Pain vs Suffering
Pain and suffering are integral parts of our lives, and we are conditioned to believe that the two are one and the same thing. In fact, most of use the words in the same breath as if they are synonymous. The very existence of pain and suffering around the world makes atheists say that God does not exist. However, denying the existence of God because of the presence of pain and suffering does not remove these problems from our midst. We will not try to answer this question but certainly try to differentiate between pain and the suffering it causes to us.
If you are experiencing headache, you are obviously under some pain. Pain, whether in the head or any other part of the body is the number one reason why people go to consult doctors. People take OTC drugs and the drugs prescribed by doctors, to get relief from these pains. These pains, when they become chronic, do not remain physiological as they start to affect every aspect of the lives of the people. There is a Buddhist saying that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. It is when our pains start to affect our emotions, relationships, our work, and our skills that they make us suffer psychologically.
Of course, people suffer when they have lots of pain. However, it is possible to suffer without any physical pain, also feel pain but not suffer at all. Some insults us or says something to hurt our feelings once and we continue to suffer for a long time to come. We do not feel any pain, but we suffer emotionally and psychologically. But if you move on in life and do not give a damn to what others say or think about you, you are much less likely to suffer than if you carry the baggage on your shoulders.
If you go inside a cancer ward in a hospital, you find many people in pain as they are all patients of cancer. But if you are carrying a small and beautiful puppy in your hands, many of the patients will start to feel better and actually not suffer. They are still in pain, but they are not suffering.
One thing we all need to remember is that we are not the dogs mentioned in Pavlov’s experiments of conditioning. If we suffer when we have pain, we behave just like the proverbial dog that has been conditioned to respond to stimuli. We as human beings have the potential to think and control our feelings. Suffering is a result of our thoughts, and if we can develop the ability to think in a different manner, pain will not bring us suffering all the time.
Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. This is a saying that tells us why enlightened men do not suffer. They too have pain like other mortals, but they condition their thoughts in such a manner that they have different feelings when they are under a pain. The same goes for all other types of pains, whether physical or mental. Pain is inevitable for cancer patients, but their suffering can be lessened by making them think about beautiful things in life rather than focusing upon pain all the time.