Vasant Falls, New York On

June 23rd, 2002

Vasant Falls, New York

On Suffering I

Years ago our Sanskrit teacher in gurukula, a very learned Vaisnava, made an interesting comment to me with conviction about death. ?The real pain of death is not the physical pain,? he said. ?The body can tolerate physical pain, and when it becomes too severe one goes into coma. The real pain of death is the forceful and traumatic relinquishment of all attachments.? What he said struck me. I thought deeply about it to the extent of visualizing the moment of death in order to get a feel for what it would be like to face the sudden prospect of having all of my cherished attachments?including my false ego or identity?torn away from me, obliterated. I sensed the pain and was convinced of his point.

Recently, more than fifteen years later, I received further insight into what he said in response to some personal challenges.

I am getting older, now nearly 52. After more than thirty years of dedication to Srila Prabhupada’s mission, my destiny doesn’t seem to be manifesting the type of life offering of service to Srila Prabhupada that I would have liked to present him. Various attempts to serve him to my potential have been for the most part frustrated?especially in the last five years. I want to make a greater contribution to my spiritual master’s mission, but destiny does not seem to be moving in that direction. At times this bothers me.

Of course, I’m not that old. Srila Prabhupada himself struggled for many years, into his 70s, before his mission bore fruit. Perhaps he, too, wished it were different during his years of struggle, although His faith in, and understanding of, Krishna’s mercy was undoubtedly unflinching. Of course, many devotees have been directed by providence to a more sedentary life, dedicated to personal prayer and practice. I enjoy that, but at the same time, when I am apparently thwarted from using my potential to push on the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in a more active way, I question if such a life is what Srila Prabhupada wants and I feel disturbed.

I usually don’t dwell on apparent difficulties. It’s not my nature. I’m actually good at pushing the aches away by philosophy, psychology, or even transcendence, but this time I got a different realization: Let the pain come and value it for my growth in Krishna consciousness.

I think the realization first grew from the gnawing but enlightening discovery that my frustration has nothing to do with destiny. In fact, since destiny?the circumstances one finds oneself in?is a manifestation of Krishna’s will, and devotional service is the willing resignation to Krishna’s will, destiny is intertwined with one’s devotional service, not opposed to it. One thus suffers only when his personal attachments are frustrated by his destiny and thus opposed to Krishna’s will and not solely because of the nature of one’s fate. A devotee who is focused on Krishna’s pleasure and resigned to His will is detached. He is satisfied in all circumstances, even when destiny moves against one’s comforts and pleasures.

Thinking in this way I also realized that I was suffering not only due to attachment, but due to the attachment itself?a subtle desire for distinction. I was not disturbed because my destiny seemed unable to bear the fruit of service, but because it was not suiting my personal ambitions. I was able to see the value of that suffering and I understoood why I shouldn’t try to deny or transcend it; my suffering served as a reminder of the root cause of my distress and became an inspiration to ascend to a higher platform of detachment and surrender (resignation to God’s will).

In other words, rather than attempting to transcend suffering, which is only a symptom of attachment, it’s better to focus on uprooting the attachment itself, which is the cause of our suffering. If suffering assists in highlighting that attachment, then better to willingly endure it.

I then thought of another reason to readily bear any suffering imbued with a desire to become detached (as opposed to suffering that is imbued with a resentment that one is not enjoying his senses more). Since suffering is the dissatisfaction that arises when Krishna’s will doesn’t suit our whims for pleasure and comfort, to embrace that suffering reminds us that we are not the controllers, but dependent on God?a humble cue that is internally very conducive to one’s devotional practices, especially chanting.

These recent realizations, that the root of suffering is attachment, brought me back to my friend’s comment about death 15 years ago:

?The real pain of death is not the physical pain. The body can tolerate physical pain, and when it becomes too severe one goes into coma. The real pain of death is the forceful and traumatic relinquishment of all attachments.?

Remembering my friend’s comment, I visualized death in a mood of knowledge and detachment. What would death be like if, at that fatal moment, one had sincerely embraced the sentiment of a lover of God (“What You [Krishna] want I will do”), the mood that if death is God’s will it is the destiny I want to serve?

The moment of death for a pure devotee? Pain? Perhaps. Fear? Anxiety? Certainly not. Suffering? How can one suffer if, in deep devotion imbued with knowledge, one acquiesces to the will of the Supreme, who is one’s object of love and dearmost well-wisher?even if it that means to relinquish the present body?

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