Throughout our readings thus far in the semester, I have become very interested in the concept of suffering and the role it plays in the Four Noble Truths. In particular, I have thought most often about the impermanence of suffering, and the ever-changing state of feelings—both pleasant and unpleasant. In Gethin’s The Foundations of Buddhism, suffering is, of course, at the forefront of the description, while pleasant feelings and contentedness do not seem to be given as much weight in the discussion. This sentiment is depicted in the example, “…I may be relaxing in a comfortable armchair after a long, tiring day, but part of the reason I am enjoying it so much is precisely because I had such a long, tiring day” (Gethin, 61), which shows contentedness and suffering as they relate to one another in this given situation. I am also reminded of the key lime pie example we discussed in class, in which the feelings of contentedness or satisfaction precede the feeling of suffering after one has consumed too much key lime pie. I understand how these two juxtaposed dispositions are in a constant state of waxing and waning with and against one another, but it leads me to wonder where these pleasant feelings would be without the balance of suffering?
It could be because I am still very new to the study of Buddhism, or because I do not yet fully understand what is entailed by the cessation of suffering, but I’ve always understood pleasant feelings and suffering to be in contrast to one another, and that by experiencing one, a person appreciates the other. I have heard the quote, ‘nothing is permanent’ many times, both as it is attributed to Buddhism and colloquially, and I have used it in relation to my own life as a way to understand that my suffering is finite, which has given me perspective and allowed me to take the less pleasant moments of my life in stride, and that equally, the more pleasant moments in my life are also finite which reminds me to appreciate them as fully as I can. However, if I were to try to life my life by the Four Noble Truths and take the path leading to the cessation of my suffering, I am curious about the balance of my life, or any person’s life that reaches Nirvana and thus ends their suffering. It could be that I’ve misunderstood the meaning of suffering, or that a person who ends their suffering has no need for a balance between contentedness and the feeling of suffering, but I suppose I wonder how a person would feel contentedness or other pleasant feelings without having suffering to compare it to? Or if each disposition, be it good or bad, pleasant or suffering, would be let go in the same way. Perhaps it is that the pleasant feelings that were initially a consequence of succumbing to a craving are replaced by a different pleasant feeling associated with the cessation of suffering?
Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.