When's the last time you heard these comforting, but generally misused & misunderstood words? As a 'Christian', I defended this realized hope almost to the death & while I know that I made no enemies over it ( my defense ), I'm pretty certain I didn't make any friends either! As a believer in Realized Eschatology, I adopted the position that the passage above referred to the 'end' of the Hebrew/Jewish paradigm. This is not to say, by any means, that there is no value in these words for today, just that the value popularly attached to them today by the majority of Christians requires quite a bit of textual wrangling!
For most people, Christian or not, it IS a pleasant notion to think that, at some point in Time, we will inhabit a new physicality free of all the pain & suffering that seems to be a part of our daily existence. Never to have to fear losing a loved one to the ravages of Time, much less dying yourself, is a very attractive idea to many, if not most people! Although misplaced, it IS a very valid idea. The crux of the 'matter', so to speak, is the nagging questions, 'who ARE we?' & 'why ARE we here?' The answer to the first question, of course, is pretty obvious, right? I am Charles Haddon Shank; you, reading this, are the person that was born, however long ago, to parents who themselves were born of various parentage. Well, on the surface, 'yes'; that's the obvious answer, but is that the 'reality'? Am I just Charles Haddon Shank? Are you simply the person that a name was attached to at birth? The obvious answer that I'm looking at here is 'no'! You may ask me to prove that. I was brought up to believe that we have an immortal soul that will continue to exist after this Life, either in a mythological 'Heaven' or 'Hell'. No longer do I BELIEVE we HAVE a soul; I KNOW that we ARE a Soul, in Essence, a spiritual being having a physical experience!
In ancient times, people understood more readily, moreso in the Eastern world maybe, that when an 'end' was in view, it referred more to a goal than the cessation of something, whether it be the end of an activity or the end of a life. Thus, the 'end' of this blogpost is not the last you'll read here, but the purpose in my writing, the goal I have in mind for making this 'apology'! Thus, the 'end' of suffering referred to here is not the cessation of suffering, for that is almost a constituent of Life; rather, it is the goal of suffering. 'What IS the goal of suffering?', one might well ask. 'Good question!' Most people who have examined this very pertinent question over the ages have agreed, for the greater part, that the goal of our suffering is anything from learning a necessary lesson ourselves to awakening empathy, either in ourselves or others, depending on who's currently suffering. Suffering, then, is not endless, not just that it doesn't last forever, but that it never occurs for no reason, no matter however irreasonable it may seem!
The 'end of suffering' then, does not & cannot refer to a pain-free existence, for as we've seen, humanly speaking anyway, pain is a constituent element to this Life! Pain is a signal, whether physical or emotional, that something is not as it should be. Not necessarily wrong, but not the optimal condition for our health, again, physically or emotionally speaking. Then again, the two can be, in fact, are very closely related. It has been proven, time & again, that emotional pain leads to physical pain! 'As above, so below' is a concept that may be applied here. Pain doesn't necessarily always begin with our emotions; sometimes physical pain is simply caused by something as simple as stubbing one's toe or turning one's ankle. Even in such cases though, the cause could well be linked to our subconscious desires & thus, to our emotions!
Emotions are a 'funny' thing! Whether perceived as 'positive' or 'negative', emotions, like the Ego, are neither 'good' nor 'bad'; they just ARE. How we respond to those emotions, however, is where the 'good' or 'bad' is perceived: in essence, either the positivity or negativity. Again, our reaction/response to what Life seems to haphazardly 'throw our way' determines, to some extent anyway, how our emotions are perceived. Sometimes we have no control over what 'happens' to us in the course of a lifetime, but we ALWAYS have a choice as to how we respond to the things that DO 'just happen'. Of course, our human need to control is part of the problem!
Suffering, whether emotional or physical, 'as above, so below', has many different causes, though we usually can only blame ourselves! Again, the 'heart of the issue' is in our chosen response to any given situation. The human condition lends to our emotional status, being part & parcel with it. Again, there is nothing wrong with having emotions ( biologically speaking, they're built in ). There is nothing bad even, about BEING emotional ( again, humanly speaking, we ARE emotional creatures ). The problem, 'the heart of the issue', so to speak, surfaces when we allow our emotions to rule us, to determine how we are going to react to any given situation. Heading the obvious question off at the pass; 'yes, certain emotional responses can turn out okay, but even here we must be careful; we may respond in a positive manner out of a sort of emotional love, but the next moment in a negative manner, for our emotions often change like the weather!'
Nobody likes to suffer! Even though we know when we're deserving of our suffering, for whatever reason, we usually endeavor to alleviate, if not escape altogether, the rewards of our particular 'crime'. 'Many people', I should say, act thusly, but there are some who most willingly 'own up' to the perceived wrong they've done. Knowing that, to truly learn their lesson, the law of karma must & will be fulfilled, they willingly submit to said law & suffer the penalty of their particular crime. Suffering, however, is not always a punishment for one's own negative ( or positive ) actions; some people suffer for the actions of others, willingly even, in some cases!
Suffering, even when there is an 'end' in mind, even in sight, is not a very pleasant notion. However, it IS made somewhat easier when the 'end' IS in sight, for then, we can take comfort in the fact that we're not suffering for no good reason. We have better assurance that, not only is our suffering almost over; our goal is almost reached! These goals are not always 'selfish', either, for 'as above, so below', there are those who quite willingly suffer for the mistakes of others, so that others do not have to endure the consequences of their own actions. Though almost admirable, this is not the wisest course of action, in fact, it most often 'backfires' in the most horrible manner! When we suffer for the deeds of others, not only do we suffer needlessly, noble as we may think it sounds; we also deprive the wrong-doer of the lesson he or she may have stood to learn!
'Can we look forward to the cessation of suffering, as many, if not most people ( not just Christians ) are taught to look forward to?' 'SHOULD we focus on such a goal?!' Surprisingly, the answer to both questions is a resounding 'YES'! The answer here is in the affirmative because we can end our suffering in this life! 'What', some may ask, 'will you then kill yourself?!' This is why most people commit suicide, in the reckoning of this blogger; they don't see an 'end' to their suffering, except to 'end' their life. But there IS a better way! That Way is to make a choice, hard as it may seem. Funny as it might sound, suffering is a choice! 'Whoah', you might be thinking, 'this guy's really gone off the deep end!' But hear me out; I'm not referring simply to human suffering. In fact, I'm not really referring to human suffering, except as an effect of our spiritual condition. 'As above, so below'; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, thus, if we choose, in our spirit, to suffer, this suffering will manifest in our flesh. If, on the other hand, we choose instead, not to allow ourselves to suffer, no matter what occurs to our flesh, we can remain untroubled, for we KNOW there is an 'end' to our pain, humanly speaking.
'Should we then, focus on the 'end' of our pain & suffering?' Of course we should! We should realize that, not only is suffering a constituent element to the 'day-to-day', it is also a choice. Simple as it may sound, it is not an easy task. Like our Emotions, the Ego gets in the way, making us play the part of the Victim, or else making us react in a negative way, partaking in their karma, even creating our own. Like, yet unlike the misplaced hope referred to at the beginning of this post, we should endeavor, not to become emotionless, but to focus our attention on who we really are & why we're really here. 'Who we really are & why we're really here' are questions that I will leave my readers to answer!
Namaste' & Blessed Be,
Charles Haddon Shank