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Aging and Suffering

Question:

Brian, I was asked to join Facebook by a friend. I really did not want to do it but I did. I now wish I never had. I have found lost friends but at a huge price. The first was a big strapping Marine who was one of the first kick boxers in the USA. He is now relegated to a wheel chair with Parkinson disease. The second was my sparring partner. He now has Lou Gehrig’s disease. The third was one of my martial arts instructors who now has cancer. The fourth is our main instructor who has grown old and feeble.

I understand impermanence and I understand attachment. But this just plain scares the hell out of me. As a Buddhist I know what I am supposed to think, but in reality it is not working.

Answer:

We all age and we all die, and most importantly, we all know it’s coming. But when we are confronted with too much of it all at once, as you were, it really leaves an impact.

Everything in life changes. Everything. The bit of poetry last week by Li Bai exemplified the concept. In the comment section below that post, a reader mentioned that given enough time, even the mountain itself would be gone, and that’s an excellent point. If even the mountains wear down and “die” (ask any geologist, they really do), then why should even the strongest of humanity, such as your kick-boxer friend, be any different?

Buddha himself said that change leads to suffering, and in the case of your friends, that’s clearly true. Of course, as you say, you already know all of this. It’s applying these ideas to your life that is the hard part.

The only words of advice that I have that might help is to repeat again that all things do change; the same thing that terrifies you and causes your suffering right now can also be the solution to the problem. Your friends’ suffering is temporary as well. Yes, I mean death. In your case, your friends aren’t suddenly dying, they are suffering lingering, debilitating diseases; the worst of the worst. Most people don’t really fear death itself, but I think most of us fear a long, drawn-out process of dying. Even giving up your own attachments would not mean giving up compassion for those suffering.

None of us, not even Buddha himself, really knows what comes after death. Yet if you think about it, one thing we do know is that the suffering resulting from aging will stop. The survivors, such as yourself, will move on and continue with life for as long as it lasts, while your friends will move on to whatever comes after, if anything. Does this solve your problem? No, of course not. There is no solution. But keeping all this in mind may help a bit, and that’s all we can do.

9 comments to Aging and Suffering

  • christa

    Like the questioner, I am at the age where I am directly connected to friends and family dealing with debilitating diseases and death. It is scary. What helps alleviate my fear are two beliefs. First, we are eternal Spirits, and everything we experience in this physical manifestation is but a blink in that eternity. Second, everything we experience in this physical manifestation has a purpose and was planned by us for our spiritual growth. I’ve read a couple of dozen Buddhist texts over the past four or five years, and personally have not found Buddhism to address these issues satisfactorily. There are other spriritual writings that address these issues more directly. I would encourage the questioner to seek them out. He may find some relief from his fear.

  • Timothy Hilgenberg

    Be grateful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with your friends before they went the way of all things and beings. Be grateful you don’t share their fate… let their fate remind you to enjoy your life today. Imagine how sad you would have been had you found out about them AFTER it was too late!

    Namaste my friend

    T

  • twoflowers

    I’d suggest this is an opportunity to practice compassion, both toward your friends and towards yourself. You’re dealing with the suffering that is at the core of being human. That’s kind of what we’re all dealing with, you just got a bigger helping all at once than most folks deserve.

    Namaste

  • ZenYen

    It’s perhaps cliche, but it’s a good reminder to live each moment as though it is the last, and to treat each being as though you may never see them again.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    ‘kay, pain is unavoidable. I died. If it was in my control, would’ve passed on, in place of any of my passengers. But, as our devotion to television often leads us to do, that is just a dream.
    Once my thoughts did clear away a lot of the mind fog brought on by medication (my particular situation. For most, the medication does help.), meditation was again achievable. A little less than a year ago, this 12 yearself applied torment on my brain came to an end. Late night meditation brought my spirit to the railway between life and death. Both lost souls stood on one side, I on the other.
    They were still held back due to some person(s) being unwilling to let their spirits rest. They did assure I that I was not the action which did deliver unpleasent results, I was the reaction.
    Point I’m heading for is, whether true or not true, those images did reunite this wanderer with chi. It happens because it’s meant to. One can either look at itty-bitty blemishes through a microscope or step back and enjoy the view.

  • Jami

    A view, shared by German existentialist, is that death is not a ‘fact’ of Being (dasein). Our death is not our own; it is, a fact for others. But this non-existence, soothed by beliefs of eternal bliss (heaven, Nivana etc), terrifies.

    Yet I have heard people say, in moments of doubt, moments of frustration, “I wish I was not born!” How can we make sense of people who wish they were never born?

  • As I understand Buddhism, it teaches that birth, aging, disease, old age, death, and rebirth are inescapable concomitants of samsara. But none of these states (any more than any other state) is the source of our suffering. Our suffering arises from our attachment (or aversion) to them. Whether there is, beyond samsara, upon the Other Shore, anything eternal, or any ultimate purpose to our trials and tribulations, is a question the Buddha seems to have consigned to The Great Silence (although I am inclined to answer it with a definite “NO”).

    Practice your dharma; work to overcome your own attachments, aversions, and ignorance; and act compassionately toward ALL beings. This is ALL one can do, and, if it is not enough, trust that there is nowhere else to turn, saved to more of the same.

  • “How can we make sense of people who wish they were never
    born?”

    Buddhism calls this Attachment to Non-Existence. It is as much an attachment, needing to be overcome, as is Attachment to Existence.

  • “I understand impermanence and I understand attachment. But this just plain scares the hell out of me. As a Buddhist I know what I am supposed to think,
    but in reality it is not working.”

    Upon re-reading these lines, I have an additional thought.

    As a previous commenter indicated, you have simply been forcefully confronted with the inescapable an *irremediable* dukkha of existence. Your problem is that you are trying to *solve* dukkha, by falling back upon what you know that, as a Buddhist, you are supposed to *think*. But dukkha CANNOT be solve. What it calls for is NOT thought, but compassionate action.

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