Chapter II: Opening the Eyes

I would like to begin this post with a heartfelt thank you for those who contributed and challenged me on the last post. Your thoughts were deeply appreciated and gave me something to think about. I hope I can get more of you to follow suit and find enough value in these works that you find something worth talking about. Thank you.

 I spoke at length in my last post about the existence of Evil and why I fear it so. I thought for a while about what this post should focus on and it was then that life offered me inspiration.

As many of you know I am dating an incredibly talented, intelligent and beautiful young woman in your class who recently helped me understand the value of suffering in one’s life, so I want to thank her for helping me see clearer and have something worth sharing.

Suffering is an inherent part of the human experience. It is an inevitable outcome of our natural fragility and mortality in the face of an unapologetic world. This is only aggravated by the increasingly complex and socially dynamic world we now live in, linked by technology and timetables that force us to see time as a vital commodity that we have frustratingly little of. There are small, daily sufferings: missing the bus, spilling your coffee, failing an assignment. But there are sufferings that are much greater, often the ones we feel more befitting the use of the word: the death of a close family member, the pangs of unrequited love, failing to get into the university of our dreams.

So how then do we approach suffering? How do we justify our lives when it is often only moments of happiness in a sea of suffering?

The Buddhists had a fascinating claim: the cause of your suffering is the illusory self.[1]You suffer because you have come to believe your conceptions of self and the world as true. A refusal to disengage your experience from any sense of spiritual truth will keep one trapped in the circle of birth and death. Consider what this means. Initially it seems contradictory to modern scientific practice, which holds observation as the highest form of truth, where the Buddhist practice seeks to disengage oneself from the conceptions derived through experience. However, this is not true. Because Buddhism speaks of conception, not observation. In fact, the practice of meditation is meant to deepen an understanding of what actually is by silent self-reflection and awareness. Thy ask us to follow suit of science, but observe what actually is without the bias of our emotionally driven self-protective mechanisms.

So what does this have to do with suffering? I have come to believe that the only way to combat suffering is to face our burdens forthrightly. To lay our heavy stones upon our back and walk them up the mountain voluntarily and with pride. This conclusion has been drawn after considering two parameters of suffering deeply.

First, when we accept that suffering is an inherent part of life, we stop suffering needlessly to a great internal degree. This is because so much of our suffering is self-attack. Why am I so sad? Why is everything so hard for me? Why is everyone else getting along so easily? What’s wrong with me? Now one mustn’t approach the acceptance with a defeatist attitude. We are not bowing our head so that we can gladly snivel across existence complaining about everything because “life sucks” We are instead humbling ourselves by accepting that we experience suffering just as everyone else and there is no shame in it. We liberate ourselves from fear of suffering because we face it eye to eye and reduce it from its pedestal to a mundane experience.

This brings me to my second claim. One must bear their suffering forthrightly. Because suffering is an inevitability we should not be shaken by its occurrence. Instead, we should analyze and drink from it the full cup of knowledge it offers us. Here the Buddhist philosophy is useful, because it allows us to view the metaphysic of our situation: why do you suffer? What is the reality behind your suffering? Often, we see our suffering as the result of some trivial phenomenon, like a snoozed alarm clock, or procrastinating for finals, or calling back an ex. But these are actions born of some far deeper truths that extend down to our character and the way we carry ourselves in this world. When we confront the truth behind the truths it is often a seemingly cruel reason, but when we entrust that we are capable of bearing the burdens and see them not as punishments, but incubators of a higher self we walk into a transformative paradigm. So, a snoozed alarm clock reveals a passionless career, a procrastinated test reveals fear of failure and calling back an ex reveals an unwillingness to accept your suffering as your own fault. Acceptance allows us to no longer run from fear of suffering, but will God to lay his heaviest burdens upon us so that we may grow.

I’ve been reading Viktor Frankl’s account of the Nazi concentration camps in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and I found an answer to a question I posed last article. I asked how one find justification for suffering when the very concept of value is consciously destroyed. Frankl’s response is devastatingly simple and yet deeply profound.

You simply refuse to accept the notion of value-less existence. Simply refuse.

Frankl argues that value is a choice and therefore, until they can invade your mind one will always have the ability to derive value in life, no matter how small the actual deriving factor. One may find the entire justification of life laid out in a simple morning sunrise even if during that sunrise they are burying the bodies of children who were starved to death.

So what does this have to do with Evil? I believe that if we can strengthen ourselves by accepting our suffering forthrightly, we begin to directly combat Evil in our own souls. Evil looks to grasp our hearts by ways of latching onto our suffering to make us resentful and angry. Resent is undoubtedly one of the strongest predictors of malevolence, as it justifies our manifestations of Evil as revenge against the conditions of existence. If we are to combat Evil, then we must begin by controlling our own capacity for Evil, not by running and locking it away but by staring into its grandeur unaffectedly.

In conclusion, I want to say that I realize this is all beautiful to say and think about, but far far harder to act out in our own worlds. But I have ventured for this series to be an applicable think tank as opposed to an academic conversation. So, I ask you, what other choice do we truly have? Should we go on to suffer, accepting our existence as sub-self-beings, never truly knowing our full potential because we are bound to our suffering as a shield behind which we hide our inadequacies. Or can we muster the moral courage to face our suffering and accept it, walking on in the world with pride and faith in self, taking steps to become the highest versions of ourselves. Because when we decide to accept our suffering, our awareness suddenly makes us privy to the fact that it is only through our suffering that we can become something greater. Soon we will ask for it voluntarily. We will ask for heavier stones to carry, for they strengthen our back. Harsher roads to walk, for they callous our feet. And when we begin to love our suffering, we become protective of it, choosing what is worth suffering for, eliminating consciously all roads that do not serve us and ending the cycle of endless suffering.

So there remains only one question.

Where will you start? Which stone will you take responsibility for first? Perhaps it is a mere pebble. Start by cleaning your room every day. Better yet, start by making your bed every morning.

If we want to fix the world, I believe that we start by taking responsibility for ourselves.

Thank you.


Siddharth Kumar

[1] I would like to clarify that I am by no means even near a proficient understanding of Buddhism. I realize the epistemologists of the Buddhist sect were just that, a distinct group, but Buddhism as a whole derives its foundational beliefs in the search for the truth that removes suffering, so I stand by my claim.

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4 thoughts on “Chapter II: Opening the Eyes

  1. Siddharth:

    I applaud you.

    And more so, I thank you.

    It’s interesting that this mindset of remaining realistic but still positive about one’s situation and their life has been a personal philosophy of mine forever. No matter what is thrown at me, I am largely able to respond with a smile and a slightly optimistic approach. Even deeply affecting problems never plague me for more than a day or so, before I feel ready to make an active effort to resolve it. In an ideal world, all parties involved would also be like this, but some people need time, understandably. Those who spend countless months in a period of suffering internally never cease to confuse me. This is why I related so powerfully with your piece. There’s something almost crushing about watching people around you struggle and be so overwhelmingly negative about themselves. Every time I try to sympathize, I seem to be dismissed with a “Areeb, you’ve got a world that loves you, you can not relate to me”. Not to make the people I know sound like deeply depressed ansgt-ridden teenagers, but there are times where the people I care for seem so down, and I am powerless to help them.

    You have presented to us all an amazing strategy of overcoming the feeling of omnipresent suffering: Do not give in and find a way out of it. One of the questions you leave me with is how should I assist others in doing the same? Something as simple as ‘getting over it’ proves to be an achievable task (with some effort, obviously) for me, but why is this such a far-fetched idea for someone else? What keeps people locked in this perpetual sadness, and how can someone help them overcome it?

    Another interesting thought that came to me while reading this: Do you think that the ability to overcome hardship has anything to do with someone’s self perception? That the culmination of negative experiences in someone’s life has the ability to completely shift their opinion of themselves? To me, the answer to this is a resounding yes – I have seen it in my very brother, a child who was once easily excitable and so willing to laugh, converted though negative interactions into a reserved and quiet man. No ounce less intelligent or witty, but the experiences he has had with other people have killed this energy within him, an energy that I no longer see. An energy I am so desperate to bring back. Perhaps this is just the byproduct of aging, or studying Engineering. (Don’t worry, I have full faith that you will not be morbidly changed during your degree)

    As I said before, I applaud you for being able to put in writing a method I have been using to deal with issues my entire life.
    And I thank you for allowing to learn so much about both myself and those around me.

    Missing you from Calgary,
    ~Areeb Q

    1. Dear Areeb ,
      it’s good to hear from you brother! I thank you for your kind words and willingness to ask some really tough questions. I’ve had to think considerably about this one.

      Let me start by making the distinction between suffering we are capable of helping others through, and that which we are not. The latter case involves scenarios where the suffering is far more complex and intense than our life experiences have the authority to offer proper advice to. In these cases the people who tell you that you simply cannot understand because you are surrounded by loving caring people may in fact be right! Certain suffering requires great psychological and emotional healing and in these cases I would offer that the best we can do, until we have developed our own emotional stability and understanding of the world properly, is to offer our light to these people. Simply be a point of happiness, not by trying too hard or changing how you are around them, but simply by being the best version of yourself. Your light may illuminate a path out of darkness for them.

      Now, in the case of suffering we ARE capable of helping with, the question becomes complex. Your approach must depend on your relationship, your willingness to invest in this person, your understanding of the situation, etc. So lets focus on the claim that some people simply get “locked in this perpetual sadness.” This is actually an incredbily common phenomena, and the reason I have come to see is because suffering can be both addictive and satisfying. See, it runs back to my claim that one must be willing to accept their burdens forthrightly. That means that we must take responsibility of our sufferings, and that is no small task. It means that we must accept that we play an active role in our suffering, and that can be a terrifying proposition. It is a far simpler approach to simply see ourselves as victims and be at affect to the scenarios of life. Often it is quite subtle and insidious and we do not realize we are doing it. Ask anyone who is suffering if they want to be free of it and they will automatically say yes, but if you tell them to do the thing s that we know will get them out of suffering they may balk. That is because when we suffer, we can hide safely behind the injustice of the world. Therefore, one must accept responsibility for their own suffering before there is anything we can do.

      Now this holds true as the answer to your second claim that self-perception holds a role in our ability to heal ourselves. If you see yourself as the center of your own world (which I believe is the proper pragmatist approach), then you hold responsibility! Until one perceives themselves as the creator of their won destiny, they will suffer needlessly. Now there is a simple way to understand this: show them. Allow people to accept responsibility for things in their lives and they will quickly understand their ability to make changes in their life for the better. Start with something as simple as cleaning your room every day and you’ll when you take care of that microcosm of terror and chaos you will be able to deal with the next.

      But before I conclude, I must say that I think there is an approach better than all of these. It is to “heal thyself”. I would suggest that if you really want to help the world, start by focusing on developing yourself into the most emotionally stable, responsible and competent being you can be. When you take the neccesasary steps to improve and develop yourself properly, you give the world around you permission and a role model to do the same. Don’t go off trying to solve the worlds problems till you have at least solved the majority of your own! I think this holds true for everybody, and imagine, if each person took responsibility for themselves and their own suffering, fighting to solve their inconsistencies, then we would live in a far better world. So apply Gandhi’s words instead of just reading them and truly be the change you wish to see in the world. These articles are my humble attempt at doing just that.

      Thank you brother and I hope to hear from you soon again.


  2. Dear Siddharth,

    You leave me with so many questions to ask – my curiosity has been piqued and now I, too, am interested in this series you have started. Before I go on to ask you these questions in my head, all the while praising you and your writing, I believe an introduction of me as a person may be necessary. Just to understand a little of where I come from to reach such conclusions and inquiries. I am a watcher. I don’t – or perhaps refuse is the better word, partake in many things myself, and learn by watching others in their own lives. I guess you could consider it my method of maintaining my safety. If I don’t try, I can’t fail. If I watch and find out how to succeed, my chances of succeeding increase drastically. You may be able to call it cowardice, I call it precaution.

    Your blog has left me with many inquiries, all of which I plan to ricochet back to you by the end of this comment. But first, some praise. Although you must be used to it by now, I find it to be necessary as I believe this is the most formal our meeting has come. There were many moments I had while reading where I just stopped and needed to think for a while. I daresay it took my a full 3 hours to read your blog. I commend you on your decisive wording, which caught me off guard multiple times. Your use of simple-worded intertwined with more complex sentences brings forth a welcoming aura within your blog. One that proves the profoundness hidden within the words. Words that will attract readers of many levels, and will inspire them all the same. Just based on all of these alone, I am in complete awe of both you and your work.

    Now onto the fun stuff. The stuff that I believe you were motivated to find when starting this series.

    Your first words of suffering being an inherent part of the human experience lead me into thinking why we suffer. And when you answered my question afterwards by saying that “..are actions born of some far deeper truths that extend down to our character and the way we carry ourselves in this world,” I immediately needed to ask you – would you consider human suffering to be a consequence of our actions? Rather than searching for a way to remove or to overcome suffering as one is experiencing it, is there a way to prevent oneself from taking these actions which cause the suffering? My opinion is that there is indeed a way to escape the realities of one’s actions, only if it is within one’s character to avoid suffering. For if we suffer because our actions are bred from our seeming cruel truths, if an individual’s truth is to avoid suffering at any cost, would their actions not be bred from their own inescapable inner truth towards avoidance of suffering? If so, then the human experience should not be permanently tied with suffering. This is quite an interesting paradox we have here, and would like to hear your opinion on it. Although it would be rather troublesome to live an entire life with only the thought of avoiding suffering in mind, if it is embedded in one’s character I believe it to possible. Highly unlikely – but possible.

    Your second claim of bearing one’s suffering forthrightly is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Your reasoning behind it, however, would change if suffering was not an inevitability, as I have argued above. Instead, in the scenario that one’s character is not in complete avoidance of suffering, I would say that by “[laying] our heavy stones upon our back and [walking] them up the mountain voluntarily and with pride,” we are able to strengthen ourselves, should another stone be forced onto us. This, I believe, may be an issue for some people, as some people may not be able to see the lesson behind the missing of a school bus, or the failing of a test. These things may be considered too small – or valueless – in the eyes of certain individuals. Of course, suffering due to loss of a loved one, pangs of an unrequited love, or other things of value may bring an individual into a temporary depressive state, holding them back from the ability to interpret the teachings behind the suffering. From what I have found in the lives of others, a “larger” suffering can lead to higher valued wisdom. Generally speaking, the wisdom gained through suffering is information pertaining to oneself. This also adds into your first claim of accepting one’s suffering preventing one from suffering needlessly.

    Another thing I have found is that everything is about mentality. A man with the mentality of constant fear will consider a negative event to a different extent than a woman with a mentality based off of strength and remaining headstrong. Likewise, each individual will react in a different manner when charged with the same event. A carefree individual who aims to live a life without regrets may not consider anything to cause him to suffer. An individual wholeheartedly focused on learning from their mistakes and experiences will not be fazed by a negative event, as they would consider it to be an opportunity to learn. I think this is what humans should chase after. The ability to control one’s mentality in every situation would increase the efficiency and the reliability of that individual greatly. As well, it would allow the individual to live in tranquility, regardless of which tribulation they face. However, in order to gain complete control over one’s mentality, one must gain a higher sense of self. And the best way to gain a better understanding of oneself is to learn from the suffering one’s actions put oneself through.

    Another epiphany I had was that there is more than one type of suffering. There is physical suffering, such as broken bones. There is physiological suffering, such as a broken heart. And there is spiritual suffering, such as a broken faith. Naturally, each type of suffering would have a variant effect on an individual than another, and the extent to which the individual is affected is dictated by the value which the individual puts into each aspect. A male priest may not worry about his physical aspect as much as a model would, but a female model may not worry about her spiritual aspect as much as the priest would. To make the next portion of my words a little less complicated, let’s pretend that each individual’s value system is based off the number of points the individual puts into each aspect. Lets say that each individual begins with 15 points. Some people will put more points into their physical aspect, while others may attempt to distribute them evenly, in an attempt to create a balance. From what I have seen, there is no individual who has had no points in one aspect. Likewise, there is no individual who has had all of their points only in one aspect. As you had stated from Victor Frankl, “You simply refuse to accept the notion of value-less existence. Simply refuse.” I believe that this thought is present within all humans, which is why no aspect is able to to have 0 points. There have been some, however, who have managed to find the perfect balance of value points in each aspects. For a time. A perfect balance can never be everlasting. As one experiences life, as one suffers, one gains a higher understanding into oneself, which adds an extra point. This completely offsets the balance. This may send the individual into a state of confusion, as they suddenly have found more value in one aspect over the others. In order to once more gain the balance, one must continue to experience, to suffer. Doing so will allow the individual to gain a greater sense of understanding of oneself, giving more points. I have yet to see the individual who has found the limit to the number of points one can get, but I imagine that, if there is a limit, it will be one that can create a balance. A permanent balance. Until then, one must continue to experience, and to suffer.

    To conclude, I must congratulate you in your work, for I believe you must have learned quite a bit in writing such a magnificent piece. I very much look forward to more of your works to inspire me further.



    1. Dear Muhammad,

      Oh boy! Theres a lot to think about here. First off, thank you for taking so much time to consider my words and unpacking them with such detail. It means a lot and inspires me to write on. Though I’m not certain we have had a formal introduction, I hope too soon and would love to hear your thoughts in person. You have made a lot of interesting claims but in order for me to unpack it all, I would need many pages and so instead I will say that I agree with a lot of what you have said and you used some interesting comparisons to get your point across, but I see it.

      Largely your words have given me more to think about than to answer so allow me to simply unpack the one question you asked me: “would you consider human suffering to be a consequence of our actions?” My answer to this is no.

      If suffering was a consequence of our actions, then the death of a loved one would not cause suffering. A close relatives sexual or physical abuse would not make sense. Our suffering is not a consequence of our actions because we live in a dynamic world that involves interactions between people, situations to which we are not in control and social and economic conditions and machines that are far larger than any set of people and that will continue past the existence of any generation. By that logic, the most peaceful life is one of inaction, but we all know the frustration of boredom.

      No, suffering is not born of action, but perhaps there is a subset of suffering born or reaction. If we tweak your argument then we can say that there is a great dal of suffering, daresay I the majority of it, that exists in our reactions to the limitations and conditions of life. If one strives to understand their ability to choose their reactions to life then I would say that we will be able to accept those cruel truths not as cruel at all, but liberating. The thing is one cannot change their truth (that runs contrary to the very notion of truth), but one can either accept it or focus their energy in a new truth. Ultimately, it is the willingness of individuals to seek responsibility for their own lives that can eliminate suffering by choosing our reactions to life.

      Before I conclude, I would like to make a point of your introductory sentences. You say that you are a watcher. This does not make you a coward, but intelligent to some degree. They say that the wise man learns from the mistakes of others. The only thing I would caution you against is that you do not use this as a shield to protect yourself from inaction. Every man must make his mistakes in life, because there is only so much we can learn from others. You can watch every video on how to swim in the world, but until you get thrown into the water, you wont know if you can swim or not. Take responsibility for yourself an make sure that you are always watching out of interest and awareness, not out of fear of failing yourself. That at least, is my humble experience and advice as a man who has made that mistake himself.

      Thank you again for all your thoughts, and I hope to see you on the next post!


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