How to Cope with Suffering According to the Buddha

Understanding a few core principles of Buddhism can set you on a path to leading a more peaceful life.

Jan 21, 2019

Life has its ups and downs. One day we feel on top of the world, full of joy and excitement from a recent vacation or promotion at work. That can all come crashing down with the sudden news of losing a loved one or the betrayal of a friend.

As much as we want to hold on tight to positive experiences, suffering is inevitable. While that thought can seem discouraging, it can actually empower people: although we cannot avoid hardships, we can change how we respond to painful events in life. Doing so can help relieve the painful emotions that arise from suffering and stress.

This concept inspired Buddha when he first began spreading his teachings throughout Asia. As the Buddha wrote, “All I teach is suffering and the end of suffering.” Even though Buddhist teachings originate from over 2,500 years ago, they still apply today in how to deal with pain.

You don’t have to be a devout monk to benefit from the Buddhist approach to alleviating suffering. Understanding a few core principles of Buddhism can set you on a path to coping better with suffering, alleviating pain, and leading a more peaceful life.

Accepting life’s imperfections helps relieve suffering.

The Four Noble Truths form the foundation of Buddhism. It starts with declaring that “life is suffering.” For many, that idea may feel depressing. Actually, the Buddha exposed something very important. He acknowledges that suffering is just a part of life, and the more you accept life’s imperfections, the less stressful it becomes.

The idea of acceptance as an antidote to suffering may seem counterintuitive and difficult to grasp. However, take a second to think about it. When you suffer, like when having your heart broken or experiencing grief, more pain arises from resisting or denying that you feel bad in the first place. Suppressing those strong emotions can only make things worse and even cause us to act out in unhealthy, destructive ways.

Living in the present can help alleviate suffering.

The Buddha attributes all forms of suffering, whether physical pain or an emotional struggle, to one factor: impermanence. Everything changes.

However, people feel better when having a sense of predictability. This makes them deny the simple truth that nothing stays the same. Rather than surrender to change, people fight against it. We try to keep things the same; our job, our partners, our friends, our homes, our communities. Then, when the world around us changes, as it will eventually, this causes anger, sadness, and frustration.

And yet, change is inevitable. Rather than constantly clinging to the past, or grasping for something better, the Buddha recommends accepting things as they are, at this very moment, by living fully in the present.  

That means letting go of the past so we can fully appreciate all that exists right now. In this way, we live in harmony with nature, always changing. We open ourselves to all that the present moment has to offer and do not struggle against the current of impermanence.

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ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.

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