“Why me?” A Buddhist view on the purpose of suffering

Clients in difficult situations sometimes say to me: “Why me?” Or “What did I do to deserve this?” Or “Why does this keep happening in my life?” This is a very natural but ultimately futile question. Our karma is so profound over this and many previous lifetimes that it is impossible to work out what causes you have made in the past that are producing today’s effects in your life. And as I was taught when I trained as a coach, ‘Why?’ is a negative, backward-looking question. Much healthier, say the coaching textbooks, to “look at the hows of the solution in the present rather than the whys of the problem in the past.” But there is a third approach that combines the best of the first two because Nichiren Buddhism reveals that it is healthier to look at ‘Why me?’ as a positive, forward-looking question.

Why me

This happens when you consider your present problems (or “heavily disguised gifts” as I prefer to call them), chant about your future (or visualise it if you’re not a Buddhist) and begin your answer not with a backward-looking “because I did…” or “because I am”, but with a forward looking:  “So that I can…” Then from your own reservoir of boundless Buddha wisdom will spring insights that complete the answer:

So that I can… be more compassionate / learn to love my parents / fulfil my full potential at work / treasure my health / find a relationship based on deep respect… and so on.” This is known in Buddhism as ‘transforming karma into mission’, harnessing all your suffering to strengthen your sense of purpose. This approach – long and painful though it can sometimes feel – turns you into an architect of your future instead of a victim of your past.

It is the approach taken by Mariane Pearl – see recent post – who described how she transformed despair into hope following the decapitation of her husband by Islamic fundamentalists. By the way, ‘mission’ does not necessarily mean a destiny to discover new planets, or a noble calling to work with the disadvantaged, but indicates a strong sense of purpose and a sense of personal responsibility that guide your every day choices and actions, reveal your unique individual talents, and help you make a positive difference in society.

I love this extract from a poem called ‘Courage’ written by my fellow SGI Buddhist Patti Dale:

You cannot trade your blotted page

For a clean sheet

You must create

From where you are now

Knee-deep in your own garbage:

In it lie the ingredients

Of your humanity.

It reminds me that one of the most important symbols in Nichiren Buddhism – the beautiful lotus flower – only grows in the muddy pond of daily life.

So, next time you find yourself asking, “Why me?” make it the Why that looks forward, not back.

purple lotus flower


28 Replies to ““Why me?” A Buddhist view on the purpose of suffering”

  1. Amrita says:

    I’d like to share these encouragements

    Buddhism Day by Day
    Wisdom for Modern Life by Daisaku Ikeda
    “When we plant the seeds of self-doubt, only noxious weeds sprout. When we limit ourselves with low expectations, the growth of the tree of happiness immediately ceases. The power of growth, of improvement, the power to overcome all stagnation and break through every obstacle and transform a barren wasteland into a verdant field—that unstoppable power of hope resides right there in your own heart. It will well up from the rich earth of your innermost being when you face the future without doubt or fear: “I can do more. I can grow. I can become a bigger and better human being”—life and faith are a never-ending struggle to grow.

    1. Thank you Amrita for adding this quote, I heard this guidance recently and then couldn’t find it again so I was delighted to see it landing in my Inbox from you, great stuff, NMHRK, David

  2. Tony says:

    Really enjoyed reading this article, thank you

  3. Wonderful article. I think I have found a new way of discussing Buddhism with my non-Buddhist friends. And what a wonderful guidance encouragement shared by Amrita!

  4. Gunjan Saxena says:

    thnx for sharing.. 🙂

  5. Siddhartha says:

    Very inspiring indeed David! This is what I needed after all those ‘why me’ moments. Blessed Be!
    Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

  6. Susan Ziman says:

    I’ve been stuck in the “Why Me?” cycle for many years, with a lot of negative things happening to me during this time. Thank you for writing this. Amrita, thank you for the encouragements..

  7. Ginny Gurmeet says:

    Very encouraging let it keep coming and inspire more and more people, this kosen rufu (a Buddhist principle that teaches world peace through ‘human revolution’ = a wave of individual personal transformations.)

  8. Trisha Avery says:

    This is a really encouraging and inspirational Blog, Thank you. I too am working in the coaching field as an Executive Coach and apply Nichiren Buddhism principles throughout my work and hopefully my life. So thank you again I’m delighted to have found your site. Oh and I’m in Australia.

    1. Thank you Trisha for your kind comments, it was my goal to use Nichiren Buddhist teachings to inspire people worldwide :-). I must say that coaching has helped me understand Buddhism better and i feel Buddhism makes me a better coach than i would be without its profound insights into human nature. So it is a win-win! Look forward to further comments from you.

  9. cheri s says:

    how can i connect or join ur website??

    1. Hello Cheri, looks like you already are connected as you are able to leave comments 🙂 and you should also be able to become as subscriber – which means you will automatically receive new posts direct to your email inbox Just click the link on my homepage marked ‘Sign up for Spoonfuls of good stuff by email.’ Let me know if this works for you or if you are having any problems. Thank you for your interest. David

  10. Tabitha says:

    Thank you this is so timely for me. I am awaiting a diagnosis after suddenly loosing vision in one eye. NMHRK.

  11. lesliehobson says:

    I am a Hospice volunteer and spend a great deal of time with people in their final days. To the – few – that ask “Why me?” – this is a very positive way of helping them answer that question. (Prior to this, I always felt the Universe just answered “Why NOT you?”)

    1. Hi Leslie, thank you for your kind comments and insights into your Hospice work. I think that ‘why not me?’ is more of a coping mindset (albeit very understandable) whereas ‘Why me?’ is the challenging purpose-focussed mindset of which I wrote. Have you read the ‘Top 5 regrets of the dying’ by hospice worker Bronnie Ware? Brilliant stuff. best, D

  12. Rachel Yap says:

    I bless the day I discovered your blog site! It’s so interesting and encouraging. Thank you so much, David.

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Thank you Rachel for your kind words which are also encouraging for me :-). All best, David

  13. SPaul says:

    Thanks David,

    Really motivating piece on ‘undergoing our human revolution with an un-begrudging attitude’. Such a cake walk it is! 🙂 Jokes apart, what I liked best in your post is the poem of fellow SGI member aptly describing what this self-motivated process of self-change is all about. Thanks a tonne! I have copied the poem and every time, I feel low, I shall read it…and of course your posts too in addition to the ‘basics’ — working on my own Faith, Practice & Study.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words and yes, Patti’s poem inspired me loads, especially in the early days of my practice. I wish you all the very best in your continued journey of faith. NMRK, David

  14. devika says:

    i have a personal experience to share i have a childhood crush whom i like a lot after 5 years when i again saw him i realised that i really have some strong feelings for him i earlier used to think that it is only a crush but it is only with him and a very strong one that even i dont know why is it happening with me like this i am not able to talk to talk to him but i have indirectly told him that i like him and my liking for him started since the age of 15 and now i am 26 i dont know whenever i see him i have a weird kind of feeling that i have never felt with any one else

    but i always feel that there is a distance between me and him and that is on the energy level i sense that may be something is there that doesnt want me to go and talk to him while i am walking up to him and even want to say a normal hi even then then i am not able to do that but when i chant i am able to see his face and he’s dating some else and i dont know what i feel about him but i some where think that i can really become very possesive about him or might act very weirdly and this happens only with him and i feel that i am somewhere connected to him from somewhere dont know from where or how

    please do help me finding a solution

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Hi Devika, thank you for your comment. My initial impression from your words is that you are over-analysing this situation with your head, rather than trusting your daimoku. However I would strongly encourage you to seek personal 1-2-1 guidance with a local SGI leader who can understand your heart, support you in faith and share in your certain victory. All best wishes, David

  15. Robert Mann says:

    Thanks, David. Very insightful and thought provoking. A new and better way of understanding our ups and downs. Sharing to Soka Gakkai SGI so more people can be exposed and learn from it. Thanks again….

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Many thanks Bob for those kind words and I am really happy to hear that you feel that other members of our beautiful movement may find it useful. Warmest wishes, David

  16. devika says:

    just wanted to ask does this practice also keep’s you far away from people who are not correct for you or who might bring sadness or unhappiness in your life

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Hello, what an interesting question! I don’t think I can give an answer without a bit more context – if you would be happy to share? Best wishes, David

  17. Lamberto Fider says:

    Hi David,
    Just to let you know that your blog is one of the “straws” that helps me breathe easier when I find myself submerged in the murky waters of life. This is a great contribution for worldwide kosen rufu!
    I’ve shared these articles even to non-buddhists.
    Thank you so much.

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Hey Bobby, that’s great to hear and thank you for your kind words and for sharing with friends :-). All best wishes, David

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