According to Buddha, the cause of suffering is “the attachment to the desire to have and the desire to not have”.
In life, we all have things that we want and things we don’t want.
When we desire something or someone, we try so hard to get it. It causes suffering. Once we “obtain” that desire, we cling onto it. We are attached and want to keep it. But nothing is permanent. Everything comes and goes like the water and the wind. Things and people come and go. Nothing will last forever. But we cling on. This brings suffering because we don’t let things naturally go. We are trying to make the water stop flowing in the river and the wind stop blowing so we can keep it. That is against the course of nature.
What are some common things that people desire in life? Money, time, success, happiness, love, health, beauty. People slave their lives away trying to get money. People always want to be happy, but no one can always be happy. Love will come and go. Health can deteriorate. Beauty can fade. The more things someone has, the more they suffer trying to maintain and keep these things.
If a billionaire suddenly loses his fortune, he may become very upset. But a homeless man who gets to eat a meal for that day may be very grateful. The more you have, the more you have to lose. When you have a lot, your want to safeguard it all. You become afraid you’ll lose it. It breeds greed. We want things that we do not need.
What do we desire to not have? There are many things that we fear: death, heartbreak, poverty, hunger, pain, loss. But things are bound to happen. Death, pain, and loss are bound to happen in life. But we keep running away from it, trying to avoid it from happening. But still, it is bound to happen. We we suffer by trying so hard to prevent something.
I remember as a child, I was so afraid of kidnappers when walking home from school that I would be feeling anxious every second which really caused a lot of unnecessary suffering. It’s important to be cautious, but not so anxious.
Expectations are another cause of suffering. We have so many expectations in life. We expect to succeed, to have a good life, for good things to happen, for people to treat us well, for things to go our way. But things don’t always happen that way. We cannot expect anything in life. Life is chaos. When we have expectations and they are not met, we are left disappointed. It is just important to try our best, but not to expect something for certain.
So how do we stop the suffering caused by attachments and expectations? We must accept life, and let things come and go. What does it mean to accept life? Accept things that you cannot control in life. Do not try to control everything. Let things go in its natural course. Let things come to you. Do not try so hard to run away. Let things go and leave you. Do not try so hard to cling onto it. If we are at peace with everything and do not need things to be a certain way, there may be less suffering.