Buddhism = Masochism?

No disrespect to any Buddhists but I was thinking:

Buddhism aims to transcend the pleasure/pain duality so that happiness is acheived regardless of conditions.

Since one is happy when experiencing pleasure, you can reduce that to: happiness is acheived when suffering.

Isn’t this the definition of masochism?

How do you reach the pleasure=suffering conlcusion?

Also, I think Buddhism teaches that one should try to attain, rather than a state of perpetual happiness, a state of enlightenment that transcends happiness or sadness, as well as pain or pleasure.

Well i’ll answer your second point first, Sublight as you seem to be objecting to my first premise: that Buddhism aims for an independant happiness.

This boils down to me saying that the Buddhist idea of unconditional happiness is the same as the happiness that follows from pleasure. Since “happiness” is a term that can be used to describe a possibly infinite number of individual experiences, I would argue that its ok to describe Nirvana as happiness.

OK, my main confusion was your third line about ‘one is happy when experiencing pleasure’ being reduceable to ‘happiness is achieved when suffering’.

OK, my main confusion was over your third line about ‘one is happy when experiencing pleasure’ being reduceable to ‘happiness is achieved when suffering’. I’m just not following that step.

True enlightenment, of course, comes through learning to recognize which button says ‘preview’ and which button says ‘submit’.

lol, I know the feeling :slight_smile:

I’m trying to say, in step 3 that, without enlightenment someone is happiest when they are experiencing pleasure. With enlightenment someone is happiest whether they are experiencing pleasure or not.

Am I right so far?

The difference is that the enlightened person is not perturbed by conditions that would cause suffering and unhappiness in an unenlightened person - he remains happy. The masochist is similar in that a state of happiness occurs when either pleasure or pain is experienced.

Technically they are different because the enlightened one’s state of happiness does not result from the experience of pain, while the Masochist’s does. However the difference is not great - what makes them both different from an unenlightened non-masochist is that they are happy when experiencing pain.

Originally, Buddhism was about the extinguishment of the self. But that brand is long gone. Which kind of Buddhism are you talking about? it not a single monolithic entity.

How is that brand “long gone”? For most of the Buddhists I’ve met, the elimination of selfishness is one of the major (perhaps THE major) point of the meditations. You are correct in that there are many different kinds of Buddhism and that the teachings have been interpreted in many ways, but you also seem to be saying that NONE of the current schools of thought deal with the extinguishment of the illusion of self. Please clarify.

*Originally posted by Meta-Gumble *

I don’t think it’s correct to assume that the goal of Buddhism is to transcend the pleasure/pain duality. The goal is to overcome suffering, which at it’s base is caused by “attachment” (dukkha). So the emphasis in Buddhism is getting at (and thereby eventually overcoming) the root of the problem which is attachment (dukkha).

It would not be OK to describe Nirvana as happiness - the Buddhist idea of unconditional happiness is NOT the same as the happiness that normally follows from pleasure. The two are qualitatively different (or so I’m told).

Buddhism is called “the middle path” because you are supposed to renounce extremes of mortification/ suffering, just as you are meant to renounce excesses of sensual pleasure.

The Four Noble Truths, AKA the Truth of the Buddha, states that desire = suffering; end of desire = end of suffering.

You’ve got yer syllogism reversed somehow, and have just determined that all mortals are Socrates. Geez, go read *Siddhartha * - there’s a reason Hesse won a Nobel Prize.

Your OP is based on faulty wordplay with the word happiness. You’re saying “enlightenment” = “spiritual happiness” = “happiness”, and “worldly happiness” = “happiness”, and drawing the conclusion that enlightenment and worldly happiness are equal.

That’s like saying beef is food, and M & M’s are food, so M & M’s and cows are the same thing.

Enlightenment and worldly happiness can’t be considered equivalent. If fact, as I understand it, enlightenment requires and end to the pursuit of worldly happiness.

You are kind of conflating two concepts which are important to keep distinct in Buddism. Pain is not suffering, wordly(samsaric) Pleasure is not the happiness of detachment. Both pain and pleasure cause suffering through our attachment to the world,our bodies/senses and our egos. You are not “happy when experiencing pleasure”, you are suffering knowing that it will soon end. :slight_smile: True happiness comes when down to your core you realize there is no difference between pleasure/pain.

on preview: CrazyMonkey said it succinctly.

And it’s more complicated than that. :wink: Usually slightly informed people confuse buddism with nihilism but there is hope in Buddism, a call to action as well. Check out: What Buddhists Believe at saigon.com. Lots of good reading if interested.

There is no actual requirement; one is allowed earthly goals. It is expected however, as detachment grows goals will naturally change. Buddism expects one to maintain earthly obligations if you haven’t taken the monk’s vows. Buddhist texts usually refer to lay followers as “householders” if anyone’s googling.

Fallacy of the undistributed middle. :smiley:

Thanks for clearing that up for me CrazyMonkey - i’m not altogether sure that it is just wordplay though.

I mean “worldly happiness” Vs “spiritual happiness” is not a distinction I understand. Would you care to elaborate? I’m of the view that all kinds of happiness can be described as spiritual in the sense that there is a spirit being happy. Whether this is conditional or unconditional, enduring or transient is another matter.


Maybe i’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but I recall reading about Zen Master Bankei who totally emphasized non-duality. I’ve also read in a pamphlet about Buddhism that non-duality is the goal of a particular kind of Buddhism… I’ll give that cite once I find it.

*Originally posted by Meta-Gumble *

Bankei emphasized non-duality as his method or approach in understanding why people are bound by attachment (dukkha) which is the root cause of suffering. The pleasure/pain duality is an illusion - once one undertakes the proper training (in the case of Bankei, Zen Buddhism), one will evenutally come to realize the impermanent nature of all things and the illusionary nature of all dualities. Once one realizes this, one then is no longer under the clutches of attachment (dukkha). Therefore, one can break free from the bindings of suffering (in other words, become enlightened).

One of my favorite Buddhist anecdotes I’ve run across recently:

This fellow was attending a retreat; it of course involved a lot of sitting meditation, for long periods of time. Make no mistake–this can lead to discomfort, especially if you’re not that flexible. His legs were cramping up, his back ached, and his mental state was worse–increasingly, he was alternating between intense itchy boredom (“this is stupid”), despair (“I’m not cut out for this”), and anger (“this is STUPID!”) and the usual combinations of those.

Between meditation sessions, the leader of the retreat gives readings, addresses, that sort of thing. He was addressing everyone there, of course, but the opening words really hit for that fellow. “The difficulty you are having now…” the leader began.

And in his head–as we all tend to do–he was already completing the thought according to his expectations. In his head, he already was thinking, “…will go away.”

Instead, the actual conclusion of the sentence was “…will be with you the rest of your lives.”

It’s certainly possible to read masochism into that kind of story–me, I see it mostly as an example of Buddhism-centric dark humor. (Which is a tangential side topic, it seems to me–lots of people just don’t get gallows humor, and will tend to think there’s something wrong with other people who are amused by it. I see some similarities there, in a way.)

And in a larger sense, it’s definitely possible to see various strains, aspects, and formulations of Buddhism as being masochistic in nature. There’s a tendency towards asceticism and isolationism that folks into it can fall into; on the purely physical side, “just sitting” can indeed be downright painful from time to time. Some of the more slippery elements of varying interpretations of it also–fairly–support the view; there’s a bit attributed to Nagarjuna that runs “Nirvana is samsara itself; samsara is nirvana itself.” That can easily be viewed as being a glorification of suffering.

But, I do think that’s a bit too simplistic; I’m relatively confident in saying it’s in error. It strikes me as similar to framing Christianity as essentially sadistic, by line of reasoning saying that it glorifies the Son’s sacrifice. You can similarly find support for that view, and Christians who seem hellbent (so to speak) on living that support, in the same way that you can find Buddhists hellbent on being living support for the equals-masochism framing. But I think both are simply human error, projected into practices where it isn’t the essential truth of them.


In going over my texts I have on Bankei, the central tenet in his teaching was to “Abide in the Unborn” - the Unborn generally signifying in most Buddhist accounts as that which is intrinsic, original, uncreated.

According to Bankei, rather than obtaining or practicing the Unborn, one should simply abide in it, because the Unboard isn’t a state that has to be created, but one in which it already exists. There isn’t any special method for realizing the Unborn, other than to be yourself, to be totally natural and spontaneous in everything you do.

The mind, as Bankei describes it, is a dynamic mechanism, reflecting, recording and recalling our impressions of the world, a kind of living mirror that is always in motion, never the same from one moment to the next. Within this mirror mind, thoughts and feelings come and go, appearing, vanishing, and reappearing in response to circumstances, neither good or bad in themselves.

According to Bankei, unlike the person who abides in the Unborn, the average (impulsive) person suffers from attachment. The person is never natural and spontaneous because he is a slave to responses to circumstances, which he fails to realize are only passing reflections. As a result, he is continually “stuck” or “hung up”, entangled in particular thoughts and sensations, obstructing the free flow of the mind. Everything will operate smoothly if we only step aside and let the mind do its job.

For Bankei, the important thing is letting go, breaking the mold of our self-centerdness and bad habits.

Source - Haskel, P. (1984). Bankei Zen.

So Bankei used the concept of the Unborn in his teachings. To overcome attachment (which is the root of suffering), the method is to simply “abide in the Unborn” - free the mind to do its job and not get caught up in one’s thoughts.

I doubt this is appropriate to buddhism, but what occurs to me on reading your post is:

Someone constantly annoying you at work, humming, and trying to talk to you when you’re concentrating, and so forth. You then learn to ignore it, and you become independant of it, and enjoy yourself, or not, otherhow.

And then someone says “So, you enjoy being annoyed?” :smiley: