Living with Suffering: Buddhist Wisdom Illustrated by a Widow

Author: Fung Kei Cheng, Hong Kong
Published: December 2015

Citation: Cheng, F. K. (2015). Living with Suffering: Buddhist Wisdom Illustrated by a Widow. IAFOR Journal of Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences, 1(1).


Available literature, largely based on Western theories, investigates suffering from spousal loss, which can threaten an individual’s physical health and psychological well-being; however, limited studies examine how Buddhists overcome this difficulty. This case study, by in-depth semi-structured interviews, explores the lived experience of a Buddhist surviving spouse who underwent the sudden loss of her husband. Qualitative data were analysed by interpretative phenomenological analysis, with the aid of ATLAS.ti 7, a software package. In order to enhance the trustworthiness, peer analysis (inter-rater reliability=92%) and member-checking were adopted. Findings revealed that the bereaved Buddhist was living with feelings of guilt, but when she applied Buddhist wisdom, including the teachings of impermanence and cause-and-effect, hopes of a reunion in future lives due to the cycle of birth and death, living in the present moment, self-awareness, and strengthening capabilities to deal with afflictions, this widow could let the sense of guilt peacefully coexist with her being. Her living with suffering hints at tackling distress through a deeper understanding of the formation of the phenomenal world, and mind management, implying that Buddhist philosophy not only offers alternative views to interpret the continual relationship between survivors and the deceased, but also inspires helping professionals to extend the horizons of their therapeutic services.


cause-and-effect, cycle of death and rebirth, grief and bereavement, impermanence, karma, Mahāyāna, spousal loss