The Path Beyond Suffering

The Path Beyond Suffering

A Story by Courtney

On the 4 Noble Truths of suffering


The Path Beyond Suffering


            Suffering is a natural part of life. Everyone suffers. At its best, suffering can guide us towards becoming better human beings. At its worst, it can consume a person and create an existence filled with pain. Much of the suffering we experience as human beings is self-inflicted, and serves no other purpose than to ensure an endless cycle of self-perpetuated suffering. You alone have the key to ending this cycle of needless suffering within yourself. That key is the understanding of what the Buddhists call the “Four Noble Truths of Suffering.”

            Why end suffering? Ending our own suffering serves not only to achieve happiness within ourselves, but also to reduce the overall suffering that is present in the world. A person who suffers endlessly not only suffers himself or herself, but also inflicts suffering on others through harmful responses and actions. Understanding how your own suffering affects the world and the people around you serves to strengthen your resolve to end your own suffering to the best of your ability.

            The purpose of suffering is to teach us life lessons that we need to learn, to correct our mistakes and actions. It is the disguised seed of enlightenment, and serves to eliminate illusion and ignorance. Suffering is a guiding and correcting mechanism, and will show us the way to becoming better human beings. However, when left unchecked, suffering can become very harmful.


            The first Noble Truth of Suffering is that everyone suffers. In Buddhism, suffering is known as Dukkha, and its basic translation is that life is suffering. However, the teachings of the Buddha states that Dukkha is a pervasive dissatisfaction and suggests “that much of our unhappiness is self-inflicted. It comes from misapprehending the nature of reality and the self.” (Kozack). It is our perceptions about the things we experience that lead to suffering. “Often, it is our own reinforcement of those negative emotions that make them so much worse. To a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation.” (Cutler).

            The second Noble Truth of Suffering is the truth of the origin of Dukkha, which can be translated into craving. Craving can be divided into three parts. The first is the craving for sense-pleasures, known in Sanskrit as kama-tanha, and is the craving for sensory pleasures. The second is known as bhava-tanha, and is the craving to be, and the third craving is known as vibhava-tanha, which is the craving not to be. This can also be understood in what is known as the three poisons: Ignorance, which is the misunderstanding of the nature of reality; Attachment to pleasurable experiences; Aversion or fear of getting what we don’t want or not getting what we do want.  (Wikipedia). These are the main culprits of self-created suffering. The two major causes of Dukkha are Anicca, which is translated as impermanence, and Anatta, which is translated as not-self or no-self. (Kozack). By its very nature, everything in this universe is constantly changing. One major cause for self-inflicted suffering is the desire to keep things the same. When things cause us to feel content and happy, it is a natural desire to keep them the same. Suffering arises when the reality of impermanence comes to pass, and those things change.

The other major cause of self-inflicted suffering is the personal identification of a false self, or ego. This is an identification of self with something that does not exist, and a great deal of energy is given to maintaining this false sense of self, which cannot exist outside of its perceptions of the past. This false self encourages a person to identify themselves by their past experiences, and expects the future to be like the past. This alters our perceptions on the experiences we have in the present, shading them so that they are perceived as expected by experience, causing a person to identify themselves by their suffering, which gives strength to this false sense of self and ultimately increases the suffering a person experiences.

When left unchecked, every emotional pain you experience leaves behind a residue of pain that lives within you. This is the emotional pain-body. “The pain-body wants to survive, just like every entity in existence, and it can only survive if it can get you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over, “become you” and live through you. It will feed on any experience that resonates with its own kind of energy, anything that creates further pain in whatever form: anger, destructiveness, hatred, grief, emotional drama, violence, even illness. So the pain-body, when it has taken you over, will create a situation in your life that reflects back its own energy frequently for it to feed on. Pain can only feed on pain.” (Tolle 37)Identifying ourselves by our suffering gives it strength and power over us, and actually becomes a form we believe as ‘self.’ Denying this false ‘self’ the suffering it needs to survive empowers us to find our true selves and our true Being. The ego does not know anything but the past, and cannot survive in an unbiased present. Learning to live in the present, or the ‘now,’ is one way to ease suffering because it obliterates this false self, by denying it the false reality it requires to survive. “So you see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a totally distorted view of it. It is not uncommon for the voice [of this false self] to be a person’s own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormenter in their head that continually attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy.” (Tolle 18). This is the truth behind self-created suffering. The mind becomes the self, like a tool that controls the wielder. In order to gain back control of your mind, you must work to control this powerful tool so that it does not control you. The key to gaining this control is understanding this:

As products of an imperfect world, all of us are imperfect. Every one of us has done something wrong. There are things we regret �" things we have done or things we should have done. Acknowledging our wrongdoings with a genuine sense of remorse can serve to keep us on the right track in life and encourage us to rectify our mistakes when possible and take action to correct things in the future. But if we allow our regret to degenerate into excessive guilt, holding on to the memory of our past transgressions with continued self-blame and self-hatred, this serves no other purpose other than to be a relentless source of self-punishment and self-induced suffering. (Cutler 160)


The third Noble Truth is the cessation of Dukkha. This means that once we have reached a genuine understanding of the causes of suffering, such as craving and ignorance, we can eradicate the cause and become free from self-inflicted suffering. There are four universal truths about suffering: 1.) Suffering is a state of mind, 2.) Suffering is self-created, 3.) Suffering may serve as a teacher, and 4.) Suffering can be overcome. (Jayaram). Suffering only exists in our minds �" different people suffer differently in the same circumstances because of their beliefs, attitudes, and thinking. “We suffer because of the way we think and act, the way we look at things, interpret our experiences, respond to them, and form opinions about them.” (Jayaram). For example, if you are talking to someone who is annoying you, if you examine the true cause of that annoyance, you will find that it is your own perception of that person that you find so annoying, and not the person in question.

The fourth Noble Truth is the path to the cessation of Dukkha. This is the Eightfold Path, and is considered to be the essence of Buddhist practice. This path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors that when developed together, lead to the cessation of Dukha. The Eightfold Path consists of: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. (Wikipedia). The right in context to each of these eight factors means that they are right insofar as they reduce suffering and promote happiness. The overall sum of this path is known as the Middle Way, which is a practice of moderation in thoughts, feelings, and actions. The message is that suffering can be overcome with time, practice, and hard work on each of these eight aspects.

You alone have the power to end your own suffering. You alone hold the power to find love, joy, and peace, which are the deep states of Being. By training your mind to think positively, you gain control of your own suffering. In gaining control of your own suffering, you diminish the amount of suffering in the world by one and become a light onto others, showing the way through suffering by your own actions.





















Works Cited

Cutler, Howard C. Ph.D and H.H. Dalai Lama. "Chapter 9: Self-Created Suffering." The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1998. 149-171. Print.

Jayaram, V. Learning From the Truths About Pain and Suffering. 2010. Print. 9 11 2012.

Kozack, Arnie Ph.D. The Four Noble Truths About Suffering. 2009. Print. 9 11 2012.

Nyanaponika, Thera. Why End Suffering. 2010. Print. 9 11 2012.

Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2010. Print.

Wikipedia. Four Noble Truths. n.d. Print. 12 11 2012.




© 2015 Courtney

My Review

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Dear Courtney

Well done on being a Writer to Watch on the tables in this site at the date of writing this review.

I will often focus on that list as a basis for review. Perhaps it is to encourage. Perhaps it is to find a fresh voice.

And so I have stumbled upon you and your fresh, stimulating and different voice.

The first thing I would say is that there are fewer writers of prose than of poetry on this site. But if you take it a step further, there even fewer who use the medium of prose in the interests of an essay and the contemplation of life. The majority of prose writers here are of short or long fiction.

You are that exception to the general rule here. And that is the starting point for how you distinguish yourself.

The fact is that I have already read a number of your pieces and frankly as with this piece I found them mesmerising in their difference to the norm and in their own beauty.

It is often the case that when I review for want of other words some 'stories' on here, it takes me a while to do my first read.

However, what you manage to do is take me from beginning to end very swiftly. I am immediately drawn in by the passion of your words and actively want to read on.

In a funny way, there is part of me that actually wants to do a review of everything you have written. But time does not always permit as I review long. But I assure you after reviewing this piece, I will be back.

The measures to be used for reviewing a fictional story are entirely different from those of reviewing what I might term an 'intellectual essay'.

There is a base point off which at least I, and I would have thought us all, need to work.

And so to my review of this piece:

1) Mutual identification of the writer and reader. Why do I find this piece so engaging? Because of my education and who I have learnt to be. They call me an intellectual and just by reading this piece of prose, I would identify you by that term

Yet I do not know your background. You give me no clues in your profile. Therefore I am left to tell you my intellectual background. If you set aside the career that followed I am a graduate of Jesus College Cambridge in Modern and Mediaeval Languages, which is a short way of saying in my case, Ancient Greek Latin and French.

By dint thereof, reading literature particularly in terms of philosophy is a norm. If you add to that a heavily Christian upbringing but with an ecumenical view of spirituality, you have me badged.

What comes through so very strongly in this excellently written essay is a mix of the intellectual and spirituality in you. In my ecumenism, in its broadest sense, I am fascinated by all views on life, not just Christianity.

However, clearly, I am only one of your readers. I just happen to be an analytical one. Everyone will take from it what they will depending on who they are. The majority will just browse and find the nuggets of wisdom they find without going as far as I will.

2) Summary, at its broadest level, of the four points you make:

i. Everyone suffers;
ii. Craving, of which three parts: for sensual pleasure; to be and not to be;
iii The cessation of suffering by gaining insight into what it is, wherein 4 parts: '1.) Suffering is a state of mind, 2.) Suffering is self-created, 3.) Suffering may serve as a teacher, and 4.) Suffering can be overcome.'
iv. How to cease suffering in the axiomatic eight points: 'right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration'.

Now you may say to me, James why are you simply repeating back to me what I have just written. Answer? Sometimes to eat an apple, you have to unpeel it first!

3) Nature of the essay? Like all good essays, philosophical essays, to analyse life, to place a certain structure in its contemplation and then to deliver a clear message of value. This is exactly what you do here and you do it so well.

4) Structure and how you write your essay. It is an intellectual treatise, with a form that might be as a university paper or indeed an entry in a journal published for a specific purpose. It would not be a medical journal, rather a spiritual one.

I would come back to my apple for a second and this is just a question of shape and clarity in what you do and what you do well here. I had to search to unpeel your apple.

Sometimes in the interests of clarity for the reader, an essay writer, an intellectual and spiritual one as you are here, might actually use numbered points (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Noble Truths of suffering) so that they leap off the page and the writer offers an unpeeled apple to the reader so that they do not have to unpeel it themselves. To help the reader, in short.

Where there are subsections as there are here, you might number those too the three parts of craving; the four points of cessation; the eight points of the path to cessation.

However if you do not number points, you might at least keep points contained in brief paragraphs that bring clarity to the whole.

All I am suggesting is that all that does is to offer structure so that the reader does not have to go and seek it.

That is after all what I am doing here to unpeel my apple in offering it to you for contemplation.

This is a point of view I might recommend to you. But it is not a point of view I would impose on you. Depending on your reader and I am one such, I did not actually need you to do that to find your structure. But it might help. See more in 5 c. below. Watch your audience!

5) The difference between Buddhist thought and your thought and balance:

a. The first three paragraphs are a proposition. They are in your own words an expression or indeed your own interpretation of what is to follow;

b. Then you devote just one paragraph to the 1st Noble Truth. I can see no personal interpretation here. It is largely references to others writing;

c. The next four paragraphs are very long and indeed the longest of the whole piece which consider the 2nd Noble Truth.

There is a density to this part, which if you are not careful will lose even the focus of the careful reader, which I consider myself to be. You do an expose, which starts to widen into different ways of viewing the same thing. It is precisely here and the key place here where using numbered points would help the reader see more clearly the structure of what you are saying. Failing that, you might do what I am doing in part here, which is to keep your paragraphs briefer and thereby imply a structure, which is not always numbered.

I can come at this from a business background too. If preparing a report for a board of directors, I had to make my analysis clear and to the point. They seriously did not, nor do any, have the time to watch words sprawled all over a page and guess their meaning. Clarity is all even whether writing for business or for a doctorate.

Consider this a double edged compliment. If you ever look at the London Times or the New York Times, every year they present a list of the top one hundred greatest writers of the century. This list is not of the commonly read, but rather of the most literary. Amongst these we find writers who are probably the least ever read, as they are so erudite and densely complex.

Such is James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. But another not well known is Malcolm Lowry's novel 'Under the Volcano'. Despite my apparent education, Lowry's sentences can fill one page, where there are Daedalian clauses, sub clauses and sub sub clauses written in such a way as to lose even the most careful of readers. I completed reading it but despite its apparent value I felt its inaccessibility was almost deliberate and to create an extreme elite, where only the most erudite would not be the faint-hearted.

However you may think of them, they are novelists and you are an essay writer. They may not feel the need to place numbered structure on their thought (it would be out of place in a novel) whereas, you as an essay writer might help the writer if you did.

Personal opinion which I do not regard as a necessity.

d. You then address the 3rd Noble Truth in one paragraph. Here you are clearly back to expressing with quotations the fact of others thought.

e. One paragraph, the next, to the 4th Noble Truth, which is again an exposition of the theory.

f. One final paragraph and a very brief one, where you as the essayist now address the reader and express your own personal view of the answers to the questions you raise in your text.

It is hard to establish a clear attitude towards how you carry this off. There is an obvious imbalance about the Second Noble Truth in its length compared to the rest of your analysis. It may well be that this is the core of your point and if I look long enough I can see a structure. But perhaps you might think a little about the emphasis you put on all parts of the whole, especially this, and their general weight relative to each other.

It is also difficult to distinguish between your pure attitude to your subject matter and simply a synthesis in summary. I see it as both. But I cannot see a clear dividing line. Perhaps as often in what I might terms 'papers' it is important to 1) propose an idea, 2) summarise it and then 3) give your own viewpoint thereon. Here I am not clear on the difference between 2) and 3).

You might also like to consider not necessarily here but in your writing generically, the concept of 'thesis', 'antithesis' and 'synthesis'.This is a technique which makes a proposition, expresses an alternative point of view, and then concludes in balance on both. It wouldn't work in this piece. You do not want to argue against your own proposition. It would only complicate the piece further and it is not at all your choice to do so. Think of it maybe elsewhere in your writing.

Perhaps in intellectual writing, as in all good writing, we will all take from it what we will as readers of a single writer.

What is in a way happening here is that the erudite (I am not building up my part by so saying) is analysing the erudite in the only way both know how. It is university lecturer to university lecturer. Others will skim whereas I will not.

6) Emotional impact on me as a reader of the intellectual thesis: Huge! For me this is learning. I know nothing of Buddhist 'Truth'. Perhaps if you have an enquiring mind, you are always in search of learning which adds something to your own life and which matures your attitude.

THE KEY POINT, I want you to take away from my review is that you set out notions I am fascinated to read about and with which I intensely identify.

I could go on at length about what these are, about new ways of my looking at things you have just taught me when I hadn't necessarily thought about life in that way before.

But if I try to synthesise my thought and give it a global feel:

I can see from your expose how it is possible to suffer, the source of that suffering and its consequences, but through it all the answer to the questions it poses.

I would note I am bipolar where suffering, mental anguish comes with the territory. It is a genetically transmitted neurological disorder (it is therefore actually a physical imbalance of chemicals in the brain) and has caused me much anguish and suffering throughout my life especially over the last ten years when I was diagnosed 10 years ago at 45 in 2005. Indeed it has completely devastated my life. Read Split my novel on here about mental health disorders in an attempt to destigmatise them. It is a novel inspired by fact.

However I personally find, as a I have in therapy, much comfort and high levels of empathy as a result of my suffering (one of your propositions) and behind the intelligence of this writing which goes way beyond my experience of suffering into that suffered by others with mental health disorders and into the SUFFERING of all.

Courtney, I would like to congratulate you on this piece of writing. If really the point of any writing is to make an impact on the reader, whether in poetry, fictional prose of whatever length or in philosophical exegesis, you have just made a profound impact on my day and my thoughts, which will ring in my ears in the future.

Let's put it this way. I am going to come back to this piece of writing again in the future and read it not anymore for its intellectual thought but for its underlying message, which is how to recognise and deal with suffering in our lives if not also that in others.

I do hope you find some benefit from all I have written here as a reaction from one single reader to one writer.

I like to see someone new and special on this site with a new and special voice.

And you are certainly by a wide margin one such.

With my kindest regards


Posted 6 Years Ago

This is a good writing. I enjoyed it. Full of truth and reality. We do hold the keys to all of our experiences, for some it takes much suffering to realize that. As our world changes many are awakening and realizing suffering is a choice not a condition. Great Job! Thank you for sharing!

Posted 6 Years Ago

I really enjoyed reading this! I can't help but relate to the concept of pain and suffering being self-inflicted. As humans, our day is constantly filled with thoughts running in and out of our mind. I have taken time to sit back and really listen to the thoughts my brain is producing - a lot of them, it turns out, are not positive or helpful. Becoming self-aware of these inhibitory thoughts has really helped me progress in both my personal and professional life. Reading your piece really reminded me of that and of all ways I can continue to improve. Great job.

Posted 6 Years Ago

Okay..this was worth reading! really well put into words. I give a hundred points, because i like the way you put it into words, and i agree on this one: suffering is bad not just for you, but for those too who love you. Very nice job.

Posted 6 Years Ago

I read this article yesterday and the fourth truth was really disturbing me, (i felt like nothing is new)

Posted 6 Years Ago

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5 Reviews
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Added on April 14, 2015
Last Updated on April 14, 2015
Tags: buddahism, suffering, truths, essay, self-help, courtney, hurd



Platteville, WI

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