Has anyone come anywhere close to ‘the end of all suffering’ even after decades of practice?

My understanding is that the four truths concerning suffering only apply when suffering exists. The Gautamid described suffering as “in short, the five groups of grasping”, so when there is suffering, then the origin of suffering is grasping in the five groups, the cessation of ignorance leads to the cessation of grasping, and the path that leads to the cessation of ignorance is the eight-fold path. The point I’m making here is that the expectation is never that suffering goes away altogether, or is overcome. The Gautamid’s enlightenment was recognizing suffering, the origin or suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path, and these truths apply when suffering exists. That s my understanding.

I guess I could cite as evidence the fact that the Gautamid described his practice before and after enlightenment as “the intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths” (samyutta nikaya vol 5). He didn’t turn a corner and stop practicing, after his enlightenment; he didn’t claim to have made an end of suffering at some point in his life. When he brought the five ascetics into the order, he said, “come, live the life of purity to make an end of suffering”, so the question is really how you live the life of purity. The three poisons he could dispense with at will, yet he said that after he spoke to his disciples he returned to “that sign of concentration in which I ever abide”; that means he left his sign of concentration when he spoke, and any temporary extinction of suffering he might have attained through concentration. In paranibana sutta he describes his condition in his old age as like a cart, kept rolling through the assistance of rope ties and temporary fixes everywhere, due to its rickety nature.

In the sermon on the six-fold sense fields in majjhima nikaya, he states that anyone, knowing and seeing as it really is sense organ, sense object, consciousness out of contact between sense organ and sense object, impact due to consciousness, and feeling associated with impact has already purified action of body, speech, and livelihood, and in such a one the other elements of the eight-fold path and all the factors of enlightenment can be expected to develop and reach fruition. As I wrote somewhere below, everyone realizes consciousness, impact, and feeling with regard to sense as it really is in the course of a day; the significance of the realization is hidden, until an end of suffering is necessary.

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