Dhanurdhara Swami July 17th, 2002
Vasant Falls, New York
On Suffering II
(A comprehensive list of the ways in which suffering serves a noble purpose.)
“Some are spread over life to temper our enjoyments, lest we seek our joy here; some follow closely upon what is wrong (as discomfort upon excess); some gradually thicken on us, if we neglect the first warnings; some come suddenly or in an instant, to startle people out of lethargy and careless ways, and show them that the life which they are wasting is an earnest thing.
“…some it seems, are the immediate preparation for His Holy Presence; whence, perhaps old age is so generally a period of suffering, and the last illness has mostly so much of heavy suffering. Yet all, if we will regard it, are His fatherly care, tempering our cup with pain and sorrow, as He sees most needful for us; all, in their degree, loosen our hold of this life (as all pain is an earnest and preparation for our final dissolution); all lead up thitherward, where there shall be no pain; all humble us, as being creatures who require it, and deserve far more; all teach us to look into ourselves, to see for what disease in us this medicine has been sent.”
I received much response from the last journal entry, “On Suffering”?much more than usual. The passage above is a selection on suffering taken from a published book of sermons by Dr. Edward Bouverie Pusey, an Anglican preacher and respected Oxford Scholar, sent to me by Mahamuni.
Suffering is obviously a relevant subject as it is the basic condition of this world. In writing an introductory pamphlet to Krishna consciousness, I began:
“If you are suffering, please read further. Actually everyone is suffering for the world is a place of misery. Even the best life is eventually plagued by old age, disease, and eventually death. Such conceptions may seem negative, or even fatalistic, but they are not, for ultimately, happiness lies not in the world we are destined to live, but in our reaction to it. All cultures profess some form of spirituality to teach us how to respond to a world of apparent suffering and to grow in satisfaction and joy. In India, such a discipline is called yoga.”
One of the readers sought an important clarification on my essay. Their question and my response is below:
Q: “I’ve read your journal, dated June 23, 2002, and I find it very interesting. As you said, suffering is a symptom of attachment just as physical pain or bodily is comfort is a symptom of some disease. If there were no pain, one would not know that there is something wrong inside of the body. Also, physical disease can indicate emotional blocks?deeper issues that need to be worked on, communicating to us that we are out of balance.
“So my question is: what if our NEEDS are those that we consider attachments, and one is simply frustrated because his needs are not met? What if, in order to function properly and be a healthy person, one needs a bit of recognition, social affirmation, etc.? I understand that we gradually need to give these things up in order to achieve pure devotional service, but how far does it go? At the same time, I know there are ways around this one from the perspective of our philosophy, but I am not grasping it now. I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on this one, since we need to build a proper attitude in practical, everyday life.”
A: Thank you for your question. My journal was on the existential basis of suffering, which I analyzed as attachment. I was not commenting on how to become purified of attachment. That’s another subject. I certainly wasn’t promoting false renunciation. To help you distinguish the two, I’ll give an example:
The vast majority of people need to get married in order to satisfy their attachments religiously, not to renounce them. By doing so, knowledge and detachment will naturally awaken. However, the fact that advancing spiritually entails satisfying one’s attachments doesn’t discount the fact that we must eventually leave our loved ones?either willingly by vanaprastha or sannyasa or unwillingly by death. The pleasure of family is thus mixed with duality. The more we are attached to our spouse and children, the more we fear what will happen to them, and the more pain we experience when it does; for ours is a world of disease, calamity, and death. So my description of attachment as the existential basis of suffering has nothing to do with the fact that to become peaceful and purified we may have to keep certain attachments and regulate them to advance, which may even include the need for a bit of recognition and social affirmation.
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