“All things involve suffering. He who realizes this is freed from suffering. This is the Path.” — The Dhammapada (278).
If, as the Buddhist text claims, “all things involve suffering,” then life merely involves choosing between this or that suffering. And, this does not seem much of a choice, perhaps especially for those who are looking forward to a time in which, they imagine, there will be no stresses or strains in their life.
We are faced with choices every day, of course. To do some work or not to do it; to clean up the home, or not to clean it up; to eat healthily or unhealthily; and so on.
Work might be unpleasant, hard, stressful, or dirty. Not doing it might mean a loss of income or suffering the stress of worrying about being found out.
Cleaning up the apartment might be boring (and, admittedly, I could definitely do better in this regard), but living or working in a mess can feel disorderly and oppressive.
Eating healthily might mean not enjoying favorite foods or snacks, but eating unhealthy “treats” will eventually produce ill health, and may almost immediately make the body feel sick, weak, or at least not at optimal.
Physical training might feel painful, but it improves the body. Study might produce feelings of mental numbness or frustration at times, though it improves one’s understanding. Meditation might seem like time wasted, but it can engender a sense of calm, concentration, and detachment from the craziness of life.
Anything worth doing will require some suffering. And not doing it may well create much more in the long run. We often make unnecessary work to avoid doing the work that is in line with our Will.
We often deal with suffering by joking about it. Consequently, there are those who joke about how they avoided doing the hard work, about how useless such and such a task is, and about how silly those people are who do the hard work they avoid.
Perhaps more significantly, many people will even joke about how unfit they are when given an opportunity to improve their physical health. They will joke about how cowardly they are when given an opportunity to learn self-defense. And they will joke about how stupid or lazy they are when given an opportunity to learn. Their identities are rooted in the idea that they are exceptional, even if it is that they are exceptionally useless. Such people embody a strange arrogance of worthlessness. Unlike those who are striving to improve themselves, they are good enough as they are, good enough not to try, and we must recognize that.
And then there are those who joke about the pain they experienced in pushing themselves beyond their limitations and that proved itself a marker on the Path on self-elevation. They joke about the sweat, injuries, pushing themselves mentally out of the crowd of conformists and moralizers, of going beyond what they were and what others still are.
Yet, the “suffering” not only becomes the path to the higher Self it is the beacon that seeks out a community of the like-minded. The higher man and woman suffer, with others, towards greatness.
“All things involve suffering.” But only by accepting it and pushing through it can we transcend and transform suffering.