How to Deal with Adversity According to Buddhist Wisdom
Q: How should people deal with adversity according to the Buddha's wisdom?
A: The Buddhist approach is different from the approach of ordinary people. The latter, when encountering hardships and dangers, usually try to run away from the situation or bulldoze through it blindly. Or they get angry and bitter. This is the general reaction of ordinary people. However, according to the teachings of the Buddha, if you encounter adversity or a perilous situation, you should know that this is simply the consequence of your past karma ripening now. In this way, you will be able to face the problem with equanimity, accepting that this is what you deserve. With every cause must come an effect, and there is no effect without a cause, which invariably is your own doing. Therefore, the first thing to learn is to grin and bear it.
Second, we should reflect on our own behavior. The current difficult and depressing situation can be improved by changing the way we think and how we conduct ourselves. We should start accruing merits and virtues as well.
Third, do not resist or harbor hatred. This is the other side of the same coin of self-reflection. That is, we should not deny the present state of affairs or resent anyone or the plight we are in. Accept that this is our own karma. As the saying goes: be a man and face the music. If you refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of your past actions, you are not a decent person. Instead, you are just cheating and not playing fair. This is unacceptable.
There is a Buddhist saying: sentient beings fear the consequences while Bodhisattvas fear the causes." Bodhisattvas realize that evil causes will lead to very bad karmic consequences. Therefore they are prudent about their actions and take measures to guard against bad deeds. On the other hand, sentient beings misbehave all the time and yet, when facing retribution, they panic and place the blame on fate and others, bemoaning, "Arghh! How could this happen to me?” [If we understand that everything is our own doing], we must act responsibly when retribution comes, that is: be a man, face the music. You must bear the consequences of your own actions, no matter how difficult or seemingly impossible it is to do so. If you made a wine that has turned bitter, you must drink it in order to suffer less. If you try to fight a very strong wind stubbornly, you will get knocked off your feet and get hurt. Rather, be like the yielding blades of grass bending away from the wind, accepting, tolerating the force of the gale. This is the essence of grin and bear it, an attitude of resigning to adversity, is it not?
The expression “grin and bear it” or “resigning to adversity” is full of wisdom. What should you do if a headwind is coming? Go along in the direction of the wind. For example, if the wind blows to the east, we should go east as well, gently falling down to let the wind pass. This is what is meant by grinning and bearing it. Just like practicing tai chi chuan, the opposing force will be weakened, absorbed and defused. I would say resigning to and accepting adversity is a life skill that everyone must learn. It is a rule of thumb in life. However, some people don’t understand this philosophy. They would say, “You’re such a nice guy, why should you simply accept something bad without putting up a fight? You are spineless!” Well, try to resist or resent a karmic retribution and you’ll see what happens. The chances are you will end up badly hurt, which benefits no one.
Well, you may ask what exactly am I bearing up to and accepting?
You are bearing up to and accepting the causes created by yourself and the circumstances under which the effects are manifesting. This benefits everyone and has the lowest cost. If resistance and aggression arise in your mind, and you decide to fight and defy the other party, then he will also be confrontational; on a larger scale, this could create discord in society..
The important thing to remember is not to harbor hatred, for it only pains yourself, like a knife stabbing deeper and deeper into your heart. You can of course seek help, such as from people who are in a position to influence events, or by resorting to legal means, or trying conciliation. However, whilst taking such action, accept your responsibilities and do not become angry with others. This is not easy to do, but it is beneficial to all.
There is of course an important fallback - to practice Amitabha-recitation. When all else fails, recite Amitabha's name as if your life depends on it. Will it work? Absolutely! There is a saying that goes, "Even if you don’t do it for the sake of the monks, do it for the sake of the Buddha." The Buddha is the loving father of sentient beings of the four modes of birth and the teacher of the nine dharma realms. No matter what animosity there is between us and others, be they in this world, or in any of the six realms, the more we recite Amitabha's name, the more our karmic hindrances will be eliminated, and our merits and blessings multiplied. The difficult situation will be gradually resolved. This is a fundamental law. There are a multitude of challenges in life: dangers, setbacks, declines, distortions, pains, etc. And so it is all the more important that we have the correct outlook of life, values, and the world.
Try thinking like this, "This is my own karma, so I have no one else to blame. I will whole-heartedly seek rebirth in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, forever freeing myself from the suffering of this world. Then, as a Buddha, I vow to return to this world to save others." In this way, as the saying goes, "Heroes are forged in adversity." This means that difficulties can strengthen our resolve to practice the Dharma. Therefore, no matter how challenging or trying the situations that we are facing, they serve as good, favorable conditions for spiritual cultivation, such as reciting Amitabha's name in order to gain rebirth. It is like giving the rocket the right fuel for launching into space. We turn everything negative and unfavorable to our advantage. It is just like the lotus flowers, blossoming out of murky water, yet remaining pristine and emitting a wonderful fragrance.
Our various sufferings and afflictions in the Saha World become the motivational force for us to recite Amitabha’s name and, therefore, the source of our rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, just as the muddy pond is to the lotus flower which does not get contaminated.
(Translated and edited by the Pure Land School Translation Team)
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings