Buddha's doctrine concerns the crucial problem of life and how to overcome it, how to reach Nirvana. His teachings, First and Second Noble Truths, together constitute the Buddha's diagnosis of the human predicament.
The crucial problem of life is called "duhkha" that can be translated as suffering and/or unsatisfactoriness. Young-Eisendrath (2018) explains duhkha as a state of being off-center or out of balance that can be experienced as restlessness and negativity. The First Noble Truth is the truth of duhkha. It emphasizes the inevitableness of suffering/unsatisfactoriness since it is the reality of life. We tend to notice dukhkha more at times like loss, sickness, separation from loved ones (Young-Eisendrath,2018; Gethin, 1998).
The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of duhkha. It states that reason for suffering is a result of pleasure's impermanent nature that leads humans to nonending craving and thirst for the objects of the senses, for existence or non-existence. Human craves for another good moment, meal or success and it builds-up to getting attached to and cling to things in the world of constant change. Clinging can be considered as an unhealthy attachment with the desired object: greedy possession or anxious obsession (De Silva, 2014).
I do believe that Buddha's teachings related to suffering are valid. Suffering/ unsatisfactoriness/being at unease is a pervasive part of our life. In the case of physical or mental pain, suffering is real beyond question. In other cases such as when we are perfectly happy, our mind constantly wanders what is next; this nonending craving brings us to feel at unease. I, personally experience it especially when I am on vacation, pleasure evaporates so quickly and I start to think about how many days left, when it will be my next vacation and where I should go next time. There are also scientific researches support Buddha's ideas. Brickman et al. (1978) carried out a research with lottery winners and accident victims. Results showed that lottery winners after 6 months winning the lottery were not feeling as happy as they were; in the same way accident victims were not feeling unhappy as they were after 6 months. This study is based on hedonic treadmill phenomena which can be explained as the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. (Brickman et al., 1971). Here it is possible to see not only pleasure but also all feelings are impermanent which is consistent with the Buddhist view: One should be skeptical about his feelings.
In a constantly changing world, as Buddha stated duhkha also comes with a mind clings to things. Is it possible to live without getting attached to anything? Does life has any meaning then? Well luckily, Buddhism does not expect that from us, we are asked to love things and people, not to possess them (Ghose, 2004). When we stop for a minute to think, it is possible to observe that we do experience clinging every day with simple or important things: our work title, social status, ideas, friendships, and romantic relations- yet this possessive or obsessive relations do not make us happy for a long time. Some researchers suggested Buddhist teachings are not compatible with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in which each level of needs to be fulfilled hierarchically to reach happiness. Buddhist perspective points out that it is not possible to be happy by following our needs (Lee et al., 2014). Here I would like to ask what are the real needs of human? Let's consider the safety level of the pyramid, we need a job to have financial security, we can desire a raise or promotion, there is nothing controversial. Buddhism does not want to prevent us from fulfilling our needs, it asks us not to obsessed with them; it asks us to attach things and people with love and let them go when it is time.
Buddha's diagnosis of the human predicament allows us to see life with a completely new perspective. Suffering is real and we cause our pain, we are responsible. Craving and clinging are the reasons, yet we can work on it, again we can be suffering-free as long as we take responsibility. I believe the Buddhist perspective has crucial observations on human life and it is empowering.
Brickman, P., Campbell, D. L., Apley, M. H., Campbell, D., & Apley, M. (1971). Adaptation-level theory: A symposium.
Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(8), 917.
De Silva, P. (2014). An introduction to Buddhist psychology and counselling: Pathways of mindfulness-based therapies. Springer.
Gethin, R. (1998). The foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ghose, L. (2004). A study in Buddhist psychology: is Buddhism truly pro‐detachment and anti‐attachment?. Contemporary Buddhism, 5(2), 105-120.
Lee, K. C., Fang-Yi Wu, Chien-Yu Chien-Yu, Shiyun Chen, Ting-Ya Lo (2014). The way to security: Perspectives from Buddhism and western psychology. APA, Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality Newsletter. Retrieved from https://www.apadivisions.org/division36/publications/newsletters/religion/2014/10/security
Young-Eisendrath, P. (2008). The transformation of human suffering: A perspective from psychotherapy and Buddhism. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 28(5), 541-549.