by Jayaram V
When a person gives up all the desires in his
waking mind and when his self is turned inward and satisfied
within itself, at that time he is said to be stable of
mind (sthithaprajna) (Bhagavadgita 2.55)
In Hinduism suffering or dukha, means the physical,
mental and emotional instability and afflictions (klesas) that
arise from the
dualities and modifications of the mind and body. These modifications
manifest variously in human life as pain and suffering, attraction
and aversion, union and separation, desires, passions, emotions,
aging, sickness, death, rebirth, etc.
According to Hinduism, suffering is an inescapable and
integral part of life. The purpose of religious practice and
various schools of Hinduism is to resolve human suffering that
arises from samsara, which in a specific sense means the cycle of births and deaths
and in a general sense, transient life. As long as man is caught
in the phenomenal world of transient objects and appearances and
becomes attached to them
he has no escape from suffering.
The Buddha was not the first Indian teacher to contemplate upon suffering. It
has been the quest of every ascetic tradition and school of philosophy
in ancient India. They approached the problem from different perspective
and tried to resolve it in their own ways. The history of
spiritual Hinduism is largely the history of man's yearning for
a lasting solution to the problem of human suffering. The quest
continues even today, as the dynamics of human suffering keep
changing with the progress of civilization.
The Vedic religion did not focus upon suffering initially,
but upon securing peace and happiness in the mortal world with
the help of gods in heaven and patrons upon earth through
rituals and sacrifices. For that mundane goal, knowledge of the
Vedas, virtuous conduct
and obligatory duty were the key.
The Upanishadic seers approached the problem differently. They
focused upon the hidden causes of suffering and tried to resolve
it internally by cultivating purity, fortitude, sameness,
equanimity, stability, balance, detachment and indifference through
austerities, restraint and renunciation.
Aging, sickness and death are the grim reminders of the nature
of Samsara and our existence in it. Every teacher tradition, school
of thought and ascetic movement in Hinduism focuses upon them to
convey the urgency and the importance of liberation. Liberation
in a simple sense means freedom from suffering.
These are the three afflictions of human life from which mankind
finds no escape except by way of liberation. Hinduism identifies desires and
demonic nature as the root cause of human suffering and the resultant
bondage to the cycle of births and deaths as the ultimate
suffering. Demonic nature means
selfish actions done for the sole purpose of selfish enjoyment.
According to the Upanishads, when organs are put to selfish use,
a person becomes impure. For this, desires are the root cause. When
beings engage in selfish actions, they become vulnerable to suffering.
Pleasure is not a solution to avoid pain. Pleasure and pain are
caused by the same dualities or pairs of opposites. Our
objective should be rise above both.
Desire comes from our attachment to sense objects. Liberation
means freedom from all kinds of desires and attachments so that
one is not motivated by self-interest in performing obligatory actions
but rather by the pure intention to serve God and His creation.
This is the transformation which Hinduism aims to accomplish through
various spiritual practices. and paths of yoga.
The battle has to be fought in the mind and body. The mind is
the seat of all desires and intentions and hence for a human being
it is the battlefield, the Kurukshetra.
The Bhagavadgita rightly identifies the instability of mind as
the chief cause of suffering. At the root of the mental instability
is desire, which arises out of the repeated contact of the senses
with their sense objects. In other words it is our outgoing nature
and our dependence upon things and objectivity from which we experience
suffering in a state of duality.
Our natural and purest state is enjoyment. Suffering is an abnormal
state which arises from our ignorant and desire-ridden actions.
Our purpose upon earth to know how to return to our original state
Our empirical experience suggests that enjoyment comes
from having things. Our scriptures suggest that true enjoyment comes
from not having the desire to own things and enjoy them. Enjoyment and freedom
are synonymous. True enjoyment arises from freedom from desires
The true solution to suffering therefore lies in achieving this
freedom through self-restraint, mental stability, detachment,
renunciation and absence of desires.
The first step in the journey of liberation is withdrawal and
restraint of the senses because they are the ones who perpetuate
our interaction and dependence upon the world.
When the senses are controlled and the mind is disciplined, a
person overcomes his desires and attains peace and inner stability.
With practice, he overcomes his attachment to his name and form.
He recognizes his spiritual nature. He cultivates purity and sameness.
With his senses subdued, his intellect pointed and his mind freed
from passions, he remains undisturbed even amidst turbulence.
This is the ideal goal Hinduism aims to accomplish for its practitioners
as part of the four aims of human life, not instantaneously, but
in phases through gradual transformation. A person overcomes suffering
when he become a friend of the Self.
The causes of suffering
In general, Hinduism recognizes the following as the main causes
of human suffering.
11. Impermanence which make life very insecure and uncertain.
2. Desires and attachment which lead to karma and bondage.
3. Delusion and ignorance caused by Maya.
4. Repeated births and deaths.
5. Attraction and aversion to pairs of opposites.
6. Contact and separation from the objects of desires
7. Attachment to sense-objects.
9. Ownership and doership
10. The triple qualities, namely sattva, rajas and tamas and
their influence upon our thinking and actions.
11. Demonic qualities and evil nature characterized by pride,
lust, anger, greed and envy.
12. Lack of faith in God and Self.
13. Lack of discretion or judgment.
Hinduism acknowledges that while we may know the causes and solutions to suffering, suffering cannot be fully resolved as lone as
one is subject to the modifications of Nature. No matter what
one may do, some
suffering is inevitable in human life. This is true even in case of those who
are liberated or on the verge of liberation. The purpose of spiritual practice is not to end suffering,
which is humanly impossible, but to learn to deal with it by reconditioning
our minds and bodies. This is the purpose of yoga.
Therefore, while working for liberation one must learn to endure
suffering with detachment and acceptance, keeping faith in God and
performing actions as an obligatory duty and sacrificial offering
Hinduism is not a fatalistic religion. While it accepts karma
as unavoidable, it acknowledges the importance of virtuous self-effort
in shaping one's own destiny and correcting the wrongs of the past.
Belief in karma should not make one despondent. Instead, it should
make a person feel more responsible towards himself and his spiritual
welfare, accepting his suffering with a sense of detachment and
awareness that his suffering is his own creation and he has to be
his own savior.
Suffering also gives us all an opportunity to think about our existence
and redeem ourselves through selfless actions, God's intervention,
surrender and devotion. From suffering comes the knowledge of
suffering. From the knowledge of the suffering comes the
solution to suffering. From the solution to suffering comes the
ultimate freedom. Suffering, therefore is the teacher and also
the cause in which the effect, liberation, is hidden.
Suggested Further Reading