~ kusala
[ ku-sa-la: Pali term meaning wholesome, skillful, good, meritorious. ]
[ Action characterized by this quality (kusala-kamma) is bound to result (eventually) in happiness and a favorable outcome. ]


2006-03-29 - 8:48 a.m.

Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Not

Recently, on a Yahoo! discussion group (Gay Buddhists) that I belong to, someone posted this essay from the Guardian (UK) by Karen Armstrong, a religious scholar, about the recent death of her mother.

Now, death and dying is something I think about a lot, but not in a morbid way. I've even thought about studying gerentology or working with old folks, and I've often thought it would be incredible to be able to volunteer or work at San Francisco's Zen Hospice.

Below is part of what I posted on the Yahoo! message board, which further clarifies some of my thoughts about this. I've also recently been pondering an older post by Amantesinha about all this stuff. Food for thought, but it shouldn't be depressing, not in the least... Seriously.


I was intrigued by Brad alerting us to Karen Armstrong's (whom I greatly admire) piece about her mother's slow, painful decline, and ultimate passing, and I read it with interest. As someone with an medical affliction that may ultimately end in some very painful conditions (insofar as we ALL have that terminal disease: life), I'm not sure how I feel about the admonition to "avoid painkillers."

I know we learn as practitioners to recognize and live with various conditions that present themselves to us and to remain "equanimous" in the face of them. However, when it comes to the idea of facing excruciating pain, I'm not sure how much good it does to try to remain stoic and "observant." While it's probably not the best idea to ask for the morphine pump at the onset of the slightest discomfort, I think everyone has a different threshold for when they might decide that it's necessary to cross that line.

I have a problem with admonitions that might make people (especially those in life's end stages) have feelings such as: "If I were a 'good' Buddhist, I wouldn't resort to any painkillers. Must maintain clarity of mind." I think that if we are mindful when we are healthy, we will be better able to make decisions about painkillers from a more informed perspective when our time of great pain comes. And if we decide that is a measure we want or need to take, I would hope that doesn't result in self-hate for not "fully experiencing the moment."

I know that obviously much has been written about pain management, illness, and death from a Buddhist perspective. I recall some really good pieces in Tricycle issue #46 about pain management ("On Practice: Pain Without Suffering" --Ezra Bayda, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Darlene Cohen, and Gavin Harrison explain how to use Buddhist practice to manage physical pain.)

I am curious to hear the thoughts of others.

= = = = = = = = = = =
previous entry
next entry