Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional


This post is inspired by another: and is a collection of explanations found off Goggle pertaining to the above title.

It was also something I’ve been thinking about in regards to my years in therapy with Raymond and what he had chalked on his board in the entry-way that day. It struck me as I read it, thinking the reason he chose that week’s saying pertained to me. He said no. But it made me think. I was dealing with a lot of pain, but did I have to suffer so with it?

I quickly gathered the information below and included the web sites. I cannot attest to its factualness though I like what it says and it speaks to the point of this post in an intelligent way. 


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“A quote usually attributed to Buddha says, “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” What a profound statement!

 There is no suffering if you can let go. Pain becomes immaterial in the absence of suffering. I am reminded of a story I had come across a while ago. As follows:

After a day of preaching and alms, two fellow monks, in brimming youth, of more or less the same age, with one being more senior, were returning to their monastery while the sun was returning to his abode. Firmly established in their conduct, they would walk with their heads down and glances scanning not beyond two feet. Those were the days of monsoon and the gods seemed happy as it rained generously that day too. The valley was green and puddles of water looked like patches of random art on the unpaved roads. Their monastery beautifully set in the magnificent mountains was past a rivulet, barely six feet wide, that would have strong water current during the monsoons. 

Naturally, they had to cross the rivulet to get to the monastery. As they arrive at the bank of the river, they see a beautiful young woman, white like the pearlescent snow-capped mountains of the valley, with a softly radiating face like the morning sun, standing there still but somewhat anxious. They exchange glances; the senior monk understood that the young lady was afraid of crossing the swollen rivulet.

Without any verbal communication and with no further ado, he gets closer to the feminine idol and gently picks her up in his arms. He crosses the river and puts her down, even more gently, on the other side of the river. She bows in gratitude and respect before making tracks towards her home. 

The younger monk is somewhat troubled by the actions of the senior one. Out of veneration and respect, however, he stays quiet. The two monks continue walking towards their destination. Silence persists for a good few hours before it is broken by the junior monk. 

“Can I please ask you a question, if I may?” He mutters.

“Yes, of course.” The elder one replies.

“According to our code of conduct, we are not allowed to touch a woman.” His statement fails to hide the imminent question hiding in it.

The senior monk says, “Yes, indeed.”

The younger one finally asks, “So, how come you carried that young woman across?”

“I did not carry the woman, I simply lifted the one in need, ” the elder one says, adding, “Besides, I left her on the other side of the river and you are still carrying her, brother.””

Peace, Swami




There is a famous adage: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” This anonymous saying sums up what you can learn about pain through mindfulness. You cannot avoid pain. Even if you are physically healthy now, at some point you may get sick, you may get hurt, and age and physical changes will occur. Pain is inevitable. It will come, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it—yet whether or not you suffer is another matter. Why is it that one woman can go through childbirth claiming that it was the most painful experience of her life while another declares it was the most transcendent? Along with other conditions, including the ease of delivery, the answer may lie in how to relate to pain. Clearly, sensory experiences are different, but how we relate to them—big or small—plays a powerful role as well.

Suppose we define pain as the pure physical sensation of the body responding to some negative stimuli, and suffering as our response to pain. From a mindfulness perspective, it is important to differentiate pain and suffering because however unavoidable pain is, we certainly have some leeway when it comes to suffering.

The biggest difficulty in working with pain is not the pain itself; it is how we react to it. With mindfulness, you can learn to see how your mental reactions to suffering function and how you can avoid being so caught in them. Here is a practice you can do if you are experiencing any physical pain.

The Practice

Try to get as comfortable as you can in your sitting posture. If the pain is really bad, you may wish to lie down. Find the most comfortable position to practice.

First take a few breaths and allow yourself to connect with the fact that your body is sitting (or lying down). Notice your posture and body shape. Now find a part of your body that is not in pain and bring your attention to it. Find a part that feels pleasant or neutral, at the very least. Explore whether your hands, feet, or legs feel relaxed and pleasant. Let your attention stay at this pleasant area for a few moments. Now bring your attention to the area of pain. What do you notice? Is the pain sharp or dull? Burning? Stabbing? Fiery? Clenching? Is it moving, or does it stay in one place? How deeply does it go into your body? Get very curious about the changing set of bodily sensations.

After thirty seconds or so (you can choose any short amount of time), bring your attention back to the pleasant or neutral sensations for the next few minutes. Notice if you have an attitude toward the pain. Do you hate it, fear it, resent it, blame yourself for it? Can you notice how it is that you feel or think about the pain? Do you feel any accompanying body sensation like a clutching feeling in your gut or vibration in your chest? Notice this reaction, breathe, and let it be there. There is nothing wrong with a reaction. If you have no reaction or the reaction stops, feel free to investigate the painful area one more time.Return your attention to the pleasant area, and once again rest there for a minute or so.

Now, for the last time, return to the painful area. What do you notice? Breathe. Feel whatever is present on the physical level. Offer yourself a little bit of kindness in a way that makes sense to you. You can imagine holding that part of your body with care and compassion, or just offer this attitude to yourself. Notice what happens.

Return your attention to your whole body, sitting or lying and present. Open your eyes when you are ready. 

Adapted from Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, by Susan Smalley and Diana Winston(Da Capo Press, 2010).

Third Noble Truth – The Cessation of Suffering

Is there a way out of suffering? So far the Buddha’s teaching is a bit discouraging. We have suffering caused by ignorance leading to craving. Are we doomed to suffer forever? NO!

The Buddha tells us that there is a way out of suffering. Because he does not want to create a new craving he emphasizes the term cessation of suffering. When we look further we find that his cessation of suffering is Nibbana or Nirvana.

 What is Nibbana?

Nibbana or Nirvana is the extinction of ignorance which leads to the extinction of craving which leads to the extinction of suffering. Nibbana is a state of mind that we can achieve here and now in this world.

 Is Nibbana Passivity?

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that the end of craving is the end of purposeful activity. We fear falling into a state of mental paralysis since wanting anything is craving. Nibbana is not passivity, it is freedom from enslavement to greed, anger and delusion.

A person who is free from craving can act from the motivation of loving kindness for all living beings. The enlightened person seeks the happiness of himself or herself and the happiness of all other beings. Such motivation is free from ignorance, craving and does not produce suffering.

The Fourth Noble Truth – The Way To The Cessation of Suffering

This teaching is the practical method of achieving the end of suffering. The Path is traditionally divided into three general areas:

Path Factor
Right Understanding
Right Intentions 
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood 
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
The Path is not to be “walked” in sequence from 1 to 8. Rather each part is emphasized when needed and then revisited when the student’s understanding allows further progress.

 Path Factors

We already saw that Right Understanding is the Four Noble Truths. If we look at the other factors of the Path we can see how they help us in our journey.

Right Intentions

The intentions that we aspire to are:

of renunciation, free from craving
of good will, free from aversion
of compassion, free from cruelty


Renunciation? This is a word that most people are not happy to see. Does the Buddha want us to give up everything, our families, homes, cars and, worst of all, sex?

There are conservative schools of Buddhism which hold that, yes, you must give up all of these things and more. This is a legitimate and sincere view and many of those who give up everything find great freedom and joy. However, there are many other legitimate practitioners who have faith that life in the world as an ordinary person can be a pathway to liberation from suffering.

This is a question that each practitioner must meet with a sincere and open heart. The only right way is the way that you honestly believe is best for yourself and all living beings.

There are some things that clearly must be renounced in order to follow the path. We must renounce greed, anger and delusion if we hope to make any positive change in our lives. The conscious renunciation of selfish craving is one of the most crucial intentions.

Good Will and Compassion

We can never be happy if we feel aversion to others and cause them harm. The Buddha taught that only by raising up feelings of love and compassion for others can we be free of our own suffering.

Right Speech, Action and Livelihood

These are the factors of right conduct in the world which are absolutely necessary for happiness. Is it possible to spend the day lying, causing pain and cheating others and still achieve happiness for ourselves? The Buddha teaches us that harmful conduct brings pain to both others and to ourselves. Only by avoiding harm to the world can we bring an end to our own suffering.

 Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration

These meditation factors of the Path deal with the cultivation of the mental state necessary for us to break out of our old habits of delusive thinking. In meditation we learn how to use our minds to let go of the ideas that cause us suffering. We get in touch with things just as they are. When we do this, we become free.

How Meditation Differs From Other Practices

Why do Buddhists meditate instead of praying, reading, talking or following other methods of spiritual development? This question goes to the heart of Buddhism and to why our path is different from any Western spiritual practice.

In our society we think that ultimate truth is expressed in words, ideas and theories. The Buddha taught that conceptual thinking is fine for ordinary day to day problem solving but it does not lead to the highest truth. Concepts are pale shadows of ultimate reality. Liberating insight can only be experienced through direct, non conceptual experience.

Meditation is the means by which we experience reality in itself, unfiltered and uncolored by thoughts, ideas and preconceptions. When we see things as they are, then we achieve insight and freedom.

What Happens In Meditation?

Truth is being with things just as they are. Truth is letting go of greed, anger and delusion. Truth is opening up to the universe and living your life in harmony with all things.

Meditation peels away the clutter in our minds that keeps us from seeing things as they are. Normally we are full of thoughts of the past or the future. We fear, we regret and we fantasize about what was, should be and might be. This is delusion and only when we are free from delusion can we achieve enlightenment.

For more on the Noble Eightfold Path, go to BeyondtheNet and see an explanation by Bhikku Bodhi

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