On Suffering

  • You attain a vision of life characteristic of the saint.
  • The saint sees the suffering all around the world and identifies with it.
  • Suffering is not something particular to this individual, it is a condition of the world that everyone must live in. You gain a view of the whole and you identify with this whole.

I sat down on a park bench one day. A man in a mechanical wheelchair came up next to me. I asked him how his day was going and he told me he did not know. We started a conversation. He gave vague answers in between incoherence and repeated himself many times. He was drinking a can of beer and smoking. I found out that he also abuses drugs, and that he had an apartment near the park. I asked him how he got his injuries, he had burns all over his body, and his hands were deformed. He gave a vague answer, “My clothes burned on top of me”, it seemed like he wanted to drop the subject.

I later pressed him again on how it happened, and he said his track suit melted into his skin while he was sleeping because of a fire in his apartment about 10 years ago. He said he was a pizza chef at a restaurant before the accident and now he is on government benefits. We got onto the topic of entertainment and video games and he said he plays phone games in his apartment because he cannot really play other games because of his deformed hands. Other than that, he just sits and talks with people while under the influence of substances.

The experience of talking with this man left a pretty lasting impression on me. There is a Schopenhauerian idea of “Willing” and how you could escape the need to desire. You can’t will this to happen because that is using the will that you are trying to escape from. You have to be lucky and just experience something that makes you detach from willing. One way he mentions is the sort of “saint” or saintly personality that sees suffering all around them and identifies with it and gains an understanding that suffering is not something particular to this individual, but a condition of the world that you are a apart of and you have to live inside of. You gain a view of suffering as a whole and you identify with this whole.

I came to an understanding while talking to this man that there is nothing that he did to get into the situation he is in, and that there is nothing you can do to prevent this or something equally horrific and paralyzing from happening to you, it is a condition of the world, not the individual. Through a sort of selfish fear, I came to realize the Schopenhauerian saintly idea, that nobody around you, including your friends, children, or family are ever free from suffering or the possibility of grand suffering.

There is an ever present possibility of death and suffering in every person’s life, including your own.

“Consider the insect on your path; a slight, unconscious turning of your step is decisive as to its life or death. Look at the wood-snail, without any means of flight, of defence, of deception, of concealment, a ready prey for all. Look at the fish carelessly playing in the still open net; the frog restrained by its laziness from the flight which might save it; the bird that does not know of the falcon that soars above it; the sheep which the wolf eyes and examines from the thicket. All these, provided with little foresight, go about guilelessly among the dangers that threaten their existence every moment. Since now nature exposes its organisms, constructed with such inimitable skill, not only to the predatory instincts of the stronger, but also to the blindest chance, to the humour of every fool, the mischievousness of every child without reserve, it declares that the annihilation of these individuals is indifferent to it, does it no harm, has no significance, and that in these cases the effect is of no more importance than the cause.”

Arthur Schopenhauer – The World as Will and Idea (Vol. 3 of 3) Chapter 27. Page 256.