Hardship and Pleasure

Hardship and Pleasure August 9, 2018

This is a passage from a teaching by Master Han Shan called “The Maxims.”

What, ultimately, is the difference between hardship and pleasure? A hardship is an obstacle and an obstacle is a challenge and a challenge is a way to use one’s Dharma strength. What is more pleasurable than that?

People are always so afraid of hardship. They go through life trying to avoid the difficult and embrace the easy. For me, it’s just the opposite. I don’t discriminate at all between hardship and pleasure. Whether the path ahead of me is difficult or easy, I don’t hesitate to follow it.


Just let life unfold. Don’t worry about what good or bad things happen, just let the universe unfold. That’s a really simple thing to say, but of course it’s not easy.

This about equanimity, having an even mind regardless of circumstances. It’s really hard and not something we will always succeed at, but it’s something we are cultivating.

Here’s a zen story about equanimity.

There was this Zen Master named Hakuin. who lived alone. He was well respected in the community. One day, a young woman became pregnant and claimed Hakuin was the father. After she had the baby, her parents delivered him to Hakuin and said, “You have to raise this child because you did this. Shame on you!”

Hakuin was unperturbed. He just said, “Is that so?” and accepted the child.

He took really good care of this child, raising him as his own. They bonded.

Years went by and the mother of this child felt bad for lying. She told her parents who the real father was. So, they went to Hakuin and said, “We’re very sorry. We believed a lie about you. We will take the child back now, we will relieve you of this responsibility.”

And again Hakuin was unperturbed. He just said, “Is that so?” and let them take the child back.

So, this story is telling us that in what should have been an emotional series of events, Hakuin kept an even mind. Even when they were taking away the child he had raised, who he had taken the time to bond with, he still just let it happen.

I’m sure I would have fallen apart in this series of events, but Hakuin was calm and collected. That’s how we want to be. A lot of the time things are going to just happen. We worry so much about things we have no control over. We want to change the things we can and work toward happiness.

But in the case of things we can’t change, it helps to just say, “Is that so?”


 Daniel Scharpenburg is a meditation instructor and dharma teacher in Kansas City. He regularly gives teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world.
Find out more about Daniel on his website and connect with him on Facebook.

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