The Challenge of Suffering

The fact of suffering is a problem which concerns humanity at large. There is no one who is not afflicted by suffering, whether it be a vague dissatisfaction not fully understood by us, or anxiety which seems always to be with us, even when, outwardly, all is well.

Thus the time is bound to come when we ask the question: ‘Why should human beings suffer? What does it all mean?’ This is usually followed by the further question: ‘ Why does God allow such suffering and injustice—if, indeed, there is a God?’ There can be few of us who have not at some time wrestled with such doubts as these.

Hari Prasad Shastri once said that as a young man he too was tormented by this problem of suffering and at last he could bear it no longer, so he approached a Mahatma and laid his doubts and difficulties before him. The Mahatma remained silent for a few minutes, looking at him compassionately. Then he said : ‘My son, there is no easy answer. This form of speculation is futile, absolutely futile, and also very harmful to you. My advice to you is to put it aside for the time being and be creative. Purify your mind, study the truth. In this way you will not merely understand suffering, you will overcome it, and then and only then will you be able to make a real contribution to relieving the sufferings of others.’ Hari Prasad added: ‘I took the advice, and have never regretted it.’

The non-dual teaching is that suffering is not inevitable. It denotes a state of spiritual immaturity which can be outgrown and overcome in this life. This is a tremendous claim, and if it had no substance, it would never have retained its validity throughout the centuries. But the possibility of this higher understanding has been verified again and again.

And if we find this claim inconceivable, let us examine the problem of suffering in a wider context. We have to remember that we live on various levels of our own being: the emotional, rational, aesthetic, moral and also the spiritual, and our experience of life varies accordingly. It is not so much the events of life as the way we react to them which causes suffering.

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This article is from the Winter 2024 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.