Suffering, from Islam and Buddhism point of view
One of the important teachings of Buddhism is the principle of suffering. According to this principle, Buddha regards suffering as the most important feature of human life and suggests some ways to be relieved of this problem. In the teachings of Islam and Shiite Imams (PBUT), although the existence of disasters and difficulties are accepted, but the suffering as a result of disasters is dependent on human’s viewpoint toward disasters and difficulties; although, suffering in Imams (PBUT) viewpoint is not equal to disaster. In this study, we will compare both views and shall study their agreements and disagreements.
“Buddha” is the renowned figure in Buddhism. His given name is “Siddhartha” from the lineage of “Gish Gautama”, belonging to the “Sakya” royal family. (Ross Wilson, 1374, p. 12 / Zekrgu, 1377, p. 129 / Hope, 1378, p. 8 /Boyer Noss, 1386, p 177)
Buddhism is one of the ancient religions of India. Buddhism is a meditative and rational school that emerged in sixth century BC in India and in later centuries it dominated large parts of Asia.
Today, it is estimated that between one-third and one-fifth of the world belong to one of the several sects of this school. During two centuries following Buddha’s death, his religion divided to eighteen sects and today, their followers are increasing, not only in the continent of Asia, but throughout Europe and America. (Wilson, 1374, p. 11/ Challaye, 1346 p. 145/ Cousins, 1384, multiple pages.)
One of the important teachings of Buddhism is the principle of suffering. According to this principle, Buddha regards suffering as the most important feature of human life and suggests some ways to be relieved of this problem; including: true cognition, true thought, true behavior and… also, the suffering principle is mentioned in Islamic teachings and Shiite Imams (PBUH) suggested some ways to be relieved of this issue; including: reliance on Allah, having holistic view, and acceptance of divine law.
The term suffering in the Quran is equivalent to the word «کَبَد». Raghib Isfahani defines «کَبَد» in these words: “:الکبد difficulty, the lord said: “لقدْ خلقْنا الانسانَ فی کبد” “Verily We have created man into suffering.” this is an alert that Allah the Almighty created man in a way that difficulty would not be separated from him.” (Raghib Isfahani, [without date], vol. 1, p. 420) Also, Dehkhoda defines “suffering” as “trouble, difficulty and hardship”. (Dehkhoda, 1364, under the “suffering”)
In this study we are investigating if being in suffering is equal to being in a disaster or we can find a subtle and important difference between them and state that there is a difference between suffering and disaster.
Suffering is a psychological and internal state that as its result humans are suffered from mental illness and nervous disorders. This state is the result of being defeated against a higher will and failure to achieve the goals and desires. But if human’s will becomes similar to the will of Allah and fades in His will, he will reach to the Contentment and does not suffer anymore; because he knows that all events of the world take place with divine permission and whatever happens is attributable to Allah and every event is the outcome of his creative will and no suffering shall remain; as Imams (PBUT) have invited us to this way in which we can be relieved of suffering. But disaster is indispensable for human life in this world by which human is tested; hence it can be said: Although Imams (PBUT) faced many disasters in their life, they did not suffer.
According to the wise theologian Ayatollah Javadi Amoli : “Those people who have reached to the Contentment and the high peak of certainty and have acquired a satisfied soul and have been immunized against any temptation, vulnerability, mood swings and internal anxiety, will specially be addressed by Allah at the time of death:
(The Quran, Surah Al-Fajr, 27-28) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and Contentment!, “Come back thou to thy Lord,- well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him!” (Javadi Amoli, 1380, vol. 4, p. 173).
The main question of the research is: What are the commonalities and differences of suffering principle from Buddha and Shiite Imams (PBUT) point of view?
Suffering, from Buddha and Islam point of view
Quran accepted hardship and difficulty in human life and says:
“Verily We have created man into suffering.” (Surah Al-Balad, 4)
The Oaths before this verse, along with various emphases given in verse, and also the word “فی”, all, shows that the life of this world is coupled with difficulties and hardships and this is the providence of Allah, because He said « خلقنا» “we have created”, and human cannot be relieved of these problems and difficulties as long as he is in this world.
Another point is that there is a relation between the mentioned verse and this verse:
Thinketh he, that none hath power over him? (Al-Balad, 5).
This relationship shows us a reasoning in which because human created with difficulties and hardships, he cannot reach to whatever he wants or can only reach to some parts of it.
Another fact that we can understand from the relationship between these two verses is that human is defeated against another superior will which shall overcome to the human’s will based on predetermination and design of the universe. This is the theme of the second verse:
(Thinketh he, that none hath power over him?)
So we can conclude that: from the structure of the life in this world human can understand that there is a superior will and it is Allah’s will (providence of Allah) and it is only his will that rules over the whole world (Tabatabai, 1417 AH, vol. 20, p 327); But the Creator, in addition to suffering in human life, refers to other cases; including impatience and haste of men to attain the truth; so that he will do wrong things and will unconsciously long for evil and harm to obtain his good.
The prayer that man should make for good, he maketh for evil; for man is given to hasty (deeds). (Al-Isra, 11)
Another characteristic of the human is that he tend to conflict and struggle and also does not accept the right words:
But man is, in most things, contentious. (Al-Kahf, 54)
Another issue is that: the human being is rebellious. This state occurs when man feels no need to anyone:
Indeed, surely the human is very insolent, that he sees himself sufficed. (Al-Alaq, 6-7)
The other characteristic of human is being greedy. It has two signs: one, when he faces an evil, he shows impatience, second, when he faces a benefit, he wants it only for himself; in other words he wants evils for others and benefits for himself:
Truly man was created very impatient, Fretful when evil touches him; And niggardly when good reaches him. (Al-Maarij, 19-21)
The above mentioned characteristics are a part of natural characteristics and states of men. Human is in hardship during his normal and natural course of life; human is naturally hasty, polemic, and greedy. He is impatient and monopolist. Stubbornness, pride and rebellion are also natural characteristics of human beings.
One of the important teachings of Buddha is the presence of global suffering and ways to be relived of it. Buddha has presented his insights based on some points:
- Lack of belief in gods (Shayegan, 1356, vol. 1, p. 142);
- Possibility of human liberation from suffering by relying on his own forces in this world (Chandra et al., 1384, pp. 276 277);
- Rejection of revealed religion (Hume, 1369, p. 91).
Basically, Buddha does not believe in the existence of Allah and any origin for the universe; also, Buddhism is not basically a religion, but a moral-spiritual movement and its major emphasis is on then one’s salvation from the world that is full of suffering and misery (ibid.). Buddha reached to four facts during his meditations: (Krishnan, 1367, vol. 1, p. 157 / Hardy, 1376, p. 145 / Humphreys, 1962, pp.90 92 / Strong, 2001, p.83 / King, 1963, p. 118 / Hawking, 1999, p.42 / Williams, 2000, p. 41 Klostermaier, 1999, p.35)
- The truth of suffering: life is suffering; suffering is endless. Birth is suffering. Illness, marriage, old age, being away from loved ones and facing unpleasant things and failure in reaching to wishes, all are suffering. There is a wish at birth that I wish I was not born; I wish there was no old age, illness, sorrow and distress after being born.
- The truth of origin of suffering: The origins of suffering are longing and thirst of being existent. Thirst is inexistence and this thirst is the cause of (1) In other words, the origin of suffering is lust and wish. Thirst comes from whatever which is pleasurable in the world; it means that the eyes see a picture, the ears hear a voice, the nose smells a scent, the tongue tastes a flavor, body touches something, or mind perceives something. All of these actions are pleasurable and are followed by thirst and loss of all of them. This thirst of inexistence is suffering.
- The truth of salvation from suffering: is to be released from the thirst and to leave it. Men should escape from this suffering and its only way is when one can harness his emotions and desires completely and constantly think and meditate on the truth; and the human will tear up all the chains that caused his captivity in this world and will be converted to a holy man (Arhat). This level is called “Nirvana”.
In this state, men will extinguish the fire of all desires in himself and shall be relieved of suffering and distress. The eyesight can see a picture, but mystic does not desire it. Whenever the mystic hears a voice with his hearing sense and smells a scent with his olfactory sense and touches something with his tactile sense and perceives something with his mind, he does not desire them and has no intention about them. The mystic will be relieved of these thirsts by having control over these senses and his thirst will be quenched. (2)
- The truth of the way of salvation from suffering: at this point, Buddha introduced eight paths for relief: honesty in cognition, thought, speech, life, effort, awareness and empathy; i.e. “Samadhi” means internal journey, thinking and concentration (Pashayi, 1380, p. 28 29 / Ibid. 1347, p. 6 -10 / Chandra et al., 1384, p. 269 279 / Carrithers, 1372, p. 93 118 / Hawkins, 1380, p. 64 65 / Shayegan, 1346, vol. 1, p. 141 / Humphreyes, 1962, pp.91 94 / Strong, 2001, pp.81 82 / Klostermaier, 1999, p.34 / Hawkins, 1999, p.43)
Commonalities and distinctions of two views
In both theories, the principle of suffering is accepted, but the viewpoint of Islam and Buddha is different. These differences can be summarized in several contexts:
- Buddha considers suffering as the only characteristic of men;
- In Buddha’s view men can be relieved of their suffering by internal powers.
- Buddha believes that every disaster is a suffering.
On the contrary, Islam regards suffering as only one of the characteristics of men which is not the most important one in comparison with other characteristics; Also, according to Islam, the Creator created the world in such a way that there is no way to be relieved of disasters and difficulties, and ultimately disaster is different from suffering. There is no escape route to get rid of disasters of the world and as Imam Ali (PBUH) said:
The world is a home which is surrounded by a variety of disasters and calamities (Radhi, 1370, vol. 2, p. 219).
But man will never suffer from anything if he reaches to the level of Contentment and be aware that everything which happens in this world is according to design of Allah and every disaster that occurs in the world including death, aging, disease, poverty, flood and earthquake are attributable to him. Therefore, not only Imams (PBUT) did not suffer from these events, but also enjoy them and regard them as beauty because they believed that they are all from Allah.
- The origins of the reincarnation idea was first appeared in the Upanishads writings; But perhaps this idea is based on the idea of reincarnation from Aryans that have taken this idea from Dravidians (old natives and original inhabitants of India) (Bayer Noss, 1386, p. 154). Reincarnation means that after death the soul will transfer from one body to another which may be celestial body or body of humans, animals or plants. (Suzuki, 1387, p. 125)
- Nirvana is the final goal of Buddha’s teachings that can be reached by practicing the eight ways that are mentioned in the fourth truth (Schuman, 1362, p. 82); several ideas have been proposed about its meaning among which the following are mentioned: Pusin considers Nirvana as the position of silence and joy (Shayegan, 1346, vol. 1, pp. 165-168). Also it is said that at this level the men will get out of the cycle of reincarnation (Tyluca, 127 / William, 2000, p. 47).