(Learning from the Buddhism Doctrine)
The “Buddhist Doctrine” sets out essential quotes from the scriptures in a question-and-answer format so that we can learn the teachings of Master Shinran in an orderly fashion. This time, let us learn about Question 14 from Buddhim Doctrine 1.
All the sufferings in life classified roughly into four categories are known as the “Four Sufferings.” When four more are added, these are referred to as the “Eight Sufferings.” List the Eight Sufferings.
The suffering of living
The suffering of aging
The suffering of sickness
The suffering of death
—The Four Sufferings
The suffering of separation from the beloved
The suffering of encountering the despised
The suffering of not gaining what one seeks
The suffering of the five aggregates
—Eight Sufferings in all
Śākyamuni Buddha said, “Life is suffering,” and taught the suffering of being overwhelmed by waves both large and small in the sea that is difficult to cross as the “Four and Eight Sufferings.” This is the suffering that all people across time and space have to endure.
First is the suffering of living. Suffering in life comes in many different forms; once we overcome one wave of difficulty, we are swamped by yet another wave before we even have a chance to catch our breath, and we choke on salt water. Is not life but a succession of such experiences? Floating up from the waves of life’s sea of suffering are wails like these:
“I recently lost my husband. I’m so lonely it feels like I’m in hell.”
“I had trouble getting along with my mother-in-law for a long time, then on top of that my husband told me to leave and we divorced. Living is now very painful for me.”
“I provide care for my parents and my mother-in-law. Unpleasant things just keep happening to me.”
When taught in more detail, the suffering of living is broken up into the suffering of separation from the beloved, the suffering of encountering the despised, and the suffering of not gaining what one seeks.
Next is the suffering of aging. Sight dims, hearing fails, posture stoops; the face becomes a mass of wrinkles, the hands tremble, the feet stumble; graceful deportment becomes difficult. We grow so forgetful with age that we even forget about our having taken medicine just a few minutes ago. We also often forget the proper words for things and just say “this” or “that” instead. Other problems relating to aging include divorce between mature married couples, the old caring for the old, dementia, and fear over dying alone. The older we get, the lonelier we feel.
The third suffering is that of illness. Our bodies are often said to be “vessels of disease”, and indeed we never know what illness may attack us next, or when. It is reported that in Japan, half of people get cancer and a third of people die of cancer. If one is told that he is afflicted with a serious disease, he cannot help but ask himself, “Why should I live even though I’m receiving painful medical treatment?”
The fourth suffering is that of death. Fear of terrorist attacks, radioactive contamination, earthquakes, or tsunamis, is based ultimately on the threat of death. The last one, the suffering of the five aggregates, means sufferings inherent in our flesh―suffering that comes because we have our bodies. This one sums up all the previous seven.
These waves of four sufferings and eight sufferings surge over us in the sea of life that is difficult to cross. This is our plight that never changes in all ages and in all countries.
●The suffering of not gaining what one seeks
The seventh suffering is that of not gaining what one seeks. All people seek something in life:
"If only I entered this university!"
"If only I worked for this company!"
"If only I got married to this person!"
"If only I had a child!" "If only I had my own home!"
And so on and so forth.
There must be no-one who seeks nothing. However, how long does the happiness of having obtained these things last? Even if you manage to build your own house, soon you will complain that you should have made this room bigger, or you don’t need that pillar, or this staircase should not have been here. Whatever we gain, we cannot attain the absolute, unchanging happiness that is what we are truly seeking. This is why it is taught that we are suffering due to not gaining what we seek.
●The suffering of encountering the despised
The sixth suffering is that of inevitably encountering people or things that one despises. Some people may think that there would be no problem if we just avoided such people. However, what if the despised was our family members, colleagues, or boss? We have no choice but to see them every day. Even children are suffering, not wanting to come across bullies or teachers that they dislike. “Encountering” disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami or traffic accidents also counts as the “suffering of encountering the despised”.
In Buddhism, it is taught that love and hate go hand in hand. Love and hate are the two sides of the same coin. The more you love someone, the deeper the hatred you will feel towards that person when you are betrayed by them. There is a quote that goes, “When I got married, I thought my wife was cute enough to eat. Looking back I wish I had eaten her at the time.” These words must be a complaint stemming from the suffering of encountering the despised.