Setbacks and the Pain of Suffering – Quotes and Resources

Life seems to present varying degrees of setbacks and suffering from time to time.  While taking a brief walk outdoors between shinpan duties at the 2018 U.S. Junior Nationals Championships, I was moved when I saw a young boy in kendo gear hunched over, heaving and sobbing with a person – perhaps his father or coach – by his side.  He may have lost a match that he desperately wanted to win.  Jin Yong JO (조진용, 趙秦用) 先生, a member of the Korean team at the 2018 World Kendo Championships shared a similar experience after their loss to the Japan team in [Jo_KendoJidai].  A close friend suffered a concussion in a shiai with a rather physical opponent and many months of pain and down-time.  And, sadly, a kendo family with the Butokuden dojo in California lost a loved one, Arata Ogikubo, a little over a year ago.  He was struck by a car while riding a bicycle.

Who hasn’t experienced difficult moments in life?   Who has never lost a match or failed an examination?  Who has never experienced a tragedy, the loss of a loved one, rejection by a significant other (person, school or employer), failure, financial loss, an accident, injury, illness, loneliness, depression, addiction or ____________ (please fill in the blank)?

The challenge for myself, those mentioned above and perhaps many others, is in dealing with such events.  Here are some quotes and resources below that I have found helpful.  The quotes include a few from those I know or have met by chance. I will update this article as I come across additional quotes and resources.

May you experience peace and freedom from suffering!


  • The Value of Suffering
  • The Source of Suffering
  • The Truth Behind Suffering
  • On Handling Suffering

The Value of Suffering

  • The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

  • To have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered. – Oscar Wilde
  • Eckhart Tolle [Tolle_Suffering]
    • If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you, no humility, no compassion.
    • Suffering is most people’s only spiritual teacher and suffering deepens you.  It gradually erodes the mind made sense of self, the ego.
    • Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of the ego.
  • Suffering is a corrective to point out a lesson which by other means we have failed to grasp, and never can it be eradicated until that lesson is learnt. – Edward Bach
  • Suffering is one of life’s great teachers. – Bryant H. McGill
  • Life is rough. If it were smooth, we’d slide right through it without noticing. A bumpy ride teaches us gratitude and perspective. – Terri Guillemets
  • When suffering happens, it forces us to confront life in a different way than we normally do. – Philip Yancey
  • Watch a man in times of… adversity to discover what kind of man he is; for then at last words of truth are drawn from the depths of his heart, and the mask is torn off. – Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
  • Life smoothens the corners of a square personality into a round one that can roll. – a Korean proverb from the mother of a friend.
  • Like ocean waves to rocks, suffering seems to smoothen our rough edges. – Young, KendoNotes

The Source of Suffering

  • Attachment leads to suffering. – Buddha
  • Eckhart Tolle:
    • Suffering begins when you mentally label a situation as bad. That causes an emotional contraction.  When you let it be, without naming it, enormous power is available to you.
    • The mental suffering you create is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is.  On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgement.  The intensity of the suffering depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment.
    • [Suffering] is created out of resistance to what is.  … It comes from a thought, an interpretation – not from the situation.
    • [R]emember it’s the thoughts, your thoughts that make you suffer more than anything else.  It’s not usually the situation.  It’s your interpretation of the situation of how dreadful it all is.
  • Nisargadatta Maharaj
    • Pain is physical; suffering is mental. Beyond the mind there is no suffering. Pain is essential for the survival of the body, but none compels you to suffer.

    • Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting; it is a sign of our unwillingness to move on, to flow with life.

    • Selfishness is the cause of suffering. There is no other cause.  It is only with separateness and self-seeking that real suffering appears in the world.  When desire and fear end, bondage also ends.  [Maharaj_Suffering]
    • It is the emotional involvement, the pattern of likes and dislikes which we call character and temperament, that create the bondage. Do not be afraid of freedom from desire and fear. It enables you to live a life so different from all you know, so much more intense and interesting, that, truly, by losing all, you gain all. [Maharaj_Suffering]
  • Ken Wilber
    • From [Wilber_NoBoundary]
      • And it is just that understanding which is universally said to constitute liberation from all suffering. p. 49
        • Stated positively:  when it is realized that one’s self is the All, there is then nothing outside of oneself which ‘could’ inflict suffering.  There is nothing outside of the universe against which it much crash.
        • Stated negatively:  this understanding is a liberation from all suffering because it is a liberation from the notion that there is a self which ‘can’ suffer in the first place.
      • As Wei Wu Wei put it:
        • “Why are you unhappy?  Because 99.9% of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself – And there isn’t one.”
    • From [Wilber_Awareness]
      • We say, “To lose face is to die of embarrassment,” and that is deeply true: we do not want to lose face! We do not want to die! We do not want, to cease the sensation of the separate-self! But that primal fear of losing face is actually the root of our deepest agony, because saving face—saving an identity with the bodymind—is the very mechanism of suffering,…
      • But when I rest in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, I lose face. Inside and outside completely disappear.  It happens just like this:
        • As I drop all objects – I am not this, not that – and I rest in the pure and simple Witness, all objects arise easily in my visual field, all objects arise in the space of the Witness. I am simply an opening or clearing in which all things arise. I notice that all things arise in me, arise in this opening or clearing that I am.
  • Most people wish they could erase suffering out of the dictionary. Today’s culture of comfort and instant gratification has no patience for suffering – most people want to drug it, escape it, divorce it; do anything but live with it. – Joni Eareckson Tada

  • The reason you experience suffering is because of the illusion of separation (from the absolute). – a Teacher that I learn from.

The Truth Behind Suffering

  • Every flower must grow through dirt. – Proverb
  •  Rumi:
    • The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
    • O Seeker, pain and suffering make one aware of God.
    • What hurts you blesses you. Darkness is your candle.
  • Buddha
    • If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.
    • Nothing is forever except change.
  • All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.  Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Suffering is a call for inquiry, all pain needs investigation. – Nasargadatta Maharaj
  • We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, “Why did this happen to me?” unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way. – Author Unknown
  • Again and again we cry “I can bear no more!” — that is the human of us. And again and again we bear more, — that is the god of us. – Muriel Strode (1875–1964), A Soul’s Faring, 1921
  • If you are suffering, I can assure you, that you either ‘share’ your suffering with others or you have an on-going ‘conversation’ in your mind where you ‘discuss’ how good you are and how the other person is ‘wrong,’ and has treated you badly. Even feeling guilty and seeing yourself as’wrong,’ is still the need to be ‘right.’ – A Course in Miracles

  • There was a time centuries ago when children often died at a young age and when people died at a younger age.  Our expectations have changed. – A rationale elderly man that I met recently who suggested that I read up on history.

On Handling Suffering

  • My definition of healing is: coming to terms with things as they are. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Eckhart Tolle:
    • Fulfill me, make me happy, make me feel safe, tell me who I am.  The world cannot give you those things, and when you no longer have such expectations, all self created suffering comes to an end.
    • And so when you see that, you see that there is another way to live in which I no longer mentally argue with what is.  And that’s the end of self-inflicted suffering.
    • You can always be free at this moment simply by entering the state of presence.  [Tolle_Problems]
  • Peter Cutler [Cutler] :
    • I experience thoughts as thoughts. I no longer mistake them for reality. And this is why I live free from thoughts. And freedom from thoughts is freedom from suffering.
    • If any experience of suffering, no matter how subtle, should arise, I open to it fully without resistance. It always leads back to a thought.
    • There is very strong conditioning to experience thoughts as more than thoughts, to experience thoughts as reality, as truth, or at least as “my truth”.  And there is great resistance to accept that ALL suffering comes only from these thoughts that are believed as truth.  It seems that most of us would rather continue suffering, no matter how bad that suffering is, than accept 1) that thoughts are just thoughts, not reality, and 2) that ALL suffering is created by these thoughts mistaken for reality.
    • When our addiction (to and beliefs in thoughts) is very strong, as it is in most people, we are not yet ready to surrender this addiction. We must hit bottom first. That is the reason for suffering. That is the gift of suffering. It helps us hit bottom. For most of us it is necessary to hit bottom before we are ready to give up such an entrenched and reinforced addiction
  • The sages describe a Way that leads to a higher level of existence, one infinitely more desirable than the level on which most people conduct their lives. The mystical tradition does not offer therapy in the usual sense of that word, but achieving the goal of mysticism – experiencing the Real Self – is said to cure human suffering because its very basis is thereby removed. – Arthur J. Deikman [Deikman]
  • Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
  • The hope to see my wife and children again one day kept me going. – An Elderly Vietnamese I met who managed to survive many years in a prison camp.
  • I saw Jesus in my husband. – A friend of my mother who cared for and nursed her bed-ridden husband mostly on her own for several years until he passed away.
  • If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it.  … I do say meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it. – Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Do not wish for an easy life, wish for the strength to endure a difficult one. – Bruce Lee
  • Joni Eareckson Tada
    • My weakness, that is, my quadriplegia, is my greatest asset because it forces me into the arms of Christ every single morning when I get up.

    • I had to be healed of my desire to be healed.
    • Subdue your heart to match your circumstances.
    • Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease; but more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise.
  • Not My will, but Yours be done. – Jesus, Luke 22:42.

Note:   If you ever feel moved to do so, please feel free to comment on how you handle suffering.  It’s a topic dear to my heart.



[Cutler] Peter Cutler, “Freedom from Thoughts = Freedom from Suffering,” July 18, 2017,

[Deikman] Arthur J. Deikman, “Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy,”

[Jo_KendoJidai]  “Players comment:  JY Jo (Korea),” Kendo Jidai International, Oct 23, 2018.

[Kornfield] Jack Kornfield, “Guided Meditations for Difficult Times: A Lamp in the Darkness,”

[Komarow] Pat Komarow, “A Story of Impermanence from the Buddha,”

[Maharaj_Suffering] “Some quotes from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj,” An End to Suffering Blog, Aug 2, 2006.

[Tolle_Problems] Eckhart Tolle, “All problems are illusions of the mind,” (9:34 mins).

[Tolle_Suffering] Eckhart Tolle, “The End of Suffering,” (5:14 mins), Mar 17, 2019.

[Wilber_Awareness] Ken Wilber, “Always Already:  The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness, Integral Life, Dec 10, 2016.

[Wilber_NoBoundary] Ken Wilber, No Boundary – Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, Shambhala, 2001.




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