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THE CRITERION OF SUFFERING
uffering is impeded volition. This sentence, coined by Schopenhauer, is so clear and so true that it needs no further proof. Everything running contrary to my volition and to my wishes is suffering, and everything occurring in harmony with my wishes, but finding resistance, is, as far as this goes, also suffering. Therefore the Buddha also proceeds from this self-evident definition of suffering, when, in the first of the four excellent truths, defining suffering as follows: "Birth is Suffering, old age is Suffering, disease is Suffering, death is Suffering, to be united to the disliked is Suffering, to be separated from the liked is Suffering, not to get what one desires is Suffering. This, friends, is what is called Suffering."4° So far every man will be in perfect accordance with the Buddha. But herein lies the peculiarity of bis doctrine, that according to him there is nothing at all but suffering in the world. For immediately after the words as given above, the Buddha proceeds: "In short, the five groups of grasping are Suffering." Later on, we shall return to these five groups of grasping. At present it will suffice to define them briefly as representing all objects of will at all possible; thus the words say: All activities of will are suffering, or, since we already know the nature of everything existing to consist in volition: Everything is full of suffering, just because of its nature. "Suffering only arises where something arises, Suffering only vanishes where something vanishes." Against this part of the first of the four
excellent truths the average man revolts; this he thinks he ought to reject as a perversion, sprung from world-sundered and world-estranged brooding, a perversion recognizable as such, through its taking only a fleeting glance at life. For what an immense quantity of pleasure, of lust, of the purer joys of family life, in nature and in art, life offers! How dare one overlook all this? How can one shut his eyes against it? No, not everything in life is suffering; it is not even true, that suffering predominates therein; but in spite of suffering, existent without doubt, the world is beautiful and worthy of being enjoyed.
If nevertheless the Buddha should be right, then without further argument it is clear that the average man must have made a terrible mistake in his judgment of the content of life according to its actual value. This, of course, is not impossible. For the question of life's value cannot be answered off-hand simply from clear and pure perception, in which everything is fixed and certain. But this answer represents a judgment, that is, a bringing together of the materials, offered by perception, into a relationship of concepts by means of the activity of reason. Now the part that error plays in the action of reason is often immense, especially if the subsuming of countless isolated accidents of manifold kind, reaching into the past and the future, under one or under a few fixed concepts, is involved. Free from error such can only be when done with the utmost care, looking out over the past and the future; and this is given only to very few. The great mass of mankind when using their reason in this manner, falls into the greatest errors, so that such an error "may dominate centuries, throw its iron yoke upon whole nations, stifle the noblest feelings of mankind; and cause even him whom it is not able to deceive, to be put in fetters by his own servants, its dupes." Such an error, then, is "the enemy, against whom the wisest
minds of all times have waged unequal combat. Only what they have won from him, has become the property of mankind."
May it not be that here also, in this question as to the value of life, such a fundamental error of the multitude, even of mankind taken as a whole, might come into operation, an error that only an enlightened mind like a Buddha might be able to remove? Only the utmost carefulness and thoughtfulness, the primary antecedent condition of a correct judgment, can, on our part, lead to a correct answer.
In applying it, there has first to be exposed a fundamental error which is generally made when judging as to the value or worthlessness of life, making it in advance, impossible to understand the doctrine of the Buddha. It is this: that a thing which man desires with such unexampled ardour as he does life, must at all events be desirable. But this is a gigantic paralogism. Imagine a man condemned to lifelong imprisonment with the prospect before him of an endless chain of misery. Will he not, facing sudden death, nevertheless cry out: I want to live, to live? Or go to the death-bed of a man who has been sick for years and is at last tormented by the most torturing pain. Will not he too, for all that, only too often exclaim in his pains: I want to live, to live! Will not they both want to live even when you tell them that death means for them redemption from severe and incurable suffering, that further life for them means nothing but further suffering? Will they not answer again and again: I want to live, to live at any price, even at this price, that my whole life be nothing but suffering? From this it is evidently clear, that man in general will take upon him a life full of suffering, even a life consisting of nothing but suffering, if only he can, and is allowed to live. But from this it follows as evidently, that this boundless clinging to life cannot be founded upon
an understanding that life is not identical with suffering but is something fundamentally different and really worth striving for; the reason for this clinging to life, as we shall see later on, being something entirely different. Therefore it is not legitimate to take this human impulsion towards life into account in deciding the question as to whether in life suffering preponderates, or whether perhaps indeed, life and suffering in the last analysis are identical concepts. On the contrary, the question really is if at the bar of purified cognition this impulsion will not prove to be entirely mistaken. With this, the principal weapon with which the average man comes forth against this part of the doctrine of the Buddha, in advance falls to the ground. For it is just this clinging to life as such, which is the chief argument by which he is guided in examining the question as to whether life is really worth living. The argument: "Certainly life is worth living, else I should not crave for it thus irresistibly," will either lead him to the negation of the doctrine of the Buddha without any more ado; or if he nevertheless occupies himself with the arguments adduced by the Buddha, it forms, for all that, the basis of his reasoning, generally remaining hidden from the reasoner himself, but in advance, influencing his investigation in a decisive manner, and determining its results from the beginning. Thus he shows a lack of heedfulness, whereby he blocks up his own way to the understanding of the first of the four excellent truths. Whoso wishes to understand this, before all else must be able entirely to put aside his unparalleled attachment to life in his examination of the question as to how far suffering dominates in life. Even if he thinks this attachment to be something unassailable, he must not allow it to influence him in any way. In other words, he must be able to face the question in an entirely objective manner, like one looking down upon
life from some high watch-tower, as if removed from it, and therefore in no way influenced either by desire or dislike. Only then will he be able quietly to compare the pros and cons, and thus only gain the balance needed for judging as to the justification of this his craving for life itself. A lustful man is not the proper authority for judging as to a woman's beauty or ugliness; and a man possessed by the desire for life is not the right person to decide as to the worth or worthlessness of life. But how very few of those who self-complacently criticize the "pessimism" of the Buddha, fulfil this fundamental antecedent condition of an objective judgment!
Not less important in judging life is another circumstance reckoned with by only very few: Happiness is satisfaction of the will, suffering is obstruction of the will. Now everything occurring in the world is not a single accident consisting by itself, but, just as it is itself the effect of a cause, on its own side, it will become again the cause of new effects. Accordingly, with every event there is bound up a countless number of motions of will, partly pleasant, partly unpleasant. The question therefore arises: In what way can judgment be given as to whether an event may be called a happy or an unhappy one? To answer this question, we shall do best to come down to immediate experience. Somebody has won the first prize in a lottery. This, beyond doubt is a satisfaction of the will in a very high degree, and, in addition, an immense piece of good fortune. Now this man who until then, has led a life free from sorrow, in consequence of this event goes wrong, turns an idler and a spendthrift, squanders all his gains and, at last, despised by all, finds himself in deepest misery, ruined and without the energy to work himself again out of his misery. What now will be his judgment, and that of others, in regard to the prize he lately won?