by Gauranga Darshan Das

“It’s a liberating experience to stop shifting blame and accept responsibility with tolerance, forgiveness, gratitude and dependence on God’s will.”

How Can I Suffer?

Endeavouring for happiness and attempting to avoid suffering are natural. Often times, however, we don’t get happiness as we expect and we can’t escape suffering despite our determined efforts. When one’s seamless plans lead to tragic results, when one’s good deeds with integrity end up in tremendous tribulations, one naturally experiences confusion and bewilderment.

The natural response of an average human being towards suffering is to identify its cause beyond oneself. Indeed no one desires suffering, and generally no sensible person acts to suffer, but when suffering comes nonetheless, one tends to blame its immediate cause. For instance, Uttama, the brother of the most famous King Dhruva, was killed by a Yaksa. Considering the Yaksas offenders, Dhruva attacked them and started killing them to avenge his brother’s death.

We often hear that we reap the results of our own actions: the pleasant and unpleasant experiences in our life are consequences of our own deeds. Most people generally tend to take credit for their success and conveniently believe that their happiness is due to their own good work. But when one’s actions produce unintended results, one thinks, “Is it really due to my action?”

Even religious people and devotees who believe that God is the cause of everything also get bewildered in suffering. SrilaPrabhupada writes, “In case of benefit, no one will deny that it is God-sent, but in case of loss or reverses one becomes doubtful about how the Lord could be so unkind to His devotee as to put him in great difficulty.” (1.17.22 P)

What are the Expert Opinions?

Different philosophers identify the cause of suffering in various ways. Once Maharaja Pariksit, the great emperor of the world, saw a lowborn man dressed as a king, beating a bull and a cow. He is actually the personality of Kali, the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy. The bull is Dharma, the personality of religion, and the cow is Dhara, the personality of earth. Pariksit, being a responsible king, immediately wanted to kill Kali for his heinous deed of torturing the cow and the bull, which are like our mother and father. However, he wanted to get a statement of accusation against Kali, so, he inquired from the bull about the perpetrator.

Dharma then replied, “It is very difficult to ascertain the particular miscreant who has caused our sufferings, because we are bewildered by all the different opinions of philosophers.” Dharma continued:

kecid vikalpa-vasana ahur atmanam atmanah
daivam anye ‘pare karma svabhavam apare prabhum

“Some of the philosophers, who deny all sorts of duality, declare that one’s own self is responsible for his personal happiness and distress. Others say that superhuman powers are responsible, while yet others say that activity is responsible, and the gross materialists maintain that nature is the ultimate cause.” (SB 1.17.19)

Thus different philosophers declare different causes of suffering namely – self (atma), superhuman powers (daiva), one’s actions (karma) and nature (svabhava).

Who is the Real Cause?

Such explanations about the cause of suffering may not be incorrect, but they are certainly incomplete, for they do not recognize the sanction of the Supreme Lord, which is the ultimate cause of all causes.

Although the symptoms of a disease indicate an immediate cause, an expert physician traces out the root cause. Painkiller may relieve the immediate physical pain, but proper diagnosis and medication are needed to treat the patient. A mature person tries to identify the cause behind the immediate cause, and thus traces out the ultimate cause of the misery.

Srila Prabhupada writes, “Although the bull and the cow knew perfectly well that the personality of Kali was the direct cause of their sufferings, still, as devotees of the Lord, they knew well also that without the sanction of the Lord no one could inflict trouble upon them. Thus even if the devotees see the mischiefmongers, they do not accuse them for the sufferings inflicted. They take it for granted that the mischiefmonger is made to act by some indirect cause, and therefore they tolerate the sufferings, thinking them to be God-given in small doses, for otherwise the sufferings should have been greater.” (SB 1.17.18 P)

Thus the bull says: “apratarkyad anirdesyad iti kesv api niscayah – There are also some thinkers who believe that no one can ascertain the cause of distress by argumentation, nor know it by imagination, nor express it by words.” This cause that cannot be ascertained actually indicates the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is inconceivable to ordinary mortals.

 When Dhruva attacked the Yaksas, at one point, he became so outrageous that he started annihilating the entire race of Yaksas. Then Dhruva’s grandfather, Svayambhuva Manu came and advised him, “Please understand that the Supreme Lord, who has inconceivable energies, is the cause of all causes. The Yaksas are not the killers of your brother, because the Supreme Lord is the ultimate cause of birth and death.”

Blame Leads to More Blame

If we blame the immediate or intermediate causes of our suffering, without maturely understanding the ultimate cause, we only find ourselves entangled in the process of blaming. Because one’s blaming inspires others to blame and this contagious blame game expands to multiple people for a long time.

Srimad-Bhagavatam presents the story of Avanti brahmana to teach how one should tolerate the disturbances of evil persons. Harsh words pierce the heart more severely than arrows. Avanti brahmana, considered them to be simply the consequences of his own deeds and tolerated them soberly. Previously he had been a greedy, angry and miserly agriculturalist and merchant. However, in due course of time, he lost his wealth and was abandoned by everyone. Thus he developed a deep sense of renunciation and began to see Krsna’s hand in his life and did not blame anyone outside himself for his sufferings. He said:

nayam jano me sukha-duhkha-hetur
na devatatma graha-karma-kalah
manah param karanam amananti
samsara-cakram parivartayed yat

“These people are not the cause of my happiness and distress. Neither are the demigods, my own body, the planets, my past work, or time. Rather, it is the mind alone that causes happiness and distress and perpetuates the rotation of material life.” (11.23.42)

It’s inevitable! Try to endure!

A mature person understands that we are not the controllers of our destiny despite our desires, but we are actually controlled by some higher powers. The Bhagavatam reveals to us this deeper secret of life:

sukham aindriyakam rajan  svarge naraka eva ca
dehinam yad yatha duhkham  tasman neccheta tad-budhah

“The embodied living entity automatically experiences unhappiness in heaven or hell. Similarly, happiness will also be experienced, even without one’s seeking it. Therefore a person of intelligent discrimination does not make any endeavor to obtain such material happiness.” (11.8.1)

Lord Krsna suggests Arjuna to tolerate the inevitable dualities with equanimity to be eligible for liberation.

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya sitosna-sukha-duhkha-dah
agamapayino ‘nityas tams titiksasva bharata

“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (BG 2.14) Thus a devotee gratefully accepts the will of the Supreme Lord, endures the reversals in life, as Lord Brahma says in the following verse:

tat te ’nukampam su-samiksamano
bhunjana evatma-krtam vipakam
hrd-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak

“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” (10.14.8)

Mature Vision and Responsible Action

One needs to maturely understand that without the sanction of Supreme Lord Krsna, not a blade of grass moves. Srila Prabhupada writes, “A devotee’s conclusion is that no one is directly responsible for being a benefactor or mischief-monger without the sanction of the Lord; therefore he does not consider anyone to be directly responsible for such action. But in both the cases he takes it for granted that either benefit or loss is God-sent, and thus it is His grace. Jesus Christ was seemingly put into such great difficulty, being crucified by the ignorant, but he was never angry at the mischief-mongers. That is the way of accepting a thing, either favorable or unfavorable. By God’s grace, the devotee tolerates all reverses. A devotee has no suffering at all because so-called suffering is also God’s grace for a devotee who sees God in everything.” (1.17.22 P)

Yet, on a human plane, one needs to responsibly identify the intermediate cause(s) of one’s suffering and address the situation appropriately according to the time, place and circumstances. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Dhruva Maharaja was the king, and when his brother was unceremoniously killed, it was his duty to take revenge against the Yaksas (4.10.4 P).”

This act of Dhruva befits his position as a king who needs to punish miscreants and as a devotee who has feelings for near and dear ones. However, in the name of responsibility, one shouldn’t unduly get caught up in the external details of the situations losing focus on the Supreme will. Therefore, when Dhruva became excessively angry and tried to kill so many Yaksas for one Yaksa’s mistake, Manu came and stopped him.

Suffering is inevitable in this world, and that is how this material realm is made by the Supreme Lord. But by understanding that it is sanctioned by the Supreme Lord for our own purification and learning to tolerate it with a forgiving heart, while responsibly acting according to the divine teachings, one can transcend this world of suffering. The Bhagavatam promises us that it relieves us of the threefold miseries in this world (tapa-trayonmulanam). Actually Bhagavatam doesn’t solve our health problems, financial problems and so on literally, but the Bhagavatam equips our consciousness with the necessary strength to see Krsna’s merciful hand behind those miseries, by inspiring us to take shelter of the process of bhakti. When ‘misery’ is maturely seen as ‘mercy’ of God, where is the question of suffering?

Gauranga Darshan Das, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (www.vidyapitha.in) at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including Bhagavata Subodhini and Caitanya Subodhini, and teaches Bhagavatam courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.

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