Friday, 16 September 2016

Afflictions of the Mind: Part-5.1 (Suffering)

By Fadia Afashe

Suffering - what, why and how.

We have briefly discussed suffering in previous articles. Here, as usual, we are going into the details of it. Suffering is a state of the Mind, characterized by the presence of thoughts, feelings, emotions, internal actions, memories and such mental objects, that are negative in nature. By Negative, I mean, having harmful or destructive consequences [1]. This state of the Mind is quite repulsive, the Mind wants to get rid of it. It is unwanted, unnatural. A person in this state is incapable of thinking correctly, acting wisely or speaking coherently. Such a person is often rendered inactive, but sometimes can also become violent or sick. 

The sensations and reactions caused by suffering are similar in nature to those caused by physical pain [2]. The body and the Mind tries to avoid it, run away from it. Often the Mind gets caught in suffering for days, months and even years. The suffering becomes habitual if not cured and one can spend his whole life in the grip of one or other kinds of suffering. Actually, the current state of humanity is mostly that of suffering, irrespective of classes. This is mind boggling. Man, being the smartest and most capable animal, should have solved this problem within minutes. But we see the exact opposite. The state of the suffering is seen as “normal” by the society, and unless it becomes violent and destructive, nothing is done about it. In extreme cases, the suffering becomes a recognizable mental illness and the person is thrown into isolation or is kept under sedative drugs. So, mostly people have no clue how to solve the problem of suffering.

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So, we come to an important question - what causes suffering? Ignorance. One word. Superficially, we may see various events, people, desires, physical conditions, beliefs and a thousand other things as cause of the suffering, but at the core of all of them, lies ignorance. Ignorance, as we defined it, is a lack of knowledge, or incomplete knowledge, and when a person encounters situations that demand correct and complete knowledge in order to act, the person finds himself helpless, incapable of dealing with that situation. The result is that the Mind is thrown into a conundrum, confusion and various negative processes take over. The Mind sees the situation as a threat and its survival programs (Ego) kicks in, causing states of fear, anger, hatred and such emotions. These give rise to negative intentions, sometimes negative actions, which cause more suffering and the person goes down the spiral very soon [3].

What is the cure for suffering? Knowledge. When the ignorance is destroyed and correct thinking is restored, the Mind returns to peace and the suffering ends. It may take some time and one may need to collect enough experience to gain the knowledge needed to end one’s suffering. It totally depends on the capabilities of the sufferer if he can end it sooner. A wise, aware, intelligent and bold person can end any suffering in minutes, and moreover, avoids falling into that state in the first place.

Who suffers? No one. There is no one there to suffer. The negative processes and contents appear and disappear on their own. Usually the Mind assigns them to an identity, as we have seen in the discussion on the topic of identity. It is done to organize the experience, to attach a tag to those experiences. Well, this simply results in an amplification of the suffering, because, a person who is ignorant of this circus of identity, assumes that he (the identity) is the sufferer. You can see young children, where the identity has not yet formed, their suffering is often superficial and lasts for seconds. As the person grows old, and his identity takes shape, the suffering becomes stronger and lasts longer.

Does the Self suffer too? No, the Self is incapable of suffering or happiness. The Self is merely an onlooker, a witness, a watcher. You can see the Self, unmoved and shining as brightly as ever, even in the darkest state of suffering. Turn inwards and see your Self, you will find that it is just watching the whole drama peacefully. And there lies the real cure of suffering. Once the suffering is seen from the point of view of the Self, it disappears. When seen by the Self, there is no suffering, only mental processes, contents, actions and such. They come and go like the dark clouds over a clear blue sky.

Even if one is deep in ignorance, simply watching the state of suffering with high awareness, alertness and attention, helps in eradicating it. Clear observation and understanding of suffering helps to gain the needed knowledge and clears the fog of ignorance. Once suffering is seen as it is, it never returns.

So, does the awareness of suffering make me happy? No, it makes you peaceful. Happiness is just another state of the Mind, only with positive contents instead of negative. A wise person treats suffering and happiness as same. Both occurrences in the Mind, nothing more. You may find a release and feeling of bliss when the suffering ends, and this is because the natural state of the Mind is blissful and peaceful. The contrast may be perceived as happiness. One’s goal should be freedom from suffering, not the bondage of happiness. Happiness, as usual, is impermanent and doesn’t last.

Is it enough to see the suffering to end it? Usually one also needs to get up and do something to eliminate the cause of it. For example, if the suffering is being caused by a disease, one must cure it, not just observe it, the result can be death without suffering, which is obviously as bad as a death with suffering. If the suffering is because of another person, one must take actions to either get rid of that person or to get out of that situation. No, I don’t recommend killing the person, even if it is tempting to do that, it can cause more suffering. A wise man ends the cause of suffering in such a way that his actions do not cause further suffering. An ignorant, on the other hand, takes haphazard actions, resulting in more suffering to himself and people around him. So a complete cure of the suffering involves both knowledge and proper action.

Suffering is never caused by external agents. This may seem counter intuitive. Suffering is a state of Mind, independent of the external situations or other people. If we let those situations affect us, we invite suffering. The content of our Mind is our own making. An untrained Mind has no idea how to separate the contents of his Mind from surroundings and is on the mercy of external situations and people, totally controlled by them. Imagine if your Mind came with a remote control, with buttons that can cause any kind of thought, good or bad, any emotion good or bad. An ignorant person is the one who throws away that remote on the street for anyone to operate or be operated by anything that hits it. A person who depends on other people for his happiness, hands over the remote to those people. Obviously, the result is always bad. Sooner or later, someone will press the wrong buttons and will make you suffer. A wise person, keeps the remote in his pocket. He lets his own volition decide which buttons to press, and obviously, no wise person will press buttons that invoke negativity of any kind.

You are poor, you were born in poverty. You need to do hard work 12 hours a day in hellish conditions, just to fill your stomach. That’s a lot of suffering, and I’m sure this is a familiar situation for many of us. Isn’t this suffering being caused by external factors? The unjust society, the greedy people, aren’t they responsible for your suffering? If you really think so, your remote control is not in your pocket. Moreover, this question shows presence of many beliefs. You were never born in poverty, you were never born actually. You are not in a bad condition, its just a situation you find yourself in. There are no bad people, its your own expectations that make them good or bad. If the situation fulfils your desires, it is good, else not and if people behave as you please, they are good, else not. This is your own bias, things are as they are. You believe that a lot of money and nice people are all you need to be happy and you are bent on “getting” that by any means, you have no clue that external things and others are not in your control. Most of the time, even you are not in your own control, you are animated by mere beliefs, desires, expectation, fantasies and are not even aware of it.  

There are just experiences, your ignorance colours them as good or bad, desirable or undesirable. You as a Self are simply experiencing something, but you as an identity, as a person managed to see it as hell, thanks to all the beliefs, desires and brainwashing – all just ignorance. This is the real cause of suffering, not the people or situations [4].

Once you become aware that your mental condition is of your own making, you can take the control back. Realize that your expectations, beliefs and desires are making you think and act in irrational ways. Identify them one by one and put a lid on them. This is all is needed to end the suffering. Of course it is easier said than done. It can takes anything from a few minutes to a life time, depending on how deep the person is in the pit of ignorance and how efficiently his mental faculties are working (aka intelligence).

So, will realizing the above, make my poverty disappear? Will I get whatever I need, magically? No, it will make your suffering disappear. You will still remain poor. Sorry, I have no magic pills for that. You become clam and stable, very peaceful. Once your suffering is gone, your Mind comes into action. It starts whirling fast, it is no more rusted by suffering. You start thinking correctly and therefore take correct actions. Your right actions can bring you out of poverty or any other situation for that matter. You do it naturally, you are not desperate for it, you let it happen, instead of pushing it hard. Remember that knowledge leads to correct actions, its all so natural.

What is the right action in such cases, once I see my ignorance and destroy it? Well, you will know it for sure. In my experience, instead of believing in random things, desiring, expecting and controlling everything, I simply let it all go. I made a list of priorities, broke up tasks into tiny steps, and one baby step at a time started working on them, instead of just suffering, sitting in a corner, cursing stuff and crying. It worked! Instead of depending on others, I learnt new skills, learnt new ways, switched jobs, got rid of people who were too demanding or manipulating, who just used me. I took refuge with people who were more intelligent and wiser than me, who had to offer hard practical advice instead of fluffy dreams. They showed me how foolish I was, they destroyed my old self mercilessly. All I had to do was listen to them with an open mind. I reduced my needs to a minimum, didn’t care what others were doing. I got out of the rat race. I had to do nothing more, no struggles, no fights. It becomes so easy when you know. Knowledge not only ends suffering, it brings happiness too.


[1] The problem with suffering is that it comes with distinct subjective "flavours". There is a quality, a feeling, that is associated with the negative content. The content is not neutral for the one suffering from it. It has a smell, a colour, a darkness and repulsive quality. The suffering from jealously is different in quality from that of a suffering from loss of money, for example. It takes some practice to neutralize the qualia associated with the suffering. When the negative contents are experienced as just contents, tasteless and colourless, it becomes easy to get rid of them.

[2] The Mind does not distinguish between physical pain and mental pain (suffering). It sends the body in defense mode in both cases. So you will see that suffering makes a healthy person sick, lowers his immunity, makes him lethargic and inactive and even causes physical symptoms to appear. The most common are head aches and digestive troubles. Many of the diseases have cause in Mind, and when the suffering is cured, it cures the disease as well.

[3] People often fall into substance abuse, bad habits or bad company when in suffering. This is a fine evidence of how the Mind starts functioning in an irrational way when under the spell of suffering. If you find yourself addicted to things, or attached to certain foods, places or people that are not exactly good for you, you may find that there is a suffering that is causing such behaviour. What these things do is, provide a temporary kick to the Mind, a transient relief, which makes situation even worse and lengthens the time needed to come out of the state of suffering.

[4] Apart from poverty, insecurity, hunger and disease, broken relations and death of relatives are other major causes of suffering. More on these two later. But for now, I can say, the cure lies in realizing that there is no one else to relate to other than your Self and there is no death, just change.

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