Question: “A part of Buddhism is being free of suffering. What do you say to people when they say “but isn’t suffering a part of life?””
I would say that they don’t understand what “suffering” and “freedom” actually mean. Suffering is the common translation to the Sanskrit word “Dukkha,” but a more accurate and better translation is “dissatisfaction.” Our lives and the world are full of desires and greed. We are always wanting something more, something bigger and better, something more expensive and fancy, and when we can’t obtain it, we are disappointed and sometimes maybe even angry, and so we “suffer.”
In Buddhism, when we say we want to be free of suffering, means we want to be free of desire that is caused by the Three Poisons; ignorance, greed, and anger. We suffer because we’re dissatisfied when we don’t get what we want or things don’t happen the way we wanted them to.
The Buddha taught us that there are eight sufferings in life: 1) suffering of birth, 2) suffering of sickness, 3) suffering of old age, 4) suffering of death, 5) suffering of separating from loved ones, 6) suffering of associating with those we dislike, 7) suffering due to unfulfilled wishes and desires, and 8) suffering of the flourishing of the five skandhas/aggregates.
So how do we escape suffering? Acceptance. Acceptance leads us to freedom. When we can truly and happily accept and understand the eight sufferings, we become free from their chains. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s not difficult. It doesn’t mean we have to dissociate ourselves from the world, from friends and family. It just means that when people and things age, get sick, and die, that we don’t allow ourselves to be buried in the sadness and anger. When a loved one passes away, it’s most certainly a tragic time, but death is also inevitable and cannot be stoped. We are sad, but we also accept and understand it, because we know it is the cycle of life. With that understanding and acceptance, we suffer much less and can be at peace much quicker.
Smile and be well!