We learn from Buddhism that suffering comes from ignorance which breeds greed, hate, and delusion. When we believe that all the good in our life is permanent, and then it changes, we take it personally. We hurt.
And then there is a 9.0 earthquake in Japan. Which was enough, but coupled with a tsunami caused endless suffering that appears to even be impacting Japan's very strong economy.
Is this still an "opportunity for practice?" How does a good Buddhist (if "good" can be applied to a Buddhist) respond?
And what might be a compassionate response? One priest said to me, "I'd say, how can I help?" Most of us suffer. And our suffering borders on the ludicrous compared with those without resources such as water, food, shelter, etc. And what about those who can't venture outside lest they be struck with a bullet or kidnapped for ransom?
The Buddha said that suffering was all around us, and yet unnecessary. If we follow the Eightfold path (he said) we can be freed from suffering. Not from pain. But from suffering. That distinction seems to be the essence here. Suffering is a response to pain. There are others. "How can I help?" or "I'm so sorry for your pain" are others. So perhaps compassion might best be a reaction to pain, not suffering. Helping others to understand the difference might shed some of that suffering. We all know of people in constant pain, yet full of love and happiness, enjoying their life to the fullest extent. And others, with barely a misfortune, who wish they never had stepped foot on earth. Is this a choice we can make? I think so.