Toddlers helping each other walk around a lake

The Frightening Paradox of Freedom from Suffering: Buddha’s Solution

Mike Mather

The Freedom Paradox

There is one thing that we all have in common, that is our desire to be happy and free from suffering. Paradoxically, this is the cause of all our worldly ills.

The greed that we have despite our efforts to be compassionate bring about all of our pain. Trying to reduce, deflect, and get distracted from our pain is the way most of us spend our time.

Two greedy hands reaching for various pills

Image by Emilian Danaila from Pixabay

Addiction, Distraction, Deflection

It has been said that these modern times that we are constantly looking for ways to be distracted. We have video, audio, and written words at our fingertips at all times. Media outlets are always looking for ways to get eyeballs. It is almost that I AM MY EYEBALLS!

The planet is overheating. Gaming, gambling and substance abuse is getting worse with each year. And reports are that our mental health collectively and individually is at a crisis point.

This report on addiction indicates that, “The definition of a meaningful life varies from person to person, but psychology has long identified its components—

  • feelings of self-respect;
  • meaningful relationships that create a sense of belonging;
  • opportunities for growth and development;
  • work that is engaging or rewarding;
  • opportunities for enjoyment and pleasure”.

Despite significant gains in personal freedom through social reform and public education, we are lonelier than ever. We can have 1,000 followers and be so alone. I can have a new pronoun, but does that make me happy?

Buddha taught over 2,500 years ago, and it seems that the problems of being a sentient being were not that dissimilar to our modern day dilemmas. He had to leave his castle and family to find some understanding and peace. He was overcome with the suffering that he and everyone else was going through, life after wretched life.

His teachings are simple and yet difficult.

Cherish is a word...

We must begin at once to reduce our self-centred grasping for what we want and cherish others. Cherish is not a word a lot of us have heard much since David Cassidy had a big hit with the word in the 1970s.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in Eight Steps To Happiness, “the first step to sublime happiness of enlightenment is learning to cherish others”. What does he mean by that?

In Buddhism and many spiritual traditions, the main goal in life is to learn by our mistakes and attain the bliss of enlightenment. Because all our suffering is caused by self-seeking desires, the antidote to this proclivity is to help others.


VW green and white Beetle with Coke box on roof racks and a pretty woman sitting on the bonnet

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

My Car

In order to do this, Geshe-la suggests we need to change our attitudes and intentions. Using an inanimate object such as my car for example. When I consider MY CAR as something that exists just for my pleasure and utility, I have a painful attachment. If it was stolen or damaged, I would suffer. Because of this ownership I have to pay insurance, registration, maintenance, and other costs to keep up my enjoyment of it. No one can use it unless I say so. I might even decorate it so that people will admire MY CAR. They will think highly of me because it reflects my value in society!

What if I changed this attitude around to feel the blessing of having transport to get wherever I was going and to be able to help others get to where they are going. If I can appreciate all the people who mined the metals that went into making the chassis and all the individual workers that went into manufacture, transport, sales, and administration to get the car to me. Let’s not forget the petrol, washing, servicing and parking that the car needs that others provide for me. What about the road maintenance people? We would all be running into each other were it not for the lovely folks at the Dept. of Transport and the lights etc..

“the first step to sublime happiness of enlightenment is learning to cherish others”

If we take this small example of the kindness of others that is shown me every single day, we can quickly see that I am very privileged to have all the things today that ensures my wishes are met.

Six Perfections

We can start today and realise that I have many blessings and all that is required of me is to be kind to others in return. Developing a mind of equality and interdependence is good for us. Learning the skills of patience and tolerance is an even greater benefit.

  1. Giving,
  2. Patience,
  3. Moral Discipline,
  4. Effort,
  5. Concentration, and
  6. Wisdom…

…are known as the ‘Six Perfections’ and that means we can’t get too much of them.

By studying and practising these six things, we will be well on our way to eternal bliss.

AI graphic depicting prostrating suffering beings in hues of green and brown

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Desire and Selfishness

We all want enlightenment - even if that only means a lightening of our load.

Happiness and freedom from suffering are not to be found with desire and selfishness. On the contrary, we find happiness and freedom when we practise selflessness and service.

The WAY is in helping others.

Cherishing others is a beautiful phrase to live by and an attitude to practise. Asking ourselves, “What can I do to ease the suffering of others” more, will often lead to a more contented life.

Just for today, let’s all try this.

Whenever the impulse to be selfish, do one thing that will bring relief to someone else. Even if this doesn’t work as I have described, imagine the dent we will make in Global Loneliness!

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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