Learning From the Truths About Pain and Suffering

Pain and Suffering

by Jayaram V

Suffering is universal. Everyone suffers in some way or the other. The wise ones see life itself as a vehicle of suffering because they know that those who are caught in the cycle of births and death cannot escape from suffering until they achieve liberation. In this essay I intend to discuss the following four important aspects of suffering.

1. Suffering is a state of mind

2. Suffering is self-created

3. Suffering is a teacher

4. Suffering is an opportunity

Suffering is a state of mind

Suffering exists only in our minds. It does exist outside it. We experience it in the form of physical sensations and mental feelings. We know that people suffer differently under identical circumstances. We also know that with effort we can detach ourselves from pain and not feel it at all. Experiments conducted in the past proved that pain can be induced artificially or removed completely through hypnosis.

Hinduism rightly regards suffering as a product of our delusional thinking arising out of our limiting knowledge, mistaken identity and egoistic thinking. We suffer because of the way we think and act, perceive things, interpret our experiences, respond to them particularly and develop opinions about them.

Over a time our thinking and attitude towards suffering develops into a familiar pattern, so much so that we learn to accept it as natural and integral to our personalities. Scientific experiments prove that we can learn to deal with our suffering in effective ways through practice and that we all can potentially increase our threshold of tolerance to physical and mental pain by changing our thinking and the way we respond to it.

Suffering is self-created

Suffering arises out of our actions, inaction, reactions, thinking, conditioning, desires, attachment, beliefs, attitudes and associations. Neither God nor others are responsible for it. Others may play a role in it or seem to cause it or contribute to it, but in a script written by ourselves only.

As the Buddhists vouch, we suffer when we do not get what we want, when we get what we do not want, when we get more than what we want or when we get something less than what we desire.

We also suffer when we are brought into contact with what we dislike or when what we like is taken away from us, when we identify ourselves with other's suffering, when we are envious of someone who is happy and so on. Our suffering may arise from numerous causes. However, most of it is self-created by our actions, thoughts and beliefs.

Through our actions and inactions, we create consequences for ourselves and others and in the process we suffer. We suffer when we disobey the natural and divine laws of the universe or go against its rhythm and order. This is the law of karma.

Suffering is a teacher

Suffering comes to us because of our inner imperfections, inappropriate actions and reactions. It is a gift of God, delivered in a negative and dark package, with a hidden message, very much like a practical cruel joke played upon us, to warn us well in advance that we are either on the wrong path or moving in the direction. In essence this is what it is.

Its aim is to make us complete and perfect and guide us on the righteous path that leads to our salvation , by removing the excesses in our thinking, perception, attitudes, desires, beliefs and actions and opening our eyes to new possibilities and the divine nature of our existence.

Our suffering is mitigated to the extent we learn from it and correct ourselves. Those who understand suffering regard it as such and learn from it. There is a tendency in some schools of thought to consider suffering as a necessary precondition to one's liberation.

So they recommend severe penance and austerities, including physical mortification to intensify suffering. While we are not sure how far their methods are effective, we can tell from experience that if we intensify our own suffering as if it is a virtue, without ever trying to learn from it consciously, we will lose the zest for living and our resilience to face the challenges of life.

It is like stretching an elastic string till it loses its elasticity. In Hinduism extreme methods of spiritual practice are considered demonic, because demons have the tendency to perform severe austerities and inflict pain upon themselves. For them it is an egoistic display of strength and self-control, through which they intend to please God and obtain boons from Him.

Suffering is an opportunity

The good news is suffering can be overcome not necessarily by eliminating it but by learning to cope with it and making use of it to cultivate virtues or practice compassion, tolerance and endurance. Through effort we can deliver ourselves from it. You can deal with suffering either on a short term basis or on a long term basis. The choice is yours.

In materialistic world we have to deal with our problems as they arise and keep on doing it. It is a never ending process. In materialistic world we tend to deal with suffering by solving the major problems and challenges of our lives.

This is the active and dynamic approach, the way of the warriors: never giving up, never withdrawing and never yielding, but accepting the challenges with courageous optimism and responding appropriately to each situation using necessary skills, knowledge, intelligence and talents. Some professions actually thrive on it. They offer solutions to mitigate or end pain and suffering.

In the spiritual plane we should look for better solutions that are conducive to our inner growth and self-transformation. The method recommended in most traditions is to accept suffering for whatever it is worth. Instead of fighting with it, we should learn from it so that we may become wiser, and cultivate detachment, mindfulness, balance and composure.

This is the way of the saint and the sage. They know that suffering is an opportunity to know the very nature of existence and the suffering that is inherent to it. They transcend suffering by not resisting it or escaping from it, but by embracing it and learning from it. In that awareness and understanding, their suffering disappears.

They also use their suffering to cultivate compassion for oithers, especially those who suffer even more than them. Instead of praying for themselves, they pray for them. By understanding their pain and suffering they learn to tolerate their own.

Every religion intends to provide an effective solution to the problem of suffering. The Buddha proposed the Four Noble Truths and the Eight fold path. He taught people to follow the Middle Way and cultivate virtues to cleanse past sins and achieve liberation.

Lord Krishna suggested identification with real self, performing desireless actions with a sense of sacrifice and devotion to God accepting Him as the real doer and the ultimate goal would lead to the liberation of beings.

Samkhya and Yoga prescribe physical and mental exercises to control and restraint of the body, the mind and the senses to free oneself from the afflictions (klesas) of human life.

In Sikhism we are advised to live with a spirit of devotion and surrender to God and doing good deeds. In Jainism we are advised to overcome the consequences of our actions by leading a pure life and performing austerities. Similar approaches are suggested in Islam and Christianity also.

Whatever may be the solutions, and their merits and demerits, these religions one common truth that with effort and perseverance, we can escape from suffering.

Conclusion

Up to some stage in our lives, suffering is an obstacle. But when we have the awareness, it is also the means for a greater and everlasting life. Even when we are not aiming for spiritual salvation, but want to be successful in the material world, we can benefit from it by reading the messages it intends to deliver and adjusting ourselves accordingly.

We can use suffering as a pointer to guide ourselves in the right direction. The very belief that we can overcome suffering in our own time is a potent force which can deliver us from suffering in unimaginable ways.

If you are on a wrong path, going for a wrong goal, performing actions inappropriately, making wrong choices or letting your imperfections prevail despite clear signals, suffering comes to you as a warning signal to make you aware of the need to change what needs to be changed.

As you become aware of it and respond positively to it by making necessary adjustments to your personality or actions, your suffering begins to diminish. Those who refuse to take action will continue to suffer, perhaps more intensely, till good sense prevails and the required transformation takes place.

This is not a new theory. This is what the theory of karma is all about. So when suffering comes to us in its own quirky ways, look for the message it intends to deliver. If you find the message and act accordingly, your suffering will be gone soon. If you are unable to find a cause, seek the intervention of divine through prayers.

Prayers can intuitively take you closer to the solutions you need to resolve your problems and the suffering that arises from them. Most important of all, your experiences are products of your awareness, thinking, attitude and beliefs. If you truly believe that you can learn from your suffering and thereby resolve it you will. If you live with the positive expectation that you are inherently strong enough to deal with your suffering in whatever form and shape it may come and thereby increase your wisdom and understanding, you will.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Introduction to Hinduism
Know the richness, diversity, history and traditions of Hinduism, the oldest living religion of the world

Brahman
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Selected Upanishads
Translation of 14 Upanishads. Length: 32 pages

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Translation of one of the largest Upanishads Length: 206 pages.

The Chandogya Upanishad
Translation of the Chandogya Upanishad. Length:218 Pages

The Bhagavadgita Complete Translation
With Word to word translation and commentary. Comprehensive and unique.
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