Why are we made to suffer? Yesterday I said that there’s a perfectly good explanation why apparently innocent people and children sometimes have to suffer unspeakable pain. I thought I would present it today but on the second thought the explanation still appears to be elusive.
Short answer is that it’s karma but that doesn’t say much because then you’ll have to explain what karma is and why it works that way and it quickly becomes a shaky subject no one agrees upon.
One could argue that, according to karma, people are made to suffer exactly the same pain they earlier inflicted on others. That makes sense within one lifetime but not so much if karma is earned in one life and manifests in another. In this case we don’t remember the crime and have to take its existence on faith – law of karma is not observable over two or more lifespans. Maybe it works as described, maybe it doesn’t.
One could further argue that because it works within one lifetime then it’s reasonable to extend it into the next life as well rather than to seek an alternative law but not everyone will agree with this logic.
Observable fact is that some things happen to us for no apparent reason while other things do not correspond with their reasons uniformly, like people getting away with murder or ethnic cleansing. It’s nice to hope that they’ll be punished after death and it would make a lot of sense but it’s not something we can see, and we are not talking about spirituality here, just ordinary material laws of nature.
So, if we say that all pain is caused by the law of karma we essentially blame undeserved suffering on unseen causes and a lot of people would ask for a better solution than this.
Another argument could be existence of pain itself – maybe there’s a law of karma and maybe it’s unbreakable, but what is the need for suffering in the first place? Why can’t we have this law of karma AND no pain?
People often answer this question by the need for variety, that without pain we wouldn’t appreciate pleasure. Not true, we don’t need to eat disgusting things to appreciate the taste of delicious food. We don’t need to flay our skin to appreciate soft touch. Variety might be necessary but extreme pain isn’t.
There’s variety in the spiritual world, too, but planets there are still called vaikuṇṭhas – free from suffering, so that answer is flawed.
Another possible answer is that pain is the property of the material world, pain is what makes it different, but it still doesn’t explain why it’s really needed. There are heavenly planets here where pain is practically non-existent so it’s possible to have a material world AND be free from pain, so? Why do we have to suffer but inhabitants of the heavenly planets don’t?
The answer to this is “karma” again, but it still doesn’t explain the need for pain itself. Can’t we all have karma with just a mild irritation? Obviously we can’t, but why?
Another answer is the degree of piety – pious souls experience a lot less pain than impious ones but it still doesn’t explain the need for the low base value. Source of piety itself is questionable, too.
Usually, in Vedic culture and elsewhere, piety is related to worshiping God and following rules given in the holy scriptures but what about best of the demons who live more comfortable lives than the best of demigods? They hate God with all their hearts and can’t care less about worshiping Indra and his crew and yet they appear to acquire more piety than anyone else.
This is actually an important point because it redefines piety in a way that is more suitable for devotees – if Kṛṣṇa is the one who ultimately controls our fate then usual notions of “good” and “bad” karma become inadequate and one must look beyond standard prescriptions from the śāstra. Demons ignore them to increase their material happiness and devotees ignore them to increase their love of God.
We and the demons to not subvert śāstra in the same way, of course, but it’s the possibility of living outside Vedic rules and succeeding is what’s important.
However important that realization could be it still does not explain existence of pain.
I’m afraid we have to look at how the material world is made possible as well as definition of pain itself.
Spiritually, we are all parts and particles of Kṛṣṇa who are meant to be engaged in His service. If we refuse we need an illusion to cover this fundamental truth, and this illusion is temporary. We want something and the Lord arranges it for us, and material world comes into existence.
Because it’s not eternal it needs to be created and creation must end with destruction, which is controlled by the mode of ignorance, and this mode of ignorance also causes pain. How? Not important, what’s important is that it’s unavoidable.
If we can explain how and why tama guna causes pain we’ll have the final answer to the original question.
Tama means ignorance, means forgetfulness of our spiritual nature and misidentification with matter. Even if false ego itself is not the product of tama guna eventually it leads to ignorance and absolute, total conviction that we are our bodies, that we are made of matter, that we ARE matter and nothing else.
Pain, therefore, is the property of matter, not spirit. *We* do not suffer pain, matter does when it undergoes certain transformations, like when nerve endings are stimulated in a certain way. We feel those transformations as our own when, in fact, they aren’t.
Similarly, pleasure does not exist either – it’s just slightly different stimulation of the same nerves.
Pain and pleasure are, therefore, not absolute, but are our attitudes towards interactions between material elements. We have certain expectations about how these interactions should transpire and when they don’t happen the way we want we feel pain.
Take rape, for example – everybody wants to have sex but not the way rape goes, and some actually like being forced into sex, or S&M wouldn’t exist.
Now, I think, I’m getting close – we want material world to be eternal but because it does not reflect the actual reality (which is that we are Kṛṣṇa’s servants) it cannot last forever. When time comes for it to be destroyed tama guna increases and that leads to increase in pain.
One could say – wait a minute, shouldn’t it increase pleasure as well, both should go together, right? Right, it increases pleasure in the mode of ignorance, as Kṛṣṇa explains in Bhagavad Gīta. Similarly, there’s pain in the mode of goodness, too, but it doesn’t feel nearly as painful.
There’s pain the spiritual world as well – pain of separation from Kṛṣṇa, for example, as Lord Caitanya demonstrated in His viraha bhava, but He also showed that this spiritual pain is more desirable than spiritual pleasure.
Hmm, I didn’t see that one coming when I sat down to type this post – that pain and pleasure exist everywhere in every mode of existence but what makes what we understand as “suffering” is the pain in tama guna.
In all other modes it’s not nearly as painful. In the mode of passion, for example, it’s experienced as frustration of not achieving desired results, which is unpleasant but incomparable to the pulling out one’s nails. And whatever discomfort one might experience in the mode of goodness is not even called pain by our standards. It’s more like pain of putting up with fools.
So, in short – pain is present everywhere but experienced differently. The worse kind of experience happens under the influence of the mode of ignorance and mode of ignorance is, unfortunately, indispensable to making material world happen – since it’s not eternal everything here must eventually be destroyed.