Home » Excerpts » Why Pain Need Not Mean Suffering

The fastest way to transform your karma
is to transform your perspective of it.

– Stonepeace

Most of the time, we are indifferent or at least neutral to the sensations we experience. At other times we react with feelings of pleasure or displeasure, happiness or unhappiness. Sensations we don’t like make us uncomfortable, but even pleasant experiences disappear quickly, and this too causes discomfort if we crave for more. So in addition to the impurity of the body, we contemplate how we use the senses to experience our body and the world. For example, the sensations of pleasure and pain are actually very subjective and very relative. One person may say that work is painful whereas idleness is pleasant. They work hard and complain of fatigue and frustration: ‘What is the point of all this?’ But for people striving to realize their vision, the harder they work the more energized they feel, and the greater the sense of accomplishment.

What constitutes suffering depends on one’s attitude and point of view. For example, most people think that poverty, sickness, and old age are all forms of suffering. However, one can experience these things without necessarily suffering. Some sick people do not feel suffering. Some might even say, ‘This sickness is a blessing because through it I encountered the Dharma.’ Does this person experience pain? Probably, but pain is not necessarily the same as suffering. Pain is a physical experience, but suffering is an emotional response to what one feels physically. Even while experiencing your own pain, you should help other sentient beings that are having even greater troubles. When you can use your own discomfort to comfort others, you will suffer less.

The Buddhist sutras tell of bodhisattvas who vow to go to hell if necessary in order to deliver sentient beings. There they would encounter the discomfort and pain of hell without experiencing emotional suffering. The reason is that they are protected by their vow to help sentient beings. For these bodhisattvas, being in hell is the same as the Pure Land. That is not to say that hell is the same as the Pure Land, but since these bodhisattvas are not in hell to be punished, they experience no suffering. The point is that our responses to sensations are intimately related to what is in our mind. After all, it is because of our mind that we are able to experience sensations.

Things Pertaining to Bodhi: The Thirty-seven Aids to Enlightenment
by Chan Master Sheng Yen
Get it at Awareness Place shops or Amazon

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