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Crying Heart
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Petals of Suffering
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Way of Learning
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Partial Solar Eclipse

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Suffering Handled
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Happy Balls
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Joyous Fractal
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Panorama Meditation
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Collective Suffering
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Crying heart graphicOn Suffering 

Here are some quotes and thoughts on suffering.
All Suffer

In the first of The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, we learn that suffering (dukkha) is a basic human condition. Dukkha can also be translated as anxiety, stress, unease. A story goes:

One day, we are told, a woman who had lost her son came to the Buddha, still deep in grief over his death. The Buddha told her to go to each house in the village and to get a grain of rice from each home in which no tears had ever been shed. The woman set out on her mission; she visited each house in the village; but, of course, she didn’t get a single grain of rice. So, he went to the next village, and the next; she was gone for almost a week, and finally, she returned to the Buddha. She hadn’t received a single grain of rice for her bowl. Suffering and pain, tears and heartache, touch each one of us. While this realization doesn’t make our pain hurt any less, it can forge strong bonds of passion and empathy between us and one another. (Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, posted 7 April 2002, accessed 21 May 2014)

By the way, the purpose of Buddhism - and many other spiritual paths - is to free us from all this. It is possible and is our natural state. This involves dispelling ignorance or misunderstanding about the true nature of self and reality. Rather we are heavenly beings wearing earthen bodies - see here.

Suffering as a Way of Learning & How to Avoid Suffering

A baby learns to walk by falling over a lot!
We do need life experience.
Mistakes can be made, suffering endured, and lessons learnt.
  • "We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated… In fact it may be necessary to encounter defeat so that we can know who the hell we are, what we can overcome, what makes us stumble and fall, and somehow miraculously rise and go on." (Maya Angelou)
However, it is possible to learn in other ways.
  • "Better be wise by the misfortune of others than by your own." (Aesop)
You just don't have the time to learn everything by experience!
To some extent, you need to rely on others, then make up your own mind.
Indeed, this is practical.
'Gain without pain' is not the only way, or even necessary.
suffering is possibly a sign that you need to find another path.
  • "If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. That's the lesson. That lesson alone, will save you a lot of grief. Even doubt means don't." (Oprah Winfrey)
Suffering or Difficulties as Something Needed

Sometimes suffering can bring purpose to our lives. We align ourselves to a cause because we have ourselves suffered in it. We can be very useful to others because of this experience.

Theresa Tolmie-McGrane was abused from the age of six at a Catholic-run orphanage in Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s. She describes more than a decade of physical, sexual and mental abuse. She is now a psychologist working in Norway. She says (4m51s of video here and here, both posted and accessed 15 September 2017):

"Your past is part of you, you’ll never get rid of it, but it doesn’t have to define you. All of the stuff I went through I now use on a daily basis to help other people."

Omraam Mikhaёl Aïvanhov:

"You would all like your lives to be smooth and agreeable, with no major problems or discomfort. But you would do much better to try, instead, to understand why so many obstacles exist in nature and in your lives. Suppose you wanted to enjoy a breath of pure air and a glorious view from the top of a mountain: if the path that led to the summit were absolutely smooth, you would be incapable of climbing up, you would simply slip back and fall down the mountainside. That is what happens to those whose life is too easy, who live in comfort and ease: they slip lower and lower until they lose health, fortune and happiness. You, who want to climb the slopes of spiritual mountains, therefore, don't wish for a smooth path; learn to be grateful for the rough patches; get a firm foothold on them and climb up to the light."  
Also consider that we need some some resistance from planet Earth otherwise we would be forever fallen down! So, just learning to survive in nature is a challenge, and can be sufficient, without the addition of personal/world suffering.

Handling Suffering

If you are experiencing suffering, here are some quotes I find inspirational:-
  • "Let everything happen to you/ Beauty and terror/ Just keep going/ No feeling is final." (Rainer Maria Rilke)
  • "If you are going through hell... keep on going." (Sir Winston Churchill)
  • A Celtic shaman, Ceridwen, would repeatedly tell me about my personal life: "There will be no more suffering."
  • "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them." (Maya Angelou)
Suffering can include violence or the threat of violence. So, I feel it is important to understand the difference between antisocial and asocial violence/behaviour. When you encounter antisocial, dignified avoidance makes common sense. If you ever have to endure asocial, you need to act decisively and powerfully - like you would if a large rock was about to fall on you. In both these situations, going with the flow does not really work. I say all this because the Buddhist advice often seems to be to not resist life at all costs - which generally can be helpful. But not in these instances, especially when handling asocial violence. In these instances a useful quote is: "Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream" (Malcolm Muggeridge).

Finally, when caught in long-lasting difficult situations, remember the tools of imagination and prayer. In your imagination you are totally free. Connect with the world of light and angels. Imagine the suffering to be over. See yourself supported and free, surrounded by love. Picture how you want it to be. Build this powerful imagery whenever you can.

Even where annihilation appears inevitable, I absolutely love the words of
Malalai Joya [Afghan activist and author] in A Woman Among Warlords: "I don't fear death; I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice…I say to those who would eliminate my voice: I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring."
Suffering handled
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Suffering & Equilibrium

There is a story about a wise person who was told various pieces of good or bad news that affected his own family. The wise one would always comment "maybe that's good, maybe that's bad" to both good and bad news. The colourful story always seemingly had good events turn out to be unfortunate, and the bad epidodes turn into beneficial outcomes. Read The Story of the Taoist Farmer here or here.

The story emphasises how sometimes things we yearn for can bring suffering, whilst sometimes difficult events can yield positive outcomes. We need some equanimity.

"Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and expect nothing." (Maya Angelou)

I imagine a self-righting Buddha with a rounded, weighted base. No matter what life throws at you, somehow you will return to a state of balance, equilibrium, peace.

Count Your Blessings, Feel the Suffering of Others, Improve Yourself

Angelina Jolie (
BBC video, 1m53s, posted and accessed 20 May 2014):

"I think we all have that moment in our lives where we kind of really question how much we know and our education and what we've been told. And we realise that we have to do our own digging, and our own research, and find out what the truth is really for us. And, at the time, there was a lot of violence happening in Sierra Leone... And, so I did a lot of research and then I asked to go to Sierra Leone, and I went, and it was the first time I was in that kind of a situation. My whole life changed. I realised how sheltered I had been, and how fortunate I was... And I felt horrible for ever having been self-destructive or self-pitying - because in comparison to what people really go through, I'm so blessed. And I just felt a responsibility to be a better person."
Probably others have suffered more than you. Perhaps it is time to help the world be less full of suffering? Feeling, seeing, understanding, learning about the suffering of others makes us less caught up in our own issues. It opens our hearts and compels us to pro-actively help self, others and the world. Being supportive to self and others improves our mental state! Omraam Mikhaёl Aïvanhov again:

"Now that news of disasters reaches us from all over the world at all hours of the day and night, there are continually reasons to be sad. But what use is this sadness? It will be of no help to anyone. It would be better to use it as an incentive to find ways of being useful. And to this end, we should each begin immediately to let go of our personal worries in which we shut ourselves up as if in a prison. The natural state of human beings should be joy, a joy in which they are actually more serious and profound than those who continually wear their concerns, however legitimate, in the expressions on their faces. In order to reach this joy, you must have learned and understood that within us is a realm where light, love and freedom reign, far from the turmoil and troubles of the world. It is by remaining in touch with this region that we can be useful to others."

Action against Suffering = Pray/Meditate and Act

People in touch with their compassion are likely to be active in personal, family, community, social, political and economic transformation. And/or they have been praying or inwardly asking for help to alleviate world suffering.

This has been going on for millenia! No matter how great they were/are, we are not there - at world peace - yet. Let us keep on attuning to spiritual guidance and actively playing our part on Earth. Petition signing is one simple step - see #8 here.
  • Pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon man. (Francis Cardinal Spellman)
  • Pray for guidance. Then listen for messages from within and without.
  • I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. (Elie Wiesel)
  • Love much. Earth has enough of bitter in it. (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
  • You can find everything in this world – heaven, earth, and even hell – and so too in yourself. Only, it is up to you to know where you want to go, how long to stay there, and to leave the dangerous places you have strayed to as quickly as possible.
    Imagine that you are invited to a bistro for a drink with some friends: that is no reason to linger there forever. Or, you go for a walk in the forest and set about picking strawberries; this is fine, but think about returning home, or night will fall and you will no longer find your way back. You may have said some unfortunate words that have caused harmful consequences – it is useless to remain there wallowing in remorse: instead, speak other words to make amends. And if you fall into a swamp infested with harmful creatures, do not just shout and say your prayers: hurry to get out of there. These are images to show you that, often, wisdom entails making a move. (O.M. Aïvanhov)
Buddhist monk seated on a rocky outcrop overlooking a cloudy valley; on one side a Buddhist temple, on the other a European style castle; in the middle, a flock of birds are flying
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Collective/Systemic Suffering

When we look at the world from a collective or systemic viewpoint, we can see many types, like racism, misogyny, inequality, poverty and environmental collapse. These often intersect. We really need to heal these to have any chance of creating a peaceful world, of establishing a world with minimal suffering, of even surviving. PWP has various webpages on this such as: 
Babies Not Jails and Violence & Socio-Cultural Shifts.

Child's face, with large eyes, tears streaming - merged with a dystopian view of a world being destroyed, in flames, etc.
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"If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. That's the lesson. That lesson alone, will save you a lot of grief. Even doubt means don't."

(Oprah Winfrey)


Also see:-

If God exists, why does God allow pain, suffering, evil?

Suffering Quotes

Thank You

No Thank You

On Evil

Hell [part of the series on Emotion]

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© Bruce Mitchell 2014-Now. All rights reserved.
Page last updated: 11 October 2021.