There is a story about a seeker who travels to the Himalayas, looking for an enlightened Buddha in order to receive personal teachings. This seeker wants the last word on the subject of enlightenment. Walking and trekking for days, he begins to drop his heavy gear as he makes his way to the top of a high peak in Nepal. He drops his tent, his camping equipment, and his heavy backpack.
Stripped of almost everything and having breathed so many hundreds of thousands of breaths, he has finally forgotten about his worldly preoccupations. He is ready to arrive and very ready to listen. He pulls himself up over the final rim of the mountain and looks into the mouth of a cave. Amazingly enough, the Buddha-like master is sitting right there.
Stunned, relieved, and overjoyed, the seeker asks the Sage, “What is the first principle? What is your most important truth and teaching?”
The seeker thinks this is going to be his big moment and that he is about to become enlightened. He is going to discover the one essential thing for him to ponder. And then the Buddha replies: “Dukkha. Life is suffering, life is fraught, life is difficult.”
And the seeker is totally disappointed! He looks around wildly and shouts, “Is there anyone else up here that I can talk to?!!”
I love that story. What do we do when we experience something that isn’t quite what we hoped for, or worse, when we experience something that is truly difficult?
A Buddhist wise guy’s rendition of the First Nobel Truth of dukkha (or dissatisfaction) is that in life pain is inevitable, BUT SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL. How much we suffer depends on us, our internal development, and our spiritual understanding and realization.
By recognizing this, we can learn to use loss and suffering in ways that help us grow wiser and become more at peace with ourselves and the universe.
I believe that this is the time to become warriors for peace and dialogue, not warmongers or mere worriers. We must learn the hard lesson that without the pain of inner irritation, the pearls of wisdom will not be produced within us. I lovingly call this The Pearl Principle: no pain, no transformative gain.