Suffering and Slavery

In Buddhism, the first of the Four Noble Truths—the Buddha’s key insights into the human condition—states that all of life is suffering. It is impossible to escape this. Illness, aging, and death are unavoidable. We may appear to dodge them for a time, taking shelter on islands of contentment and even joy, but eventually they catch up to afflict us all. Our moments of happiness and triumph do not endure. To simply be alive is to suffer.

According to Buddhism, the root of this suffering is thirst. When we desire a thing or an experience—when we thirst for it—we become attached. We believe we cannot live without that special person, treasured object, or cherished outcome. Our attachments give rise to suffering. We suffer because of what we want and lack, but also because of what we have and fear to lose, ultimately knowing that indeed we must lose it, since our lives are finite.

This duo of suffering and thirst in Buddhism is very much akin to the idea of slavery in Exodus. Our attachments bind us like unseen chains from which there is no hope of escape, thus giving rise to endless suffering.

In the parable of Exodus, suffering is portrayed through the metaphor of slavery. The Hebrews suffer because they are in bondage in Egypt, a land that is not their own. They seek deliverance. But for both Buddhism and Exodus, the goal is the same: To escape suffering. To be free.

Here lies the start of the spiritual journey.