The first of the Four Noble Truths is: the truth of suffering. This is one of the universal realizations of the Buddha on his spiritual journey. Suffering is a real phenomenon in the world and everyone will suffer. The one exception to this will be anyone who attains “Buddha-hood.” (i.e. the enlightened state) The ability to become a Buddha is available to all sentient beings. Once a sentient being becomes enlightened, he or she transcends suffering in all of its variations. However, until such time, suffering will be experienced by each of us.
I’ve often wondered why the Buddha made the fact of suffering the First Noble Truth. After some time of reflecting on this, I have concluded that the Buddha wanted to share only those insights that applied to all sentient beings. He was not exclusively focused on his own family, culture, tribe or country. Secondly, I believe he wanted to share insights that were true for all time. Understandings that meet this standard provide powerful means to relieve ourselves from suffering. Suffering is something that each one of us can directly verify exists. This undeniable truth then serves as a solid starting point for doing deep spiritual work.
One might imagine that there must be some people, even though not enlightened, don’t suffer. For example, someone who is rich or extremely wealthy does not have to worry about any basic needs being met. In fact, their basic “needs” are often extravagant and expensive. It’s an interesting thought. Personally, I’ve yet to meet a wealthy person free from suffering. Sometimes wealthy people suffer from the anxiety of losing some or all of their wealth. They sometimes suffer from wondering if the people in their lives at any given moment are there for them or instead for their wealth. Note the number of wealthy individuals that committed suicide during the market crash of 2008-09. Some wealthy people even suffer from others having more wealth or material possessions than they presently possess. This is envy.
Suffering probably has more forms than can be enumerated. As the truth of suffering is universal, it’s essential to understand that whatever we may suffer we are never unique in that suffering. In the age of so-called social media, we witness the failed attempts by millions to mask their suffering. They try to mask it with posts and pictures of perpetual happiness. This has only one result. It accelerates and compounds suffering. It’s a direct lie to one’s self and to anyone else watching. The soul knows the truth. That there is far more suffering being experienced and masked. Look at my body it’s so fit. Look at what I’m eating, it’s so good. Look at my clothes, cars, home or shoes…they are so expensive. Look at my pet, it’s so cute. Look at my child he/she is so smart. All the while masking their suffering…
I encourage you to spend time reflecting on the truth of suffering. Give it some serious and deep thought. Don’t merely give it a nod of the head and intellectually acknowledge or reject it. Think about how amazing your life, and this world, could be with minimal or no suffering. Wouldn’t that be “heaven?” The physical body, your body is a real phenomenon. The body knows its limitations. If it lacks food it must suffer. If it becomes cold and receives no warmth it will suffer. If it is unable to sleep it will eventually die. All of this suffering cannot be prevented by you. It’s purely biological suffering of a living organism. But, there is another component to your experience that can avoid suffering. This observer of the body’s suffering…this one, unlike the body, we may prevent from suffering. But what is it and how?