An Enlightened Life of Love and Suffering

Enlightenment is the most difficult thing to obtain even though it is everywhere. What makes it so hard is that it is constantly changing based on the individual, and the state of the individual. In the novel, Siddhartha , by Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha looks down upon the townspeople. As a Samana, he feels separated from the rest of the population, and cannot understand why they “suffer and grow gray about things that to him did not seem worth the price–for money, small pleasures and trivial honors.” But is this what makes us human? The constant chaos from love and sorrow is what gives everything in life meaning. Siddhartha had never felt a foolish love for anyone until he met his son. “He was madly in love, a fool because of love. Now he also experienced belatedly, for once in his life, the strongest and strangest passion; he suffered tremendously through it and yet was uplifted.” Love is a primal instinct and although the fear of losing it causes pain and suffering, the ability to feel this pain makes it meaningful. 

My assignment, Speaking Truth to Power: Juxtaposition, inspired by Barbara Kruger  emphasizes the separate worlds of the regular people and those searching for spiritual enlightenment. Siddhartha, the Samana, feels separated from the world, and can only imagine but never experience what human suffering is like. Although it seems that spiritual figures look down upon meaningless desires of people, they want the ability to feel pain like normal people do. This inability to sympathize is what causes suffering even in the enlightened. This shows the flaws in the perceived perfection of enlightenment, how Nirvana is intertwined with Samsara. In her artwork, Barbara Kruger questioned traditional beliefs in institutions, as I am questioning how people find meaning in life.

Siddhartha suffered in not being able to understand his son and guide him on a spiritual path, even Vasudeva felt pain in telling Siddhartha that he could not control his son and had to let him go. During his years as a Semana, Siddhartha disciplined himself, denying any desires or mortal aspirations in hopes of becoming enlightened. But was becoming disassociated with the Self, unable to connect with any worldly experiences and emotions really what it means to be enlightened? 

Enlightenment is not an escape from the pain of change, it is the acceptance of it. Even the Buddha, Gotama, while being enlightened, still “loves humanity so much that he has devoted a long life solely to help and teach people,” yet suffered pain from not being able to communicate the true meanings of his teachings through words. While reaching Nirvana may be the goal of humanity, being enlightened does not mean being detached from emotion. “Never is a man or deed wholly Samsara or wholly Nirvana; never is a man wholly a saint or a sinner.” Even in an enlightened life, there is pain. All people have good and evil in them and its duality causes a chaos that brings out primal emotions, the driving force behind love and suffering.

Although Siddhartha tried to reach enlightenment through the teachings of the Brahmins, Samanas, and the Buddha, he still felt unsatisfied. He realized that wisdom could not be transferred through words. “That is why I distrust words so much, for I know that this contradiction is an illusion.” Knowing this he set out into the world to earn new experiences for himself, hoping to find enlightenment then. There he fell to the tempting lifestyle of Samsara, living a life of lust, greed, and the thoughtless desire for thrill. “I learned though my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depths of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to learn to love the world, and no longer compare it with some king of desired imaginary world, some imaginary vision of perfection.” Only until Siddhartha experienced pain and suffering could he appreciate peace in beautiful things in life. 

Siddhartha’s journey of self actualization embodies the philosophy of existentialism, the topic I picked for the Life Philosophy 101 project. Existentialism is based on the individual being solely responsible for creating meaning and purpose in life, separate from societal influence. Siddhatha rejected the teachings of authority figures and followed his own path. But existentialism does not mean to ignore wisdom from others, the individual just has to choose and independently believe that their guidance is good. When Siddhartha finally achieved enlightenment by listening to the river, he found his purpose.

But existentialism prioritizes the individual meaning. While Siddhartha found purpose by listening to the river and living an enlightened life helping others cross the river, others may find meaning in other things in life. The townspeople surrounded their lives with material possessions aligning their dreams and aspirations along with them. They constantly desired more of what they had and suffered from the fear of losing them. Although this lifestyle caused them much pain, it is what motivated them to get up everyday, no matter how meaningless they were in the big picture. Even Siddhartha acknowledged how important earthly things were saying “If they are an illusion, then I am also an illusion, and so they are always of the same nature as myself. It is that which makes them lovable and venerable.” The possessions and desires that we hold dear give us purpose in life, and even enlightenment. Even though they can cause us sorrow, suffering is inevitable in life, so no matter how small they may seem, it is what makes us human.

One thought on “An Enlightened Life of Love and Suffering

  1. I enjoyed your implementation of sources and especially your slides. I also really liked your writing style and the way your words cohesively flowed. I also agreed with your thought that Enlightenment is the acceptance of suffering and I feel as though we our guided by our subconscious. When in the moment of pain realize how good other times in life are, and I believe that in order to feel happiness we have to experience grief.


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