March 18 : Suffering Can Make Us Stronger
We all want happiness, but often it is the difficulties that really shape us and help us grow. Beings in the god realms experience so much sensual pleasure that they never think about practising the Dharma. Even well-off human beings who have very few difficulties do not really know how to relate to the rest of us. It is upsetting for them when things do not go their way since they are used to getting everything they want. Instead of facing our suffering, often we distract ourselves by going to parties, to the movies, reading novels, and watching television. We self-medicate with food, drugs, alcohol and other hedonistic pleasures.
But those who go deeply into their suffering find that it can ennoble them with “far-reaching fortitude”. The fortitude involved in dealing with unpleasant circumstances and physical and mental suffering is precisely what aids our practice to become fully awakened Buddhas. Suffering can also give us an attuned awareness of what others are enduring. For example, it is only when you are in the minority that you clearly see the discrimination, injustice and persecution going on.
Those who are smart about their suffering will accept the reality that we are mortal, fallible and not totally in control. Their pain attunes them to the suffering of others and leads them to ask, “What is the human condition?” “Why does everyone face difficulty?” “What is the meaning of life?” Very often it is suffering that leads people to the Dharma because it smashes through the notion, “I’m a happy person. Everything’s good in my life, and everything will continue going well.” Dharma is useful for dealing with suffering and you can change your experience of a situation if you change the way you look at it. You can reach some internal peace by accepting the reality of the suffering and viewing it as something transcendent.
Sometimes when we suffer, we go into this state of self-pity, thinking, “I am helpless. I am hopeless.” We may not be masters of the situation, but we are not helpless either. We have a moral responsibility to respond to our suffering in a way that solves problems instead of creating more. By using thought training, we can redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred. People who have suffered can be of great benefit by becoming social activists or getting engaged in social projects. Suffering can make us stronger, and it urges us to find and cultivate resources we did not know about. We should remember this whenever we have any suffering, from stubbing our toe to witnessing mass tragedies involving many other living beings.
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