Self Harm, Eating Disorders, Control and Buddha

Buddha’s path to end his suffering brought him through an ascetic period where he restricted his diet to the brink of starvation and endured self inflicted pain to his body. When he experienced enlightenment, he realized that the path to end suffering did not need to follow these practices.

Buddha’s experience was different from that of people who practice self harm and suffer from eating disorders, but the suffering that he was addressing was the same. He was in a desperate search for control. His control was supposedly over the cycle of life and death. For people of different cultures, who are more concerned with this life than the next, that control is not so much control of anything, but a struggle for a sense of control. The struggle for this sense of control can lead to a total loss of control and unimaginable suffering.

Buddha experienced a full recovery when he realized that there was nothing controlling and nothing to control. The cycle of life and death continued without him. He returned to eating normally and he stopped creating painful circumstances for his body. He was filled with compassion for those who continued to suffer.

Like Buddha, people who suffer from eating disorders and self harm are incredibly aware. They experience peace in the midst of extreme suffering. From a Buddhist perspective, we are all Buddhas, and can all awaken to a Self that is beyond harm. That keen awareness inquiring into the question of what is controlling what can help separate the peace from the suffering. When the suffering is gone, the peace will remain. The wisdom acquired when we learn to transform suffering into peace can be used to help others along the path.

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