Not Only Desires, But Obligations, Cause Suffering

Buddha is famous for the saying; “Life is suffering and desires are the cause of suffering.” I have spent my life working on eliminating desires, and of course, it is not possible for a human being to eliminate all desires. We will always have something we want, or need.

At the same time, I have discovered that there is something else that makes a little more sense and is possible to achieve in the search to end suffering.

Desires for things are often a take it or leave it, nice to have, feeling, so how can they cause suffering? Yet we still suffer to a degree, and that ‘suffering’ prevents us from achieving a higher and more free state of consciousness.

On the other hand, obligations cannot be eliminated, although we can close an eye to them. We can desire food and a place to live that is comfortable etc. these are not the same type of desires as a fancy car. Without doubt, if you want more and more material things, those desires can cause you a lot of misery, wishing to have things you cannot have, and if you get them, the joy is very short lived.

Desires are not unavoidable, obligations are. We have to eat and have a place to live, and because of that, we must have money, and for that, we need a job and spend a large part of our life at work. For normal people who are not consumed by material possessions, anything that we have no choice but to do causes more suffering than a desire for a material thing.

The reason the suffering is worse is because it is ignored and avoided, yet it is there. Resentment leading to the break up of relationships is often caused by the feeling of obligation to the other person. Relationships can be terminated, but the need to eat and pay rent cannot. Sadly we end relationships because of the pressure rather than dealing with it in a healthy way.

How many people stay in a job they hate, and resent, because there is no choice, they are obliged to get the money.

The more material desires you have, the more money you need and so the more obligations you have, such as buying a bigger house and needing to pay the mortgage rather than living in a smaller house and paying off the debt.

Think about all the things you are obliged to take care of, and what those obligations force you to do. You will find the things you resent on the same list. Resentment is a poison which is very painful and we try to avoid. Since we cannot avoid it, we do the second best thing which is to ignore it and avoid seeing the true cause of the resentment of the unavoidable obligations.

This sounds like a hopeless situation, but there is a way out. If you really want to end your suffering, there are two steps you have to take.

First, eliminate all desires for excess. Do you really need a bigger house, fancier car, jewelry, more cloths, or any other material things that are on your list of desires. Examine all the things you want and give serious consideration to the real need. Doing this puts your material desires into perspective and significantly reduces the suffering caused by material desires.

If you think you need a fancy car and big house, just using those things as examples, to be happy, what if you could be happy in a smaller house? What is more important, the flashy things or being happy? Our work is to be deeply and sincerely happy as the first priority.

Second, list all your obligations. Even things like your children, it does not matter for this exercise if you love and are happy about what you are obliged to, if it is an obligation you must put it on this list.

Beside each item on this list, what would release you from the obligation? It could be leaving your family, selling the house, or any obvious and easy way out, or, it could be to have enough money or free time that you would not be forced to do something you did not want to do. Most of the time, money is the cause and solves almost all problems.

Many people lack motivation. 

This is because they do not have a clear reason for living. I find that ending all suffering is a very good motivator. But in order to have that as a goal in life, we must know the real cause of suffering so there is hope of resolving it, and this I propose is obligations.

Find your obligations, find the real cause of why they make you suffer, and then you may find yourself very motivated to get to work or go back to school and make the sacrifices necessary to earn and save enough money so that eventually you are not obliged to go to a job you resent every day.

Problems and suffering cannot be resolved unless you find the root cause, and finding the root cause brings hope of its end. With hope and a clear goal of the end of suffering, you will find the motivation to make the changes. Unless of course, you love to suffer.

It is clear that money resolves most problems, but many people are not motivated to do what it takes to make enough money to resolve their problems. In the next article I will discuss why money is important for our spiritual growth, but it is not at all for the obvious reasons of money itself.

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5 Responses to Not Only Desires, But Obligations, Cause Suffering

  1. Larry Gardner August 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    I am already poor living on SS, and I do not think I have desires for more material things as I just don’t have the money. My misery and suffering come from my fantasy that I should be treated like nobility or that I am someone special to be admired and respected. I end up getting tortured by relatives, and also I take full responsibility for that.

    • David Samuel August 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      You may THINK you do not have desires for material things, but your desire to be treated like a rich man brings with it a desire for those things.

      Let me offer you two possibilities for what you can do with your life from here.
      The first is find a way to make a lot of money. The second is to show younger people where you went wrong.

      I attribute a large part of my success both in money and spiritual/mental/emotional development because I learnt a lot from unhappy, dissatisfied, grumpy old men. I learnt what they did wrong, what things turned bad that made them feel unhappy with their life. And that taught me what not to do, and of course, how to deal with the ups and downs that are inevitable in life.

      Not only did my life turn out better, but I believe that it helped the people I learnt from, because I know that when I teach a younger person about mistakes I made and help them to not make the same mistakes, that gives my life purpose, and I feel a bit like nobility, to use your word.

      There is wealth in money, but that is temporary and impermanent. There is a greater wealth in friendships, and the greatest wealth is the emotional satisfaction in saving the lives of other people so that they live a better life than they would have if you had not been there to help them out.

  2. Chris August 20, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    I think you’ve said that obligations cause suffering, and having a lot of money is the way out. But that people aren’t motivated enough to make that much money. Why? Because to get so much money requires WAY more obligations. And since obligations are the cause of suffering, we avoid that suffering in the first place. And thus never make enough money to where those obligations are gone.

    How to overcome this catch-22 situation?

    • David Samuel August 21, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      An Excellent question!
      The answer is simple; short term versus long term.
      To end the perpetual suffering of obligations or any other suffering in life that will last a lifetime, we undertake that suffering willingly for a short period of time in a greater degree, or at least willing to take it in a greater degree, so that we can ‘pay our dues’ in life and have a period of bigger obligations for the rest of the life of freedom.

      In some cultures, they say that if you cannot get an education, then learn to do something with your hands.

      You need to learn how to do something that you can make money at. That requires getting a skill, working as apprentice, practicing something in your spare time instead of playing and doing other things you deem fun. That is the sacrifice to pay your way to freedom by learning how to do something.

      For example, and this is just an example, I know a woman who had virtually zero schooling in Malaysia so she learnt to sew. She would do seamstress work, making cloths, altering, etc. and built up a very big business just sewing.

      There are so many things you can do, the question is if you are willing to do what it takes to make money, and you probably are still resisting a lot, thinking how miserable you will be, and so on.  Well…if you want money and want to be free, then you need to learn a skill that is practical and every one uses everywhere in the world. Something basic to everyday life is a way to ensure you will always be able to make enough to live.

      Although New Zealand and other first world countries are no different than India or Africa or other third world countries in that all these cultures are set up to keep the poor permanently poor forever, there is always a way out if you want to learn and work at it.

      If you feel there is no hope, the truth is you just are not willing to work at anything it takes to get out of your situation. So before anyone goes blaming the system, reflect upon yourself and see if you are willing to pay the price to purchase your freedom from the system. Many people have, and so can anyone. I never went past high school, only grade 11, 16 years old, but I did it through long hard work for many years, and during those years, I saved and used my money wisely.

      This is the big difference, a willingness to sacrifice and accept the obligations of life with the intent and burning desire to get out.

      When the desire or need is strong enough, a solution always appears. The question now is, are your eyes and mind open enough to take it.

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