If you’re a regular on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably seen the quote above attributed to the Buddha, or the Dalai Lama, or Gandhi, or Confucius, or a slew of other spiritual leaders. While it certainly follows Buddha’s principals, and the Buddha likely said something similar, most sayings on the internet that are attributed to the Buddha are inaccurate. They just sound like something the Buddha may have said. Many credit the saying to well-respected meditation teacher and psychotherapist, Sylvia Boorstein, however, my understanding is that it is unknown who originally said it
So, suffering is optional, huh? I say bullshit!
As a Buddhist, that does not come easy for me to say. It makes me want to slap my hand and say “Bad Buddhist! Bad Buddhist!” While suffering is mentioned in nearly all religions, suffering (or the cessation of) is the very basis of Buddhism.
What is suffering? According to Dictionary.com, one definition of the verb “suffer” is “to undergo, be subjected to, or endure (pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant).” Based on this definition I suffer, and so does everyone I know at one time or another.
Who suffers? Children bloated and nearing death from starvation suffer; Parents watching their children beheaded by terrorists suffer; People forced to endure human trafficking suffer. All of these are examples of people who suffer more than most of us can imagine and having a different outlook on life is not going to change that.
Of course I’ve given extreme examples of suffering, but let’s look at the more everyday garden variety suffering that those of us who have the luxury of using computers may endure. I have friends who suffer from the intense pain of fibromyalgia. I held a friends hand as he suffered through his last days of illness caused by AIDS. And me? I have had to endure the deep, dark debilitating days of depression. Is my depression optional? Sure it is. I like to suffer. Who doesn’t? Nothing makes me happier than living in despair.
All this may sound contradictory to posts I made earlier this year regarding acceptance and balance in life. In a small way, it probably is. The reality, however, is that I haven’t changed it that much. I still practice Buddhism and I still believe it is the best way to reduce ones suffering. I still believe attaining Enlightenment is the way to release oneself of all suffering. However, how many of us have attained Enlightenment?
If you wonder what brought this all this on, it’s Twitter. I see a lot of people there baring their souls, posting about their mental disabilities and the pain (and suffering) they live with. Then what do I see? Someone posts, “Life is painful, suffering is optional.” What a slap in the face. A fine way to negate someone’s feelings. To me it’s just a backhanded way of saying, “Get over it.” It makes me sad and it makes me angry. I ask you to imagine yourself in deep pain and read through the following list:
“You can take a frown and turn it upside down.”
“When one door closes another one opens.”
“Without the clouds we would not appreciate the sun.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Rather trite aren’t they? Can you imagine any of them actually making you feel better when you are going through a period of suffering? Me either. When someone is hurting, they need comfort and kindness not meaningless platitudes. Please remember that if you ever feel the urge to tell someone their suffering is optional.