Last Monday night, I posed my question to our professor regarding the assumption that suffering is bad, and he corrected me. While the goal of Buddhism is, indeed, to end suffering, there is at least tacit recognition that suffering has its place in the world. It is recognized that the Buddha would not have sought enlightenment if he had not seen suffering, and therefore it is valuable in motivating us towards nirvana.
Moreover, he outlined the levels of beings in the world, which goes something like this (if I can remember it correctly)
- Hungry Ghosts
Buddhists consider reincarnation as a human to be the luckiest and best among these six possibilities, for only humans are capable of awakening. Better to be a human than a god, for instance, because gods do not experience suffering. Because of this, they cannot achieve nirvana and thereby escape the cycle of birth and death.
Everything below humans experience a great deal of suffering, so much so that they can never achieve self-actualization (which I would assume is necessary for enlightenment) and, afterwards, nirvana. As you move down the list, suffering increases, as does potential time spent. If you are sent to one of the many Buddhist hells (say, because you murdered someone), it could be thousands of years before you finally escape as something higher up the chain.
You’re too busy suffering to pursue nirvana in one of these states, so once you’ve reached number 2, you finally have a shot. Of course, even then, very few people obtain nirvana. Only 230 million to 1.6 billion people (depending on who you ask) are Buddhists in the world, and relatively few of those achieve enlightenment. Mostly, we all just die and are reborn hundreds of thousands of times.
In response to Traveller’s comment, my professor spoke at length about ignorance, and you are correct in that Right Thought, as one facet of the Eight-Fold Path, is essential to ending ignorance and achieving nirvana. However, it should be noted that I am 1) taking this class to learn about Buddhism, not because I’m Buddhist, and 2) that in doing so, I am working on ending my own ignorance of the subject. As I stated at the beginning of my first entry on Buddhism, my thoughts will change as I learn more about Buddhism, as this post aptly demonstrates 😛
However, I must reply to your statement “as a christian, your suffering maybe the ignorance of god’s love, and the way to get out of it is, embrace the love of his, and then, your nirvana is life in heaven with him, well maybe.” My consideration on the topic of suffering has nothing to do with my own, personal suffering. I was simply curious about the assumptions made by Buddhism (and will continue to write about them, for they fascinate me). I am by no means ignorant of God’s love, a subject on which I hope to write someday soon (as in sometime in the next two years). At some point in this semester, I will also have to write about the mutual exclusivity of Christianity in relation to Buddhism.
The concept of nirvana in Buddhism is nothing like the concept of heaven in Christianity, just as our saviour Jesus is nothing like the Eight Fold Path. One cannot compare Jesus to the Buddha, even, for they served very different purposes. But again, I will write about this at a later date when I can expand on the idea properly.
Thank you for commenting, and keep them coming! This is an exciting religion to study.