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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten

Quotations on:
Suffering, Obstacles and Difficulties

Return to the Quotations Index

Ajahn Chah

If you want to understand suffering you must look into the situation at hand. The teachings say that wherever a problem arises it must be settled right there. Where suffering lies is right where non-suffering will arise, it ceases at the place where it arises. If suffering arises you must contemplate right there, you don't have to run away. You should settle the issue right there. One who runs away from suffering out of fear is the most foolish person of all. He will simply increases his stupidity endlessly.

We don't meditate to see heaven, but to end suffering.

 

The Buddha

If there is no wound on one's hand, one can handle poison. Poison has no effect where there is no wound.
There is no evil for the non-doer.

Do not follow a life of evil; do not live heedlessly; do not have false views; do not value worldly things.
In this way one can get rid of suffering.
Dhammapada v. 167

Shantideva cites three benefits of pain. First, it is valuable because through sorrow, pride is driven out. No matter how arrogant and condescending we’ve been, great suffering can humble us. The pain of a serious illness or loss of a loved one can be transformative, softening us and making us less self-centered.
The second benefit of pain is empathy: the compassion felt for those who wander in samsara. Our personal suffering brings compassion for others in the same situation. A young woman was telling me that when her baby died, she felt a deep connection to all the other parents who had lost children. This was, as she put it, the unexpected blessing of her sorrow.
The third value of suffering is that evil is avoided and goodness seems delightful. When we practice according to Shantideva’s instructions, we can get smarter about cause and result. Based on this understanding, we’ll have less inclination to cause harm, and more desire to gather virtue and benefit others.
No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, by Pema Chödrön

Suffering is a big word in Buddhist thought. It is a key term and it should be thoroughly understood. The Pali word is dukkha, and it does not just mean the agony of the body. It means that deep subtle sense of unsatisfactoriness which is a part of every mind moment and which results directly from the mental treadmill. The essence of life is suffering, said the Buddha. At first glance this seems exceedingly morbid and pessimistic. It even seems untrue. After all, there are plenty of times when we are happy. Aren't there. No, there are not. It just seems that way. Take any moment when you feel really fulfilled and examine it closely. Down under the joy, you will find that subtle, all-pervasive undercurrent of tension, that no matter how great this moment is, it is going to end. No matter how much you just gained, you are either going to lose some of it or spend the rest of your days guarding what you have got and scheming how to get more. And in the end, you are going to die. In the end, you lose everything. It is all transitory.
Henepola Gunaratana, from 'Mindfulness in Plain English'.

Feelings of suffering change into those of happiness. Feelings of happiness change into suffering. Both arise in dependence upon internal and external causes which change. For example, we see food as pleasurable, but if we eat too much, then it causes suffering. When we are young, we see our bodies as a source of pleasure. As we become older, the same body becomes a source of suffering.
Just as a wave is always changing, so the nature of suffering is always to change. It may be experienced as pleasure or as suffering, but it arises from the same source. Pleasure arises from suffering. Seeing pleasure as happiness constitutes suffering.
...Pain and pleasure are of the same nature. Although they look different at different times, they both arise from the same sea of delusion and karmic action. Pleasure or pain, one or the other, arises and then falls back into the ocean. Thus we can conclude that pleasure and pain within the ocean of samsara are basically suffering, and dissolve into suffering.
This becomes evident in the wide variety of sudden changes of experience depicted in films. Love and hatred, happiness and family strife, peace and war, follow each other in rapid succession. The continuous change, although exaggerated in films, is characteristic of life in general.
Ven. Gen Lobsang Gyatso, The Four Noble Truths

While meditating on the body, do not hope or pray to be exempt from sickness. Without sickness, desires and passions can easily arise... While acting in society, do not hope or pray not to have any difficulties. Without difficulties, arrogance can easily arise... While meditating on the mind, do not hope or pray not to encounter hindrances. Without hindrances, present knowledge will not be challenged or broadened... While working, do not hope or pray not to encounter obstacles. Without obstacles, the vow to help others will not deepen... While interacting with others, do not hope or pray to gain personal profit. With the hope for personal gain, the spiritual nature of the encounter is diminished... While speaking with others, do not hope or pray not to be disagreed with. Without disagreement, self-righteousness can flourish...
The Buddha spoke of sickness and suffering as effecive medicines. Times of difficulties and accidents are also times of freedom and realization. Obstacles can be a form of liberation. The Buddha reminded us that the army of evil can be the guards of the Dharma. Difficulties are required for success. The person who mistreats one can be one's good friend. One's enemies are as an orchard or garden. The act of doing someone a favor can be as base as the casting away a pair of old shoes. The abandonment of material possessions can be wealth and being wrongly accused can be the source of strength to work for justice.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Two Treasures: Buddhist Teachings Awakening & True Happiness

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Every noble work is bound to encounter problems and obstacles. It is important to check your goal and motivation thoroughly. One should be very truthful, honest and reasonable. One's action should be good for others, and for oneself as well.

It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others

Encountering sufferings will definitely contribute to the elevation of your spiritual practice, provided you are able to transform the calamity and misfortune into the path.

Suffering increases your inner strength. Also, wishing for suffering makes the suffering disappear.

When contemplating suffering, do not fall into the feeling of self-importance or conceit. Cultivating wisdom helps us to avoid these pitfalls. But it is hard to generalize because each person's courage and forbearance are unique.

The truth of suffering is that we experience many different types of suffering: suffering of suffering-things such as headaches; suffering of change -felling of restlessness after being comfortable; and all-pervasive suffering that acts as the basis of the first two categories and is under the control of karma and the disturbing mind.

We learn from the principle of dependent origination that things and events do not come into being without causes. Suffering and unsatisfactory conditions are caused by our own delusions and the contaminated actions induced by them.

On top of the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death, we encounter the pains of facing the unpleasant, separating from the pleasant, and not finding what we want. The basic problem lies with the type of mind and body that we have. Our mind-body complex serves as a basis for present sufferings in the form of aging, sickness, and death, and promotes future suffering through our usual responses to painful situations.
Becoming Enlightened

Suffering originates from various causes and conditions. But the root cause of our pain and suffering lies in our own ignorant and undisciplined state of mind. The happiness we seek can be attained only through the purification of our minds.

If you cannot stop worrying over something in the past or what might happen in the future, shift your focus to the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. Or recite this mantra: om mani padme hum (pronounced "om mani padmay hum"). Since the mind cannot concentrate on two things simultaneously, either of these meditations causes the former worry to fade.
How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

There was an empirical study that found that people who have the tendency to use more self-referential terms (I, me, myself) tend to have more health problems and earlier deaths (the Dalai Lama had heard this the day before from another speaker in neurology at a symposium on Buddhism and meditation in New York City). These people have more involvement with the self. Being self-absorbed has an immediate effect of narrowing one's focus and blurring one's vision. It is like being pressed down by a heavy load. If, on the other hand, you think more about others' well-being, it immediately makes you feel more expansive, liberated and free. Problems which before may have seemed enormous would then seem more manageable.
From notes on a teaching

As a basis for change, we need to recognize that as long as we live in this world we will encounter problems, things that obstruct the fulfillment of our goals. If, when these happen, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face these difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that not just we but everyone has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and our capacity to overcome troubles. By remembering the suffering of others, by feeling compassion for others, our own suffering becomes manageable. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind, another opportunity for deepening our compassion! With each new experience, we can strive gradually to become more compassionate; that is, we can develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength wi! ll increase.
The Compassionate Life

One kind of suffering is like a headache or like yesterday's flu: discomfort in the nose, watery eyes, and so forth. In short, it includes all of those kinds of gross physical and mental sufferings that in ordinary parlance we usually call "suffering." This is the first category.
Then the second category is as follows. When we feel hungry and begin to take food, at first we feel very happy. We take one mouthful, then two, three, four, five... eventually, though it is the same person, the same food, and the same time period, we begin to find the food objectionable and reject it. This is what is meant by the "suffering of change." Practically every worldly happiness and pleasure is in this second category. Compared to other forms of suffering, at the beginning these more subtle forms of suffering seem pleasurable; they seem to afford us some happiness, but this is not true or lasting happiness, for the more we become acquainted with them, the more involved we become with them, the more suffering and trouble they bring us. That is the second category.
Now as for the third category, I think it is fair to say that it is one's own body. Roughly speaking, this is what it is. It is the body which is the fruit of afflictions, a body originally created by afflictions. Because the body is created by such causes, it is of the very nature of suffering. It comes to act as the basis of suffering. This, then, is the third category.
From Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists

...when you probe deeply you will find that no matter how high an existence a realm may be, even though it may be the highest state of existence, as long as it is in this cycle of existence the beings there are in the nature of sufferings, because they have the sufferings of pervasive conditioning and are therefore under the influence or command of contaminated actions and delusions. As long as one is not able to be free from such an influence, there is no place for permanent peace or happiness.
Generally, the experiences that you normally regard as pleasurable and happy, such as having the physical comfort of good facilities and so forth, if they are examined at a deeper level, will be revealed to be changeable and therefore in the nature of suffering. They provide you with temporary satisfaction; because of that temporary satisfaction you regard them as experiences of happiness. But if you keep on pursuing them, they will again lead to the experience of suffering. Most of these pleasurable experiences are not really happiness in the true sense of the word, but only appear as pleasure and happiness in comparison to the obvious sufferings that you have.
Path to Bliss: A Practical Guide to Stages of Meditation

Although most people cannot alter the structure of their lives, they feel they also cannot change the quality of their experience of this structure. Life has its ups, but also lots of downs, and it is all very stressful. They feel they are a tiny part of some solid, giant mechanism they can do nothing about. They therefore go through life in a mechanical, passive manner, like a passenger on a life-long speeding roller coaster going up and down and round and round, assuming that not only the track, but also the tension and stress experienced while circling on it are an inevitable part of the never-ending ride.
Since such experience of one's life, despite its pleasures, can be very depressing, it is vitally essential to do something about it. Just drinking ourselves into oblivion each night, or seeking constant entertainment and distraction by having music or television on all the time or incessantly playing computer games so that we never have to think about our life, is not going to eliminate the problem. We must take ourselves seriously. This means to have respect for ourselves as human beings. We are not just pieces of machinery or helpless passengers on the fixed ride of life that is sometimes smooth, but all too often bumpy. We need, therefore, to look more closely at what we are experiencing each day. And if we see that we are stressed by the tension of our city, household or office, we should not just accept this as something inevitable.
Our living, work and home environments, including the attitudes and behavior of others in them, merely provide the circumstances in which we live out our lives. The quality of our life, however--what we ourselves, not anybody else, are experiencing right now--is the direct result of our own attitudes and the behavior they generate, not anybody else's.
The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

"Should you flush your Valium and Prozac down the toilet? No, not yet. Begin with small actions to help others - empty the garbage can without being asked, clean up your own mess in the kitchen, polish the shoes of others. Smile occasionally. Gradually build up the courage and determination to confront your self-cherishing mind and declare yourself a slave and friend of all living beings. Then you will extract more joy from cleaning up somebody else's mess in the kitchen than you will ever get from watching television. Not only will this lift your depression, it will place you on the path to bliss.
Ven. Thubten Gyatso

Suffering is our best teacher because it hangs onto us and keeps us in its grip until we have learnt that particular lesson. Only then does suffering let go. If we haven’t learnt our lesson, we can be quite sure that the same lesson is going to come again, because life is nothing but an adult education class, If we don’t pass in any of the subjects, we just have to sit the examination again. Whatever lesson we have missed, we will get it again. That is why we find ourselves reacting to similar situations in similar ways many times.
Ayya Khema, from Being Nobody, Going Nowhere

Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dharma
And find the way to liberation. Thank you, evil forces!

When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma
And find lasting happiness. Thank you, sorrows!

Through harm caused by spirits we discover Dharma
And find fearlessness. Thank you, ghosts and demons!

Through people's hate we discover Dharma
And find benefits and happiness. Thank you, those who hate us!

Through cruel adversity, we discover Dharma
And find the unchanging way. Thank you, adversity!

Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dharma
And find the essential meaning. Thank you, all who drive us on!

We dedicate our merit to you all, to repay your kindness.

Gyalwa Longchenpa, source: SoultoSpirit.com

If there is a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for despondency?
And if there is no help for it,
What is the use of being sad?

So come what may, I'll never harm
My cheery happiness of mind.
Depression never brings me what I want;
My virtue will be warped and marred by it.
Nagarjuna

If we do not uncover [our] problems--and I saw this in myself--we risk placing a veneer of spirituality over deeply buried emotional wounds from childhood that do not simply go away.

...When this happens there is greater potential for our spirituality to become simply another expression of our personal pathology. We can falsify the qualities valued in the path without realizing it. Renunciation can become another level of denial and avoidance; compassion can become a sickly sentimentality that has no substance to it. Our desire to help others can come from "compulsive caring," or a compulsion to sacrifice ourselves because we feel worthless. The Buddhist idea of emptiness can likewise be falsified by the desire to disappear psychologically and merge or lose ego boundaries. Lack of identity, formless vagueness, and absence of boundaries do not exemplify the Buddhist idea of emptiness. My own version of this misconception was to try to live an ideal of the pure and pious only to find it was a form of repression I could not ultimately sustain.
At the heart of Buddhist practice is the search for a solution to our fundamental wounds. Healing the emotional damage we often carry within is truly the object of this practice. If we wish to resolve these problems, we need to be open and honest about their reality within us. Only when we do will any spiritual practice address what we need. The aim of Buddhist practice is not a spiritual transcendence that dissociates from our suffering. Nor is it the search for salvation in some form of external divine being that we hope will save us in our distress. As one of my teachers, Lama Thubten Yeshe, once said, "Buddhism is very practical; you just have to recognize that your mind is the cause of suffering. If you change your mind, you can find liberation." This message is very simple but by no means easy to follow. In order to do so, however, we must begin to recognize where we are psychologically wounded.
Rob Preece, The Wisdom of Imperfection: The Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life

Most of us dread bad or uncomfortable situations, wondering what we can do to make them less unpleasant. But as far as the [Dharma] practice is concerned, that isn't the point. Surrendering to a situation might indeed make us feel better, but that is not the purpose of the exercise. Surrendering allows us to feel the qualities of a situation and to see things clearly. If we turn away or respond with aggression, we never get the chance to do that.
So even if you feel the situation that's about to unfold might be so embarrassing, frightening, or difficult you would never recover from it, just open to it. It may appear like a high wall that you can't see beyond, but you will pass through it and come out the other side. It's going to happen anyway, and one way or another you will deal with it. So take the attitude "Even if this situation destroys me..." Logically, you know this won't happen. You will live through the experience. But by entering into the situation with openness, you have a chance to see its nature. You get to taste the whole situation, just as you would in formless meditation. You get to treat it as a guest rather than an adversary.
Rigdzin Shikpo, Never Turn Away: The Buddhist Path Beyond Hope and Fear

Sogyal Rinpoche, from Glimpse of the Day

Difficulties and obstacles, if properly understood and used, can turn out to be an unexpected source of strength. Gesar was the great warrior king of Tibet, whose escapades form the greatest epic of Tibetan literature. Gesar means “indomitable,” someone who can never be put down. From the moment Gesar was born, his evil uncle Trotung tried all kinds of means to kill him. But with each attempt Gesar only grew stronger and stronger.
For the Tibetans, Gesar is not only a martial warrior but also a spiritual one. To be a spiritual warrior means to develop a special kind of courage, one that is innately intelligent, gentle, and fearless. Spiritual warriors can still be frightened, but even so they are courageous enough to taste suffering, to relate clearly to their fundamental fear, and to draw out without evasion the lessons from difficulties.

Whatever you do, don’t shut off your pain; accept your pain and remain vulnerable. However desperate you become, accept your pain as it is, because it is in fact trying to hand you a priceless gift: the chance of discovering, through spiritual practice, what lies behind sorrow.
Grief,” Rumi wrote, “can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

The times when you are suffering can be those when you are open, and where you are extremely vulnerable can be where your greatest strength really lies.
Say to yourself: “I am not going to run away from this suffering. I want to use it in the best and richest way I can, so that I can become more compassionate and more helpful to others.” Suffering, after all, can teach us about compassion. If you suffer, you will know how it is when others suffer. And if you are in a position to help others, it is through your suffering that you will find the understanding and compassion to do so.

When little obstacles crop up on the spiritual path, a good practitioner does not lose faith and begin to doubt, but has the discernment to recognize difficulties, whatever they may be, for what they are—just obstacles, and nothing more. It is the nature of things that when you recognize an obstacle as such, it ceases to be an obstacle. Equally, it is by failing to recognize an obstacle for what it is, and therefore taking it seriously, that it is empowered and solidified and becomes a real blockage.

In meditation, negative experiences are the most misleading, because we tend to take them as a bad sign. But in fact the negative experiences in our practice are blessings in disguise. Try to not react to them with aversion as you might normally do, but recognize them instead for what they truly are, merely experiences, illusory and dreamlike.
The realization of the true nature of the experience liberates you from the harm or danger of the experience itself, and as a result a negative experience can become a source of great blessing and accomplishment. There are innumerable stories of how masters worked like this with negative experiences and transformed them into catalysts for realization.

Imagine you are in the midst of your emerging problem and thousands of thoughts are racing through your head. You're alarmed, maybe even frightened. Somehow in this infinite universe there is this little you having a meltdown, just like a small insect being swept away on a leaf in the river. This is the situation we find ourselves in all too often. And yet all of this is just taking place in our head. Our thoughts are taking us for a ride without our permission. Basically, we're either seduced or overpowered by them. So, what to do? Surprisingly, we don't do anything. Just by watching and being in the present moment we find ourselves in a calm and peaceful space where nothing has ever happened. When we end up believing our thoughts and acting on them, then we're creating karma and we will be stuck with it. Usually when we believe our thoughts we tend to act on them. But by maintaining this nondoing awareness, all of our internal issues dating back lifetimes will vanish. How simple it is. It does not require any learning. So this is the secret to a free and joyous life. In the Buddhist tradition, this is the meditation that many monks and nuns practice all of their lives.
Anam Thubten, from No Self, No Problem

You see that there is a dent in the car. What needs to be done? Get the other driver's license number, notify the police, contact the insurance agency, deal with all the details. Simply do it and accept it. Accept it gladly as a way to strengthen your mind further, to develop patience and the armor of forbearance. There is no way to become a Buddha and remain a vulnerable wimp.
B. Alan Wallace, The Seven-Point Mind Training

No matter how far out on the sea of suffering we've sailed,
all that is required is to turn toward awakening.
It's never too late, but it takes that turning, and no one can do that for us.
Bonnie Myotai Treace

Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

If we do not turn inwards and train our mind, but instead expend all our energy on arranging and rearranging the external aspects of our existence, then our suffering will continue.

The best solution to purify the karma of having depression is to do the purification practice of Vajrasattva. As long as the karma isn't purified, you'll continue to suffer from depression again in future lives.

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Last updated: December 27, 2012