Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We Choose Our Suffering

When we choose to enjoy excessive eating and fattening foods, we choose the suffering of being overweight and unhealthy.

When we choose to intoxicate ourselves with drugs and alcohol, we choose the suffering of hangovers, overdoses and organ damage.

When we choose to be strongly opinionated and judgmental of others, we choose the suffering of reciprocal judgment and loneliness.

When we choose actions that destroy our environment, we choose the suffering of pollution, species extinction and climate change.

When we choose to accept war and social injustice, we choose the suffering of sorrow and guilt.

When we choose to express ourselves through hateful speech, we choose the suffering of regret.

When we choose to love others, we inevitably choose the suffering of loss.

When we choose to dwell on the self, we choose the suffering of emptiness.

When we choose to ignore reality, we choose the suffering of our ignorance.

The old adage says- “Name Your Poison” and with every action that is exactly what we do. It seems that we must we decide between the “lesser of two evils” every time we make any choice. So, what is this to say about the nature of our suffering? Do we actually have a choice?

If this were poised to me as a multiple choice question, I would have to choose “All the above”

Is it too late to drop this class?


  1. A hermit can pretty much avoid suffering: the complexity of regulating one person's desires is just about possible. Choose to live in society, or have a family, and there are too many desires to control.

    In that situation the only solution is to let go of the desire not to suffer.

  2. Kaishin: With the hundred grass tips in the busy marketplace graciously share yourself is not a matter of being hermit or not.

    Zen teacher, philosopher and founder of the FAS Society, Sinichi Hisamatsu, put all koans into this:

    Whatever you do will not do. What do you do?

  3. This matter of choice, or 'free will', has interested me for some time.

    I think a lot of what we do, a lot of what we consider 'free will', from the perspective of Buddhist practice, is actually not that 'free' at all.

    What freedom is there in habitually following our ingrained modes of response and behavoir?

    If we don't recognise that we do this, can it even be said that we are free to do it (in that there's effectively no choice)?

    Thanks for this interesting post,


  4. When we choose life we inevitably choose illness, old age and death.

    Every action has its consequences. That's the principle of karma. But is suffering inevitably attached to this choices? Isn't suffering a matter of perception, in the end?

    Thinking about the "lesser of two evils" is thinking in black and white, dually, like you zennies like to say :P. There is no evil, there is no good. It's just us who divide the world in two, to simplify things.

    Freedom comes from the realization that suffering is not an obligation, but a choice, and that we can get out of it.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. "There is no evil, there is no good. It's just us who divide the world in two, to simplify things."

    Hi Pablo,

    In Zen it is certainly true that there are many instances of teachings which seem to challenge our conventional understanding of things and the values with which we see the world.

    But, it is never the intention to negate the objective fact that there are actions which are really substantially wrong in that they cause ourselves or others to really suffer.

    Certainly there are many instances where Zen has been misunderstood and adopted as a type of nihilism, for example, there was the 'Samurai Zen' which was reinvented prior to World War II which considered that, if you killed people on the battlefield with a pure mind/intention, you would not be culpable for the act and that it was actually a type of upaya or 'skillful means' and that you would be 'doing the Buddha's work'... It may be that killing to save lives is the right thing to do in a particular situation, but clearly the idea that 'causing others to suffer is only wrong if we think it is wrong' is a recipe for chaos and psychotic behavoir.



  6. Hi Harry,

    Of course, you are right. I don't consider myself a nihilist (not a ruthless killing one, anyway), but I don't know any other way of expressing how I feel about these things: there is no good, there is no bad. It seems that good and bad are only names, there's just the action and its consequence. But I don't know. I really don't know. So I just try to live moment by moment, and feel every choice I do (so that I can "feel" or "see" my karma, if that makes any sense), and that is all right for the moment.

  7. Hi Pablo,

    Yes, it seems that there are other ways of knowing what the right and appropriate thing to do is in any given situation, not just on the basis of our thinking/values, but on a more intuitive level. I think we do this very often, that we just naturally do the right thing a lot, but it's so natural that we don't really notice it... of course, speaking for myself, I mess up too, but, nobody's perfect for very long.

    An old Zen Master described the function of the Bodhisattva of compassion like this:

    "S/He is like a person in the night reaching back with a hand to grope for a pillow."

    At the same time I think Buddhist practice can inform our thinking and our values and, perhaps, allign them with a more realistic basis, but, yes, what we actually do need never be restricted by what we think.



  8. If we choose to feel our suffering, it no longer feels like suffering. All rivers lead to the ocean.

  9. Yes - it's aversion to suffering that makes suffering unpleasant.

    I drank some whisky last night. (Cask strength Laphroaig, if you're into that sort of thing.) It was the finest taste sensation I've had in over a decade, but today I'm a little slow and dehydrated. Accept being slow and dehydrated, and life today is cool, to add to a fine yesterday evening. Long for bounce and aqueous cells and the whole scene changes.