As many of my readers already know, I was blessed to be able to attend the Kalachakra Initiation, in Washington D.C., this past July. During one of the preliminary teachings that preceded the Kalachakra Initiation, H.H. The Dalai Lama, mentioned something that struck me at a very deep level, and has continued to resonate with me, “suffering is caused by ignorance”. While the concept of suffering is central to Buddhist thought (because the teachings are aimed at ending suffering), most of the teachings I had previously heard or read, stated that suffering was simply caused by various forms of attachment, so this teaching on suffering was new to me.
For my non-Buddhist readers, I should probably explain the concept of suffering in Buddhist philosophy. When most of us think of “suffering” we think of some sort of physical or emotional anguish. While this is truly a form of suffering, the Buddhist concept of suffering can be much more subtle. In Buddhist philosophy “suffering” includes regrets, desires, worries, depression, anger, and any other form of unhappiness (no matter how subtle), that is preventing you from living a happy and fulfilled life, and ultimately reaching a state of enlightenment. According to the Buddha, all forms of suffering are caused by attachment, because you can probably trace all of your suffering to some form of attachment to various emotions/mental patterns, desires/regrets, life experiences, the material world, or life in general. Therefore, the traditional teaching that attachment (in whatever form) is the root cause of suffering is true; however, the statement that suffering is caused by ignorance, took those teachings deeper for me and put them into a new context.
The reason that suffering is caused by ignorance is because, although no person wants to suffer, people continually gravitate to the things that cause suffering. For example: You may know that a certain relationship (friendship, family, romantic, work, etc.) is causing you to suffer, yet more likely than not you keep going back to that relationship, probably in the hopes that it will either be “different this time”, or you can change ____ about the relationship, or perhaps they will finally love and appreciate you in the way that you deserve. You may know that drugs, alcohol, or even food are causing you to suffer, but you keep going back to the source of your suffering. You may know that your regrets, fears, desires, or anxiety are causing you to suffer, but you keep replaying them over and over in your head, even though there is nothing you can do to change the past, and the future may never come to pass.
This pattern of continually going back to the source of your suffering is caused by ignorance. Please note that ignorance does not mean “stupid”, as it is often incorrectly used. Ignorance simply means a lack of knowledge or understanding. The key to end the cycle of suffering caused by ignorance is to realize that you have the power to end your suffering. You have the power to take control of your life, and end your suffering. The key to this is to examine your life, and find out what is causing suffering in your life, and to actively seek to eliminate those causes of suffering, no matter how painful the elimination process may be.
In my own life I have had to learn to enjoy living in the now (hence the name of the site), because I used to constantly focus on the past or the future, which effectively robbed me of enjoying this mysterious and wonderful life that I, and each of us, are a part of, right now. After I realized that I was suffering due to my attachment to the past, and my desires for the future, I actively took steps to enjoy the here and now. This rewiring of mental patterns is difficult to break, but it can be done. I use a variety of meditation and insight techniques, along with simple mental conditioning techniques where I will actively bring myself back to the present moment whenever I feel myself focusing too much on the past or the distant future.
Practical Tip: You can end your suffering; however, you must actively seek to end the suffering. Try keeping either a mental or written journal or log of your daily thoughts and emotions. At the end of the day, find a quiet place, and review your experiences. Try to trace back the cause of any suffering that you experienced. Did you become angry? upset? depressed? sad? stressed? if so trace back the cause of those feelings, trace back as far as possible (you may be surprised at how deep the roots go). After you find the cause, try to remove that cause of suffering, in order to prevent future suffering.
***A note on depression: If you have some sort of chemical imbalance that is causing depression or a mental disorder, seeking professional help, and if needed medication, is the best route to take in order to end that cause of suffering.***
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