Issues surrounding suffering, not only experienced by humans and animals but also by myself as someone who spends a lot of time in melancholic thought, are something that I think about most of the time. I was impressed with how the Buddha answered these fundamentally important questions about the nature of suffering.
Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism offered me new insight into why we treat animals the way we do. And what can be done about it. I discovered it is possible to combine together what I learnt as an animal advocate with what I read in Buddhist ethics to form a new enlightened strategy to achieving moral and legal rights for animals. This influenced how my Animal Dharma came into being. This is why I chose truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing as my four key values. The foundations for my Animal Dharma are my social justice political advocacy combined with Buddhist ethics.
The Buddha taught about suffering in the Four Noble Truths.
The First Noble Truth is to acknowledge suffering as an integral part of the nature of life. The sorrows and joys we experience; life’s imperfections, frustrations and dissatisfactions; and the seeming impermanence of life, which is often in conflict with our attachment to things — they all contribute toward producing the suffering we experience.
The Second Noble Truth is to understand suffering as desires which occur like a “thirst” that accompanies all our emotions and thoughts. First, we acknowledge suffering’s existence and then we recognise our actions result in suffering for our selves and others.
The Third Noble Truth is to understand that suffering can be only stopped when we quench the thirst for desires, things and attachments. Buddhists call this perfected state Nirvana. Suffering can be prevented and stopped if we become more aware of ourselves and our actions.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path which leads to realisation of Nirvana. It is insufficient to simply understand the Four Noble Truths. Nirvana can be attained only with effort. True selflessness and altruistic behaviour will help to prevent suffering and promote justice.
So, we can acknowledge suffering as something which is real in our lives; that suffering comes from our desires; that it is possible to end suffering; and there is a right way to extinguish suffering. These are the Four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha, who also taught that the way to extinguish suffering is by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which describes how to live ethically, thereby redressing the in-balance we experience in the world.
Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.