We hurt. It’s unavoidable. This is one of the founding principles of Buddhism, that life is painful. Inevitably we hurt at the hands of sickness, old age, and death. We may be able to avoid it, or postpone it, or deny it – for some period of time. But eventually each and every one of us will answer to the inevitable.
I’ve mentioned this to some who say “I see now why I never was attracted to Buddhism.” And for some, it works that way. But to everyone, I pose this question: are you able to live a life fully free of any pain, sorrow, or grief? Buddhism may not contain your answers, but my hunch is that you will experience pain at some point in life.
The truth is that these faculties are part of the overall parcel of life at large. They’re the “fine print” on the back of the contract. They come with the joy and freedom that is also contained in living a full life. So, what’s it like in this full life? How do we deal with both ends of the stick? For most of us, it takes a while to get it figured, to gain a modicum of perspective, usually borne by experience and soul searching. In the interim, we grind on the wheel of life.
We hurt others. And we’re hurt by others. These, too, are inevitable. On a planet with 7.5 billion inhabitants it would be far-fetched to believe that we could all live lives without some degree of abrasive interaction. These “human-generated” forms of pain are not entirely different from the overall “life-generated” pain mentioned above, at least not in terms of the painful experience. However, the cause or apparent source of the pain be arbitrary. Dealing with human-generated pain may offer a degree of negotiability, problem solving, wherein dealing with life-generated pain may not be negotiable.
We hurt others in the ways that we have been hurt. This is human-generated pain. Usually, this is done in ignorance, even if we’re aware that we’re doing it and why. The ignorance is due to the fact that we can’t see our connection to others, we see them as separate from us, therefore we can’t see that hurting another person only hurts us. It’s easy to teach the golden rule, as well as to live it, as a rule. However, the true experience of seeing and empathetically observing the consequence of imposing our actions on another are what will lead to deep, true, and enduring change in behavior.
Naturally, we want to avoid any pain whatsoever. We ask the question “How can I not hurt?” I’m not convinced that this question has an enduring solution. The nature of life is that hurt – therefore some degree of pain – is inevitable. Hopefully, it will be possible to minimize a certain degree of human-generated pain. However, avoidance of any pain only makes it worse, gives it more “grab” on the human psyche. A more pertinent question is “How can I minimize the hurt?” Or “is there any degree of pain that is unnecessary, and how can I eliminate that part of my pain?” Even further, “How can I suffer the inevitability of pain, especially life-generated pain, with a degree of equanimity, perhaps even dignity?”
There are no easy answers to these questions. But asking the questions is the beginning of finding answers. I’m convinced that resistance is futile. I’m also convinced that minimizing the amount of human-generated pain that I visit upon others will minimize the amount of same that’s visited on me.
Life-generated pain is inseparable from life-generated joy. In order to experience one, the other is implied, even consented. Would you cut yourself off from the experience of joy to quell the inevitability of pain? When I’m happy, I’m happy. When it’s painful, it’s painful.