The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind: Part Two: Suffering

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I am a certified health coach specializing in recovery coaching, mindfulness coaching, and health coaching. I work with all attachments including substance, codependency, and food ...Read More

I am going to be sharing a Buddhist concept that is very helpful for anyone suffering in any way. In the preliminary practice in Tibetan Buddhism, the student is called upon to contemplate the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind. They are:

  • Impermanence
  • Suffering
  • Karma
  • Precious Human Birth

I will be discussing Suffering in this post.


The primary causes of suffering in the Buddhist concept are attachment and aversion. I remember when I was into metaphysics, I kept hearing that suffering is optional. Intuitively, this just did not make sense to me. Then, while reading Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart, I found information that allowed me to be comfortable with the truth of suffering. First suffering is inevitable, it is part of the deal. Examples of this kind of suffering are loss of loved ones….if you love a person or a pet, when they pass(as impermanence dictates) you will invariably experience the suffering of grief.

Secondly there is such a thing as unnecessary suffering. THIS is the suffering that is caused by attachment and aversion. If we grasp on to “good” things this grasping will inevitably cause of suffering. If we run from pain, that act of aversion will actually cause more pain. Addict’s are great examples of attachment and aversion in action. They are attached to substance or additive behavior in order to avoid pain…which of course only causes more pain as addiction sets in and family structures begin to fall apart. It is easy to see how suffering and impermanence are intertwined. It is the denial(aversion) of impermanence which gives rise to so much unnecessary suffering.

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Once we understand that suffering is part of the deal, when it comes we can freely grieve until, as impermanence dictates it passes. It eliminates the piling on of suffering that comes with resistance. Wasn’t it Jesus who said “resist nothing” and in AA, we hear “what we resist persists”…When we let go of aversion we enter into what the Buddhists call the “middle way”. In the middle way, there are no big deals. Pain comes and pain goes. We begin to feel the joy that comes from letting go of grasping.

What a wonderful way to treat addiction…

There is much confusion about the quote from the Shakyamuni Buddha, “Life is suffering”. The nihilists among us say suffering is all there is. This misunderstanding turns many off to Buddhism because they believe we will be endlessly tapped in the suffering of the world. If you read on, he also says that suffering ends to yield to joy. This is where the term Samsara comes in. Samsara means simultaneously suffering and to be human. Samsara refers to the cyclic experience of suffering and joy. This is not a bad thing, it is just the rhythm of life when we are in the human realm. There are many advantages to being born human…but that will be covered in my following two posts on The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind.

I welcome your comments…

Be well

Keep Reading By Author Michele Happe, MA, Certified Health Coach
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