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.”
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.