The Buddha

The Buddha


What does it means that our phenomenal world is an illusion, the cause of suffering is carving, the teaching came about not from some philosophical reasoning but from the direct experience of the Buddha seeing the illusory nature of the phenomenal world in his deep meditation, and from the experience of people who suffered due to failure to satisfy their desires!?

-- Hugo, Sweden


Our phenomenal world is an illusion because different beings see the “same” world differently. What is a table to you may be a whole universe to a bacterium found in it. A fairy who exists at the same place and time but in a different dimension may not see the table at all and floats past it. If the world were objectively or absolutely real, all beings would experience it the same way.

When you are lonely you crave for company. When you fail to have the company you want, you suffer. When the company becomes unruly, you carve for solitude. When you fail to have the solitude you want, you suffer. Had you not carved for the company or the solitude, there would be no suffering.

When the Buddha taught that the phenomenal world is illusory, he did so from direct experience. In his deep meditation when he attained a very high level of consciousness that transcended time and space, he experienced the illusory nature of the world we live in. This teaching is universal. Any being who attains a very high level of consciousness will experience the same illusory nature of the world. This teaching is based on direct experience and not on reasoning or intellectualization.

In contrast, when Plato taught that the perfect form was a circle, he did so from reasoning or intellectualization. He might have some personal experiences where he found the circle the perfect shape, but this was not universal. At other times and other people might find other shapes more favorable than the circle for various particular purposes. A farmer planting crops or a builder building houses might find the square or rectangle more suitable.

The Buddha's teaching on carving as the cause of suffering is confirmed by ordinary people in their ordinary lives. When people carve for something but fail to get it, they suffer. Suppose the train that goes from your town to another town is delayed. If you have nothing to do with the train, the delay does not matter to you. But if you need to take the train to arrive for an important appointment on time, the delay causes you suffering because it fails to satisfy your desire to be on time for your appointment.

At a higher level, if you have sympathy for those who suffer as a result of the delay, you also suffer because it fails to satisfy your desire for other people to be happy. Please note this does not mean that you should not be sympathetic or to be sympathetic would lead to suffering. These are different issues. The issue here is that failure to satisfy craving — for selfish or unselfish desires — leads to suffering.

Reproduced from September 2005 Part 5 in Selection of Question-Answer Series


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