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Reflections on pain, suffering and personal responsibility

10/06/2018

This is the only world. It does not mean that with your death comes the end. It simply means that with your death, you move into a higher quality of life. It all depends on you. If in this life, you can manage to get rid of jealousies, to get rid of biological and physiological attractions… if in this life you can get in tune, in love; if this life can become a celebration, your innermost consciousness will continue celebrating on higher levels. But there are not two worlds, it is one world, one eternity. Osho, Om Shantih Shantih Shantih, Ch 3, Q 1

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself. ~Haruki Murakami (2008) What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

This message is congruent with Lord Buddha’s teachings. The Sallatha Sutta points to the distinction between “feelings of pain” and the secondary suffering that arises from our response to that pain. Here’s the relevant part of the Sutta:

… when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental… Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental.

Thus pain is what the world does to us, whereas suffering is what we do to ourselves.

Shoma Morita (1874-1938) was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. Implicit in Morita’s method, and the traditional Buddhist psychological principles which he adapted, is an independence of thought and action. Morita held that we can no more control our thoughts than we can control the weather, as both are phenomena of amazingly complex natural systems. And if we have no hope of controlling our emotions, we can hardly be held responsible any more than we can be held responsible for feeling hot or cold. We do, however, have complete dominion over our behaviour, and for Morita, that is a sacred responsibility.

I align karma with contemporary ideas of causality. The principle of ‘causality’ must be acknowledged; that is to say: things happen to us because of how we are and what we do. To blame anyone or anything else for our misfortunes is an escape and a denial; we are personally responsible for ourselves, and what happens to us.

The Spanish proverb, “Toma lo que quieras y paga por ello, dice Dios" (“Take what you want and pay for it, says God.”) What can be simpler, or more crucial? We can have anything we want, as long as we accept that there is a price and we will have to pay it. God will hold us to account.

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