Dealing with Suffering *is* Spiritual Practice

This is the second in a three-part series of articles sharing the insights of some spiritual thinkers on the subject of suffering and the First Noble Truth.

In the first article, I shared insights from Ken Wilber’s No Boundary. You can read the post here:

Dissatisfaction with Life-the Start of Discovery

This excerpt in this post is from Daniel Ingram’s outstanding Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book.

You can download the entire book in PDF form here:
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, Adobe/.pdf version, Revised 2008 version

or you can buy the paperback from Amazon here:

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book

Truth Number One: Suffering

by Daniel Ingram

“The first truth is the truth of suffering…There must have been something important about it for it to start off something called the Four Noble Truths that is not immediately obvious. Why do we practice? Suffering, that’s why! It is just that simple. Why do we do anything? Suffering!

Plenty of people balk at this, and say that they do lots of things because of reasons other than suffering. I suppose that to be really correct I should add in ignorance and habit, but these are intimately connected to suffering. This is worth investigating in depth. Perhaps there is something more to this first truth that they may have missed on first inspection, as it is a deep and subtle teaching. Actually, to understand this first truth is to understand the whole of the spiritual path, so take the time to investigate it.

The basic gist of the truth from a relative point of view is that we want things to be other than they are, and this causes pain. We want things that are nice to be permanent, we want to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want. We wish bad things would go faster than they do, and these are all contrary to reality. We all die, get sick, have conflicts, and constantly seem to be running around either trying to get something (greed), get away from something (hatred), or tune out from reality all together (delusion). We are never perfectly happy with things just as they are. These are the traditional, relative ways in which suffering is explained, but these definitions can only take us so far.

At the most fundamental level, the level that is the most useful for doing insight practices, we wish desperately that there was some separate, permanent self, and we spend huge amounts of time doing our best to prop up this illusion. In order to do this, we habitually ignore lots of useful information about our reality and give our mental impressions and simplifications of reality much more importance than they are necessarily due. It is this illusion that adds a problematic element to the normal and understandable ways in which we go about trying to be happy. We constantly struggle with reality because we misunderstand it, i.e. because reality misunderstands itself.

“So what’s new?” one might say. Good point! It isn’t new, is it? This has been the whole of our life! The big question is “Is there some understanding which makes a difference?” Yes, or we wouldn’t be bothering with all of this spirituality stuff. Somewhere down in our being there is a little voice that cries, “There is another way!” We can find this other way.

Connecting with the truth of suffering can actually be very motivating for spiritual practice. Most traditional talks on the Buddha’s teachings begin with this. More than just being motivating for spiritual practice, tuning into suffering is spiritual practice!

Many people start meditating and then get frustrated with how much suffering and pain they experience, never knowing that they are actually starting to understand something. They cling to the ideal that insight practices will produce peace and bliss and yet much of what they find is suffering. They don’t realize that things on the cushion tend to get worse before they get better. Thus, they reject the very truths they must deeply understand to obtain the peace they were looking for and thus get nowhere. They reject their own valid insights that they have obtained through valid practice. I suspect that this is one of the greatest and most common stumbling blocks on the spiritual path.

There is a flip side to suffering which can help, and that is compassion, the wish for there to not be suffering. Wherever there is suffering there is compassion, though most of the time somewhat twisted by the confused logic of the process of ego. More on this in a bit, but it leads directly to the second Noble Truth, the cause of suffering….”

Excerpt from Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram

To read the third article in this series on the truth of suffering, go here:

The End of Suffering—The Light at the End of the Tunnel


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza


  1. The End of Suffering-The Light at the End of the Tunnel | Metta Refuge - 2011/09/27

    […] Dealing with Suffering *is* Spiritual Practice […]

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