Anguishing about what we have or have not got can often be a far greater suffering than physical pain. The anguishing might be related to physical pain ― we don’t want it ― but the dread and despair we suffer are not themselves physical pain. We pile anguish on top of pain by longing for it to go. Desire first, then the impatience and anguishing . . . and then desire again, going round and round ― cause and effect.
Richard was installing a lathe in an engineering factory some years ago and got his hand caught between two parts. He managed to free it quite quickly, but still he felt this excruciating pain. Tucking the damaged hand beneath his armpit he hopped frantically around the workshop, moaning, groaning, cursing, pulling faces and generally making a great deal of noise and fuss. No one was surprised at the performance ― they would have done the same.
During those antics, however, Richard suddenly realised that the pain was in the hand, only in the hand, and there was no need to prance around and make faces. And he thought: And I don’t need to suffer, either; the hand can suffer on its own.
He said, ‘It was a revelation! One minute I was involved in pain, and the next there was only pain and somehow I wasn’t involved in it!’ He told me that this insight into the nature of pain was certainly the result of his Buddhist practice and that his perspective on life had completely changed as a result of it.
To allow the body to be painful when it needs to be, without regarding it as a bad thing, can be a liberating experience, a relief even, because there is no further conflict in the mind. Of course it is difficult when pain is severe, but there is a way of separating oneself from it and changing one’s relationship to it.
We reject pain and seek pleasure, all in the interest of happiness. Many people believe that pleasure itself is happiness, but if that were really the case, we would be happy every time the body experienced pleasure, which of course is not the way it is. Lonely, grieving people are not suddenly transported into states of bliss just because they munch on their favourite chocolate bar!
An extract from Understanding Karma and Rebirth
A Buddhist Perspective, by Diana St Ruth
Published in the February 1991 Buddhism Now.