“Suffering and joy are facts of life…”

Here is one of Nichiren’s most famous quotes about the Buddhist approach to dealing with problems: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, no matter what happens.”

A great palace (pic by Tiffany Wright)

I have known Buddhists who base their whole lives just on these 32 words, re-reading them whenever the going gets rough. Or when it gets smooth. Or anything in between. Or for no reason at all. But how many of us get this advice completely back to front?

  • Instead of suffering what there is to suffer and enjoying what there is to enjoy, why do we instead choose to suffer what there is to enjoy (for example by thinking about work problems when we’re meant to be playing with our kids)?
  • And how often do we thoroughly enjoy what there is to suffer (I’ll just wallow a bit longer in my misery, thank you very much)?
  • And ignoring the fact that both suffering and joy are ‘facts of life’, how many of us expect life to be non-stop enjoyment (mindless optimism)? Or indeed non-stop suffering (ridiculous pessimism)?

I for one have done all of the above. We need to get over ourselves, don’t we? As Daisaku Ikeda points out: “True happiness is not the absence of suffering; you cannot have day after day of clear skies. True happiness lies in building a self that stands dignified and indomitable like a great palace – on all days, even when it is raining, snowing or stormy.” 

When I read this famous Buddhist quote about enjoyment and suffering, I am often reminded of the ‘Serenity Prayer’, much loved by Christians across the world, for it seems to carry a similar wise message:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

And the more I reflect on the challenges of everyday life – either my own problems or those of the people I coach – the more I realise that most of  the time we do not suffer because life is difficult, we suffer because we expect it to be easy.


PS. For more on the Buddhist approach to problems, check out this guidance in a previous post from SGI UK’s John Delnevo, “7 ways to make the most of your problems, Buddha-style.”

And also this post inspired by SGI UK’s Kazuo Fujii, all about learning to challenge rather than just cope.

10 Replies to ““Suffering and joy are facts of life…””

  1. graywills says:

    The great teaching of Jesus ( if not the greatest ) is that suffering is not necessary if love is put first.

    1. suffering is what makes a person who they are.

  2. Janet says:

    Try and bloom where you’ve been planted, enjoying the rain, the sunshine and the manure in equal measure.

    1. graywills says:

      Beautiful words!

  3. Christine Conlon says:

    I agree with you, David. In the Bible Paul and Barnabas encourage the people to persevere in faıth, despite ‘having to undergo many trials if we are to enter the reign of God.’ Christian existence is often joy mingled with tears and we can rejoice that God’s kingdom has been initiated in us through the Resurrection, but it takes endurance, maturity and resolve to cope with these seemingly incompatible emotions. May joy and suffering be wıth you!

  4. Jerry says:

    “(The Nirvana Sutra in essence teaches us that) when persons who have faith in the Buddhist teachings and are determined to free themselves from the sufferings of birth and death grow a little faint in heart, the Buddha inflicts illness upon them in order to encourage them to strive harder. He does so to embolden them, to drive them forward.”

    1. graywills says:

      the Buddha inflicts illness upon them in order to encourage them to strive harder

      This doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me !?

  5. Joe says:

    The problem about love is the person doing wrong things and people around are keep on loving it, others are also trying to justify it.. Because people around is keep on doing what they love without thinking other peoples welfare which making compassion gone and also because it is more easier than having a hard time and still loving what you do..

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