LIFE IS CRUEL: PAIN AND SUFFERING
To live is to suffer, postulates the Pali Tritaka, an ancient Buddhist text, in a typically Asian way of speculation.
The Bible echoes similar ancient traditions, in beautiful verses: «And I too, when born, inhaled the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth; willing, I uttered that first sound common to all» (Wisdom Book).
These judgements of life are, obviously, a direct result of our human condition, and of the evils continuously lurking around us.
Evil is as a «hidden tiger, ambushed and ready to kill the unwary», to use an old Buddhist maxim.
Indeed, hidden in the bag of fortune and life, along with forms such as pain, illness, unhappy accidents and death, is always human suffering. «Life fights cruelly against the cruelty of the world and resists with cruelty to the cruelty of life. All living being kill and eat living beings» (Edgar Morin).
Yet there is also the other side. In our way and within the limits that reality and fate concede to us, we have the capacity to deny suffering. Within us, lives an obstinate instinctive force, expressed by positive dreams, optimism, determination in living and being happy. And though never definitively, we often get it, against the logic of the cruel world.
To get the denial of suffering, the ancient Roman and Greek philosophers adopted particular philosophies of life, based on a wisdom that demands friendship and controlled pleasures (in the case of the epicureans), or special attitudes towards life, refusing to feed material insensate wishes and fears, and creating in us the persuasion that it is worthwhile to live (in the case of stoic philosophers).
Cicero, one of the great exponents of Roman stoicism, expresses that philosophy in a superior way, when he asserts:
«He who does not consume himself with injuries, futilities and enthusiasms, who does not enervate with fear, and doesn’t boil with desires and envy, is a sage; with serenity and firmness he is serene and in harmony with himself».
But there are, obviously, other more common ways of denying suffering, or of minimizing it.
Faith… faith in God is one of them. Faith is a balsam and a source of human comfort. «To have pleasure from You, in You and through You: that is the Happiness. And there is no other», considered Saint Augustine, referring to God.
Art is another way of escaping from a cruel world. Art is a balsam in a world without soul, otherwise insupportable, said Arthur Schopenhauer. «The role of art is to make our world habitable», also proclaimed William Saroyan. As it is friendship («Friendship redoubles joy and cuts grief in half», said Francis Bacon) or love («Only the soul that loves is happy», said Johann Goethe).
These are some ways – maybe the most important – of achieving what can be the biggest of our victories: the victory, although transitory and never definitive, over the suffering and the cruelty of the world.
See also: Quotes on the Cruelty of Life