Hinduism on Suffering

Hinduism and suffering

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 perspectives 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 of enjoyment.

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 and attachment.

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 the 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 which 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 long 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 to God.

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.

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