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July, 2007
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July 18

Pain and Suffering
Are they absolutely necessary?

These two newsletters hit my box within a day of each other.

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From Brian Johnson's "Philosopher's Notes," a series of short wisdom quotes sent daily:

Suffering Is Optional 

"Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is...The only problem in your life is your mind's resistance to life as it unfolds." -- Dan Millman, 21st century philosopher


The Dalai Lama says it another way: "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." 

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And from Tricycle Magazine's "Daily Dharma":

Dharma Talk on One Mind

Imagine a child sleeping next to its parents and dreaming it is being beaten or is painfully sick. The parents cannot help the child no matter how much it suffers, for no one can enter the dreaming mind of another. If the child could awaken itself, it could be freed of this suffering automatically. In the same way, one who realizes that his own Mind is Buddha frees himself instantly from the sufferings arising from [ignorance of the law of] ceaseless change of birth-and-death. If a Buddha could prevent it, do you think he would allow even one sentient being to fall into hell? Without Self-Realization one cannot understand such things as these. --Bassui Tokusho Zenji

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What does it mean? How can we "opt out" of suffering?

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism says that "life ain't easy" (that's a paraphrase). But the expanded version of the teaching discusses the various sources of suffering: 

Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering -- in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering." (Piyadassi Thera's translation)

Note that some of these will inevitably happen. But thinking clearly and correctly will reduce or eliminate the suffering caused. Take aging, for instance: Accepting that at age 60 we can no longer break dance makes things a whole lot easier, doesn't it?

To see things as they are, without fear or desire: This is the Way of Buddhism, the Way to Nirvana.

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