Samsara Sucks

Buddhism has a clear take on the world. Ultimately, it sucks.

There are of course, lots of beautiful things in the world, and lots of beautiful qualities and states of mind that are worthy of being developed; but when you boil it all down, the world sucks and cannot provide lasting peace or happiness. It is a constant struggle against the tide of endless Karmic influences in the unconscious mind, and the changing elements.

Why do bad things happen in the world? Earthquakes and tsunamis, murders and taxes ? Buddhists do not have to force fit an all loving Creator God into the picture , and then explain why he allows evil to exist. In Christianity the classic question is framed:

Is God willing to stop evil, but unable?

Is God able to stop evil, but unwilling?

To which we might additionally wonder if he is both able and willing,  but somehow – in the Godly sense of things – it all makes perfect sense the way it is.

Dr Soraj, from Culalongkorn University, has an interesting blog on this question here: Best Possible World ?

It is a question that is very relevant to Christianity, but not one that Buddhists tend to think about. Samsara simply sucks in our understanding, and only nibbana, or the unconditioned, is free from Samsara. Quite what the ‘unconditioned’ is, is neatly sidestepped in Buddhism – you know it when you know it.

The term ‘unconditioned’ though, is very similar to the term ‘uncreated’, which describes God. Similarly there are the opposite terms – ‘created’ (the world) and the ‘conditioned’ (all worldly things). The main difference between the two religions on this point, is that in Buddhism, you can attain to this unconditioned/uncreated, whereas in Christianity only God is uncreated. That is, until we come to the Christian mystics, who describe ‘union’ with God, or even ‘identity’ with God. Could this be enlightenment ?

Too much speculation is not profitable for anyone. But if we open to the possibility that the ‘unconditioned’ is equal to the Uncreated (or Creator) then that would make God not a personal, sentient Being, but an underlying nature of the universe, that has always been there, and always will be there. It/He is within reach of all beings, and provides perfect and lasting happiness without any cost. Very much a loving God. Our only problem is that we have separated ourselves from it/he. Though He of course, has never excluded anyone or anything.

Saint John of the Cross (in the Ascent of Mount Carmel)  had an analogy for something like this idea. He said imagine your hand decides it is separate from the rest of your body, but in reality it is always attached. It is deluded, but never abandoned by the body which looks after it, even though it sees itself as separate and vulnerable. A clumsy metaphor, but sufficient to show that God in Christianity can be all loving, all providing, and all forgiving, even if we mere mortals are deluded into thinking of ourselves as separate ‘selves’. This kind of God is not a sentient being, as there are no ‘selves’ in the picture. An idea that sits well with the idea of the unconditioned, or the Buddha-nature in Buddhism.

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About Cittasamvaro

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4 Responses to Samsara Sucks

  1. Marcus says:

    Wonderful. Lovely post. Thank you.

  2. Marcus says:

    But just one thought…. although not a sentient being, we experience this unconditioned, Buddha-nature, God, personally. That, of course, takes many forms. I like the formulation that sees Buddha-nature/God as a kind of inner light. Within and available to every single being.

  3. soraj says:

    Very interesting and insightful post. Thanks.

  4. Cittasamvaro says:

    Yes – Even in Buddhism one experiences nibbana persoanlly. Even the Arahants kept their own personalities, such as Maha Kassapa keeping his style of being the rag-robe wearing renunciate.

    But we have to be careful of the idea that the Buddha nature is an inner light – kind of like the Hindu idea of the ‘spark’ of self/consciousness. I think nibbana is far more vast than our selves, and thus it is hard to describe us as containing it.

    But we are all on the same page with this one I think.

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