A strange question, indeed. What does it mean to suffer properly? Does this question justify suffering? No one likes to suffer, right? So why would you even think of doing it properly? We don’t want to do it at all! End of story. But is it? Is it you who decides your suffering? Think about all the pains in your life right now. For some, it’s unending misery in the form of the disease; for others, it is abusive relationships, poverty, debt, and whatnot.
In Buddhism, there are the Four Noble Truths, and the first among them is suffering. Suffering is inevitable. Life is full of it. You cannot escape it. You think you can with enough money, good relationships, a healthy body, etc. But, in the end, it is inescapable, just like death.
Happiness is always relative. When you’re thirsty, you’re happy upon drinking water. When you’re itching to go to the toilet, you’re happy when you’ve relieved yourself. You’re happy to be rich when you’re poor and happy to be healthy when you are sick. But once healthy, that happiness fades away. The same with wealth
and all other pursuits of life.
As suffering is unavoidable, learning to manage it is one of the greatest things you can learn in life. As it is always there, you will be better off learning to deal with it, rather than pretend it’s temporary or just an illusion.
Let’s take a look at people who do not know how to suffer properly. Such immature people are prone to emotional extremes when faced with anything that disturbs their peace of mind; their regular life; they cannot bear to be outside their “comfort zone.” When faced with a challenge, they will either instinctively fight it or become incapacitated. They might get angry, violent, or afraid. They will do anything to get out of the situation. But this situation is not something that can be easily gotten out of. If it were, suffering wouldn’t be such a big deal.
For example, take the case of rioters and looters, who, upon the slightest provocation, cause damage on a large scale, without the slightest shred of decency or humanity. They want their feelings to be understood by everyone — that is why they smash and destroy. Just like an alcoholic turns to alcohol when life goes south, they find comfort in external stimulants for their inability to deal with their suffering.
When faced with setbacks in life, how do you handle it? Do you cry and break things? Do you abuse people who are closest to you? Or do you handle it with tolerance, a virtuous quality that is in considerably short supply nowadays? So why is tolerance important?
The real victor
Tolerating something does not mean the condoning of injustice. That’s not the tolerating we’re talking about; that is pure fear. Tolerating is the controlling of your emotions when you fall down in the world, when you’re beaten to the ground, when you’re betrayed, or when you’ve failed over and over again. Tolerance is the capacity and ability of the mind to keep pushing on in the face of defeat, in spite of pain and fear. It requires incredible strength of mind and a knowledge of universal truth.
What happens when you do this? You forbear your suffering and move on to the next phase. Everyone carries this notion that they need to win in life. That’s what matters, and if you lose, you are simply poor at doing this thing called “life.” Winning and losing are two sides of the same coin. To have the capacity to move on in life after you’re beaten is also winning. To have the steadiness of mind and not be affected upon winning is another form of victory. In this case, you have won against life and persevered against suffering. You have mastered your ability to properly suffer.
When you master tolerance, nothing in this world will be able to affect you, bother you, or move you. Like the Four Noble Truths, to tolerate against incredible odds is one of the key virtues taught in Falun Dafa, a cultivation practice of the Buddha School. At the end of it, the more you can successfully handle suffering, the more you can deal easily with what life throws at you. Being unfazed, you can handle greater responsibilities and you will open your life to more possibilities, all of which you couldn’t have handled before. With great responsibilities come great powers. The truth is, often, reversed.