Suffering is Good For You!
Or is it?
There are many, including some I revere highly, who say that suffering is good for you.
In India, we have poet-saints who sing of the glories of adversity. One of the more famous of these made a heartfelt plea for more anguish in his life because then his thoughts were always on God as he beseeched help.
Anthony DeMello, the Jesuit priest, also said that suffering leads to growth whereas being comfortable leads to complacence and inertia.
I have thought long about this and come to the conclusion that I disagree.
Suffering can lead to spiritual progress, but this is not assured.
I know, and know of, many persons who faced incredible reverses in life and all that happened is that they remained miserable.
And I also know some who flowered in many ways as they triumphed over misfortune. And I know others who flowered without the misfortune.
So – were all these great figures wrong?
It would be arrogant of me to say so. I will duck that question.
Here is what I advise my coaching clients. Don’t seek suffering. It will assuredly come to you as you journey through life. Learn how to deflect it in the same manner an umbrella deflects rain drops. And use this suffering to grow. Don’t let it grind you down.
You have a rigid demand that the universe unfold in the manner you would like it to. The universe goes its merry way and pays no attention to what you want. You resent this and you resist it, and this resentment and resistance causes the stress in your life.
Not some of it. Not most of it. All of it.
Let’s consider something that most would look at as an unspeakable tragedy – the death of a child.
Surely this causes epic suffering. How does one grow from it?
Here is my version of the tale of Kisa Gotami to illustrate.
Kisa Gotami was a dutiful housewife and mother and doted on her infant son. He was the most beautiful child in the universe and endowed copiously with all manner of virtue. He made her smile. His grin banished her tiredness at the end of the day. She could not believe her good fortune at having begat such a prince.
And then, suddenly, the apple of her eye sickened. And died.
As she was sobbing piteously one of her friends told her, “The Enlightened One is camping nearby. Why don’t you rush to him? He can assuredly give your son back to you.”
Kisa Gotami put on her slippers and, still carrying her son, rushed to meet the Buddha. “Oh, most Holy One, please restore my son to me. You have the power to do so. I know you can work this miracle. Please, please have mercy on me and my son.”
The Buddha looked at her tenderly. “Willingly will I give your son back to you,” he said soothingly. “Please bring me a handful of mustard seeds from a house that has known no death and I will do it right away.”
Full of joy and hope, Kisa Gotami left her son’s body with one of the Tathagata’s servitors and rushed to her friend’s house.
“Quick! Give me some mustard seeds,” she demanded brushing aside her friend’s questions.
As she was turning to leave, she asked, “By the way, has there been a death in your house?”
“My father passed away a few months ago,” said her friend. “Why do you ask?”
Kisa Gotami threw away the mustard seeds and rushed to another friend’s house.
That friend was a widow and still dressed in the garb of mourning.
She rushed out again.
She visited all her close friends. And then her distant friends. And then the friends of her friends. And then complete strangers. Sometimes she was met with love and affection. Sometimes with anger and impatience.
She threw away many handfuls of mustard seeds before she realized it was better to ask her question first.
And always there was death in the house. In every house.
Sometimes it was a timely passing like an aged parent. Sometimes it was premature like her own infant son.
Exhausted she slept on the ground and, in the morning, she resumed her quest. She gave up on her village and went to the next. And the next. And the next.
It was always the same. Someone had made the great transition in every house.
Slowly, wearily, Kisa Gotami made her way back to the Buddha after many weeks of fruitless search.
Her son’s body was no longer there. It had been cremated with appropriate ritual.
The Buddha gazed at her with great compassion.
She said nothing.
Words were no longer necessary.
The tale of Kisa Gotami, like that of The Good Samaritan, has inspired millions over centuries.
The Buddha, being an incomparable teacher, helped Kisa Gotami transcend her suffering as she realized that death was everywhere and inevitable.
And, there are undoubtedly many who, in similar circumstances, did not travel the path of suffering because they knew about Kisa Gotami. They transcended their suffering before it began.
So, the lesson for you is simple.
Recognize right now that the universe will go its merry way paying little heed to your ever so deeply held wishes for ‘this is how things should be’.
Accept this in advance.
Then set about striving to make the world conform to how you would like it to be.
You may succeed. You may not succeed.
Accept whatever happens.
Nay, embrace it.
And there will no longer be suffering in your life.
Instead, deep ineffable joy will creep in.