Sunday, October 9, 2011

Viktor Frankl: On Suffering and Life's Meaning

To psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, the test of life lay not in overcoming suffering and thereby achieving enlightenment, but rather in how one finds meaning in suffering itself. "If there is a meaning at life at all," he observed, "then there must be a meaning in suffering."

"Suffering," he pointed out, "is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death," he observed, "life cannot be complete."

This very humanistic viewpoint is, of course, quite opposite to the transcendental teachings of the Buddha, who demonstrated and taught that suffering can, in fact, be overcome even in this life. Nonetheless, there are similarities in the two teachings. Both identify, for instance, the central role that man's relation to suffering plays in shaping the course of the individual's life. And both identify suffering as the great potential teacher of mankind.

"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross," wrote Frankl, "gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal."

"Here," Frankl observed, "lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this," he declared, "decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."

To what end, then, are we going to use our suffering? Are we to use it to face the worst in life and overcome it? Or, are we to go beyond embracing suffering - a necessary first step, perhaps - and use it as a catalyst to transcend self and strive for enlightenment? Are we worthy of our suffering?

[Excerpts from Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," p. 88.]

1 comment:

  1. after every bitter experience in my life, on looking back, I have found, invariably, that the experience has served but one purpose.....that it has acted as a catalyst in Realizing the Self and getting a deeper understanding of Life and of the realms of the Inner Self...