Suffering and Compassion

As with everyone, I’ve accumulated some painful experiences throughout the course of my life. A friend of mine who has encountered similar things recently told me that these experiences were necessary because the pain gives us an understanding and capacity for love. It had to happen.

I hope this belief gives her peace but personally, I wholehearted disagree. While I agree with her conclusion that experiences of suffering, when overcome, can make us stronger, I don’t believe that it’s a prerequisite to love and compassion.

I don’t believe there is a cosmic reason for pain and suffering. To say that pain – especially ones resulting from violence – happens for a reason is a roundabout way of saying that those who commit violence against us and caused us pain are somehow agents of God.

I do believe in karma but I don’t think that karma mandates any specific event or experience. Its purpose is not to punish or assist. Rather, it is a force that keeps the universe in balance and we’re all subjects of this force. In other words, karma doesn’t exist to serve us. We exist to serve it.

Another way to look at this is from a Buddhist point of view. According to this worldview, the goal is to end suffering through compassion. But how is this possible if suffering is a prerequisite to compassion?

Compassion isn’t born from suffering. Rather, it is the catalyst for its transformation.

This believe is deeply embedded in Buddhist legends, which states that the first Buddha was a prince who was so well cared for that he grew up completely ignorant of pain. Likewise, Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, was a princess who was provided with all the worldly comforts one can imagine. Yet, they gave up their wealth and power because they were able to empathize with the suffering of others that results when people mistreat each other. Empathy, the root of compassion, is innate in all of us and all that is required to nurture this virtue is the willingness to connect with others.

I believe that pain and suffering is a by product of the way we live – as individuals and as a species. It is the result of countless individual choices and reactions to actions. This belief liberates me because, along with this, I also believe in free will. Therefore, ultimately, I believe that we can limit suffering through how we choose to live our lives.

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