I’ve been reading Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life and inflicting it upon my students for the past several weeks. I won’t go into all the solid, pedagogical reasons for assigning it–it’s enough to say that if you don’t read Unamuno, you won’t understand modern or contemporary Spain. One of Unamuno’s basic tenets is that suffering is a requirement for anyone who wants to achieve grace, dignity and resignation; all qualities that Catholics should aspire to. His tome is, essentially, an apologia for the Spanish Catholic Church. Even though he feels that reason and faith can never coexist, we must take solace in a personal savior, even though we can never, ever, prove the existence of life after death. Immortality, personal survival, is what we all desire the most–yet it is impossible to prove to the thinking person’s (read: educated) satisfaction. So, let’s live with our suffering–created by our need to believe something reason refuses to allow–and make it into a personal art, an expression of our own divinity.
So. That’s Unamuno in a nutshell. He died in a prison in Madrid in 1936, after his speech at the university where he taught was overtaken by the Falange (Hitler-loving, “New Spain” Fascists, let by General Francisco Franco). The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936-1939, followed by 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, from which Spain is still recovering.
This brings us to Buddhism. Suffering for Buddhists is entirely a creation of the mind and has no independent reality. We suffer only because we choose to, or think (falsely) that there is no other choice. “Suffering, the Buddha taught, is caused when the freedom that is inherent to our non-local pristine awareness is obscured by the limitations of our ego and our physical body.” (Targ, Hurtak. 6) In other words, our ego and physical body are not what truly defines reality, but the vehicles through which we interpret reality. If we allow our bodies and our egos to define our identities and experiences, we will suffer endlessly. There is, however, no need to follow the dictates of what is not real. Bodies and egos refer us endlessly to the past or the future. We suffer when we ruminate over the past (which is unreal; it has no objective reality) or when we project our worries uselessly into the future (which is equally fictitious).
When we do not live fully in the present moment, we are living through a mind-generated illusion. All suffering is illusory.
Unamuno suffers because he finds intense, religious pleasure in doing so. Targ and Hurtak are seeking to abandon suffering as useless and entirely unrelated to real, lived experience. In both cases, the message seems to be: if you are in anguish, then you have made that choice. Unless your suffering is physical and unremitting, then everything that hurts you is your own personal demon, created by you and for you. If you have had enough of emotional pain, then all it takes is a decision and a practice.
Nothing is real that is not now.