According to Buddhism, at the very least, yes, suffering can be banished. But pain – pain can’t.

Are there ways to banish suffering from this world?

According to Buddhism, at the very least, yes, suffering can be banished. But pain – pain can’t.

Pain happens – when we break a leg, when a relationship fails, when somebody dies. It’s a very real and necessary part of life telling us that something has changed from the normal. Without it, we’d be fine with putting our hands on hot stoves until nothing was left of our fingers but charred bones.

Suffering, however, is the expansion of pain in time and thought so that it begins to define our selves. Imagine this: you lean against a hot pipe. In an instant, you feel searing pain and leap away with a bit of a burn but relatively unscathed. Problem solved without too much damage.

But imagine now that you become so enraged at the pipe that you begin to hit at it with whatever’s around – a big wrench, for example. The noise wakes your neighbors, who come to investigate. And you scream and you rant and bash at the pipe until it bursts and releases hot gases directly toward you. But you keep bashing at the pipe, and a spark of metal on metal ignites the heated gas, turning it into a huge arc of flame that sets your apartment on fire.

You race out of there, still shouting and cursing, just before the fire reaches some propane tanks on your porch. The explosion kills a family of four.

Fast forward a few years: you’ve just gotten out of jail for manslaughter, and you’re at a party with some new friends you met. You tell them how much you hate hot pipes and how they should all suffer. And as you drown your sorrows in cheap whiskey in somebody’s apartment, you lean back against a hot radiator and feel a searing pain…

Of course there are differing levels of pain, and some last for years – like grief – and some last for mere moments. But recognizing that each pain originates in a single source and learning to react to each pain appropriately rather than storing it up, filing it together with similar pains and lugging out the whole damn folder each time a smaller pain happens to you… keeps pain from defining who you are and thus creating suffering.

(Now, if it were that easy, all the millions of Buddhists around the world would be quite free of suffering. Truly moving beyond suffering is one of the hardest things a person can do – and for each and every being to move beyond it together? Almost astronomically difficult. But at least there’s hope, and along the way you can find ways to lessen the hold suffering can have.)

Originally posted on Quora: Are there ways to banish suffering from this world?

Mila (Jacob Stetser)

Mila is a writer, photographer, poet & technologist.

He shares here his thoughts on Buddhism, living compassionately, social media, building community,
& anything else that interests him.

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