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This lesson will discuss how various world religions have dealt with the question of suffering, how it is defined by different traditions.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on suffering. This lesson deals with how different religions deal with suffering. And here we take suffering to mean any kind of physical, emotional, or mental pain.

And I'm calling this lesson peril and opportunity. Because suffering, yes, it can be thought of as bad. But for religions, suffering presents an opportunity for self-transformation, an opportunity to help others, an opportunity to awake a higher state of reality.

So let's take a look at some of those opportunities that suffering provides. Suffering is an opportunity for religion to offer heavenly consolations. And if one can experience those consolations oneself, one can also offer them to others. Which brings us to the next one, helping be afflicted. We can develop compassion through religion and learn to help others.

Next, suffering can have the power of purification, of getting rid of any impurities that might prevent spiritual progress. So spiritual advancement is a big purpose of suffering in religions. Which can be viewed as a kind of penance, a working off of previous sins. And lead to the practice of asceticism, which is just harsh treatment of the body for spiritual purposes.

Also, suffering has to do with ultimate destiny. Whether that might be heaven or hell or purgatory, suffering can either make way for one of those afterlives, or it can be part of one of those afterlives. Also, suffering is about sophia-- wisdom. Learning to see suffering as an opportunity for wisdom.

The Buddhist term for suffering is "dukkha," which comes from the Pail language, which is one of the original languages of Buddhism. Suffering in this sense could be suffering in a physical sense or an emotional sense. Or sometimes it's just translated as dissatisfaction. Life is just dissatisfying.

Dukkha is the basis for the Four Noble Truths, the central teaching of Buddhism. The first Noble Truth says that life is suffering-- that's just unavoidable. Next, suffering is caused by desire. Third, if we want to get rid of suffering, we have to get rid of desire. And finally, to get rid of desire, we have to practice the Noble Eightfold Path.

Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. And if we practice all these, we'll attain to a holy life. And we will have compassion-- or what is called "karuna--" for others and thereby attain nirvana, which is simply liberation from suffering.

Going to the Hindu notion of suffering. Suffering is caused by negative karma. That is, past deeds from previous lifetimes or from earlier in this lifetime. There's also societal karma so you have to take on the burden of some of the society that you belong to.

So these past deeds lead to suffering. If we're going to get rid of suffering, we have to accept suffering as a just consequence for our own actions that we committed. So there's an element of responsibility here.

And once we accept responsibility, once we accept suffering, we have to perform good deeds. And by performing good deeds, we are no longer sowing this negative karma. Now we're sowing good karma. And this process quite naturally leads to liberation or moksha.

This is a completely natural process. It can, in principle, be completed in one lifetime. Although for most people, it will take many, many lifetimes.

So we've gone over various different concepts of suffering and how religion uses suffering as a vehicle for self-transformation and for practicing compassion for others. Just to recap, we said that different world religions have different ways of dealing with suffering, which could include mental, physical, or emotional pain. We said that suffering generates many possible opportunities for religion, including the ability to console oneself or others, to increase moral conduct, to practice techniques of spiritual advancement, and to steer one's ultimate destiny. We talked about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in Buddhism as all unfolding from the goal of eliminating suffering. And we discussed suffering in Hinduism, which arises from negative karma and can only be eliminated by overcoming negative karma and practicing good works.

Terms to Know

In Buddhism, "suffering".


In Buddhism, the practice of compassion.


In Indian religions, liberation.


In Buddhism, liberation.

Noble Eightfold Path

In Buddhism, a series of practices that lead to enlightenment and to the end of suffering.


Physical, psychological, or spiritual pain.