Today the writer of this post, when continuing to “hea” his life away in Brisbane”, had, along with his wife Jane and his son Raymond, a yum-cha lunch with an old friend and his family. Apart from eating plenty of delicious dim-sums, we inevitably chatted about everything and nothing.
At one point we talked about the recent development that Raymond had begun to have a girlfriend, who now resides in Malaysia. Jane jokingly said that she was worried about the prospect that Raymond would give up his pursuit of post-graduate studies in either England or Hong Kong and instead choose to move to Malaysia in order to be close to his girlfriend. Then there were a few exchanges among the four adults on this issue. Then somehow my old friend Alex came up with this remark (in Cantonese), “Now it’s really hard for us not to admit that we’re old (in Yut-ping transcription: yi4 gaa1 zan1 hai6 m4 dou3 ngo5 dei6 m4 jing6 lou5 laa3)”. In response to this remark, I said (also in Cantonese; in fact our conversation was conducted in Cantonese), “Well, I don’t see why I would refuse to admit being old. Actually, even if you offer me a chance to be thirty or forty years younger and to relive my life, I wouldn’t want such a chance. I’m pleased that I’ve lived up to this age when there are not many years of life left”. Alex, a bit surprised at my words, asked, “Why?” Since that’s something related to my life philosophy, it would require a fair bit of elaboration. At that point, although the feeling of the prospect that someone would be listening to me expounding my life philosophy was quite euphoric, I was sober enough to know that it was not the right time and the right place for me to explain in detail why I wouldn’t want to relive my life, given the yum-cha surrounding with its noise and smell and sight of people and food. So I only briefly said that if the life I was to relive was to be the same one as I had lived, then it would be boring to repeat everything once again, and if it was to be a different life, then there would be all those uncertainties of life that I wouldn’t want to experience. My brief explanation didn’t seem to convince Alex that I was sincere in not welcoming the prospect of reliving my life, even if there really was one. But that didn’t matter. Our chatting quickly moved on to some other topics.
It would be easy to understand that no one wants to relive a life that merely repeats everything. But why do I not want to relive my life if it’s going to be a different one? Wouldn’t it be nice if in my second life I get to have all that I didn’t and don’t have in my current life, and get to experience all that I didn’t and don’t experience but have desired to do so? Based on reckoning the gap between what one currently has and what one desires not to have (e.g. cancer or a dominating and nagging wife versus a healthy body or a timid and quiet wife, and that between what one has not and what one has (e.g. a comfortable job with an annual income of three million dollars versus a demanding job barely enough to support one and one’s family), one can easily imagine in what ways one desires one’s second life to be if one is given such a chance. But for me, even if I knew in advance what my second life would be if I were given the chance to relive my life and that it would be a great improvement compared to my current life, I would still reject such a chance.
Why so? Because life itself is suffering. The writer of this post fully appreciates the likelihood that this view of life of his contradicts with those of most other people. Even my loyal listener who has for the past couple of decades selflessly given her ears to my various unconventional views on different subjects – my wife – has expressed dislike of this view. So if any reader happens to find this view (i.e., life is suffering) repulsive he or she is welcome not to read the texts below that serve to elaborate this view.
Life is suffering, because a human life inevitably encounters being born, growing old, suffering the pain induced by various illnesses, parting with one’s loved ones, being with one’s hated ones, not achieving what one desires to achieve, and many other conditions that give rise to dissatisfaction. Added to these are all the uncertainties that confront a person throughout one’s life, uncertainties that lead to anxieties, that could affect one’s life in unpredictable ways and of unpredictable scales. Life, being so, cannot be desirable.
Life is suffering, because to live a human life, a person is, no matter how unwilling he or she may be, inevitably confronted with all the daily hassles like, for most people, having to work in order to earn money in order to have it to provide oneself with accommodation, food, clothing, education, a family, and, for all people, having to eat, go to the toilet, clean oneself and his dwelling, buy food, make bad dreams, etc. One also has to experience various emotions. While some of such emotions are pleasant (e.g. bliss, joy, contentment, sense of achievement, sense of belonging), many of them are unpleasant (e.g. jealousy, disappointment, grief, dissatisfaction, anger, rage, despair, suspicion, loneliness, guilt, resentment, bitterness, anxiety, fear, remorse, shame, embarrassment, boredom. Emotions are transient, and so unpleasant emotions, as well as pleasant ones, do not stay permanently in us. Yet the makeup of the human mind seems to make pleasant emotions in general a lot more transient than unpleasant emotions, as evident in the case that most women would agree that their feeling of being hurt after discovering disloyalty of their boyfriend or husband tends to last much longer than their feeling of joy and contentment upon hearing the vow of loyalty to them made by their boyfriend or husband. I believe the same case applies to most men as well. Readers of this post, with their own records of experiencing pleasant and unpleasant emotions in their life, probably require no more elaborations from me regarding this point. Therefore, everyone is bound to experience unpleasant emotions a lot more often and a lot more lasting than pleasant emotions.
Life is suffering, because it is irreversible and at the same time humans are bound to err. The English proverb “To err is human, to forgive divine” suggests how easy a person may make mistakes throughout his or her life, and how hard he or she may be forgiven by other people for making such mistakes. Because erring is inevitable, and life is irreversible (“reversible” in the sense that you can go back to a previous point in life and act differently so that the mistakes made could be avoided), and forgiveness is a rare human trait, remorse and sense of guilt inevitably accumulates in our course of life. The longer one lives, the more mistakes one is likely to have made, and the more likely is one to be troubled by remorse and sense of guilt, which would be intensified if one does not have the luck of being forgiven by people around him, especially his loved ones, for the mistakes he has made. Readers of this post may like to reflect on how much remorse and sense of guilt they are bearing, either knowingly or unknowingly, for various mistakes they have made in their life so far. How could such a life not be one of suffering?
Life is suffering, because the human mind is inevitably dominated by the so-called “three poisions”: greed, anger and delusions. We can easily crave for anything that gives us a pleasant feeling, but seldom can our crave be satisfied. And even if the craving gets satisfied, the satisfaction does not last permanently, because new craving is bound to arise, and the cycle repeats. Anger is an emotion that easily gets aroused in us. Readers of this post are invited to search inside themselves for even just a single day during which they had experienced not a single instant of anger. It would not be surprising that they cannot find such a day in their life, no matter how young they are. And then we all suffer from holding this and that delusions: the delusion of grandeur, the delusion of self, the delusion of the self being the centre of one’s existence, etc., etc. Delusions lead to wrong understanding of ourselves, the malfunctioning of our inner world, and mismatches between ourselves and the external world, which inevitably lead to wrong actions and decisions in life, which in turn lead to remorse due to the irreversibility of life, and which further lead to suffering as discussed above.
So why would one want to begin a human life, if one had had a choice? And why would one want to relive one’s life, if human life is inevitably suffering? I wouldn’t.