When is Suffering A Good Thing?

Trying to explain Buddhism to non-practings Buddhists can sometimes be a challenge. Nevertheless, it can also be a truly fruitful experience, because it requires you to reflect and answer questions that perhaps get unmindfully conditioned in the brain.

Speaking to a friend of mine about Buddhism, she stated, “ If Buddhism is about non-attachment then I would rather suffer. I enjoy my attachment to things like my family and friends. I may find some suffering from owning a car, but I enjoy my car more than I suffer from it.”

The world is made up of what we use and what gets in our way.

Her statements were true. I honestly believe and practice my Buddhist faith, but I enjoy my family and my pleasure in the suffering I endure with my clinging to them. I do practice unconditional love and acceptance of metta, but that is not the only love I have for them. I have that attached love of a parent and son.

It comes down to an correct understanding of our relationship to the world. This is why I discern that there is a difference between the renunciant life of a monastic and the relational life of a lay Buddhist.

The monastic focuses with concentrated clarity on his spiritual practice. He renounces all that is a distraction to that practice. Putting his world into the order of monastic life, he can more clearly see the subtle chaos of the mind that stimulates distraction from achieving the four sublime abodes of compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

By contrast, a relational lay life has very little order. There are accumulated aggregates everywhere: family, job, responsibilities, money, neighbors, school, etc. Not only are these distractions from practice, but they often encourage the delusions of the conditional mundane view of the world.

However, relational lay life can also be an opportunity. A practicing lay Buddhist can engage in the world around them and choose to hold his mind in the world like a butterfly held gently in the palm. In this way they can accept suffering as a choice instead of a condition.

A lay Buddhist can see the convergence of temporary phenomena interacting with each other and understand that the dukkha suffering (general dissatisfaction or stress) will exist by the very nature of the arising and existing of that phenomena.

We can choose which suffering we feel is worthwhile.

The monastic seeks a goal of the end of suffering as his life goal: liberated from conditioned mundane thinking and residing in the four sublime abodes, unbound. The lay Buddhist seeks it as one of his goals, but one among many.  However, in addition to his Buddhist practice, he accepts the suffering of family, career and life as worthwhile.

Just as a man who works very hard to build a stone house. He sweats till the salt from his sweat stings his eyes, his muscles are sore, his skin is bruised and scratched. He may even incur lifelong injury from mistakes or wear and tear as he builds his home. When he is done there is a sense of accomplishment. It will have the temporary joy of new ownership, and eventually that will fade. He will also have the sustained joy of accomplishment. He will have the temporary joy of creation, which will commit him to continually maintain and repair his creations. He will also find the sustained joy in that work.

Thus the renouncing life and relational life are different and yet, with mindful practice, very similar. With practice, we can find rewards from accepting the more challenging (in the sense of continuing to live in among the tempting fetters and distractions) path of a relational life.

My response to my friend was this, “It is not a matter of giving up that which we love, but being mindful of those relationship and engaging in them fully. In this way, we are not only reducing suffering for everyone, but more fully experiencing those parts of our live we value.”

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Buddha, Dharma, Ethics, Meditation, New Age, Relationships, Work


Joshua Hudson is a license clinical social worker with post graduate certificates in mental health. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he has worked as an healthcare advocate for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Director of Psychological Health for the Air Force, in-patient counselor for inpatient adolescents, child and family therapist; and currently is a Prevention Interventionist for the Air Force creating programs to reduce interpersonal and self-directed violence (e.g. Sexual assault, suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.) in the military


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One Comment on “When is Suffering A Good Thing?”

  1. April 8, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    yBJEqn Kudos! What a neat way of thinking about it.

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