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“Why me?” A Buddhist view on the purpose of suffering

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Clients in difficult situations sometimes say to me: “Why me?” Or “What did I do to deserve this?” Or “Why does this keep happening in my life?” This is a very natural but ultimately futile question. Our karma is so profound over this and many previous lifetimes that it is impossible to work out what causes you have made in the past that are producing today’s effects in your life. And as I was taught when I trained as a coach, ‘Why?’ is a negative, backward-looking question. Much healthier, say the coaching textbooks, to “look at the hows of the solution in the present rather than the whys of the problem in the past.” But there is a third approach that combines the best of the first two because Nichiren Buddhism reveals that it is healthier to look at ‘Why me?’ as a positive, forward-looking question.

Why me

This happens when you consider your present problems (or “heavily disguised gifts” as I prefer to call them), chant about your future (or visualise it if you’re not a Buddhist) and begin your answer not with a backward-looking “because I did…” or “because I am”, but with a forward looking:  “So that I can…” Then from your own reservoir of boundless Buddha wisdom will spring insights that complete the answer:

So that I can… be more compassionate / learn to love my parents / fulfil my full potential at work / treasure my health / find a relationship based on deep respect… and so on.” This is known in Buddhism as ‘transforming karma into mission’, harnessing all your suffering to strengthen your sense of purpose. This approach – long and painful though it can sometimes feel – turns you into an architect of your future instead of a victim of your past.

It is the approach taken by Mariane Pearl – see recent post – who described how she transformed despair into hope following the decapitation of her husband by Islamic fundamentalists. By the way, ‘mission’ does not necessarily mean a destiny to discover new planets, or a noble calling to work with the disadvantaged, but indicates a strong sense of purpose and a sense of personal responsibility that guide your every day choices and actions, reveal your unique individual talents, and help you make a positive difference in society.

I love this extract from a poem called ‘Courage’ written by my fellow SGI Buddhist Patti Dale:

You cannot trade your blotted page

For a clean sheet

You must create

From where you are now

Knee-deep in your own garbage:

In it lie the ingredients

Of your humanity.

It reminds me that one of the most important symbols in Nichiren Buddhism – the beautiful lotus flower – only grows in the muddy pond of daily life.

So, next time you find yourself asking, “Why me?” make it the Why that looks forward, not back.

purple lotus flower

Dx

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rachel Yap
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 05:47:40

    I bless the day I discovered your blog site! It’s so interesting and encouraging. Thank you so much, David.

    Reply

    • davidhare3000
      Oct 07, 2014 @ 21:36:07

      Thank you Rachel for your kind words which are also encouraging for me :-). All best, David

      Reply

  2. lesliehobson
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 14:58:47

    I am a Hospice volunteer and spend a great deal of time with people in their final days. To the – few – that ask “Why me?” – this is a very positive way of helping them answer that question. (Prior to this, I always felt the Universe just answered “Why NOT you?”)

    Reply

    • davidhare3000
      Mar 05, 2013 @ 20:49:01

      Hi Leslie, thank you for your kind comments and insights into your Hospice work. I think that ‘why not me?’ is more of a coping mindset (albeit very understandable) whereas ‘Why me?’ is the challenging purpose-focussed mindset of which I wrote. Have you read the ‘Top 5 regrets of the dying’ by hospice worker Bronnie Ware? Brilliant stuff. best, D

      Reply

  3. Tabitha
    Feb 25, 2013 @ 14:07:03

    Thank you this is so timely for me. I am awaiting a diagnosis after suddenly loosing vision in one eye. NMHRK.
    Tabitha

    Reply

  4. cheri s
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 15:05:06

    how can i connect or join ur website??

    Reply

    • davidhare3000
      Feb 24, 2013 @ 14:54:29

      Hello Cheri, looks like you already are connected as you are able to leave comments :-) and you should also be able to become as subscriber – which means you will automatically receive new posts direct to your email inbox Just click the link on my homepage marked ‘Sign up for Spoonfuls of good stuff by email.’ Let me know if this works for you or if you are having any problems. Thank you for your interest. David

      Reply

  5. Trisha Avery
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 21:24:33

    This is a really encouraging and inspirational Blog, Thank you. I too am working in the coaching field as an Executive Coach and apply Nichiren Buddhism principles throughout my work and hopefully my life. So thank you again I’m delighted to have found your site. Oh and I’m in Australia.

    Reply

    • davidhare3000
      Feb 22, 2013 @ 21:39:07

      Thank you Trisha for your kind comments, it was my goal to use Nichiren Buddhist teachings to inspire people worldwide :-). I must say that coaching has helped me understand Buddhism better and i feel Buddhism makes me a better coach than i would be without its profound insights into human nature. So it is a win-win! Look forward to further comments from you.
      D

      Reply

  6. Ginny Gurmeet
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 15:17:06

    Very encouraging let it keep coming and inspire more and more people, this kosen rufu (a Buddhist principle that teaches world peace through ‘human revolution’ = a wave of individual personal transformations.)

    Reply

  7. Susan Ziman
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 12:52:18

    I’ve been stuck in the “Why Me?” cycle for many years, with a lot of negative things happening to me during this time. Thank you for writing this. Amrita, thank you for the encouragements..

    Reply

  8. Siddhartha
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 19:49:30

    Very inspiring indeed David! This is what I needed after all those ‘why me’ moments. Blessed Be!
    Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
    Sid

    Reply

  9. Gunjan Saxena
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 05:40:38

    thnx for sharing.. :)

    Reply

  10. Siddharth Manu
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 02:23:26

    Wonderful article. I think I have found a new way of discussing Buddhism with my non-Buddhist friends. And what a wonderful guidance encouragement shared by Amrita!

    Reply

  11. Tony
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 22:29:00

    Really enjoyed reading this article, thank you

    Reply

  12. Amrita
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 20:55:58

    I’d like to share these encouragements

    Buddhism Day by Day
    Wisdom for Modern Life by Daisaku Ikeda
    “When we plant the seeds of self-doubt, only noxious weeds sprout. When we limit ourselves with low expectations, the growth of the tree of happiness immediately ceases. The power of growth, of improvement, the power to overcome all stagnation and break through every obstacle and transform a barren wasteland into a verdant field—that unstoppable power of hope resides right there in your own heart. It will well up from the rich earth of your innermost being when you face the future without doubt or fear: “I can do more. I can grow. I can become a bigger and better human being”—life and faith are a never-ending struggle to grow.

    Reply

    • davidhare3000
      Feb 20, 2013 @ 23:17:16

      Thank you Amrita for adding this quote, I heard this guidance recently and then couldn’t find it again so I was delighted to see it landing in my Inbox from you, great stuff, NMHRK, David

      Reply

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