Is it the goal of Buddhism to live your life avoiding suffering until you die?

In Buddhism, one does not avoid suffering. One becomes aware of it, investigates it and ultimately develops insight into it.

We all experience pain. Suffering is what our minds add to pain by fighting it. As our minds become peaceful with our meditation practice, suffering will diminish.

If we consider the goal of Buddhism to be enlightenment, there are two goals one must obtain to enter the nirvana with residue (sopadhiśeṣa nirvāṇa AKA arhathood). They are wisdom (prajna) and compassion (karuna).

Ending suffering is only one aspect of enlightenment. In nirvana with residue, you have extinguished (extinguish is one of the translations of the word nirvana) the three poisons (greed, indifference and hatred). There is also the release from the cycle of rebirth (samsara). Nirvana with residue is the ultimate goal of Theravada Buddhism before death. At death one achieves nirvana without residue (parinirvana).

The highest goal in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, is the nirvana of no abiding (apratiṣṭhita AKA anuttara samyak sambodhi). This form of enlightenment has the attributes of the prior two nirvanas with one twist. In this form of enlightenment one chooses to be reborn to help sentient beings end their suffering. This is an act of compassion. This is why I consider compassion to be the highest aim of Buddhism.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

Thanka painting of a four-armed Avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion), artist unknown.

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