The goal of Buddhism is to acknowledge suffering, its causes, and to end it. “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dying is suffering, sorrow, grief, pain, unhappiness, and unease are suffering; being united with what is not liked is suffering, separation from what is liked is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in short, the five aggregates of grasping are suffering (Gethin, 60). What causes these sufferings are our attachments, our thirst for things, we want too much and are attached, stuck in this cycle of rebirth. In order to escape suffering we must follow the path. “This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: the noble eightfold path, namely right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration” (Gethin, 60). This is the central focus within Buddhism, the rest is merely how to achieve enlightenment, how to stay on the “Noble eightfold” path to enlightenment.
In Buddhism we are taught that anyone can achieve this, to end our suffering and leave the rebirth cycle. Even a foolish man can. “I was drunk with the intoxication of my birth, wealth, and sovereignty. Drunk with the intoxication of my body’s build, coloring, and form (Thag, 6.9). The man leaves behind his greed, his attachments to superficiality and becomes a monk. In another tale, a woman also leaves behind her attachments. “Intoxicated with my complexion” (Thig 5.2). Both mentions being intoxicated with their looks and some form of power, but moving beyond that. This focus on moving past it makes it appear that even the lowest have a chance at enlightenment. But how are we as people, supposed to leave everything behind? This is at odds with how we are socialized. It is in our nature to want, to feel, to yearn. If someone has no motivations in life, then what is the point in living?
Buddhism is right in that life is suffering because of aging, sickness, death, and the impermanency of life. What we strive for and love will leave; by depending on these things we only suffer. This viewpoint is depressing, and while true, how are we supposed to live with not wanting? This detachment present in Buddhism is terrifying to handle and daunting. “I shall fasten you, mind, like an elephant at a small gate. I shall not incite you to evil, you net of sensual pleasure, body-born” (Thag 5.9). Even monks struggle with controlling themselves, comparing the mind to an elephant. It is hard to reconcile this message with what we are taught in life, every goal focuses on us being attached to something. Buddhism is supposed to be accessible to everyone. And yet, it seems it is not. Even priests struggle. Living life by renouncing everything seems like an empty life, a life where you are not living. It seems impossible to look beyond the single-minded, limited view of life and pleasure that we all have. We do not have the control, or the will.
Gethin, Rupert. “Chapter 4.” The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
“Therigatha.” Verses of the Elder Nuns. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2015
“Theragatha.” Verses of the Elder Monks. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). 30 November 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2015