6 Benefits of Suffering

This article continues our #Bodhicaryavatara series on Shantideva’s ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ translated by Stephen Batchelor (ISBN: 8185102597). This text is frequently quoted by HH Dalai Lama as a source to develop universal compassion and loving kindness for both ourselves and all others.

Chapter VI Patience – 11-21

In verses 11-21, Shantideva outlines 6 benefits of the suffering we face in Samsara, that are described in further detail below:

1. Without suffering, we cannot renounce Samsara.
2. By becoming acquainted with suffering, we can handle
3. Through being disheartened with suffering, arrogance is dispelled.
4. Compassion arises for those in cyclic existene.
5. Negativity is shunnded.
6. Joy is found in virtue.

1. In verse 12 Shantideva explains that suffering is necessary to establish renunciation for Samsara (cyclic existence). In other words, despite the many attractive baubles that are available to us in Samsara, we will not find true happiness in Samsara:

Without suffering, there is no renunciation.

2. In verse 18, Shantideva describes how we will not find calm within our own minds:

These (reactions) come from the mind
Being either steady or timid.

In verse 16, Shantideva encourages us to train our own minds through acquainting our own minds with small sufferings so that we will be able to remain calm even when faced with larger sufferings. The chapter is on the subject of patience and here Shantideva tells us to be patience with these sufferings, otherwise if we focus on the suffering then the suffering will only increase:

I should not be impatient
With heat and cold, wind and rain,
Sickness, bondage and beatings;
For if I am, the harm they cause me will increase.

Having described how we will find calm within our own minds (verse 18) and we can develop that sense of calm through training (verse 16), Shantideva states that we are able to disregard suffering and face the real inner enemies – hatred and other negative emotions (verse 20):

The victorious warriors are those
Who, having disregarded all suffering,
Vanquish the foes of hatred and so forth;

3. Arrogance is dispelled: When we face suffering it can help to rein in some of the fantasies and fantastical narratives that we have going-on in our heads. Instead we can face the suffering and other hard truths of Samsara (cyclic existence).

In verse 21, Shantideva states:

Furthermore, suffering has good qualities:
Through being disheartened with it, arrogance is dispelled,
Compassion arises for those in cyclic existence,
Negativity is shunned and joy is found in virtue.

4. Compassion arises for those in cyclic existence: Having recognised our own suffering in Samsara we can see the suffering in other people. This is sometimes difficult to see when the Facebook and Instagram timelines of others are filled with happy snaps that seem filtered into glorious happiness.

5. Negativity is shunned: Through the law of cause and effect (karma) we understand that our suffering is created only by ourselves and our negative behaviour. Having understood the law of cause and effect we will be willing to cease our negative behaviour so that we can remove the suffering from our lives.

6. Joy is found in virtue: Having understood the law of cause and effect we will embrace virtuous behaviour in our lives, knowing that it will lead to happiness in our lives. Simply put, we will choose happiness instead of suffering.

Love, @happyops

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