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Here's an interesting situation.

Let's say we have to persons. Tom and Happy. Both have the same desire: "I want a new car." The strength of their desires are equal. Tom lives in universe A, Happy lives in universe B. Both universes are exact copies of each other, everything is the same, timeline is the same, events are all the same, everything,.. Tom and Happy are copies of each other, clones, but there's just one little difference between the two universes: Tom suffers, Happy does not suffer.

Tom suffers: "I have an old car with bad engine and that's why I'm not happy. I want a new car."

Happy does not suffer: "I have an old car with bad engine and I'm happy. I want a new car."

Both persons want a new car for the same reasons: "Because it's old and has a bad engine."

The only difference between Tom and Happy is that Tom is suffering because of his old car with a bad engine; and Happy is not suffering because of his old car with bad engine. There are no other differences between Tom and Happy and the two universes they live in.

We can see that both Tom and Happy have the same motives for getting a new car: old car with bad engine.

If Tom and Happy have the same motives for getting a new car, both will exert the same amount of energy to get a new car. So, both will do the same exact actions in their universes to get a new car. So, both will get a new car at exactly the same time.

But Tom has one motive more than Happy: Tom is suffering! Does that mean that Tom will get a new car quicker than Happy?! If Tom has more motives than Tom, than it's logical that Tom will be more proactive in getting a new car than Happy? So, the question is: who will get a new car quicker, Tom or Happy?

The real question is: is suffering a motivator? Is suffering a motivator only if the amount of suffering does not go over a specific threshold? Or is suffering not a motivator? If suffering is a motivator, than it does not make sense to completely remove it, because if you remove it, you will be less proactive to reach your goals in life? What did Buddha say above this? I'm a beginner and I'm sorry if I don't understand, I hope someone can shed some light on this topic. Thanks

  • I wish to ask 'what is happiness for you ?'. I am asking this because I feel that you do not want to know about suffering but real happiness. If I am appearing valid to you than plz answer it the way you have asked your question (example not from any veda or religious text but you own experience that you always wish to achieve). Regards. – jitin Apr 15 '15 at 6:42
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    From my own experience happiness is fulfilling our desires. Suffering is not fulfilling our desires. By fulfilling our desires we experience existence (we become conscious). By not fulfilling our desires we experience non existence. If we completely stop ALL desires from arising within our true self, we cannot experience existence (we become unconscious). Existence is ignorance. On the deepest level, there is no happiness, suffering, nor existence, nor "being consciouss" or "being unconsciouss". There's only our true self, God, which nature is constant "creation and/or cessation of desires". – beginner Apr 15 '15 at 9:59
  • From God's nature there comes evolution, the process of putting layer upon layer of ignorance around our true self. Evolution made our universe, our brains, everything... So, everything has God inside, and everything is experiencing God's nature on one level or the other. Our brains are "machines" that can experience God's nature on our level. Probably the only ones who can see the ultimate truth. We should spend our lives wisely and take the opportunity to see the truth. If nothing else, it enhances our lives because we cease to suffer unnecessarily. – beginner Apr 15 '15 at 10:00
  • Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm not. Fact is I've never read scriptures or books about this. Has anybody ever heard somewhere the same thing that I'm talking about? – beginner Apr 15 '15 at 10:02
  • True self, God's nature - doesn't sound related to Buddhism. There is neither a permanent self nor a Creator God in Buddhism. – ruben2020 Apr 15 '15 at 14:13
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In your example you stated that both Tom and Happy had cars that had bad engines.

Tom was unhappy and Happy was okay with it.

So right from the beginning we can see that their happiness did not depend on whether or not they had bad engines but their reaction to it.

Therefore one must apply the same conclusion to the outcome of getting a new car.It's not about who gets the new car first,it's their reaction to it.

Happiness depends on reactions to circumstances.Not circumstances themselves.

Is suffering a motivator?

Yes absolutely.When the Siddhatta saw suffering he decided to pursue the spiritual life.Sometimes living in deva like bliss masks the true nature of reality.That it is impermanent,not self,and suffering.

Is suffering a motivator only if the amount of suffering does not go over a specific threshold?

Yes that is why the human realm is the best place to practice the dhamma.One has their fair share of happiness and suffering.It is balanced to some extent.

If suffering is a motivator, than it does not make sense to completely remove it, because if you remove it, you will be less proactive to reach your goals in life?

That's like saying bleeding will motivate you to bandage yourself.But if you do bandage yourself,then the bleeding will stop,then how are you going to bandage yourself..??

Removing suffering is the goal.

  • I think suffering can also be a demotivator depending on the context. Suppose someone that don't have a car and wishes to buy one. But he/she is very concerned about having to learn to drive and getting the drive permit, about the expenses of gas, taxes, maintenance, etc, and all these worries prevents this person from buying it. – eric Apr 15 '15 at 17:30
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I thought about it. I think that suffering is not a motivator.

We believe suffering is a motivator because we don't see the reality as it is.

On the deepest level of our true self, every desire always arises within our true self, independent from pain and/or suffering and/or anything else, from nothing but God, because we (our true self) want it to arise. It arises because we (our true self) JUST WANT it to arise. Our desire is clean, perfect, clear of all impurities. Then, we (ego) attach suffering to the desire: every suffering always arises within our true self, from nothing but God, because we (our true self) JUST WANT it to arise. Our suffering is clean, perfect, clear of all impurities. Then, we, our UNTRUE self, our egos, attach suffering to the desire and mistakenly see it as "Oh, I desire because I suffer". The truth is "I desire because I desire to desire", "I suffer because I desire to suffer" - that's on the deepest level.

But, if we move one step closer to the surface, away from our true self, away from God, closer to our physical world, we desire because of pain (we cannot remove pain, that's just how it is, it's in our nature, it's how our body is made). So, blinded by our egos, because of the nature of our physical bodies, "I desire because I desire to desire" becomes "I desire because I feel pain". The key is to realize that we do not desire because of suffering: we desire because of pain. Suffering comes after pain.

But, if we move completely to the surface, completely away from our true self, completely away from God, to our physical world, we think that "we desire because of suffering". So, blinded by our egos, "I desire because I desire to desire" becomes "I desire because I suffer". That's not true. First, we feel pain. Out of pain we desire to desire and there comes desire. Out of pain we desire to suffer and there comes suffering. It's pain->desire->suffering. We can't see it this way because we are blinded by our ego (and probably because of other layers between our true self and the ego).

If all our desires come from pain, and all suffering comes from pain, it cannot be that suffering intensifies (motivates us more) our desires. Pain intensifies (motivates us more) our desires, not suffering, because our desires come from pain. Suffering is just a byproduct of pain, one more obstacle that we need to overcome in order to remove the pain. Thus suffering is not a motivator. Suffering is an additional ("not needed") obstacle to overcome if we want to remove the pain.

Suppose this scenario: Tom and Happy go for a walk in nature. They get a thorn in their foot. Both will feel the same pain, but Tom will suffer, and Happy will NOT suffer. Let's see how would both react when they get a thorn in their foot.

Tom will suffer: "Aaaa! No! It hurts! Where did this thorn come from??!! Aaaa! S**** thorn!". He will franatically move his hands, he'll be angry, he'll jump up and down, breaking things. After 15 seconds he will calm down, sit on the ground and try to remove the thorn from his foot. He'll be nervous and angry. He'll find out that his fingernails are not long enough to grasp the thorn. He'll say "Aaaa! S**** thorn! Why did this happen to me?! Why are my fingernails soo d*** short!" and will punch his fist in the ground. Then, he'll calm down, focus on the thorn and eventually pull it out.

Happy will not suffer: "Aaaa! No! It hurts!". He will sit on the ground and try to remove the thorn from his foot. He'll find out that his fingernails are not long enough to grasp the thorn. Then, he'll focus on the thorn and eventually pull it out.

What do we see here? Happy is more effective in removing the thorn than Tom. We see that suffering is an obstacle towards reaching our goals. Suffering is not a motivator. Pain is the motivator. Suffering and pain are not the same. Suffering is always internal. Pain is always external.

In my first example with "the old car", pain is "old car with bad engine". Pain is external. "old car with bad engine" is like a thorn in the foot, the only difference being that a thorn is physical pain, and "old car with bad engine" is usability pain (getting late to work, not safe for driving, unreliable transportation, dirty interior, etc.). Pain is a motivator - that's why Tom and Happy both want a new car. Suffering is not a motivator. Suffering comes after pain. Suffering manifests in Tom in the form of anger and sadness. Suffering is internal. "old car with bad engine" is pain, anger and sadness that comes out of pain is suffering.

Who will get his new car first? The answer is Happy. The less you suffer, the more motivated you are. Or lets put it this way: pain and suffering is both suffering. If you remove suffering completely, then you suffer less. If you suffer less, you don't have to deal with your suffering to achieve your goals, you have one obstacle less towards reaching your goal, so you're more motivated to work towards reaching your goals if you suffer less. The less the obstacles, the easier the work, the quicker you reach your goal!

Here's something for perspective. Suppose you get a thorn in your foot (or you want a new car; it can be any desire):

Pain Suffering
0    0         You do nothing.
50   0         You remove pain the 10th day.
100  0         You remove pain the 5th day.

So, the more pain, the more motivated you are. Or: the more pain, the quicker we achieve our goals because we want to remove the pain.

Pain    Suffering
0       0         You do nothing.
50      50        You remove pain (and suffering) the 15th day.
50      80        You remove pain (and suffering) the 20th day.
50      85        You remove pain (and suffering) the 30th day.
50      90        You never remove pain. You give up. You become depressed.

So, the more suffering, the less motivated you are. Or: the more suffering, the more obstacles we have in achieving our goals.

Pain    Suffering
0       0        You do nothing.
50      50       You remove pain (and suffering) the 15th day.
50      80       You remove pain (and suffering) the 20th day.
50      85       You remove pain (and suffering) the 30th day.
50      90       You never remove pain. You give up. You become depressed.
60      90       You remove pain (and suffering) the 60th day.
60      95       You never remove pain. You give up. You become depressed.
70      95       You remove pain (and suffering) the 90th day.

So, the more suffering, the less proactive you are. The more pain, the more proactive you are. Or: The more suffering, the more obstacles we have in achieving our goals. The more pain, the quicker we achieve our goals because we want to remove the pain.

We see that pain will always be present. We can do nothing about it. But suffering can be removed. There's no sense in making our lives harder than they already are.

Did I miss something?

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Is suffering a motivator? Yes. Suffering is the motivator that has compelled people to invent many things. Ennui, boredom, curiousity, and love are also strong motivators and have invented most of appliances we have today.

Is suffering a motivator only if the amount of suffering does not go over a specific threshold? Yes. Excessive suffering = death.

Or is suffering not a motivator? Not-suffering aka comfort, is also a great motivator. For example, here we all are discussing with the blessing of lacking enough suffering to learn the Buddhadharma, a very empowering, enlightening, and complete subject.

If suffering is a motivator, than it does not make sense to completely remove it, because if you remove it, you will be less proactive to reach your goals in life? Right. In Buddhism, suffering is actually used as a meditation practice in many ways. One way is the Buddhist self-training process for meditation: if you are extremely attached to beautiful things, go try to tolerate ugly places. If you are very messy, encourage organized behavior/environment. etc.

What did Buddha say above this? He has said many things including: "If there was anything else causing as much difficulty as love, Enlightenment would not be possible." read: if people suffered as much as they did over love, then there would be no clarity of mind to ever see the Dharma. So, as you can see, the Buddha definitely encouraged us to avoid excessive suffering.

and of course

"the root of suffering is attachment" (2nd noble truth) Gautama Buddha has crossed to the other side and he is telling us "Hey you, fix your suffering, you are hitting yourself on the head!" It's like we have a computer virus in us that is causing excessive attachment on things that will not satisfy and fixing that virus is called Enlightenment.

Also, in Buddhism, suffering is considered purifying away your bad karma. This is why many Zen masters would take ON suffering rather than throw it away. "Everything is empty, so pile more burdens on my back!" --zen saying

The gist that you must understand: purposeful suffering is usually not good, but if we pay attention without complaining there are tremendous learning and growth opportunities contained within our "sufferings"! Buddhism says to not pile suffering/attachment on top of suffering/attachment and you will be the happiest person alive. The problem is that this is a habit developed over countless lives--very very hard to break at the root no matter who you are. I leave you with this video.

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There is pleasure and pain. Also called joy and sorrow.

For e.g. if I'm a sport-loving person, then the pleasure of sporting activities is sufficient to motivate me to participate in them. Here I am "pulled" towards the goal of becoming more physically active.

However, if I'm not a sport-loving person, then the pain of experiencing cardiovascular diseases or other side-effects of a sedentary lifestyle would drive me towards becoming more physically active. Here I am "pushed" towards the goal of becoming more physically active.

The Buddha taught the four noble truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the path that leads to the end of suffering.

I think you have confused pain or sorrow, with what Buddha describes as suffering (dukkha).

Suffering (dukkha) includes both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.

The Buddha explains in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta:

The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering.

As long as one craves for life and existence, one is subject to endless birth, death, rebirth, experiencing endless ups and downs of pleasure and pain, gaining and losing loved ones, having unfulfilled desires etc. Nothing that is joyful lasts forever. Nothing that is sorrowful can be avoided forever. Just imagine undergoing these for eternity without rest. Not just as a human, but also as an animal, ghost, angel (deva) etc.

This is the entirety of suffering (dukkha). Not just the part that relates to pain and sorrow. Such suffering should motivate you to get rid of it, just as the good prince was motivated to leave his comfortable life in search of the end of suffering.

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Main motivator for all worldly beings is sensations. You chase after pleasant sensations or pleasures and avoid the unpleasant.

In the above case one person is motivated by craving for a new car and the other is motivated by the goal sans craving. The latter might have a balanced mind in his pursuit keeping things objective but maybe slack as the drive maybe less. The other person may not have the same mental balance but may pursue the goal more vigorously.

Being more vigorous may not be the deciding factor in the achievements of the goal ultimately. Loss of mental balance may motivate non conducive paths like stealing which might in fact hinder the achievement of the goal.

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Tom will get the car first

If all other external factors are same Tom will get the car first,

Yes suffering is a motivator

No one in the world likes to suffer. Everyone wants to end the suffering. When Tom is suffering he asks himself, what makes him suffer, because he has an old car , then he asks , what can I do to end the suffering, he can get a new car , so he works really hard to get a new car to end the suffering, let's look at another example, if you have a slight chest pain (less suffering) you will ignore it and will not go to see a doctor . But if you had a severe chest pain (severe suffering), you would run to a doctor.

If suffering is a motivator, then it does not make sense to completely remove it, because if you remove it, you will be less proactive to reach your goals in life?

Approach from Buddhism

Buddha taught us to eradicate suffering. Achieving nirvana will end the suffering. Buddha did not teach us how to reach our goals in life. Goals are things that you make up in your mind to end your suffering temporarily. Every goal has a hidden suffering. Even "Happy(a person in your question)" suffers (but less than Tom), else he would never buy a new car. Root cause of motive is suffering. If Happy achieved nirvana , he would never want a new car.

If above people get new cars , they will find some other reason soon to suffer thus new motives happen.

Buddha taught us to end this chain-suffering (one after the other) which makes ones samsara. To do that we have to follow the path to nirvana , not to follow some goals to solve our suffering problem temporarily, its just a plaster to an erupting volcano of samsara which never ends.

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