On Suffering 2

The Mongols were known for using straight-forward and aggressive siege strategies to get cities to submit.

In the Siege of Kusong during the Mongol invasions of Korea, 1231. The Mongols used a myriad of methods including, but not limited to, tunneling under the walls, catapulting large boulders and molten metal at the town, siege towers and scaling ladders, pushing flaming carts against the city’s wooden gates.

The most brazen activity was the boiling down of their captives and using their liquefied human fat to light catapult-launched fire-bombs which were practically inextinguishable. There are accounts of boiling human fat running down the paths and stone stairs of the city with villagers running and slipping on the human oil of their fellow countrymen.

This nightmarish situation was eclipsed for me when I heard of the details of the boiling itself and the fact that the captives were sometimes alive during it.

Kneeling in a plain with your hands and legs bound behind your back, with you are maybe two or more of your fellow soldiers, also bound. In the distance you see a few Mongols preparing a large cauldron with a fire under it. You being to hear the cauldron bubbling and the blaze crackling.

Two men come and lift you, one holding your legs and the other your arms, you have a limited understanding of what is about to unfold.

Hearing the horrid bubbling becoming louder weakens your constitution and you quickly go pale from fear. Before you can understand what is happening, you experience a quick fall, then your body is entirely enveloped in suffering previously unknown to you, the depth of which seems almost otherworldly. After about two minutes of phantasmagorical torment with the Mongols looking at you with utter carefreeness, you drown and slip into darkness with your nerve endings entirely burnt out.

My mind goes to the place of recognizing that the possibility of this happening to me is not closed, and that it would be practically possible of torturing a human being in this way. Kidnapping a person and acquiring a cauldron like the one in this historical account for the sole purpose of reenacting this scene of torture. There is a difference between “possibility” and “likelihood”. The likelihood is small, but the possibility is always there.

An antidote to the uncertainty of life is a leap of faith concerning personal destiny where the likelihood of an event with grand suffering like this is so small that it closes of and seems to negate any possibility. The questions remain. Why did this happen to those people, why does the possibility become a reality for other people and not for others? And what horrors are open to you, if this happens in the same world you live in. What if your destiny contains horrifying events beyond measure? Can there be any meaning in a world where events are random?

“God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh”


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.