How does a Buddhist know when to tolerate a situation, and when to exit a situation? For example, a lay Buddhist in an abusive relationship: is it correct to accept the abuse, or avoid it?

Disclaimer: I am not referring to my own relationship. I just chose this scenario as a hypothetical example.

  • So the question isn't about interpersonal nor abusive relationships?
    – ChrisW
    Jan 22, 2018 at 12:02
  • @ChrisW not exclusively, I just chose that as an example of the greater question
    – Ian
    Jan 22, 2018 at 13:39

5 Answers 5


Very interesting question. I'd say, as long as you can keep learning from it, it's OK to stay in an abusive relationship, may even be useful. But only if you know what you're getting out of it, what is it that it helps you practice.

May be patience, may be metta, may be egolessness etc.

But once you have exhausted learning possibilities, I would say it's time to move on. In my mind this pertains to all types of difficult situations: abusive relationships, difficult job conditions etc.

If the pressure is so strong that it flips you into a victim mode all the times, and you completely forget that you are there to practice (as you would in a master mode) - that's probably a good indicator that the issue is more on the danger side than on the aversion side, I think it's a question of strength. There's no reason in subjecting oneself to what one just cannot handle, that stops being practice and becomes self-harm at that point.

So to summarize: 1) can you keep learning from this? 2) Are you not overwhelmed to the point of not being in control of your learning anymore?

  • Thanks for a good answer. I'm curious also about how compassion plays into this kind of complex scenario. I know that the Buddha said to practice compassion not only towards others, but also towards oneself. So in the case of being abused, I wonder if it would be more compassionate to avoid the pain, or sit with it for the long-term gain. Probably the latter, but I would imagine that's pretty hard to achieve
    – Ian
    Jan 22, 2018 at 3:17
  • 2
    To me, this is just like with physical exercise. It's completely up to you how much pain you can handle until it becomes self-abuse. As long as you're learning.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jan 22, 2018 at 3:23

What is dangerous that is harmful, stressful, undesired. What one is averse to that is perceived as stressful, undesired and harmful.

Difference is that Aversion is to be uprooted as Defilement, Danger is to be avoided.

Seem to me that it is a matter of evaluating the object of referrence, in this case the relationship.

Does OP rightfully perceive danger?

It is perceived as abusive by OP, if OP s perception is well developed as in he is a wise & well-discerning person then definitely he should run away once he starts perceiving the danger in such association. It would be like seeing a punch coming and not moving away, you dont have to but all things considered you probably better off moving.

One who has a relationship has worry about relationship. When there is no relationship, there can be no abuse of that sort.


It's the same as how you know not to put your hand in the fire. You are not angry with the fire. You are just avoiding potential danger. It's the same as checking for vehicles when crossing the road.

Regarding relationships, you have to see with wisdom if it's really a case of your partner dragging you down all the time or if it's just you looking for more and more. Give the relationship a fair chance to improve with kind and respectful discussion regarding the issues before making any drastic decisions.


There are two nice story and maybe it's of use:

The Healing of the Bull: A Story, by Suvimalee Karunaratna (2005; 10pp./29KB) [PDF icon] In this tale from Karunaratna's series of stories to be read aloud to young children, we meet a bull, crippled with anger and bitterness for the years of mistreatment he suffered at the hands of his masters. Kapuri the she-elephant and the wise tortoise come to his aid, offering an important teaching on mindfulness, awareness, and loving-kindness.

Prisoners of Karma: A Story, by Suvimalee Karunaratna (2005; 9pp./26KB) [PDF icon] In this tale from Karunaratna's series of stories to be read aloud to young children, we meet a caged peacock who pines for the carefree days when he lived freely in the wilds. Thanks to the advice of Kapuri the she-elephant and the wise tortoise, he learns to steady his mind and find peace even within the confines of his cramped prison.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial use or other lower wordily gains by ways of exchange or trade]


The danger is when we start to procrastinate and complain about our situation. When a person thinks his volition is not guided by virtue but by an external circumstance that person is in servitude, and for a person who is in servitude there is no liberation.

All virtue lies in detachment and if a person acts virtuously then he is free from attachment. However, if a person acts for fear of losing an external thing, for example, a partner or child his/her's volition is attached to an external thing and if start he admits to his mind that these things are above his/ her freedom this is servitude and that is the only danger for man.

We have to maintain at all time a free volition, free to follow virtue, and if you ever feel subjection and unable to act with goodwill and if you start to complain about your situation then you have to remind yourself that the door is open, if you don’t you will start to live a life of a worm not of man.

Quoting from other schools....

Don’t be more cowardly than children, but just as they say, when the game is no longer fun for them, ‘I won’t play any more,’ you too, when things seem that way to you, say, ‘I won’t play any more,’ and leave, but if you remain, don’t complain

Aversion is simply altering your right intention directed by virtue due to fear or ignorance while still maintain your freedom of choice in your thinking whereas a danger is admitting a mindset of servitude subjecting your volition to be controlled by someone else, thinking that you are not free when you are truly free.

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