Four rivers of natural suffering

two types of suffering

The four rivers of natural suffering by Shakyamuni Buddha 

Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of four rivers of natural suffering:

1. Birth
2. Aging
3. Sickness
4. Death

The four natural suffering are inevitable difficulties of life. But they can be experienced without extras, without compounding the suffering with story lines that solidify our misperceptions about reality. There is a teaching take form the Buddha’s time that makes this point.

One day a distraught young woman arrives at the Buddha’s encampment holding a dead child to her breast. She has come in search of a miracle cure to resuscitate her baby, and to ask of the Buddha, why me? 

The Buddha tells her to return to her village, and to collect one mustard seed from each household that has never known death; the bring these seeds to him. The woman returns to her village and goes fro one house to the next. 

She went from one house to another listening the stories of hthose who had died in the years. An old granny, the death of three years old daughter, a girl who had died of breast cancer and so many death stories. Every family told stories about births and deaths and not even a single mustard seeds could have been collected. 

The young mother returns to the Buddha empty-handed. 
Is there another way? As young mother. 
And the Buddha says, you cannot find a way to restore the life of your baby, but you can learn to live with death, to make yourself bigger than this loss. Then you can hold the sadness and not drown in sorrow. 

The Four Rivers of Suffering


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