Suffering as an opportunity

I’ve been contemplating the issues around seeing challenges and difficulties as opportunities, and if this is always a good thing.

I’ve borrowed a posted cartoon from @Gabriel_L , that seems to capture some of this.

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The ability to see the best in all situations is great. Recently I’ve experienced some challenging situations, and whilst they led to suffering, I also see them as ‘good Karma’, in that they provided opportunities for learning, growth and insight. I suppose there is a part of me that is a little uncomfortable, that my suffering has lessened as a result of this - ie I should be suffering more :face_with_raised_eyebrow: (note: the situation involved a loved one dying of a fast and aggressive cancer)

I’m aware that most people would see them as fruition of bad karma… so like in the cartoon above with regard to the stoics, I am wondering what proportion of this is just ‘mind tricks’. Positive re-framing is a basic psychological tool, but it too can be over-used, and become negative. The thing is that I really do see it as an opportunity. Can it be both? Is this the mind-made world, where we are the creators of our own hell realms?

Is there any guidance with regards to this issue in the EBT’s?


My thoughts about suffering as an opportunity:

Generally speaking, I think the suffering we encounter in life can be our greatest teacher! I’ve personally met a few of them and learned a lot… Especially if it is about illness, death of loved ones, financial loss etc.—things that cannot be avoided—I think it is the best approach to take them as opportunities to learn, then we will certainly suffer less. Obviously you made exactly this experience with the incident you mention, a loved one dying of cancer.

If there is something inside of you that feels uncomfortable with suffering less—you should probably ask you why. This is certainly a different issue. Sometimes it happens that those who survive feel somewhat guilty towards those who died… This is just a way of the mind of dealing with the fact that there was nothing they could do about the other person’s death. Helplessness seems to be even more difficult to bear as an emotion than guilt… so the psyche “prefers” guilt over helplessness. (I don’t know if something of this sort applies to your case; only you can judge this of course.)

But still I would agree with saying that in some cases just considering the “opportunity” side of suffering is not the right approach. This concerns cases where the suffering is man-made and not unavoidable.

One example is the discrimination of women in some traditional forms of Buddhism. It happens sometimes in Buddhist circles that a woman is told: “If you encounter discrimination as a woman and that makes you suffer this is just due to your bad kamma. You should make good kamma and accumulate merit so that in your next life you can be reborn as a man! And meanwhile take the suffering you encounter now as your teacher!”, or something along these lines.

This is of course missing the point, and I would think the better approach here is to do whatever possible in order to end discrimination of any sort. Still there can be lessons to learn from these experiences too, but it shouldn’t be the only aspect to consider.


@mpac, I’m asking a similar/same question.

Other religious and philosophical traditions speak of the value of suffering.
But I don’t recall that in the EBTs.

What do the EBTs have to say, if at all, about the value of suffering?

Please, I want an opinion or references on what the EBTs says, preferable with references.

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Hello Feynman, this is a great question, but I think if you want to be that specific in the types of responses you’re looking for you should start your own thread and make whatever stipulations you care to in the OP.

Mpac begain this thread in the watercooler, which is a space for more relaxed, informal chat, where as it looks like your interests should probably be pursued in the discussion category.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

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Transcendental Dependent Origination Order

Suffering (dukkha)
Faith (saddha)
Joy (pamojja)
Rapture (piti)
Tranquillity (passaddhi)
Happiness (sukha)
Concentration (samadhi)
Knowledge and vision of things as they are (yathabhutañanadassana)
Disenchantment (nibbida)
Dispassion (viraga)
Emancip of destruction of the cankers (asavakkhaye ñana)


Great! I think the point here is to understand suffering, especially in its nature as universal and in its scope as encompassing not only one life, and then seeing an escape from that in the practise of the Dhamma what then starts this liberating sequence. Not the mere fact of suffering as such.

Basically, the more we understand the less we suffer.


Hum. I 'm thinking that my question merely underlined the key question already posed in the OP.

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Here’s the respective sutta reference (SN 56.11):

“‘This noble truth of suffering is to be fully understood’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

Probably what I said in my first reply is also part of understanding suffering.


Is there any part of philosophy or religion that cannot be misused by those people so inclined to abuse others? I don’t think so.

Also it is worthwhile wondering ‘did anyone say this to me directly, or did I read it on the internet as someone said somewhere at some point’.

I think karma is misunderstood- in the east and the west. Fruition of bad kamma can happen, regardless of how it is, or not, explained. It would be wrong to use it to ‘blame’ people. There isn’t anything here we consider to be Self. Karma can give rise to thoughts of guilt but that would like the jains torturing themselves to get rid of bad karma, without knowing whether they had any bad karma or not- not a helpful way of working with karma. Buddhists really don’t do guilt much, at all.

Dissolving bad kamma: Lonaphala sutta AN3.99

with much metta,

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Probably not Buddhism per se, but significant suffering is an opportunity to evaluate our life priorities.

If chasing money was important before, then it doesn’t seem to be very important now. There are more important things in life.


Yes, apologies, you’re quite right. Your post popped up just as I was switching off my computer to head off to work and I was replied in a bit of a rush; it just struck me as a little odd that you seemed to set out quite firmly what you wanted in someone else’s thread which is why I recommended starting your own; again, apologies if I misunderstood. Anyway, back to the main discussion… :slight_smile:


Thank you for the considered replies!

In exploring this further I see that there is another influence that can push feeling guilty at diminished suffering. Quite similar to your points @sabbamitta.

In increasingly working to see things as they truly are, one is unravelling conditioning. As conditioning begins to exert less influence, both self view and behaviour alters. These changes can create ‘friction’ amongst others in the layperson environment. This can then put (conscious or unconscious) pressure on us to go back to previous behaviours to keep fitting in. That is, if others see one as callous for not being upset and suffering to the ‘proper’ degree. Especially where the Dhamma is very different to cultural norms.

:smiley: Again another opportunity!

I suppose that this is where associating with Kalyanamitta is so beneficial.

One of the things I find so thrilling, exciting, amazing, is just how many ‘petals the lotus’ has! And the wonder each time another petal is peeled back.

Regarding the sutta reference

These are the lines following
“‘This noble truth of suffering is to be fully understood’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

“‘This noble truth of suffering has been fully understood’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

“‘This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

“‘This noble truth of the origin of suffering is to be abandoned’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

“‘This noble truth of the origin of suffering has been abandoned’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

What is meant by ““‘This noble truth of the origin of suffering is to be abandoned’”

My mention of Karma was pretty jumbled up :smile: What I meant was that often people whose lives are full of events that give rise to suffering, feel that this is due to previous bad karma. eg having a disability, lots of ‘bad luck’ etc. I have had a good share of this in my life, but have come to view it as very good karma, as it has given rise to many opportunities to realise the Dhamma. Without this suffering and the subsequent opportunities, I don’t believe I could have progressed along the Noble 8 fold path to the same degree.

So this goes directly to what

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It says exactly that it either leads to confusion or a spiritual search. I can’t remember the sutta now. The spiritual search shouldn’t end with some pleasant meditation to cover this suffering but rather to look for cause of it and remove the cause. In short, to realise the Four Noble Truths in oneself.

With metta

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As an aside, I think that in the EBTs they have this idea of four types of kamma, bright kamma (with bright results), dark kamma (with dark results), mixed kamma (with mixed results) and neither-bright-nor-dark kamma (which leads to the destruction of kamma, i.e. the noble eightfold path). So maybe we could say that the state of viewing suffering as an opportunity is a result of this last type of kamma?

I guess as Buddhists we maybe start to understand ‘bad’ kamma as those first three types (bright, dark, mixed) and we see ‘good’ kamma as neither bright nor dark kamma. This maybe causes the ‘friction’ you speak of with non Buddhists who only have the options of bright, dark or mixed kamma, which leads them to mistake ‘bright’ for ‘good’?


Thank you for this Stu, it has helped a lot.

Nice to see you :slightly_smiling_face: I hope you are well


The sutta you may be looking for. Four Kinds of Kamma (its in the middle. I couldnt find the sutta itself. AN 4:232 II 230-232


I think the reason why suffering or negative situations can result in positive change is mainly your reaction to such circumstances. The same situation might affect someone badly, or it might empower someone to change—it would be incorrect to attribute inherent positive traits to negative sitations or to suffering (as to avoid having the chariot before the horse, or intentionally pursuing conflicting situations, hoping for positive change).

Basically, you could say it’s new kamma (action) in reaction to an akusala-kamma-vipāka (unwholesome kamma-result)/negative situation/suffering, which results in new kusala-kamma-vipāka (wholesome kamma-result).

And in line with MN 57, notice that there is no dark kamma with bright result, nor dark and bright kamma with only bright result (and vice versa):

  1. Dark kamma with a dark result
  2. Bright kamma with a bright result
  3. Dark and bright kamma with a dark and bright result
  4. Neither dark nor bright kamma with a neither dark nor bright result