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What is suffering?
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Suffering arises from attachment to material desires

Humans are obsessed with all kinds of material goods that exist within their lives, whether that is their physical houses, cars, and wealth, or the friends and family that people love. And when we lose these things that are so important to us, we suffer.


The concept of suffering being tied to excessive material attachment first came out of Buddhist thought around 2500 years ago, in what is modern-day Nepal. The Buddhist religion was founded by Siddartha Gautama, who proposed Four Noble Truths about human suffering and the way to relieve that suffering, the second of which (samudāya) directly discusses how suffering arises from attachment to desires.[1]

The Argument

Life is not, and never will be ideal. Our favorite car will break down, our favorite people will betray us or pass away, our wealth will either be lost or lose its meaning as we approach the end of our lives. In a myriad of ways, life will constantly disappoint us. But importantly, this disappointment stems from our attachment to an ideal. We are attached to the ideal version of a car, to the ideal version of a relationship, and the ideal version of ourselves. When we discover that life often cannot offer us those ideals that we desire, we are forced to go away dissatisfied and unfulfilled. This means that attachment to the material is the greatest form of suffering. Suffering is what happens to us when we don’t get what we want. It could materialize in the form of anger, sadness, silent defeat, or any other negative emotion that consumes us. Given this, what causes human suffering the most is how much humans want things. The more ideals we desire and work hard towards, the more causes of suffering there are in our lives. With more at stake, there is also much more to lose. Additionally, the strength of our desires is also directly proportional to our suffering. When an individual wants something a lot, they suffer much more when they lose it. A guy who chases a girl for 10 years, for example, would suffer comparatively more in the face of rejection than a guy who chases a girl for a week. This suggests that our material desire and how big that desire has grown directly affects and contributes to our suffering.[2]

Counter arguments

The suffering that we get when we lose something we love is not true suffering, because it has already been balanced out with all the good memories it was able to offer us. We might be temporarily sad about losing our car, but we can still look back at photos of and remember the road trip we took in it and relive the happy memories it gave us. We might be grieving over a family member who has passed away, but we can still always look back on the happy memories they have given us. Importantly, attachment cannot be suffering because, for that attachment and bond to have been created in the first place, joy must have existed at some point in that relationship. The moments where we truly suffer the most are moments that make us sad without giving us anything in return. For example, when minorities are discriminated against or in the cases of true evil and injustice in this world. Attachment is a beautiful thing, and it might be sad for a while when we lose the things that we are attached to, but this sadness cannot be suffering insofar as there is light to balance out the dark. And attachment can always transform and extend itself and doesn’t simply center around one object. Your favorite car may have broken down, but that gives you the opportunity to go looking for a new one. You might have lost someone who you loved, but in the process of grieving, you might develop a closer bond with someone else and find new solace in your relationship with them. In this way, attachment fixes itself and is not truly long-term suffering.



[P1] The things we are attached to will always go away. [P2] The disappointment that comes from loss is what makes us suffer.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Our current attachments might come and go, but that doesn't mean we cannot find new ones. [Rejecting P2] Loss is not suffering because to care about losing something means it already made you happy.


This page was last edited on Wednesday, 30 Sep 2020 at 03:31 UTC

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