Suffering Is a Choice

Ajahn Munindo

Suffering Is a Choice

The question of what has the power to obstruct the beauty of caring pertains not just to our relationships with people but also to the way we relate to things and to views and opinions.

Perhaps for instance, we thought that we were being compassionate towards planet earth, taking good care of her, only to catch ourselves behaving aggressively towards those we see as exploiting her. Can we tolerate having our views and opinions contradicted without acting aggressively? This is not to say that we should never have feelings of aversion when we witness abuse. To say so would be like saying we shouldn’t have an immune system; our immune system is not supposed to be passive.

However, we do need to be extremely careful that an appropriate sense of aversion doesn’t turn into a thoroughly inappropriate reaction of hatred, causing harm to ourselves and others. Feeling aversion can be functional, but if we cling to that feeling it becomes something more; it becomes ill-will. Once we are possessed by ill-will our faculty of discernment is compromised and we can no longer trust ourselves to make balanced decisions.

Experiencing loss on any level easily leads to hurt. But do those hurt feelings have to proliferate into being caught in a state of negativity? It is worth looking closely to see if we unconsciously hold to such a view. There is an adage in our culture which is sometimes heard at times of coming to terms with the pain of loss: ‘Suffering is the price we pay for having loved’. The implication is that suffering is inescapable if we really care about anyone or anything. Surely to accept such a view conditions us into a fear of wholehearted caring. That can’t be the way!

One of the most important principles which the Buddha’s awakening revealed to us is that we are not obliged to suffer; suffering is a choice. It is true that all beings experience pain, both those who are awakened and those who are not; but turning pain into suffering is something extra that we do. Physical pain or emotional pain, subtle pain or gross pain, are all part of being human. When we resist pain out of unawareness and cling, we are adding to it; we complicate it. We are causing the suffering.

The Buddha’s teachings are an invitation to question, to enquire, and find out for ourselves whether it is true that we can’t care without being caught in clinging.

This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the book, Alert to the Needs of the Journey, (pdf) pp. 57-59.