Student’s Question: Did the Buddha tell us that we have to just accept that there is suffering? 

A student writes:

I am a little confused about suffering. I am working through the materials of your Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course and I have just read that ‘responsiveness as the basis of the path to awakening’, but is it okay not to want to suffer? Is that our natural response?

Yet in the First Noble Truth, doesn’t the Buddha tell us that we have to accept that there is suffering?

Lama Shenpen:

Definitely not. Quite the reverse! The Buddha says that all conditioned existence is suffering so we should seek the real, that is not conditioned, and so free from suffering. But it’s definitely our natural response not to want to suffer.


I thought that meant that we have to accept suffering as a natural occurrence, just as we accept happiness.

Lama Shenpen:

In practice it means that we have to turn towards suffering and not try to pretend it is not happening.

We have to stop running away from the experience – instead we have to experience it fully and properly and in that way we learn its true nature and how to go beyond it.

If we just run off and try to hide from it or pretend it is not happening, then we do not escape it – it follows us wherever we go. So we have to turn to face it.

Maybe that is what you are thinking of when you ask about accepting it?


What I’m reading seems to be saying is that our natural response to suffering (that of wanting to do away with it) is part of the Heart Wish.

Lama Shenpen:

It is the Heart Wish*. What we have to learn is the true way to go beyond suffering – not our usual reactions that just make things worse.


*Heart Wish – is what Lama Shenpen calls the chitta in the Living the Awakened Heart Training – it’s the seat of our deepest longings and sense of truth. It relates to our inner drive, volition, aspiration, dedication, commitment etc. It’s the drive that comes from the Indestructible Heart Essence itself, our Buddha Nature. There’s a curious paradox here, we need this drive, the Heart Wish in order to connect to and align with the Indestructible Heart Essence, yet the source of its power is no other than the inherent power of the Indestructible Heart Essence itself.

Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, that’s open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at