HOW TO FACE SUFFERING AND DEATH

 HOW TO FACE SUFFERING AND DEATH

‘We look for answers to the deep questions of life in the work of philosophers such as Nietzsche, Epicurus and the Buddha. And we go in search of peace of mind.’
Death and pain are two things that human beings fear the most. Our ideas of happiness are closely linked to our fear of death, and our eagerness to avoid pain. However, no matter who you are, suffering is part of your life, and so is death. When in the Mahabharata, Yudhisthir, the eldest of the Pandavas, is asked about the most wonderful thing in the world, he says: ‘The fact that living beings of this world live in full knowledge of death and yet live as though they will live forever – that is the most wonderful thing.’
We all plan for a long life. We all believe that we will live forever. We deal with death by not mentioning it in polite conversation, and by joking at funerals. As for suffering, rare is the man who goes through pain without self-pity. ‘Why me?’ is the most common response to misfortune; it’s not that we don’t expect bad things to happen. It’s just that we don’t expect bad things to happen to us.
The philosopher Nietzsche had a particular fondness for suffering, because his had been a life of great pain. He had poor health, was a man of few friends, never married, and lived as a recluse. In his thoughts on human pain, he emphasised on one word: dignity. We must all suffer with dignity, he said, because only your suffering will mould your character, and the stronger you stand in the face of trouble, the better off you will be when you emerge at the other end.
Buddha and Epicurus – independently – preached balance in one’s life, the feeling of ‘peace’ that one achieves when you detach yourself from external influences. The Indian spiritual leader called this ‘nirvana’, whereas Epicurus called this state of being ‘ataraxia’. The goddess of fortune sometimes gives and sometimes takes, preached the great Stoic masters; she neither cares about nor knows of concepts such as fairness and justice. So when she showers us with blessings, we must keep a level head, and know that there will come a day when she will demand from us everything we have and everything we are.
This sense of ‘peace’, then, without allowances for man-made notions such as fairness, is our best method to face suffering. No matter what life throws at us, no matter what path we’re forced to walk on, both roses and thorns will be present. Whether we focus on the roses or on the thorns is a choice that we must make. And at the end, no matter what kind of life we lead, the goddess of fortune has the last say anyway, because she will come in the guise of a hooded figure, a scythe mounted over her shoulder.

Jason Lee

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