How to create urgency when you haven't really ever suffered

I find myself watching youtube videos of really down and out, mentally ill, drug addicted, homeless, angry, people. I do this to remind myself that suffering is very real. But for me, I have to admit, I’ve never really suffered. At all. My life has been one great adventure. Bad things have happened certainly, My father died when I was in my early 20’s. I’ve been broke. I’ve experienced heart ache. Probably didn’t get enough love from my parents or partners.

But for some reason, it never really affected me all that much. If I had nothing, I was content with having nothing. When I had plenty, I was content with having plenty. When my parents died, I took it in stride. When I got cancer, it was just another thing I needed to experience and deal with. When my daughter got Hodgkins lymphoma, I took it as an opportunity to hang out with her while she got chemo, joke with her and make her laugh. I’ve hitchhiked around the world with less than $20 and no health insurance, no support, no one I could call if I got into trouble and the universe just rose up to support me in the most amazing, fantastical ways. Quick example. I was once living in Boulder working at a record store. A guy used to come in who was attending the Naropa Institute which had just opened. He was from Boston. Months later, I got a wild notion to apply to Berklee School of music, and just packed up my car and went. When I arrived in Cambridge not knowing anyone and having zero money, 30 seconds after I parked my car on the street, the guy from Naropa just appeared. Put me up. Turned me on to Glenn Gould’s Goldberg variations and that recording played a major role in the rest of my life.

I always did whatever I wanted, never really had a boss, became a musician, painter, 3D artist, a writer, and rode the internet wave and launched a series of successful companies. retired with enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Without any suffering. Raised two kids who have been successful, paid for their college so they wouldn’t be burdened with student loan debt. They have done nothing but make me proud of them. I’ve been generous with my friends, family, and I support monasteries and buddhists and people I know in prison. Never cheated on my partners, never killed anyone, never stole or lied. Drank and smoked weed more than probably was necessary, but I’ve stopped that as well.

And yet, I’ve been drawn to buddhism my whole life. And I ask myself: why? I can see if you’ve suffered. I see the videos of homeless drug addicted human wrecks and say: I can see why THEY would be into buddhism. THEY are really suffering. But I’ve never felt suffering. and at 68, I know my death approaches, but I have no fear of dying. I think I’ve lived a good life and will be reborn in a good place. and I do think about my death bed (having witnessed and been by the side of both of parents when they have died, so I know you die alone, no matter how many people surround you). And I’m prepared and ready when ever it comes:

So my question: what draws a person like me to not only embrace buddhism, but find peace and joy in the religion. I have no urgent need to overcome suffering. I already know, everything will work out like it is destined to work out for me. It always has. Don’t worry, be happy is my motto.

What brings those of us who have had a literally wonderful life to buddhism? And then I think: well, the Buddha didn’t really suffer either. He was born in the lap of luxury and knew he could return to the lap of luxury at any time. And yet, he persisted. And that thought keeps me going down the path.


Urgency could also be a close cousin to anxiety. Don’t torture yourself, life will find you sooner or later. If you want to pursue more Buddhism, pursue more Buddhism. You may not need to light a fire under your ___ to make that happen. That is a good thing.


We are so used to always ignore sufferings, pain, heartaches, burdens that we do not even notice the truth of suffering for ourselves. Our world is also like this. “Just ignore and work hard, do this, do that”.
“Loosers suffer”.

I feel buddhism is an invitation not to ignore sufferings anymore, not to step over it immediately, see ones true condition. See the daily burden for oneself and others. Stop ignoring the truth of suffering.

But isn’t part of the goal happiness in the here and now? Could we also say, don’t ignore the truth of happiness?

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It seems not everybody needs the hard lesson:


Oh wow, I recently read this one. Thanks “Daily Sutta”!

I’m appalled by the idea of doing things motivated by fear.

One reason is that doing something out of love, interest, or even enlightened self interest is such a different ( and better ) experience.

Maybe my mind, at it’s present state of development doesn’t have enough perception, but I can’t see urgency coexisting with the calm states of mind necessary for subtle insights.

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Is that happiness and contentment you experience at this very moment permanent? Knowing it will change ( which is not fear/anxiety for the future) creates a sense of samvega (spiritual urgency) to diligently follow the N8FP.

:pray:t4: All the best in your journey.


Maybe there are different degrees of urgency, or perhaps different “tastes” of urgency. Maybe we can call that softer form of urgency “inspiration”, which doesn’t mean it’s in any way weaker. It certainly drives us to keep going until we reach the goal.

Some of the monastics I know didn’t go there because of any particular suffering, but because this was the thing they felt most attracted towards. And some of them are in robes for many years and lead a happy monastic life.


It seems that you have a somewhat limited view of dukkha. You’ve probably heard that dukkha can also be translated as stress and thus encompasses pretty much every conceivable negative emotional state. And that is an expansion of the concept of dukkha beyond the gross suffering of aging, illness, and death, but even that doesn’t really quite go far enough. It’s too easy to be complacent and handwave away all the subtle stresses or even significant tragedies of life away as “not that bad”, as you expressed in your post.

For someone who already lives their life with a high baseline level of equanimity as it seems that you do, I recommend investigating the more foundational, existential aspects of dukkha. The basic existential anxiety inherent to unenlightened being is ultimately what I have found most consistently helpful in driving me to the Dhamma, though more gross dukkha did its part as well. That life is this utterly inscrutable, uncanny happening thing that we are all thrown into, that we need to retrospectively make sense of and identify with and be pressured by is the fundamental dukkha of existence that will follow you through every rebirth. Different modes of existence simply make ignoring our existential predicament easier, but it will always be there. That foundational anxiety is the ground upon which all of sensuality and craving is built and, once you have sensitized yourself to it, is truly impossible to ignore or to be complacent with.

You could perhaps familiarize yourself with the term “throwness” from existential philosophy or, if you want something really provocative, read something like The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Being at its core is a truly horrific thing, regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant. This nature is dukkha, and recognizing it as such will provide potent, perpetual motivation for training in the Buddha’s cure for this most pathological of problems.


In my opinion urgency and inspiration are distinct feelings. I will stop there before I fall into the D&D trap of pointlessly over analyzing off topic minor points. :slight_smile:

I think it is beautiful to come to see ( calmly ) the dhamma as a priority in life.


Great answers from everyone and a lot to think about. Thanks to everyone who has responded so far. I have found something valuable in each of your responses.


I think it depends on how samvega is understood. Methodologically, and based on how we function, feelings can motivate us to move on or to remain in a certain place. Samsara, as a place or a realm, can be transcended through embracing the negative. Building up emotions through observing its limitations becomes key for a sense of urgency. Otherwise, we would not have any reasons even to try.

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The move away from inherent stillness is suffering, whether it ends in feeling good or bad.

That’s my experience.


Yes, i feel that way too. If there is happiness there is happiness.

I have come to see that the kind of happiness of Nibbana is not really what we are used to see as happiness. For example, if things go well, we feel happy. I think this is the most common happiness.
We have plans, longings, they are fulfilled, we feel happy, in controll, masters over our life.
Or, if we are enthousiastic about something and inspired we feel happy, alive.

I feel the happiness the Buddha found is not like that but of an unburdend mind.

I have come to see that what someone would experience as happiness, a noble can experience as suffering.

By the way, my first impression reading your post was: wow! I think it is in many aspect great to be so adventurous and fearless like you. If you have a character of fear and worry, you have a very different life.

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To a certain degree, I was able to live the life I led due to the great fortune of being born in 1954. My first apartment in New York was $150 a month. When I flew to France, I think I took Romanian Air Transport for $50. And at that time, everyone got around by hitchhiking it seemed. My kids have a very different life. My son, who is also an entrepreneur always tells me: “Things were easier when you started building businesses: Everything had to be invented, now everything HAS been invented” And there is some truth to that. Perhaps it was my kamma to be born when I was and got to experience the life I did.

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The thing is, if you don’t become enlightened at some relatively near point in the future you will be one of the suffering persons you talked about or worse and your fearless non-suffering attitude will be totally gone because it is impermanent. It’s good that you are interested in the path, that’s much more important than this one pleasant life or the next one in heaven. Always remember that.


You could try to challenge yourself with how much (beneficial) ascetic practices you can endure as a monk. And maybe then when you are at your limits and suffering arises that’s when you can see it.
(But I would consult an expert on this first, because I think that might be dangerous)

A month ago one of our members, Ven. A. Bhikkhu, announced the release of his in-depth study of saṃvega as it’s presented in Pali texts:

Saṃvegasaṅgaho: The Linguistic and Contextual Formulations of a Sense of Urgency in Pāḷi Buddhist Literature

On page 67 the author gives a summary of all the things that are represented in the texts as being causes for the arising of saṃvega. Putting the author’s summary into the form of a numbered list (because that’s what we Abhidhamma fans love to do :nerd_face:) I see that there are in all thirty-three items, with only a few of them entailing the actual experience of suffering:

  1. experience of uncertainty arising on account of non-identifiable beings.
  2. hearing a lion’s roar.
  3. anticipation of a building about to collapse.
  4. anticipation of whip strokes.
  5. direct experience of whip strokes.
  6. receiving monastic disciplinary measures.
  7. observing graceless scenes (such as a harem sleeping in unbecoming ways).
  8. being confronted with otherwise maladaptive behavior.
  9. witnessing the re-establishment of psychic powers in another person.
  10. tactfully having one’s superiority conceit humbled, or …
  11. acknowledging an inferior status on one’s own account.
  12. generally being endowed with personal identity view and the subsequent receiving of teachings proclaiming its origin, cessation and the path leading to such.
  13. uncertainty arising on account of not knowing one’s future destination.
  14. first-hand encounters with or second-hand stories about birth.
  15. … old age.
  16. … sickness.
  17. … torture.
  18. … death.
  19. contemplation of sub-human realms of deprivation.
  20. immediate witnessing of sub-human realms of deprivation.
  21. seeing the general suffering of cyclic existence and its cause.
  22. hearing edifying stories about human model qualities and behavior.
  23. the ancient pilgrim site of Lumbini.
  24. … Bodh Gaya.
  25. … Sarnath.
  26. … Kusinagara.
  27. being conscientious and scrupulous.
  28. receiving admonishment connected to the ultimate goal.
  29. listening to specifically tailored discourses.
  30. the augmented perception of bones and body-directed mindfulness.
  31. compassion.
  32. realizing the impermanence of grand objects (such as previous Buddhas).
  33. seeing the coming into existence and breaking up of a light.

from that same book:

“More broadly speaking, someone understanding his own misfortune and good, placing trust in the reality about the results of karma, having compassion toward all creatures and being suffused with a sense of urgency (saṃvegabahulo) will fulfil the bases of meritorious deeds (puññakiriyavatthūni), while shunning the unwholesome courses of karma (akusalakammapathe) and practicing the wholesome ones (Pd III: 10). Such one is a person firmly grounded in human principles (manussadhamme patiṭṭhito).”

sense of urgence is not developed for the world but for the Truth, and then the world will benefit from that. Sometimes it could be perceived like a passivity by third people who still are too fooled by the appearences, and they request more anxiety to others.

It remembers this poem of W.Whitman, best poet ever. It was developed also because a sense of urgency:

Meditating among liars, and retreating sternly into myself,
I see that there are really no liars or lies after all,
And that nothing fails its perfect return.
And that what are called lies are perfect returns,
And that each thing exactly represents itself, and what has preceded it,
And that the truth includes all, and is compact, just as much as space is compact,
And that there is no flaw or vacuum in the amount of the truth but that all is truth without exception;
And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.

quite proper in these times

note there is people committing suicide because the loss of their Iphones or developing an abnormal anguish when some days are hotter in summer. You wrote about the acceptance of serious events related with illness or the risk to lose of beloved beings. Other people cannot give rise to that acceptance easily. Oneself can establish to some extent the measure of the own reality but this cannot be applied to all the people with different kamma.

Probably, if there is not review of that acceptance, the process to overcome dukkha would remain hidden. And when developed in a natural way, some people would name it “personality” or whatever worldly notion and the person could share that. However, that acceptance also is the arising of something in front some events. The mind works very fast.

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If this is the case then it is an urgent need for you to overcome the future sufferings now. Why?

When you will be in heaven, you will be surrounded by the divine sensualities, so charming and beautiful. You will be there for a very long time and enjoying the best of them. There will be no suffering, no sense of wrongdoing, no boring, no sense of urgency, they always be there for you when needed… Do you think it will be very easy for you to reject them? Of course not!

So, you will enjoy them for a very long time without a second thought. You will get used to those sensualities. They will become your habit, your life, your needs. You will be addicted to them.

Just like a drug addict who has unlimited supply, the more he enjoys it, the more he clings to it. The longer he uses it, the harder for him to quit.

Unfortunately, they are impermanent. That heavenly life will end. When it will end, you will suffer greatly. Why? because you lost what you love and cling to.

If you have 10 billions dollars and lost 10 dollars, it is easier to let go of it. However, if you lost 10 billions dollars, it is harder to let go of that.

The lovelier those divine sensualities are, the harder to let them go. The longer you are with them, the harder to let them go.

Just like a drug addict, after using drug for a long time, it is not easy to end it. If there is no drug for him, he will be very agitated, angry and suffering and he will become an evil person.

Similar to that, after ending the heavenly life, you will be very upset, agitated, angry. The more you enjoy the heavenly life, the more you will be upset, agitated, angry… The more upset, agitation, angry… you have, the lower realm you will end up to after that heavenly life. Some may even end up in hell!

You may think that you did not do anything wrong in heaven, why do you end up in lower realms, even in hell?

If you understand DO, you will see that the destination of your new birth depends on you current state of being. Since you lost the heavenly life, just like the addict no longer has his drug, agitation, anger, painful feelings will come. They will become you new state of being, and it is the cause for your new destination. The heavier those negative states, the lower realm you will get.

It is not easy to practice Dhamma in heaven. Without the earthly body, it is extremely hard to control the mind. Here, as a human, if we want something, we may not be able to get or contact it right away, so there will be a chance for us to end that craving and create that good habit. Moreover, there is no sense of wrongdoing in heaven, by ignorance, you think you simply enjoy your good karma, so there is no reason to end that craving in heaven. Without good habit of relinquishment, it is hard to reject those lovely sensualities.

Moreover, it is not easy to gain back the human life (SN56.48). Therefore, the chance to end up in sub-human realms is very high, and the future sufferings are waiting.

Even if we have the human life now, we do not have a lot of time. Very few people can practice the Dhamma when they are still young. We lost many years before we come to this practice. Even that, we only practice few hours a day, and we do not know when we will die? The tasks are plenty, but the time is so short. Isn’t this enough for the sense of urgency?