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Though Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism have similar philosophies but different religious practices, they all provide their own answers to the origin and end of suffering. These world religions are concerned with how to cope with suffering and offer guidance for the fundamental question of the origin of evil and suffering through their own unique practices and philosophies. Mentioned in The Paradox of healing pain, “In a context where pain and suffering are understood to be valuable, those experiences can be used for spiritual transformation and integrated within a meaningful identity.” In this paper I will discuss each of the three religions’ perspectives on suffering.
In Judaism, suffering is caused by sin and the solution is Yom Kippur (day of forgiveness). A major concept in Judaism is Covenant, the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Covenant has long affected how nature and history have been viewed in Judaism. According to the natural and historical events that have happened, they have been interpreted by the Jewish as a direct connection between human behavior and destiny. The idea “this happened because of this”, has intensified the problem of Theodicy in Judaism, since the historical experience of the Jewish has been one of suffering. (Hessenthaler) After the Holocaust, the Jewish people had to rearrange their belief in god otherwise they would lose their faith. If He was all good, all knowing and all powerful, why didn’t He prevent the Holocaust? is what most Jews asked themselves. In Shattered Faith: a Holcaust Legacy, Leon Wells refers to the covenant and admits to his struggle of accepting it as legitimate and sincere. “Many evils and misfortunes daily fell on our heads. No one sought to discover why God acted like this to His preferred people whom He chose for His inheritance. It was because of this that we passed from downfall to downfall, and every day was more accursed than that which came before it.” In Judaism now, God may be seen as suffering with us. God isn’t seen as the one punishing people, but people punishing other people. Ultimately, the purpose of suffering in Judaism is to learn. By learning how to cope with suffering through prayer and practice, we spiritually become stronger.
Suffering in Hinduism is caused by Samsara, the continuous cycle of life and death. The solution is Moksha, the release from the continuous cycle of life and death. In every moment of our lives, we are constantly presented with Karma and rebirth. Much of what we experience in life is considered either “good” or “bad” as a result of our own actions or failure to act upon something. If we use the Caste System as an example, people who are in a higher Caste could act in a way that mistreats the lower Caste, and in return their Karma and Rebirth is affected. Discussed in the Samsara (Hinduism) article,“believing in the illusion of separateness that persists throughout samsara leads one to act in ways that generate karma and thus perpetuate the cycle of action and rebirth.” By fully understanding the unity and oneness of all things around us, the believer has the opportunity to reach liberation from Samsara. Hinduism promotes acceptance to suffering, as it is just a consequence under the laws of Karma. Through acceptance, we can then move onto detachment from the struggles and pain of life to focus on the Divine in ourselves.
For Buddhism, suffering is caused by attachment to worldly things. This attachment can be found in many forms such as greed, hatred, and ignorance. In Buddhism our goal is to gain enlightenment and reach Nirvana. Similar to Hinduism, we must experience suffering to understand it fully. Luckily, to reach our goals, Buddhism has given us The Four Noble Truths as well as the Eightfold Path. Buddhism emphasizes that all things are fleeting and impermanent. No desire that we have could be meaningfully fulfilled because there is always change, we should be grateful for what we have in our lives in the present moment. An example of suffering in Buddhism could be found in the story of Kisagotami. A woman who experiences the death of her son is in denial and goes to Buddha to receive medicine for her dead son. He asks her to get mustard seed from a household that has not experienced death. She cannot find a household that has not experienced death — she learns about the law of death, which states among living creatures there is no permanence. She also learns that she is not alone in suffering. The story is told to remind us of impermanence, of the reality of death. But also, it may be used to also help us realize how strongly our emotions can persuade us to act in foolish ways. Sorrow, sadness, happiness, etc. are always going to be a part of our lives. Buddhism emphasizes that we should be mindful so that we could practice guiding our lives and not be led by those passing emotions. This way we could reach the Fourth Noble Truth, and become closer to Nirvana.
These world religions share similar philosophies and practice their faith differently, but all have their own solution to suffering. The uniqueness of the solutions in each of the religions provide opportunity for any person to find what speaks to them. Whether it be through prayer and practice, acceptance, or mindfulness anyone can liberate themselves from suffering.
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