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Please correct me if I'm misguided about this but I was doing some reading which seemed to be saying that life on this earth is nothing but suffering. That while we are ignorant we wander around in samsara experiencing the pain of birth, ageing, illness and death etc The goal is to be free of this cycle by reaching nibanna and not be reborn anymore.

I don't see the point. Because if I am no longer reborn then where am I? If I don't exist anymore then I cannot be in nibanna. And if I no longer exist then what is the point of getting to nibanna anyway as I won't be able to experience it.

I feel that this view is somewhat depressing. It makes me think what is the point of anything. Why bother even trying to accomplish or achieve anything if it's all suffering and the goal is to not exist anymore?

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One way to understand Buddhism, is to understand how the Buddha frames happiness and suffering and what he was trying to achieve.

Wordly Happiness & Suffering

First, the Buddha did not denied that we experience pleasure:

“Ānanda, there are these five cords of sensual pleasure. What five? Forms cognizable by the eye that are desirable, lovely, agreeable, pleasing, sensually enticing, tantalizing. Sounds cognizable by the ear … Odours cognizable by the nose … Tastes cognizable by the tongue … Tactile objects cognizable by the body that are desirable, lovely, agreeable, pleasing, sensually enticing, tantalizing. These are the five cords of sensual pleasure. The pleasure and joy that arise in dependence on these five cords of sensual pleasure: this is called sensual pleasure.

“Though some may say, ‘This is the supreme pleasure and joy that beings experience,’ I would not concede this to them. Why is that? Because there is another kind of happiness more excellent and sublime than that happiness."

-- SN 36.19

One problem with the pleasure/happiness that we experience normally, (through our senses, thoughts, emotions) is that they are impermanent. In this sense, they are only temporary shelters in our lives. A second problem is that they seem unable to absolutely satisfy us, in the greatest sense. For example, eating may satisfy hunger at a certain moment, but does not satisfy every single necessity or desire at that same moment.

In the pāli scriptures, the term that describes the characteristic of being impermanent is anicca. And the term to describe the unsatisfactoriness of things is dukkha. With that said, the Buddha declared:

"All sankhara are dukkha."
"All sankhara are anicca."

 -- AN 3.136

sankhara is usually translated as "phenomena", "formations", "fabrications" or "preparations". It refer to the "things", all these "fluxes" that are experienced, touched, heard, smelled, seen, felt, thought, etc. Everything that comes to be with conditions as basis.

At this moment, it's relevant to point out that dhukkha can also mean pain or suffering as well. So, that explains why some people came to conclude that the Buddha said that everything (or life) is suffering, which is problematic, as it should be clear now.

What he said, then, is that all these worldly experiences we go through are unsatisfactory in it's ultimate sense. And even if they may be temporarily pleasing at the present, they always carry the danger of suffering in the future. The Buddha also said:

“Then, bhikkhus, it occurred to me: ‘The pleasure and joy that arise in dependence on form: this is the gratification in form. That form is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this is the danger in form. [repeats for all aggregates of our individuality]"

-- SN 22.26

That is, by evaluating all experienced based on our sensory faculties, he established the pleasure that arise with them as condition (the gratification). And due to it's characteristics of being impermanent, he observed it carries a danger for suffering.

That sums up the first noble truth: "this is dukkha".

“Bhikkhus, there are these five situations that are unobtainable by an ascetic or a brahmin, by a deva, Māra, or Brahmā, or by anyone in the world. What five? (1) ‘May what is subject to old age not grow old!’ ... ‘May what is subject to illness not fall ill!’ [...] (3) ‘May what is subject to death not die!’ [...] (4) ‘May what is subject to destruction not be destroyed!’ [...] (5) ‘May what is subject to loss not be lost!’."

-- AN 5.48

Nirvana

While most people are fine with all that situation of living with pleasures and sufferings, others feel enslaved by this existential situation they find themselves in. These people came to conclude that no matter what happiness they may find in the world, they know deep inside that such happiness has an expiration date -- and suffering is around the corner. The Buddha was in this later category.

The problem the Buddha set out to solve was: is there the ultimate happiness? and how to achieve it? By ultimate happiness, it's meant something that has no trace of unsatisfactoriness. And also, something that is not impermanent. Because it doesn't change, and because there's nothing else to desire, this is then the ultimate peace, where there's no danger whatsoever of suffering. It's impossible, then, to conceive any happiness greater than that, for this would denounce it's unsatisfactoriness.

In Buddhism, this is called Nirvana, the end of dukkha without reminder. And the third noble truth is a declaration by the Buddha that Nirvana can be attained: "This is the cessation of dukkha".

Because all the "worldly experiences" are conditioned, impermanent, subject to change and to vanish, the Buddha halted any of his attempt to find the ultimate happiness on these things.

Bhikkhus, it is impossible that a bhikkhu who considers nibbāna to be suffering will possess a conviction in conformity [with the teaching]. [...] [But] it is possible that a bhikkhu who considers nibbāna to be hapiness will possess a conviction in conformity [with the teaching]."

-- AN 6.101

Samsara

What makes our situation more dramatic is the idea of the cycle of births. While some people don't believe in life after death, the tradition understands the Buddha declaring that after the death of this life there's another (and on it goes), seemingly with no external force that will make it stop.

Some may see this as an endless opportunity for entertainment and living all sorts of interesting things. But others see it as a burden. Here, we go around experiencing things that come to an end, and then experiencing other things, with no pause. Sometimes they please us, sometimes they cause suffering. Things that were something become otherwise, continually. Everything we hold with our hands vanish -- and soon, our hands also vanish.

The Buddha concluded that this "never ending wandering" has a cause: our thirst (tanha), our desires, specially the desires based on the sense faculties. By desiring, we keep experimenting, and these experiences have the nature of changing, the nature of being unable to satisfy us, and the nature of cause suffering.

This thirst, then, is a root of our suffering, the second noble truth: "this is the origin of dukkha."

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”

-- SN 15.13

The Path

Thus, the Buddha taught a progressive training where gross and worldly pleasures are gradually abandoned in favor of more sublime and beneficial pleasures.

If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater.

-- Dhp 290

This training is the noble eightfold path, the fourth noble truth: "This is the path that leads to the cessation of dukkha."

The Buddha said this path is "good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end". It promotes happiness in this very life, happiness in the after-life, and if taken to it's last consequences, to Nirvana.

Final Notes

It's not known exactly what happens to someone who attained Nirvana after death. When questioned about it, the Buddha did not answer. He denied that after death, an Arahant or Buddha is annihilated. He also denied that he reborns. Finally, he asked that those things that he left undeclared to be remembered as undeclared by him.

But, from what we know he has said, Nirvana is the cessation of dukkha and the end of suffering. We also know that it is said to be, indeed, happiness. So Buddhism is not depressive. It is, in fact, positive. It promotes knowledge about the nature of suffering and happiness and how to cultivate the latter. And to those "tired of the rollercoaster", it affirms there's indeed a secure shelter out of it and shows the path that leads to it.

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Buddhism is neither unrealistically specimitics nor unrealistically optimistic but realistic and also realistically optimistic. It is reality that we come across stressful situation. But there is a method and path which is the way out of it though understanding the 4 Noble Truths and the Noble 8 Fold Path which is organise as the 3 Fold Training. This is being both realistic and realistically optimistic.

In Buddhism there is not concept as I do not exist. This is rejected concept and also a largely misunderstood concept and also a extreme view. Everything is not / non self as they are not fully in your control. What this means is by snapping your finger you cannot change you hair colour, you cannot grow older of younger, taller or shorter, fairer or darker, etc. Also it means there is not unchanging solit part of you any where.

Getting to Nibbana is the optimistic part which is finding a permanent solution to the problems of life. Finding a permanent and total solution than a temporary or partial solution is always better off, and many would welcome it great joy, happiness and optimism.

Also in the world what people pursue it sensory happiness, like being with beautiful girl, having a well shaped body, nice house and car. These are not permanent hence cannot give permanent happiness. All these objects have a start and a life and finally decays away. Parting with what is pleasant is also unpleasant. In Nirvana everythings is unborn and not decaying and not dying. This alone is a unworldly happiness which is permanent where as in the world you meet unpleasant situation and pleasant situation and all good thing come to an end, which is unsatisfactory.

  • My question is more about the goal of never being reborn again. If we are to not be reborn then what is it that goes to nirvana? If it is not me, as in this person with a mind who knows I exist, then I don't see the point of trying to get there. I have asked this question on other sites before and Buddhists have answered by either saying its not answerable or they have given vague analogies about a candle flame passing to another candle or bubbles bursting. I feel that in order for me to continue this practice I need an understanding of this fundamental concept. – Smithsonian Jun 29 '17 at 2:02
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    This is an uncommon experience which cannot be explained as there is not conventional understanding or vocabulary to communicate that happens here. This is where all conventional laws as we know it breaks down. Those who have gone there has said it is worth while achieving hence the motivation to practice. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jun 29 '17 at 2:14
  • There is one sutta where the Buddha mention about the timeless (that I do not know). Nibbana is a state beyond time and space. Too bad that I do not have the time to write more on this. Read what J. Krishnamurti has to say on this. Freedom from the Known; A Timeless State; Going deep into ARIYA MEDITATIONS and if you can dwell into NIRODHA SAMAPATTI, then you can get a glimpse of this state. Another good one from you. :) – Saptha Visuddhi Jun 29 '17 at 3:06
  • Asked this question. Hope it will shed some light on these Suttas. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jun 29 '17 at 3:15
  • Once you rid your mind of thoughts of self then most of this disappears for me. Our consciousness is the chariot driver. It is the feeler of the emotions. In this simple shell were' just trying to bust out and get to our normal awareness. Once we're at that awareness our singular individuality disappears and we're just all as one ooey glob of massive consciousness. And of course the only reason any of our consciousness would be so hindered is because we achieve consciousness in these limited forms and that could be like a bummer so I can see them bitching. But really it's all cool. – Kauva Aatma Jun 29 '17 at 3:51
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If you come at the void from the frame of reference of Essence, yes - you will see Buddhism as Annihalationism to your Essentialism. And why not be depressed imagining it this way?

But if you come at it from the frame of reference of emptiness, with the understanding that things are inherently impermanent and empty of Self, it is peaceful.

'Existence' and 'Non-Existence' are two extremes the Buddha stayed away from:

“This world, Kaccana, for the most part depends upon a duality—upon the notion of existence and the notion of nonexistence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of nonexistence in regard to the world. And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world." SN 12.15

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Nibbana is not "annihilation", it is "BEING" (stillness). In other words: the ending of becoming.

You "are not" (even right now).

You "exist" in your mind (you are a play of energy).

The word "exist" is derived from Latin, it actually means "to exit the stance".

The Buddha says anatta (not-my-self), because to exit-stillness in an eternal recurrence is suffering, it is a constant searching, but ultimately there is nothing there. And nibbana is the dissolution of sankharas which make you search for a meaning outside, which in turn constitute your empirical self that is constantly becoming.

Is it depressing? I won't say no. But even Nietzsche was awakened to the eternal recurrence inside your mind...

  • So what is it that goes to Nibanna? Its not my mind, its not my body. So then what? – Smithsonian Jun 29 '17 at 8:59
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    The question is wrong. You are being tricked by the metaphysics of your own language. Nibbana is the state of being (extinguishing), not a state of existing, because to exist is to become, this is called "kamma" (action/motion, mental, verbal or bodily) it is the execution of the "will to power" toward external phenomena). In simpler terms, nibbana is "stillness in motion", and the Buddha's path to that, is the Noble Eightfold one... – mad buddhist Jun 30 '17 at 20:24
  • Your mind and body are corporeal compounds (sankharas), they "exist", because they have been conditionally put together, they are not absolutes in and of themselves. Truth is absolute, because it is nothing, and nibbana is the realization of that, and the realization of why you have been suffering. – mad buddhist Jun 30 '17 at 20:25
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Buddhism is kind of depressing

Or Buddhism is a lot of things (there are different forms of Buddhism) and intended for a lot of people.

People are sometimes subject to depression, suffering; and Buddhism will "speak to their condition".

That while we are ignorant we wander around in samsara experiencing the pain of birth, ageing, illness and death etc.

Perhaps not all the time, would you say? Maybe we're not permanently/perpetually aware of that kind of pain. But maybe we're subject to it, vulnerable, fearful at times.

The goal is to be free of this cycle by reaching nibanna and not be reborn anymore.

I think nibanna is seen as a permanent (immediate, timeless) escape from suffering; and that the realization of nibanna is kind of transformation (perhaps a "purification") which renders you immune, free from suffering and from the fuels which perpetuate suffering.

Because if I am no longer reborn then where am I? If I don't exist anymore then I cannot be in nibanna. And if I no longer exist then what is the point of getting to nibanna anyway as I won't be able to experience it.

I think the argument is that views-of-self are part of the problem; for example that it's views including:

  • I must die
  • I am poor (and can't buy what I want)
  • I am rich (and can't buy what I want)
  • I am healthy now (but must sicken)
  • I can't do enough for other people
  • I exist and/or I don't exist

... which result in suffering. And that learning to become immune to suffering implies learning (or includes learning) to avoid the tendency to become attached to views like that.

Why bother even trying to accomplish or achieve anything if it's all suffering and the goal is to not exist anymore?

Yes. Well the Pali suttas say that there are two extremes, eternalism and nihilism, and that Buddhism teaches a middle way between extremes.

It might be worth considering the hindrances for example. Maybe Buddhism teaches how to overcome (or at least, teaches that you should overcome) the hindrances: and that as long as you haven't it's worth bothering with Buddhism.

A little story which I think is a good summary is the Zen story titled Nothing Exists:

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

I think that the goal isn't to "not exist": it's to not be susceptible to anger, and to conceit, and so on.

Also perhaps I should mention that although Buddhism's description of the problem ("suffering") might be seen as depressing, it's description of the solution, the cure, the antidote, might be more attractive. For example the "seven factors of enlightenment" include joy and tranquility; or the Kimattha Sutta: What is the Purpose? lists freedom from remorse, joy, serenity, knowledge, and so on.

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I don't see the point. Because if I am no longer reborn then where am I? If I don't exist anymore then I cannot be in nibanna. And if I no longer exist then what is the point of getting to nibanna anyway as I won't be able to experience it.

Going out on a limb here, but I think even if you're right and the Buddha does not experience nirvana, and we assume that there can be no rebirth into painful realms, your inference, that only what we experience can be of any value may be mistaken.

But I can quite easily imagine an awful scenario occurring and it still being awful even if I don't know about it. Likewise all my wishes coming true.

I agree that maybe there is something galling and depressing about the claim that pleasure isn't really valuable. But who says that the meaning of life is obvious?


Anyway I probably disagree.

I personally believe that after final nirvana the Buddha still has knowledge of emptiness, just not conceptually. I wouldn't call it an experience, let alone pleasure, but likely think this says more about the limitations of our categories and thinking, than it being a tangible goal.

And anyway, death is no bed of roses in atheism either.

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It sounds depressing if it is believed & further misinterpreted the misinterpretations of Buddhism that are read.

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Because others have already mentioned, let me tell you in different way."Because if I am no longer reborn then where am I?" This "I" in the sense of worldly being we accept it as it is. In the case of noble truth, actually there is no "I" just because of ignorance we never recognize it as it is. Naturally it is just five aggregates(nama and rupa). Out of ignorance we have been passing through the rounds of birth and rebirth. In terms of suffering we have been facing through the samsara, it is just like climate change we have. If we have a favorable climate, we love it. If it is not, then we don't. "Why bother even trying to accomplish or achieve anything" you said. If you achieve anything in worldly life, you will have a favorable climate through which you will get in a more comfortable condition. Because of this, Buddha taught about kusala and akusala, and kamma results. All this natural truth, one will come to know by insight meditation. Just by achieving the namarupa pariccheda nana through insight meditation, one will accept, there is no "I". One will have a glimpse of nibbana, if one achieve the Bhanga nana. Buddha teaching is timeless and ready to take on all comers to test it not in afterlife but in this very life at the very moment of insight meditation. Sometimes if one is brought up in a state of most affluent worldly life, suffering is difficult to understand. Only when we know dukkha and dreadful vicious cycle of samsara, we will look for the liberation i.e. nibbana the bliss of which one will surely get to perceive just by achieving sotapanna phala nana through insight meditation in this very life. Then you will know by insight not by reasoning, that Buddhism is NOT kind of depressing.

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Yeah, I can understand where someone would get that impression. Maybe some of it depends on where you're coming from to start. I was raised a Southern Baptist in the southwest plains of the US. That meant twice a week as a child (starting at 5) I was told how even my most subtle thoughts were sins and would send me to the worst place in the universe. I was so afraid that I would lay in my bed at night crying in fear. This is why I sought something different. I knew this wasn't right and man wasn't expected to live in that manner. Or even if he was I wasn't doing it. So I searched.

I could not put faith in a deity that supposedly loved me but wanted to make me suffer. I sincerely questioned whether that whole system was nothing more than a tool for control. Then I was exposed to the story of Siddartha Gautma.

Siddartha convinced me that suffering was part of the very nature of man. We seek the opposite of each type of suffering as relief from suffering and all that relief is impermanent. So if we don't change our focus we are doomed to always suffer. And it's OUR fault really. As babies our needs are very simple and they're met rather easily. But as we take on relationships and material items and individual identities we create attachments that actually contribute to our suffering greatly.

Siddartha also showed me that one could relinquish those ties and that individuality and by simplifying ones' life we can great diminish if not conquer suffering in this life.

As you study the dharma you find that the individuality so spoken of is a facade. We are actually driver of this chariot. The consciousness. The rest, our body, is just a shell that limits our awareness. Even if we make our physical life the simplest and most responsive possible we will still suffer. This is because that suffering is part and parcel of the enjoyment on its' flip side. We try to walk that narrow path between both extremes as we work to extinguish our suffering. And that just THIS life. As soon as this body dies we'll go thru it all over again. And we'll KEEP going thru it until man learns to pierce the veil between consciousness and the physical world - at which time we evolve to pure consciousness without having to go through the cycle of rebirth.

The "purpose" of this body and existence is to graduate from the "me" thinking of a human infant to "we" thinking of a mature human (right mindedness). That is what our brains are designed to do. That is how our bodies operate most efficiently - by assisting one another. Our consciousness in this body is just a piece of dough pinched off from the consciousness whole. As soon as this host passes we return to the whole.

I see nothing depressing about this. It gives me purpose and hope. It makes me smile during bad times knowing they are temporary and will be followed by good. I live by the words damyata (self-control), datta (giving of yourself), and dayadhvam (compassion). This simple map or pattern brings me a smile. Not a sign of depression.

protected by Lanka Jun 29 '17 at 18:43

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