Why do we suffer? That is one of the fundamental questions we have been asking throughout our human history. And such a sense of suffering could be both internal and external. We often identify them as internal and external threats. Both are sometimes interchangeable, even inseparable.
What are the external threats? Still, we suffer from them such as starvation, disease, and violence, and ultimately, death. While a lot of people are now free from hunger, poverty is still everywhere. On the other hand, a lot of people enjoy material prosperity, which ironically causes various modern-day diseases due to overeating and physical inactivity.
We also suffer a lot internally by overthinking these external threats. Seeing ourselves in the middle of them, we talk to ourselves, saying we can no longer stay with ourselves. Our self-consciousness overwhelms us, becoming schizophrenic.
After all, our conscious self would say, we are the ones who experience the threats and suffer. If so, eliminating ourselves could be the solution to end them. And to be extreme, some would kill themselves. But that is too destructive. Is that the remedy to free us from the suffering? God forbid.
Both internal and external threats are inseparable. Why? Because the world we see is, after all, the world we experience. Does it sound narrow subjectivism? Perhaps it is. Indeed, the world and the universe could or should exist regardless of our existence and consciousness. We call it the objective physical universe.
There was the world before we were born. We know that without any doubts. History books, various news, even older people like your parents tell us this truth. It is, however, also true that we can never experience the past world they experienced simply because we were not yet born.
In the same way, we can never experience the future world after our death. It’s much harder compared to the past world. At least for the past, we can learn from history books, news, and older people. We can indirectly experience the past. On the other hand, nobody can experience the future unless there would be such a thing as a prophecy.
Some would say, “Why aren’t you afraid of death? After your death, it would be just like the world before you were born, isn’t it?”
There could be or should be the world and the universe like this. These are objective and somewhat irrelevant to our existence, somehow irrelevant to our life and death. However, we can never experience them due to their ontological nature. Therefore, the world and the universe we can live existentially is the only subjective ones.
The subjective world and universe are the only reality that we can experience. That is the only reality that we can feel and touch directly. That is the only reality that we live and die. After our death, it diminishes itself because we can no longer experience it; we can no longer feel and touch it directly. Once we don’t see it anymore, what we see does not exist anymore. What we see is never beyond what we see.
If so, are our lives meaningless and irrelevant? Do we have to be pessimistic about this subjective reality? How can and should we live and die in this seemingly vain reality?
As long as we focus on our subjective world and universe, we would always feel ambivalent about whether life is meaningful or meaningless. Life is full of suffering due to various external and internal threats. We tend to think so, which always overwhelms us. Do we kill ourselves? Or, can we enlighten us to the state of non-self?
We can recall the words of Solomon, who also struggled over the meaning of life. He starts his writing as follows:
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
Is all vanity? Yes, as long as we focus on our subjective world and universe, all is vanity. They would be gone as we are gone. And even the objective ones could be vanity as we can never feel and touch them directly. Thus, all is vanity and transient. He also enumerated all the events that we experience in our reality as long as we live and die.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
We know that Solomon is one of the wisest persons in history. As his wisdom from God, he was able to achieve unprecedented prosperity during his days. He is also the author of Proverbs. He even knew how our knowledge and wisdom were vain and vulnerable. Perhaps, what he “suffered” from his “achievements” also made him humble and reflective sometimes in the middle of his eventual decadence.
Now, O Lord God, let thy promise unto David my father be established: for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude. Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?2 Chronicles 1:9-10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.Proverbs 9:10
Because of his wisdom and knowledge, or perhaps because of his achievements and satisfactions, he also suffered and eventually and painfully realized the reality that “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Nevertheless, everything has a purpose under the heaven. How should we comprehend this reality? After all, these are under heaven, not in heaven. Therefore, it is bound to the space-time boundaries. In other words, everything has a season.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:Ecclesiastes 3:1
But it is still under heaven, not in heaven. For this realization, Meister Eckhart cited the following verses:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.John 1:13
And he made his comments citing the words of St. Augustine.
St Augustine says: ‘There is nothing which is far or remote from God.’ If you wish that nothing should be far or remote from you, then join yourself to God, for then a thousand years will be like a single day. Thus I say that in God there is neither sadness, nor suffering, nor distress, and if you wish to be free of all distress and suffering, then turn to God and fix yourself on him alone.Selected Writings by Meister Eckhart
The world and universe we live and die, whether external or internal, whether objective or subjective, would be either from blood, the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but not of God.
Even we possess godly wisdom and knowledge to achieve unprecedented success, happiness, and prosperity, if we use them for our lives, we suffer, and everything becomes vanity at the end, just like Solomon experienced, and as we also experience one way or another. We can never gain any consolation from them. In heaven, there would be no such thing as seeking consolation since knowing God alone is the ultimate consolation by itself.
Truly, it is impossible for God or for the whole world to console someone who seeks consolation from creatures. But they who love only God in the creature and the creature only in God, will find true, just and constant consolation in all places.Selected Writings by Meister Eckhart
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