External versus Internal Suffering

By Desmond Yeoh SC

There are two forms of suffering; external and internal. The external suffering is caused by external factors such as when a doctor gives us an injection. There is just a slight pain when the needle is inserted and then removed from us; and that is all.

The internal suffering is mental. In the above example, because we know that the doctor is trying to help us, we do not get upset. However, if the doctor was not as gentle as we expected, then we get angry. As a result, the second type of suffering, the internal suffering, will arise. Internal suffering adds on to our external suffering and as in the example above, is completely unnecessary.

Internal suffering is founded by our inability to let go because we do not see things as they truly are and cannot accept things as they are. We expect the days to be sunny all the time and then suffers when it rains. We expect the world economy to be growing perpetually and are horribly unprepared when things go downhill.

Truly, a lot of pain and suffering can be avoided if we just accept things as they are. I once had a friend who was very talented in fashion design but his parents wanted him to pursue his career in some professional degree. He persisted and this caused a lot of friction between parents and child. Eventually, his parents relented after consulting some wise friends. The son eventually became a successful fashion designer and businessman. Had he pursued a professional degree, he may not be as successful because there is not where his talents lie. So on hindsight, all those arguments and strain in the relationship were really unnecessary.

white dandelion in close up photography

The refusal to accept and live by the law of impermanence is also a form of internal suffering. When a wise person sees a beautiful flower, he also sees a wilting flower contained within. When he sees a beautiful vase, he also sees an old faded or broken vase contained within. Everything and everyone is subject to deterioration, loss and destruction. When we gain something, we must know that loss must surely follow because nothing lasts forever.

By practicing morality and not harming or hurting others, we can avoid laying the causes of external suffering and thus reduce it. We have no control over the causes we laid in our past lives and so, need not worry about them.

It is funny how we allow internal suffering to persist. When we are angry at someone else, the feeling is very unpleasant and yet we continue to get angry over and over again. Why do we choose to do so when it brings us so much discomfort? Whenever memories that makes us angry arise, we must immediately reprimand ourselves that we are only causing unnecessary suffering for ourselves and stop entertaining those thoughts.

It is this internal suffering that we, as spiritual practitioners, must train hard to overcome because it is well within our control and our ability to do so. All enlightened beings have transcended this type of suffering and doing so, are always at peace. They understand that everything in this material world is subject to decay and are not attached to anything. They have meditated on their mind and body and found that even these do not belong to them or are not them. Therefore, they are even at peace with death.

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