“Every strand of sentimental satisfaction is an indication of how much farther we have to go before we understand the life of God, it is the satisfaction of a smug self-interest which God by circumstances and pain shocks out of us as we go in the discipline of Life.” ~ Oswald Chambers, The Power to Suffer
Buddha taught that attachment is the root of suffering. To lose something or someone we’ve grown attached to is an experience we’ve known our entire lives. We’ve lost school friends because our families moved. We’ve lost high school sweethearts because of higher education. And we’ve lost the greatest loves of our lives for a multitude of reasons that leave us in our darkest nights of pain and suffering. Why?
Buddha said the path to enlightenment is only possible through our detachment to people and things, which makes total and complete sense…until one tries it. On the other hand, Alfred Lord Tennyson famously said, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” I confess that I’ve not gotten into Tennyson’s head to be able to say for sure, but it seems he is suggesting there is grist for the mill of our existence in the very pain Buddha endeavored to free us from. Can they both be right? Perhaps a closer look at pain and suffering can help us decide for ourselves.
The natural human experience is to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Just think of the enormous industries and markets rooted in the fertile soil of our avoiding and seeking! From the porn and pharmaceutical industries to the industrial war complex…it all started here. We’re severely inclined to think of pleasure as good and pain as bad (This could help explain the proliferation of “Pill Mills” popping up on every corner of our lives). After all, who but a fool would touch the flame voluntarily? But thinking deeper, we realize the difference between a masochist fool and the hero is self-interest. Now we’re getting somewhere. How is Buddha different from the local pill-pusher?
The voice I trust tells me that when all the other voices are saying there’s nothing to see here, I know “here” is where I need to pay attention. So I look even deeper into pain to realize it exists on three basic levels; physical, psychological, and spiritual. If I touch the flame to feel the physical pain it hurts on the surface, momentarily. When my father calls me an idiot repeatedly, the psychological wound burns deeper, longer. But when the soul-mate love of my life shoves the sharpest blade of all directly into the wellspring of my deepest heart to unleash the most devastating pain of all pains, the spiritual pain encompasses and permeates every single sephirot on the Tree of Life. It is the only pain for which there is no pill…
Following the breadcrumbs of my mind’s eye to the Garden of Gethsemane, I read the following quote from Oswald Chamber’s The Power to Suffer passage; “We have naturally the idea that if we are happy and peaceful we are alright. ‘I did not come to bring peace but a sword,’ said our Lord – a striking utterance from the Prince of Peace.” Even more striking I would say, when we compare the metaphorical sword wielded by Jesus Christ to slay the very Devil of self-interest through the agony of His own pain, suffering and death for us, to the physical sword Muhammad used/uses to brutally slaughter the infidels and “non-believers”…to this very day.
From the agonizing blood-sweat suffering at Gethsemane to the ultimate pain on Calvary, the Lamb of God experiences a level of pain that is so far beyond our ability to comprehend it would take us light years to get there. If the level of spiritual pain I’ve described to you is as unbearable as most of us have experienced; imagine the pain suffered by the One who loved every single person on the planet at the time (including those who savagely tortured and killed Him in the most painful way possible), as a mother loves her own child…unconditionally. You can’t.
The savage lust of evil is insatiable. There can never be enough innocents to slaughter. But the price of Love was paid in full by only one voluntary life…and death. In our darkest hour the centralizing voices of state, anti-pope and jihadists are coalescing to doctor a witches brew of fear, extortion and mayhem driving us straight into the web of temptation and the distracting influences of self-interest…the very Devil He died to free us from.
Pain is not something to seek or avoid, it is simply a part of this life that must be experienced. I can tell you I fear it and feel it as any normal man would…being here now. But I can also tell you of the Providence found here in a place so profoundly powerful, second only to the Eucharist itself, I can practically touch His hand. Turn into it, cleave to it, and learn from it while you can.