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Taoism and Buddhism say we should distance our self from suffering and accept life as is if we cannot change it. But what if we have serious clinical depression or cannot provide properly for those we care about? It is easy to distance when your self is the only factor but not when others depend on us. If we cannot make the lives of those we care about good then is the next step to teach them Buddhist or Tao values of accepting life as is?

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This is a thoughtful question. I understand your sorrow and frustration. I find it very interesting though, in my conversations with rich and healthy people, many say that in fact they find it more difficult to distance themselves from life because "Everything is going so well." Contrary to popular belief, having adversity in one life can make it easier to let go of the false sense of a material identity. There is a common misinterpretation that life is suffering only when we meet adversity. Life can also be suffering when we are rich and healthy too. What is the key: do we identify with a healthy body or a sick body. Either way it is impermanent. Meditation helps us experience the Permanent and non malleable part of being that is and is not. Meditation clarifies who we are. Words can confuse who we are. Use words sparingly but do not try to identify yourself with them.

Here is an article giving more details. http://www.buddhanet.net/cbp1_f6.htm

a) Life is suffering

The Buddha told us that "Life is Suffering". One who does not understand the Truth of this may think that life is meaningless and become negative and pessimistic. Actually, this theory is commonly misunderstood. People in society and even some Buddhists are trapped in this wrong and gloomy view.

When we encounter phenomena, and have a feeling of dislike, worry or pain, we say that there is "suffering". This should not be generalised to "all life is suffering", because there is also a lot of happiness in life! Noises are disturbing but nice melodies bring happiness. When one is sick, poor, separated from loved ones, one has suffering. But when one is healthy, wealthy, together with one’s family, one is very happy. Suffering and happiness exist in all phenomena. Actually where there is happiness, there will be suffering. They are in contrast with each other. If’ we only say that life is suffering when things do not go according to our wish we are rather foolish.

The Buddha says, "Life is suffering". What does "suffering" mean? The sutras say: "Impermanence therefore suffering". Everything is impermanent and changeable. The Buddha says that life is suffering because it is impermanent and ever-changing. For example, a healthy body cannot last forever. It will gradually become weak, old. sick and die. One who is wealthy cannot maintain one’s wealth forever. Sometimes one may become poor. Power and status do not last as well, one will lose them finally. From this condition of changing and instability, although there is happiness and joy, they are not ever lasting and ultimate. When changes come, suffering arises.

Thus, the Buddha says life is suffering. Suffering means dissatisfaction, impermanence and imperfection. If a practising Buddhist does not understand the real meaning of "suffering" and think that life is not perfect and ultimate, they become negative and pessimistic in their view of life. Those who really understand the teaching of the Buddha will have a totally different view. We should know that the theory of "Life is suffering" taught by the Buddha is to remind us that life is not ultimate and lasting, and hence we should strive towards Buddhahood — a permanent and perfect life.

This is similar to one who is sick. One must know that one is sick before wanting to seek the doctor’s treatment. Only then can the sickness be cured. Why is life not ultimate and permanent and full of suffering? There must be a cause for the suffering. Once one knows the cause of suffering, one will try one’s best to be rid of the causes, and hence end the suffering and attain ultimate peacefulness and happiness.

A practising Buddhist should practice according to the Buddha’s instruction, and change this imperfect and non-ultimate life to a ultimate and perfect one. Then would come a state of permanent joy, personality, and purity.

Permanent means ever-lasting, joy means peacefulness and happiness, personality means freedom and non-attachment, purity means cleanliness. This highest aim of Buddhism is not only to break through the suffering of life but to transform this suffering life into a life that has permanent peacefulness, joy, freedom and purity. The Buddha told us the cause of suffering and instructed us to strive towards the goal. The stage of permanent, joy, personality and purity is an ultimate ideal phenomena. It is full of brightness and hope. It is a stage that is attainable by all of us. How can we say that Buddhism is negative and pessimistic?

Although not all practising Buddhists are able to attain this highest point of practice, there is still boundless benefit in knowing this theory. Most people know that they have to strive to do good when they are poor, but once they become rich, they forget about everything, and only think about their own enjoyment and hence walk towards the wrong path foolishly.

A practising Buddhist should remember to strive not only when one is poor and in difficulties, but should also be mindful when one is enjoying, because happiness is not permanent. If one does not strive towards the good, they will degenerate and fall very quickly. The teaching of "Life is suffering" reminds us not to look forward for enjoyment only and go the wrong way. This is the important implication in the teaching of "Life is suffering", taught by the Buddha.

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    I don't know of any example where the Buddha actually said "life is suffering". – yuttadhammo May 15 '15 at 16:31
  • @yuttadhammo Do you know a better English-language paraphrase/summary/approximation of the First noble truth? – ChrisW May 15 '15 at 17:15
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    @ChrisW the first noble truth is simply "This is the truth of suffering." Nowhere in the enumeration of what is suffering does it refer to life. – yuttadhammo May 15 '15 at 17:18
  • Life is what you perceive it to Be. Either you can let your ego-mind decide that for you or let your true Self(you) decide. I now realize that God is because he spoke to me. But I also realize that he is not because he is infinity and infinity is a paradox. So the religious, non-religious are both right and the agnostics are just unsure. – Anoop Alex May 16 '15 at 1:42
  • God speaking to you contradicts Buddhism. God as an infinite person also contradicts Buddhism. That's clear. – ruben2020 May 16 '15 at 3:07
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The real answer is that one cannot - it is the caring that causes the suffering:

  1. Seek no intimacy with the beloved and also not with the unloved, for not to see the beloved and to see the unloved, both are painful.

  2. Therefore hold nothing dear, for separation from the dear is painful. There are no bonds for those who have nothing beloved or unloved.

  3. From endearment springs grief, from endearment springs fear. For one who is wholly free from endearment there is no grief, whence then fear?

-- Dhp 210-212 (Buddharakkhita, trans)

In fact worrying about others, or feeling depressed about our situation, doesn't help others or our situation to improve. This is how we reconcile with the Buddha's teaching; it seems callous and cruel to give up our concern for others, and it seems unproductive and negligent to stop caring about our worldly affairs. In actual fact, both our relationships and our worldly affairs improve when we give up our attachments to them.

Consider our concern for others; we worry, we fear, we cling to their happiness and suffering - does any of that improve our ability to work for their betterment? Clearly not. There is a difference between fulfilling one's worldly responsibilities and actually caring about their success or failure. Unfortunately, our culture (most cultures, in fact - even supposedly Buddhist ones) encourages us to care and looks with scorn on those who don't care. This doesn't make it any more useful to cry and moan when suffering arises or any less useful to be impartial and objective when dealing with problems no matter how personal they may be.

In brief, duty and responsibility should be what dictate our worldly affairs, not concern or care. As to what our responsibilities are, this differs from relationship to relationship; we don't have a duty or responsibility to teach our parents, for example, but we do have such a responsibility to our children. The point is, even if we fail in our responsibilities, we should not allow that to lead to sorrow or depression, neither of which is at all beneficial to self or others.

  • Thank you. I had my enlightenment experience yesterday and have reconciled this issue. My experience took the form of a voice in my head claiming to be God and telling me to Just Be. In the Eternity of Time Nothing Matters. Depeding on how it is viewed by the mind, this statement can be both good or bad. If it is good there is no problem. If it bad, we can either try to change it or accept it. It doesn't matter. Whatever happens, in the now you will just Be. – Anoop Alex May 16 '15 at 1:36
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I think that we can escape suffering

the Buddhist teachings of the four truths help with the understanding of the types of suffering and the process of these different types.We try to escape from suffering, without asking ourselves what the word ‘suffering’ really means.

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