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Making sense of suffering

Looking for answers to the big questions about suffering

by Helen Redfern

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To encourage students to recognize that they have a role to play in reducing suffering in the world.

Preparation and materials

  • Download and have the means to show the short Truetube video (a little over 6 minutes) on Buddhism from the Alien Abduction series at: www.truetube.co.uk/embed/1528/700/395 during the assembly.
  • You will need a leader and a reader – little bit of acting is involved at the beginning.

Assembly

Reader Stands, searching for a tissue in his/her pocket to wipe away tears.

Leader Hey, you should be getting along to class by now, you know. Did you not hear the bell?

Reader Does not answer.

Leader 
Are you OK? You look upset. Is there anything you want to talk about?

Reader It’s nothing really. I just got some bad news this morning, that’s all. My auntie has been diagnosed with breast cancer and I feel so sad for her, but I know this sort of thing happens all the time. So many people suffer in so many different ways, I don’t know why it should come as a surprise.

Leader Well, yes, it’s true – there is suffering all around us all of the time – but this matters to you and your family. It is natural to feel sad.

Reader I feel so angry, too, though. She’s such a lovely person. She doesn’t deserve to go through this. Why couldn’t it have happened to someone else?

Leader When we are faced with suffering, it is natural to have lots of difficult questions that we need answers to.

Reader Why does God allow suffering at all? It’s just not right. That’s if there is a God. How can there be a God with all this suffering in the world? It’s all very well having lots of questions, but what is the point? No one has any answers, do they?

Leader You are not alone. Most of us struggle to understand the suffering that we see around us, but that does not mean we should give up. Looking for answers can lead us down some very interesting paths. Let’s watch this short video in which a Buddhist called Srivati shows how questions about suffering have inspired the Buddhist tradition.

Show the Truetube video on Buddhism.

Leader 
It’s interesting to see how asking the same questions that you are asking about suffering is what inspired the founding of the Buddhist faith over 2,500 years ago.

Reader It was really interesting. I didn’t know Buddhists do not believe in a God or that their Buddha is not a God but an extra-special human being. This prince in Northern India all that time ago was concerned about how much suffering there was in the world, just like I am upset about the same thing right now. He tried to get answers and understanding just like I am. He succeeded and gained enlightenment. I guess that means he got his answers. He really understood how things are.

Leader Did you pick up, too, on what Srivati said about how Buddhists strive to live?

Reader Yes, they believe that how we live matters. How we live in this life will affect the next. Being angry, annoyed and impatient are to be avoided. Being positive, patient and kind make this life better and the next. Everything we say and do and think matters. I guess being patient and kind do decrease the suffering that we cause as individuals. Embracing non-harm or non-violence do cut down on suffering in the world around us. I see what you’re getting at. In some ways, we can be part of the answer by reducing suffering in the world.

Leader Yes, that’s exactly what stood out for me in what Srivati said. I’m not suggesting that you will find all your answers in Buddhism or in any other belief system, but asking questions about the big issues in life and searching for answers will bring you to your own individual understanding or enlightenment. Surely that can only be a good thing. So, don’t be embarrassed about feeling upset or asking questions about suffering. After all, you are in very good company.

Time for reflection

Leader Let us take a moment to think about all that we have heard today.

Let us remember all those we know who are suffering right now.

Let us use the words of this prayer to help us reflect on the suffering in our world today.

Prayer
May everyone everywhere who is suffering in their body or mind soon be set free from their illness.
May those who are frightened be set free from their fear.
May those who feel trapped be set free from their despair.
May those who feel anxious be set free from their worries.
May the weak find strength,
The hurting find comfort
And the powerless find power.
May those who have questions find answers,
May those who walk in darkness find light,
May those who feel lost find their way.
May we be positive,
May we be kind,
May we be patient.
May we do all that we can to reduce the suffering of those around us.
So let it be.

Hymn

‘Would you walk by on the other side’ (Come and Praise, 70)
‘Let there be love shared among us’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 430, 2008 edition)

Publication date: March 2014   (Vol.16 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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