‘Why me ?’ : Dealing with self-pity from a Buddhist perspective

Jun 26th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Philosphical thoughts

Bad things happening to good people, and good things happening to bad people can seem at times paradoxical for those of us who believe in some sort of a natural justice system that’s inbuilt in the way our universe works. After all, it might seem that the only reason for staying moral and righteous is to improve the odds that we encounter less of the undesirable things that constitute ‘suffering’. Only that, it dosen’t always work that way – suffering at times does not seem to discriminate between the good and bad, seemingly oblivious of a moral direction.

Without doubt, bad undesirable things would happen to us, in ways that cannot be prevented : such is the nature of randomness of events that is an integral way of how the Universe works. Did the dinosaurs deserve to become extinct by a rogue asteroid (if indeed that’s why mass extinction happened), or did 6 million Jewish people deserve to be killed in the third Reich ? No logical explanation can override the fact, that many of our misfortunes are inevitably random, and no one’s fault. In Buddhism, this category of suffering is often called ‘suffering of suffering’ (1), an allusion to the element of inevitable misfortune at times that the very fact of our existence brings about.

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.”
– John W Gardner

One of the central goals of Buddhist practice is to deal with the problem of ‘suffering’ at the fundamental level of our awareness. There are two common routes : one is to adopt the hypothesis of Karma, in which every action of ours, conscious or unconscious, has a ripple effect that spans over multiple life-times, of one individual or many. The notion of Karma and re-birth was used by C. S. Jung to draw parallel to his theory of ‘archetypes’, a dynamic substrata of human experience in which humans are born into, thus giving rise to individual characteristics and psychological traits. (2) The source of these inherited archetypes arises in Jung’s view not from one’s personal Karma, but that from one’s ancestors. Karma in Jung’s view therefore does not have any super-natural elements of any re-incarnating element of human existence, but that of the effective of this ‘collective unconscious archetypes’ on our destinies. In this view therefore, our individual misfortunes and fortunes are just random ripples in a continued river of human consciousness, thus having no individual or personal significance. Our reaction should therefore logically be to counter such suffering with tolerance and forbearance, and make all efforts whenever possible to prevent recurrence of similar suffering to our future generations and also ourselves. In practice an operational understanding of Karma does not relieve suffering without a period of conditioning of our minds based on mindfulness and meditation, developing compassion for all living beings, whether they are more or less fortunate than ourselves. ‘Why me’ gets replaced by the broader concerns of ‘how can suffering be relieved for every being ?’

The second route is far more direct and philosophical, often based upon mystical traditions emphasized especially, but not exclusively, within esoteric teachings. The doctrine of emptiness (Diamond Sutra) for instance aims to replace the mundane concerns of existential suffering with a direct kind of happiness that arises out of an Unified sense of reality with the entire Cosmos, through a direct understanding of the inherently impermanent nature of events and things that we hold on to, to provide us with a false sense of stability and happiness. As the self itself is an impermanent entity, concerns for One’s self that bring unhappiness are perhaps way over-exaggerated. One should indeed work for one’s own welfare (as the Buddha emphasized) but in a manner that places spiritual concerns way before material concerns. One soon realizes that a lot of our suffering is brought about by attempting to cling on to things and states we crave for. ‘Why me ?’ is overshadowed by ‘How we are preventing ourselves from experiencing real happiness by excessive attachment to our petty concerns.’

Although Buddhism influenced psychotherapy is around for help, the Buddhist road to wisdom is essentially designed to be a journey we must experience for ourselves. Life is too short and evanescent for self-pity or continue to cling onto the bars of our psychological prison we impose by putting our own concerns above everybody else’s.

Reference :

(1) http://luminousemptiness.blogspot.com/2006/05/three-types-of-suffering.html

(2) Jung and Eastern thought by Harold G. Coward; Pg 100; ISBN13: 978-0-88706-052-6

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7 Comments to “‘Why me ?’ : Dealing with self-pity from a Buddhist perspective”

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