Why is there suffering in life? 

Is suffering necessary for spiritual growth? 

Well, this is a serious question. But I’ll give you the answer straight away. Yes! Some amount of suffering is necessary for spiritual growth. Don’t be depressed though. 

See, what is it that we call suffering? Have you ever gone into this question? Without understanding what is suffering you’ll not make out why I said suffering is necessary. All this requires great enquiry and understanding. To show you everything in this post is not possible. In fact, this cannot be understood verbally. It requires a great deal of inner maturity. 

Let’s come to the basics. What is suffering? Is pain and suffering the same thing? What do you feel when you suffer? 

Certainly there is pain when we suffer. But suffering is psychological pain, isn’t it? When something pains us psychologically, we say we are suffering. Pain is a reaction to change. Try to see it. Whenever we go through any unpleasant change, we suffer. It may be financial issues, relationship problems, death or disease, or change of circumstances. And we suffer all this. All this is change. When change is not according to our plans, we suffer. Isn’t it the reality? So, what is the basis of our suffering? Reaction to change. In other words, we suffer when we don’t get what we want and face what we don’t want to face. We want something!—Some to happen, some not to happen. This is the basis of all our suffering. So, suffering is basically our psychological reaction to unpleasant changes. Stop reacting, and you’ll be free from suffering. It’s as simple as that. 

Now, don’t say that God gives us suffering, or our fate ordains suffering for us. It’s too foolish to think like that. Suffering is our creation! We create it in our minds. Nobody else is responsible for this. Yes, you can argue: what about those times when others do wrong to us? Are we responsible for that also? No, we are not. But, don’t think God or some evil force is doing this to us; or some angry planet for that matter. It’s simply because of the perpetrator. Someone does something. It’s their karma which we suffer. No heavenly or hellish court of law is deciding our experience. It’s entirely our making. Suffering is our creation. But, we can always choose how to react. 

Now that we’ve understood ( can I hope?) what suffering is and why we suffer, let’s go to the last question—is suffering necessary? And if necessary, who decides so? 

Suffering is a sign that there is something we’re still ignorant of. All suffering springs from ignorance. If you are ignorant and you don’t suffer, I’ll be really surprised. Ignorance breeds suffering. As long as you’re ignorant of something or other, suffering will be there. So, suffering is an indication that there is a dark spot within us. That we must look at it. Just like we feel pain when something happens to our body and we become aware that there is something wrong, similarly, psychological pain or suffering is a sign that there is some unresolved issue in our minds. We must look at it. Without pain, physical or psychological, we’d never know if there is something wrong. Pain is a survival mechanism, you know. It makes us alert. 

And even from the spiritual perspective, suffering is inevitable in life. Buddha said, we are pierced by two arrows. The first arrow is thrown by this phenomenal world. The second one is the outcome of our karma. Spiritual journey entails removing the second arrow. The first arrow will always be there. But, that is not the real reason of our suffering. So, you see, even from the spiritual perspective, at one level, suffering is inevitable. 

And suffering makes us mature, you know. Nothing makes us more wise and mature as suffering does. I’m not advocating suffering, don’t get me wrong. The western world eulogized suffering. But, I’m not saying anything like that. The fact is that most of us are so blind in our ignorance that unless some suffering hits us, we don’t come awake. We spend our whole being sleepy. Suffering awakens us. Again, think of Buddha. He went not in search of enlightenment, but to find a way to be free from all suffering. He realised all life is suffering. And in the process, He attained nirvana. Nirvana is the cessation of all suffering. 

Suffering is not a punishment. It’s only a sign that we are doing something wrong within us. When we completely understand something, we cannot suffer that. We suffer only because we are ignorant and we don’t understand change. Remove ignorance, and suffering will cease to exist.

May the Divine bless us all with illumination. 🙏

Thank You.
Image Credit: iStock Photo.

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