The purpose of suffering
Everyone wants to be happy. But everywhere we witness suffering. Happiness and wellbeing seems to be one side of the coin, and misery and suffering the other. Both are conjoined twins.
The Upanishads tell the story of two birds sitting on a tree. The tree is laden with fruits both bitter and sweet. One of the birds is busy eating the fruits. When it eats sweet fruits it is happy, when it consumes the bitter fruit it becomes miserable. Sometimes it looks up at the other bird sitting atop the tree unconcerned and not eating any fruit; sweet or bitter. When it eats sweet fruits, the bird feels its compatriot is a fool. When the bitterness strikes hard, the bird begins to appreciate the aloofness. At last fed up with the experiences the bird realizes that eating fruits brings both experiences; happiness and misery. And the only way to escape the situation is to give up eating the fruits. The moment this realization dawns, the bird realizes that they are one. They were the lower and higher self.
Swami Bhuteshanandaji, President of the Ramakrishna Mission, used to love telling this story to all suffering souls who used to gather at his feet.
Suffering comes to teach us that this world is not our home. It leads us towards knowledge and wisdom; to discrimination and renunciation. It is the nightmare that ends our dreaming and brings us to our real world of eternity where we rightfully belong.
Those who have undergone immense suffering in life gain the following knowledge;
- This world is impermanent
- The human body is perishable
- The mind is the source of our misery as well
- All relationships come to an end
- The world cannot satisfy our desire for permanent happiness
This is what our Saints and Sages have strived to convey. They guide the suffering population to the inner world by destroying their attachments that keep them away from their rightful property.
MahaSambhuti Chakradhar never blessed anyone. I had witnessed a mother imploring him to put his hand over her child's head and bless her. Chakradhar smiled and denied. "My blessings travel in mysterious ways," was his response. To a family he said, "You are happy with what you have. Both of you are working; you have a wonderful son who has a bright future ahead of him. Why do you want to destroy all of this with my blessings?". To the son he said, "You are under the care of your parents. Tomorrow you will get a job and marry. Why do you need my blessings? I can bless you only if you can leave everything and be alone on the path, following me."
Suffering is the blessing of God who breaks the snare of illusion. Sri Aurobindo said, "Pain is the hands of nature sculpting man to greatness."
Chakradhar had once told us, "Spirituality is not a feel good factor. It involves great suffering. Waves after wave of pain arrive till the result is achieved." This was probably in response to a appeal by me on another day where I had expressed my desire to travel on the spiritual path.
These examples show us that suffering is not what it is made out to be. Let us open our eyes and understand that those suffering have been touched by God and are being led towards His kingdom. Let us learn to respect them instead of despising them and blaming their fate.
Diamonds are produced in coal mines.
But why do bad things happen to good people?
This question has troubled people for ages. There is a simple explanation in our scriptures. It talks of prarabdha karma or the fructifying karma that accompanies you to this world. It will do its job despite your good intentions and noble work. The monks and renunciates fear this prarabdha karma as they know of its inevitable nature.
The Hindu and Buddhist scriptures also talk of people who continue to do good while facing adversities. It does not deter them in the least. This is the Shiva or Buddha nature.
Another aspect was pointed out by MahaSambhuti Chakradhar. He said, "Yes many of you are struggling and suffering. You want to know why. Maybe it is because you are the pathfinders. While struggling against suffering you uncover pathways to overcome it. This will be of use in the coming age."
There are many ways of looking at things. Let us not be overwhelmed. Everything has a cause and purpose.