Why is there Suffering?
Quotations on Suffering builds character
Quotations on Suffering as a prod to remembrance
Quotations on Who suffers?
Quotations on Could there have been another way?
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” – C. S. Lewis
Suffering is a complex subject. The mystics tell us that a defining nature of the Supreme Being is love. How can a being of love have conceived of a creation in which suffering is so prevalent? Lingering and painful diseases, death of a child, wars, extreme poverty, physical and mental impairments, depression, anxiety, one’s own death, despair, injuries, wars, grief – the list goes on and on. No one escapes from the reaches of suffering. To many, the level of suffering that happens on earth is incompatible with an all-compassionate and loving Creator. Why is there suffering?
Suffering occurs when one is in ego-consciousness and associates oneself with a body. There is no pain for one in god-consciousness. Recalling an earlier entry in this section on Our Adventures in Wonderland, suffering occurs after The Fall and prior to Enlightenment, i.e. primarily during the School of Hard Knocks phase when body consciousness reigns supreme.
The Buddha taught that our lives are permeated with dukkha (i.e. all of the above sources of physical and mental suffering as well as suffering inherent in change and clinging to things which are impermanent). He taught that the source of dukkha was cravings and attachments associated with body identification. The overcoming of dukkha required the overcoming of such identification.
Original man had a god-conscious mind that was non-attached to the body and so did not feel pain. After The Fall, as man’s mind became identified with the body, his sensitivity to pain began. Similarly, death was originally designed to be a happy, conscious transition into perfect, everlasting freedom in bliss consciousness. With body identification, death has become a dreaded, painful parting from the mortal form. Suffering is a mental phenomenon, an inner experience that takes place in the realm of one’s mind and emotions. Physical sensations do not bring mental suffering if the mind is strong. If one can transcend ego-consciousness and realize the body in its true form as energy, there is no more suffering.
Until this realization comes, it appears that suffering is the “prod to remembrance” that the Supreme Being uses to push humans (individualized extensions of Himself) that have fallen into the illusory world of body-consciousness back to their true existence as gods. Suffering became a tool to undertake this transformation.
This sub-section is divided into parts;
1 – Suffering builds character
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran
One of the key steps in our transformation back to our higher selves is for ego-conscious traits of selfishness, anger, etc. to be subdued and replaced with god-conscious qualities of understanding, compassion, sharing, etc. To make these changes often requires learning lessons in the “school of hard knocks”. Suffering appears to be an effective means to carry out this process.
There are endless examples of people who have gone through such a growth in character. To take just one, we can look briefly at Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. Between 1942 and 1945, Frankl survived four different Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. He wrote about his experiences in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” (1946).
It is probably impossible to imagine the depth of suffering in a Nazi concentration camp without having been there. Perhaps the following quote from Frankl can give an idea;
“I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.”
The following quotations from “Man’s Search for Meaning” evidence the wisdom and growth of character that resulted from Frankl’s period of intense suffering;
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“[there is a] story of the young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp. It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. ‘I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,’ she told me. ‘In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.’”
“On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles – whatever one may choose to call them – we know: the best of us did not return.”
“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”
“It is not for me to pass judgement on those prisoners who put their own people above everyone else. Who can throw a stone at a man who favors his friends under circumstances when, sooner or later, it is a question of life or death? No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.”
“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
“No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.”
“The way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”
“Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?”
“People forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.”
To wrap up this sub-section, a last quotation from Viktor Frankl that summarizes the above, “I know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible.”
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2 – Suffering destroys karma
“We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”
~ Kahlil Gibran
On our path to becoming the gods that are our true selves, we evolve our god nature and subdue our ego nature through a variety of means, like contemplation, observing others, and other non-traumatic ways. Sometimes, when we stubbornly refuse to evolve in any other way, the “school of hard knocks” comes calling in the form of karma to remind us that we must forego certain undesirable ego-centric actions.
This topic is addressed in more detail in the sub-section Karma and Reincarnation. With respect to this section, it should be noted that the suffering associated with karma can also be considered, in many cases, as suffering that builds character as well as suffering that is a prod to remembrance.
3 – Suffering as a prod to remembrance
The Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths”:
1. There is suffering; i.e., humans suffer.
2. There is a cause of suffering; namely ignorance.
3. There is a remedy to suffering; namely enlightenment.
4. The cessation of suffering results from the destruction of ignorance.
“God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” ~ C.S. Lewis
“Without suffering, mortals would not make the effort to know that they are immortals who cannot suffer.” ~ P. Yogananda
“Sometimes people need to experience great loss to really be driven deeper. When great loss happens - deaths close to you or your own approaching death - this is an opportunity for stepping completely out of identification with form and realizing the essence of who you are.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
“Most people live in abysmal ignorance of their glorious destiny; more so of their weak points - of their tamasic and rajasic cravings and behaviour. The rich in particular take the strongest objection to these being pointed out to them in a direct manner. How, then, can God open their eyes and save them from this self-intoxication? He gives them disasters and calamities to shake their airy castles and crack the thick crusts of their arrogance. Pride of wealth, of position, fame, power, learning and, worst of all, of lineage eventually destroys itself, crushing down over the head of its owner to his everlasting good.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” ~ Dr. Carl Jung
“When worldly enticements are at last deemed not worth their toll of suffering and precarious wandering in maya, and the player calls out from his core for deliverance, then the hidden God by His unseen touch melts the band of unknowing from man’s eye of wisdom …. Then in joy and more joy the Lord appears openly to His devotee. He makes known that man’s sojourn in maya was meant only for entertainment; and that if everyone found Him easily, then His cosmic lila of hide-and-seek would be over in a trice.” ~ P. Yogananda
This universe is God’s dream. And when I ask Him, “Why do You not dream only beautiful dreams? Why must your play be fraught with nightmares?” He replies, “You must be able to enjoy both the nightmares and the beautiful experiences for what they are - dreams, only dreams. But if you dream only beautiful dreams, you will be drowned in that beauty, and never wish to wake up.” ~ P. Yogananda
“Every bit of experience of pain, sorrow, loss, failure and disappointment has its invaluable use for the soul in its onward march towards Truth.”
~ Papa Ramdas
‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
... Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm".
~ Bob Dylan, from the song Shelter from the Storm (1974)
You wiped the teardrops from your eye in sorrow
As we watched the petals fall down to the ground
And as I sat beside you I felt the
Great sadness that day in the garden
And then one day you came back home
You were a creature all in rapture
You had the key to your soul.
~ Van Morrison, from the song In the Garden (1986)
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
~ Francis Thompson, from the poem The Hound of Heaven (1893)
“If joy were ceaseless here in this world, would man ever seek another? Without suffering he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance.” ~ P. Yogananda
Once our consciousness fell under the control of ego-consciousness and identification with a body, a means had to be found to “prod” us to recall our original and natural state as immortal gods. If everything is wonderful, why would one seek to change things? It is when things are not so good that we ask questions. Why is this so? Is there a better world?
Pain is a prod to remembrance. Suffering was the tool chosen to encourage us to ask these questions and to encourage us to start the Journey of Awakening to recover our god-conscious state.
Eckhart Tolle, a modern mystic, attained his spiritual awakening following a period of acute suffering;
“For most people, spiritual awakening is a gradual process. Rarely does it happen all at once. When it does, though, it is usually brought about by intense suffering. That was certainly true in my case. For years my life alternated between depression and acute anxiety. One night I woke up in a state of dread and intense fear, more intense than I had ever experienced before. Life seemed meaningless, barren, hostile. It became so unbearable that suddenly the thought came into my mind, ‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’”
That night Tolle experienced a transformation.
“At the time, I had no conceptual framework to help me understand what had happened to me. Years later, I realized that the acute suffering I felt that night must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from identification with the unhappy self, the suffering ‘little me,’ which is ultimately a fiction of the mind. This withdrawal must have been so complete that the suffering self collapsed as if the plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What was left was my true nature as the ever present ‘I AM’: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.”
When asked in an interview if he believed that for all people there is some connection between personal suffering and the intensity that is needed for a spiritual breakthrough, Eckhart Tolle replied;
“Yes, that seems to be true in most cases. When you are trapped in a nightmare, your motivation to awaken will be so much greater than that of someone caught up in a relatively pleasant dream. On all levels, evolution occurs in response to a crisis situation, not infrequently a life-threatening one, when the old structures, inner or outer, are breaking down or are not working anymore. On a personal level, this often means the experience of loss of one kind or another: the death of a loved one, the end of a close relationship, loss of possessions, your home, status, or a breakdown of the external structures of your life that provided a sense of security. For many people, illness – loss of health – represents the crisis situation that triggers an awakening. With serious illness comes awareness of your own mortality, the greatest loss of all….. Any major loss has a similar effect: some form that was an important part of your sense of who you are – a person, a possession, a social role – dissolves or leaves you and you suffer because you had become identified with it and it seems you are losing yourself or a part of yourself. In reality, of course, what feels like a diminishment or loss of your sense of self is the crumbling of an image of who you are held in the mind. What dissolves is identification with thought forms that had given you your sense of self. But that sense of self is ultimately false, is ultimately a mental fiction. It is the egoic mind or the ‘little me’ as I sometimes call it ….. And when who you think you are dissolves, you connect with a vast power which is the essence of your very being. Jesus called it: ‘eternal life.’ In Buddhism, it is sometimes called the ‘deathless realm.’”
And so it is. When our ego-conscious minds refuse to let go and allow our native god-conscious selves to recover their original state of being, we need the “prod” of pain and suffering to push us to ask the questions that ultimately lead us to remembrance.
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4 – Who suffers?
In 1935, when Ramana Maharshi was asked why God allows suffering, he answered that “suffering is the way for realization of God.” When it was suggested that perhaps God could have ordained differently, he responded, “It is the way.” When further challenged why there should be suffering, he replied, “Who suffers?”
To Ramana Maharshi, it is only the illusionary body-conscious self that suffers, which he did not recognize as real. “All suffering is due to the false notion ‘I am the body.’”
“A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.” ~ Buddha
“There is nothing wrong with God’s creation. Misery and suffering only exist in the mind.” ~ Ramana Maharshi
‘But the unreal reality makes you forget the Real. God wants you to remember that you wouldn’t mind this earth if it were like a motion picture. Even if the brittle bones of the body break, you would say, “Well, look at those broken bones,” and not feel any disturbance or suffering. You can say that when you are anchored in the Divine Consciousness.’
~ P. Yogananda
“We are but waves on His infinite ocean; and while the wave’s suffering of separation from the ocean might seem real enough to the wave, it is actually based on illusion. Once the wave realizes its true nature, all suffering disappears. We are in a similar situation: unknowing, we suffer; knowing, we rejoice. It is not existence that constitutes suffering, but existence in delusion.” ~ Swami Abhayananda
“It has been your thoughts that have made you feel alternately weak and strong. You have seen how your health has exactly followed your expectations. Thought is a force, even as electricity or gravitation. The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God. I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass.” ~ Lahiri Mahasaya
“Nobody suffers in a play, unless one identifies himself with it. Don't identity yourself with the world and you will not suffer.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
And so, “Who suffers?” As mentioned at the beginning, it is only the illusory body-conscious self that suffers. “All suffering is due to the false notion ‘I am the body.’”
Once the goal of suffering is achieved, i.e. the re-awakening of our original state as gods, suffering ceases. The illusory ego-consciousness has fled. Suffering has completed its mission.
Some mystics will say that suffering only exists in the mind. This is just another way of saying that those whose mind is associated with body consciousness will feel suffering while those who have regained their god-consciousness will not.
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5 – Could there have been another way?
This world is God’s hobby. But it is not any fun for those who are suffering in it. I often say to the Lord, “If You wanted a hobby, why did You create pain and cancer and terrible emotions as part of it?” Of course, I am not in the world to dictate to the Lord. I know that. But I humbly fight with Him. He laughs at me, and says, “In the last chapter, all will know the answer to these questions.” Well, I know the answer, but I argue on behalf of those who don’t: “It may be a play to You, Lord, but it is misery and death to those who don’t know it is just a play ….. Why are there germs that kill so many people every year? If the bones of those who die of disease were heaped together, the pile would be as high as the Himalayas; and yet it is a hobby to You, God. What about those who are victims of Your hobby?” ~ P. Yogananda
As a completely liberated soul, Yogananda’s return to earth was voluntary and was done to help suffering mankind. As a liberated soul, he was able to commune directly with Spirit (as could all liberated souls who graced this planet). In a way, one can visualize such conversations as Spirit in a physical form talking to Spirit beyond form. The God in physical form can choose to feel the suffering of mankind and then relate this to the Spirit beyond creation, essentially asking, could there be another way? Here are more of Yogananda’s conversations with God on suffering;
I tell the Lord, “Lord, you had eternity to play with, so You created this world. It’s nothing to You but it’s terrible trouble to us. Why don’t You free us all? If you wanted a nice little show, why give so much trouble, make them think they are dying and being born, rich and poor? Why do You hypnotize them with such terrible delusion?” He says they will be free. All will be free. But it is not so easy until you wish it and wish it very well.
I said, “Lord, You never experimented with this drama of sorrow and pleasure on Yourself. So”, I said, “why do You experiment on us?” He has given me the thought to think, so I think all these things every day. It doesn’t create any mistrust, because He is with me. He smiles at me and tells me why it is so. But unless you become Him, you cannot understand the whole reason.
But I always cannot reconcile this part – “There are many, Lord, millions who do not know that this world is only a drama. What about them?” ….. I know the answer but I don’t like it because so many do not know this is a delusion and when you are suffering from cancer, it is no fun.
I remember one day I was in the movies; movies have one fascination, because I see the whole world as movies. I was in the booth and I saw the operator was reading a novel and I saw this automatic machine was going on and the beam was causing on the screen a terrible horror picture. And I said, “Lord, how is it. I have the whole show of the universe in front of me. You are this operator who is thinking of new plays and Your Nature is throwing this beam in the sky. And I see the hero and the villain are nothing but pictures. Nobody is killed.” Many were being killed and shot in this picture but I saw from the booth it was the light that had created the villain and the light had created the hero. And the Voice said, “….. there is no villain, no hero, they are both pictures of my beam ..… realize that all this world which you see, of terrible wars and troubles, is nothing but a picture show, cosmic motion picture show in the sky” ….. Until you find that out, this world is a terrible show. I said to God, as He was talking to me, “But Lord, look at the audience. They are howling and screeching downstairs at this horror show. I see it is nothing but pictures and light because I see the invisible beam. There are no murders in the beam, no heroes, no villains in the beam. But Lord, what about the audience – they don’t know it.” Then the Voice said, “Tell them all to look at my beam within and they will realize that this show is given to entertain them, not to get mixed up with it.”
So I realize this world with terrible wars and troubles, when I see the injustices I cannot, I cannot uphold the Father – but when I see that light dancing around me - this is a picture show, then I say glory to the Father.
Do not get mixed up with this movie, these terrible movies of God. There is one purpose – to get to the beam ... then you will realize it was only a show.
Suffering is an effective way to get mankind to re-awaken to their original god-selves. But it takes a long time, is painful and often overwhelming while the process is taking place. Could there have been another way to achieve this purpose, as Yogananda asked on behalf of suffering mankind? Perhaps the cosmic hypnosis could have been made less strong, so that we could see through the illusion of ego-consciousness without the suffering. Maybe there is a different virtual game of creation somewhere that does not involve such intense suffering. Maybe the game rules are different. Who knows? But what we do know is that, for now, in this particular creation, as Ramana Maharshi says, “it is the way.”
Of course, we also need to keep one thing in perspective on this topic. First, of all, who are we? We are individualized extensions of Spirit, gods who are essentially Spirit. So, who suffers? When Spirit entertains Itself by voluntarily taking on his own cosmic hypnosis in order to pretend that He is playing as separate beings in his fantasy universal playground, it is all He. It is Spirit in his fantasy multiple forms that appear to suffer. It is His game, His choice of rules and He is the only player in the game.
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