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By Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D.

"Friends, there is suffering." These words represent the beginning of the Buddha's first teaching after his enlightenment. Why is the Buddha stating the obvious? Did he really think his listeners were unaware of the fact of suffering? Did he find something particularly insightful or profound in this observation?


It is an odd beginning for one of the world's great spiritualities, to say the least, particularly one that holds joy and liberation as its goal. Why is the Buddha starting his 35-year teaching career and setting in motion a 2500-year tradition with the solemn declaration, "There is suffering"?

Suffering certainly seems to be an unavoidable and undeniable fact. We live most of the time with some level of distress, whether physical, economic, psychological or social. Many of us have to endure unresolvable situations—painful relationships that will not be healed, physical illness or disability that resist treatment, emotional problems that won't go away, the constant pain and sorrow of those around us, and the fear and seemingly perpetual agonies of our world. Within this context, what is the possible value of affirming the existence of suffering?

Shambhala Sun - "Friends, There is Suffering"

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