Suffering

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as you know, I support the Palestinian people. Not only because of the conviction that the Palestinians too have acquired the right to have their own independent state – at peace, of course, with Israel – but also and above all because of their daily suffering.

Since my youth, I am inclined to sympathize with the weakest, for the losers of the earth, human or animal. I think I became a pediatrician for the same reason.

It would take an Einstein of the soul to ‘weigh’ the sufferings of life with respect to the joys. Everyone can speak only for himself, but, according to history and looking around me, I have the impression that suffering comes out by far the winner. It is not pessimism of a depressive state, but serene pessimism of reason.

The Buddha’s teaching develops from the realization that life is pain. Difficult to contradict it. As a remedy, the great sage indicated an individual path, based on behavior and meditation, aimed at achieving awareness and inner peace. An arduous path, inaccessible to most of his followers. Just think of the current suffering of the people of Myanmar, the Buddhist country par excellence.

We all know that life, in itself, is marked by obligatory events that bring physical or psychological suffering with which everyone, more or less, must deal.

Birth itself is a trauma, after the blissful nine months in which we are nourished and cradled in the warmth of the uterus to the reassuring beating of the mother’s heart. Fate is capable of depriving us of the carelessness of childhood and youth, if we happen to be born and live in poverty, marginalized by the color of our skin, wandering from place to place fleeing war and hunger, submerged in ignorance or at a merci of inadequate parents.

And then, the struggle for economic self-sufficiency, the often grueling work, competition, frustrated aspirations, material and emotional losses, the pains of love and the devastating fury of atmospheric events. To realize that everything is so elusive and provisional… Everything is so impermanent. The years pass quickly, the decay of old age arrives, illnesses, the rapid approach of the mystery of death.

Afraid of our fragility in the face of the unpredictable immensity that surrounds us, many take refuge in the consolation of religious faith. But our substantial paucity has always unleashed religions against each other, making them the primary cause of wars and adding suffering to suffering. God, in whom so many believe, appears powerless: he does not protect his creatures nor, consequently, his name. The great Jewish writer Isaac B. Singer makes one of his characters think: “If a God of mercy did exist in the heavenly hierarchy, then he was only a helpless gotlet, a kind of heavenly Jew among the heavenly Nazis”1.

Can we reduce the suffering, even slightly?

It’s difficult to be optimistic, especially in these days, when a man’s delusion of omnipotence is spreading so much pain among the Ukrainian people.

We have given ourselves codes of coexistence that should at least alleviate the suffering of living, leaving more space for the joys that still exist. But all too often these rules are not followed or are completely inadequate. What about the suffering we cause to animals? Again with Singer: “For some time now, he had been thinking of becoming a vegetarian. On every opportunity, he pointed out that what the Nazis had done to the Jews, man was doing to animals […]. Why should a compassionate God accept such a sacrifice?”1.

Love your neighbor as yourself is certainly a noble exhortation. Very difficult to implement because it clashes with our deeply self-centered nature. What if we were satisfied with ‘not causing others the suffering we would not want to suffer’? It may seem a very similar invitation, and also naïve, but, if you think about it, it could be more within our reach. Maybe I’m simplifying, but it seems to me that this single ‘commandment’ alone can summarize the rules of behavior that we have given ourselves and that are so difficult for us to follow. A single, intuitive and shareable norm that embraces the myriad of religious precepts and lay dispositions that aim to improve our coexistence. Or am I wrong?

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  1. Isaac Bashevis Singer – Ennemies, A Love Story – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 1988

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