're talking about here. This is where Buddhism begins: "something is wrong here". This is known as "the ground". You begin with what you have right here and now, the feeling of underlying incompleteness - and you are determined to not stop until you solve this most fundamental of all problems. The having solved the problem is known as "the fruition". And the steps from here to there are called "the path". These are the basic rules of the game. Makes sense, huh? :)

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    Andrei, kindly accept the bounty along with my deep gratitude and appreciation. I especially liked the lighthearted and lightfooted way you answered this. Your answer connects with me, and it deeply satisfies me. Actually, I have a niggling suspicion that you deliberately tuned your lingo to match my psyche; in that case, it was an insightful act -- an Upaya :-) – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 14 '15 at 19:27
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    Thank you, dear Krishnaraj, and I hope getting in touch with Buddha's Dharma will be a long term benefit to you, and not just a source of momentary joy. – Andrei Volkov Sep 16 '15 at 20:21
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Speaking from the position of the third (insight) training in Theravada: it is not necessary to believe that existence is suffering; it is important to train insight and see for yourself how things are.

Dukkha (which is perhaps better translated as unsatisfactoriness) is one of the three characteristics of everything (= all mind states -- except of the state of complete extinction of consciousness, nibbana), and is closely related to anatta (non-self, i.e. that you don't have 100% control over your experience) and anicca (everything is changing).

Thus, on a finer level, even positive mind-states (including blissful states of samatha) have a trace of dukkha. However, that does not mean that one should be demolishing everything positive by concentrating on that negative trace. Mindfulness strives to see things as they are, including the positive and negative, without blowing either of them out of proportion. That automatically includes deepening insight into what is dukkha, which is completely different from conceptual conviction about everything being "suffering".

The progress of insight training, as I understand it, is getting gradually beyond the positive/negative/neutral programming (i.e. positive → wanting, negative → avoiding, neutral → switching off; those 3 reactions are traditionally translated as greed/hatred/delusion) and accept with awareness whatever comes as it is, as a part of experience. One can/"should" fully enjoy what is enjoyable, mindfully, without attaching (attachment would cause suffering when the joy goes away), and truly appreciate joy while it is here.

Something like middle way between renunciation and submergence.

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"It appears that Buddhism depends on a central premise -- that all worldly existence = suffering / dukkha."

This is a correct result of an investigation.

"Are there Buddhist teachers or traditions that teach a joyous approach to worldly life?"

There are many if not most "Buddhist Teacher" and Traditions calling themselves after the Noble Ones. How ever, neither the Buddha, nor his good following desciples, not teacher of the Buddhas Dhamma do such. Why? Becaus they tell what is true and conductive for the path. Every time that one does not see the danger, does not put effort into the training, is wasted time. You can enjoy the reat when work is done.

"Are there any teachings that profess existence is a joyous, if sometimes painful experience, or at least a tolerably pleasant experience? An eternal roller-coaster ride of birth-and-death, joy and sorrow, that one need not seek to escape?"

There are, but not founded in Buddhas Dhamma. Mara constanty teaches such and so those overwhelmed of him as well.

Who ever does not see him/herself the first noble truth, or reject faith, firm faith in it, is incapable to make any long therm conductive and wholesome use of Buddhas teachings, is still a wordling and regarded as outsider.

In regard of the main Question: "Is it necessary for a Buddhist to believe that existence is suffering?" A self called "Buddhist" may believe what ever he wants, and yes, there have always been follower not really knowing the deeper sense of Buddhas teaching and he did not much worry about it.

  • The first noble truth summarises all suffering as attachment. If this is not clear, please refer to SN 22.1, which is a very simple teaching given to an old layman so the old layman could understand. accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.001.than.html – Dhammadhatu Apr 28 '17 at 7:04
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    An elder would tell you maybe that it is not so good, leads to much heat and hell, as one stated here, to overestimate oneself still pond to home and cattle. "Smart" youngster can only hurt them self and no need to talk further to people having no respect. Do what ever you like @Dhammadhatu . – Samana Johann Apr 28 '17 at 7:56

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