Is Buddhism Pessimistic?

The question that we posed at the very beginning of our discussion about suffering, the question of pessimism, comes down to the doctrine of no-self. Are Buddhists pessimistic when they say that there is no self?

Pessimism or Realism?

In a way, you could say that Buddhists are pessimistic. Because there are a lot of things in this world that we hold on to and we really like. When that it is striped away, it begins to feel like a negative experience.

But it doesn’t take much thought to realize that is not so much pessimistic as it is realistic. The truth is that we change. Life passes. The experiences of six months ago or ten years ago are gone. And if we try to hold on to them they are going to cause us some kind of suffering.

This realization that things are impermanent, and the ability to let go of stuff that has changed and become part of our past is what makes the doctrine of suffering buoyant, light and easy. This can be expressed in that exquisite smile that the Dalai Lama brings to so many of his teachings.

To recognize that there is no self, in the end, is not to loose anything important. It is simply to let go of the frustration and the attachment that brings suffering to this world. This extraordinary claim, All is Suffering, becomes a claim about freedom, about buoyancy, about lightness, and in the end, about Nirvana.

This article is part of the series about The Buddha's Teachings

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