Vanity thought #1076. Point of pain

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.

Vanity thought #863. Question of pain and compassion

We all feel pain and we also feel compassion to other suffering living beings. The more enlightened we become, the more we empathize with others, recognizing their rights to happiness. We admire leaders who give a lot to charity, leaders who extend help to those less fortunate, who inspire others to help those in need.

Spiritual paths also lead people to the same realization. Even impersonalists, having tasted the fruit of liberation, come back to the society with altruistic intentions. Actually, for them it’s a failure of their model because they can’t maintain their detachment from the world but once they realize the inevitability of engagement they choose the most “enlightened” option – serving others.

People who rise above the modes of passion and ignorance also want to spread sattva around and improve lives of those suffering under the lower gunas.

Compassion is also one of the qualities that naturally develops in devotees and of late it has become a catch word in certain ISKCON circles.

Our role models, Srila Prabhupada and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, are considered the most compassionate souls, saviors of the entire world, glorified as parivrajaka acharyas. On the scale of spiritual advancement they are at the very top, as we recognize goshthi-anandis to be superior to bhajananandis. What makes the difference is the compassion towards all living entities, while bhajananandis “only” interested in their own spiritual well-being.

Let’s not focus on the fact that compassion of a pure devotee and compassion of a mundane philanthropist are two totally different things and that they lament totally different misfortunes. Let’s leave it out, for the moment. Compassion is where we are at.

Well, squeezed between goshthi-anandis and mundane philanthropists are ordinary, unremarkable paramahamsas. They don’t seem to have any compassion at all, totally oblivious to the sufferings of the world. They don’t see anything in need of fixing, they see everyone perfectly engaged in Krishna’s service as it is. How come? And where does this vision go when they decide to preach?

The question of how come is more difficult to comprehend. Preaching requires a conscious step down from their elevated platform in order to please the Lord, but how do they get to that platform in the first place, and why does compassion disappear?

How do they not see people suffering? How do they see everyone perfectly situated when the entire world is in agony?

I don’t think we, as non-paramahamsas, will even be able to understand it but we can theoretize and we can catch glimpses of their attitude in our clearest moments.

Explanation for suffering appears to be easy – they see people as they are, as spirit souls, and they see that suffering exists only as interaction of material senses with material objects. They are beyond duality of pain and pleasure, they are indifferent to it. They simply don’t notice it.

Okay, pain might be imaginary, or rather illusory, but deep unhappiness that comes from it is experienced by souls themselves. We might be made of stuff that is eternal, full of knowledge, and super-blissful but in our present condition we are objectively NOT full of knowledge and bliss.

It’s highly unlikely that paramahamsas see us in our original spiritual forms having our original, spiritual fun and this is what makes them so happy about our condition. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. We are not here and there at the same time, our consciousness is not split, at this very moment we don’t have our original spiritual relations with Krishna going on somewhere in the spiritual world.

Paramahamsas see us as perfect servants right where we see ourselves now – in the material world. Our suffering is of this world, too, how come paramahamsas don’t notice or don’t care about it?

How come they see us as perfectly engaged in service when we are most certainly not?

I think I got an idea.

We are engaged in the service to maya, who is Krishna’s most trusted servant in this world herself. We see her as illusion but they don’t see her as separate from the Lord. For them service to maya is the same as service to Krishna, she is just Lord’s agent to accept this service on His behalf. He created her to interact with us. Since we can’t or don’t want to reach Him in the spiritual world He sets up a nice show for us and engages with us even when we refuse to see Him.

Okay, but what about suffering then?

Suffering is just a result of our service, a karmic reaction. People suffer in relationships with Krishna in Vrindavana, too. Of course that suffering is full of spiritual bliss, as taught by Lord Chaitanya, but it’s suffering nevertheless.

In both cases, here and there, it only increases our devotion. Separation from Krishna increases love of His devotees, and suffering caused by karma only increase our faith in power of maya, especially for non-devotees.

Atheists trying to improve their conditions as the result of their suffering only strengthen their bonds with material nature. Their answer is to have more illusion, seek deeper surrender, build more trust in science, and develop strongest faith that maya will solve all their problems.

So, the key to observing people suffering is not the suffering itself but their stronger commitment to their relationship with the Absolute Truth (which of them comes in the form of illusion).

If you really want to empathize with people – look at the world through their eyes and notice how they never ever want to be … evil, for the lack of a better world. Even in their darkest moments they can find justification for their actions. Everybody always strives to make the world a better place, even if only for themselves.

Most of the time it results in unpleasant karma but it’s not the results, it’s the drive to serve the Absolute Truth that impresses paramahamsas. When they see such deep, spontaneous, ever increasing devotion, when they see their unshakable faith, they realize their own imperfection and feel truly humbled. That’s why they can’t preach to anybody.

Of course their imperfection lies in not serving Krishna Himself rather than His agent, maya, but imperfection in service is imperfection, period, because they don’t see the difference between serving Krishna directly and serving His energy.

Now it all makes sense, I hope.

There’s a lot left to speculate here, of course, but let’s take it one speculation at a time.

Vanity thought #227. Comfort zone.

This is an old idea that doesn’t want to go away yet hasn’t ripened into a proper shape for a blog post. For one thing, it’s all based on one single verse from Srimad Bhagavatam, 3.30.4, and I haven’t found any collaborating slokas or commentaries, it’s just that I can’t seem to let it go. It’s from Lord Kapila’s description of fruitive activities.

So, the verse,:

The living entity, in whatever species of life he appears, finds a particular type of satisfaction in that species, and he is never averse to being situated in such a condition.

Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary but to me this verse carries a profound revelation into our lives and offers new clues I’ve never understood before. Basically, it says that we love ourselves, love who we are.

If, however, I look at it form the point of view of constant whining and endless suffering it suddenly casts a big shadow of doubt over all our motivations.

Materialistic people never ever stop complaining about their lot. They always find reasons to be dissatisfied with their lives and they always find plenty of reasons why. Forget the fat cats from the west for a second, they are often being told that they are just big babies comparing to real suffering folks.

Right now it’s the drought in Somalia that melts people’s hearts. They say it’s entirely man manufactured, in a sense that droughts come every year on the clock but poor Somalians are not given a chance to prepare themselves and are being held hostage by the heartless thugs who run that country instead of a government.

These thugs are the only means of distribution of any help there and they make sure the donations go to all the right places, like buying new weapons to maintain their military superiority. Giving food to the people is the secondary objective so they are not in a hurry to help.

Meanwhile, Somalian mothers have to travel across the desert for many days and weeks to escape the drought. They travel with their children and all their belongings and they just can’t carry it all at once. They have to take one child up, carry him as far as they can, then return and pick the other kid and carry him to the new spot and they have to do this routine many times a day. Eventually they admit that they don’t have enough food and water to maintain both so the mother must make a choice – which child to leave dying in the desert. They promise him they would come back but they never do, they just keep going, trying to run away from the drought, from thugs, from their dying children, from their guilt, from their lives.

Material nature is merciless that way, BUT, it is also so powerful that it still finds a way to make the mothers feel good about themselves and enjoy their miserable conditions. They can’t help it, the maya forces them to love themselves no matter what. That is the meaning of this particular verse.

I know that this is the most controversial topic but maya makes people love their miseries and they hate themselves for that. Even victims of the most horrible abuse imaginable find bright moments among all the suffering inflicted on them. The Stockholm Syndrome is well popularized in the media but it actually points to the darker secrets of the human soul – all victims are made to find something attractive in all abusers. Not at all times and always against their will but it happens anyway.

We fight it tooth and nail, we deny the existence of this attraction and rightly so, because it excuses the perpetrators, but it would be unwise to deny it forever. Sad fact of life – there’s some perverted enjoyment in being humiliated and violated, it’s the force of the material nature, and it’s also the law of nature – we get what we want.

I’m not going to give examples of empathy the victims develop towards their abusers. Victims know about it and abusers know about it. They know that it’s wrong but they can’t help it.

Anyway, enough with dramatics, we have everyday lives to live.

I was always wondering about the moments that define a man. Is it at the peak of his glory, when he is on top of his little world, or is it in the moments of defeat and despair when he finds courage to pull himself together and persevere, or maybe give up? Is it in his relationships with others, when he is the most generous and noble or greedy and selfish? Is it when he is hopelessly in love with his heart laid out on his sleeve? Some say that you should listen to the man when he is drunk because that’s when he tells the truth about his real feelings.

These are the moments that people are remembered for when they enter the annals of history but I’ve never been quite satisfied with these definitions. Too much is left for passion and chance, too little for the expression of the soul itself. Men in love are going through chemical imbalances in their bodies and the effects are temporary, not to mention completely materially based. People often become heroes by circumstance, by being at the right place at the right time and with the right set of skills. For most of us these moments never come, should we consider our lives “undefined” then?

In all these situations I see mostly the interaction of the modes of nature and results of one’s karma. They do not define a soul.

What I found the better assessment is catching people in their most private moments when they let their guard down and simply enjoy being themselves. They could be chilling out on a sofa or they could be cuddling to their loved ones or they could be just sitting quietly and smiling to themselves. These are the moments when they truly love their fate, truly love themselves and their present incarnation.

These are the moments when one could note to himself – oh boy, they have been truly fooled! Hook, line and sinker, they are going down.

This has become the test of my own conditioning, too. I notice the moments when I feel good about myself, satisfied with just being myself, and I try to remember Krishna instead. I hope eventually it would come naturally for me – I hope I will develop natural aversion to being myself.

I hope one day I will be more like Prabhupada who, in those private moments, saw himself as a humble servant of his guru and Krishna. He surrendered his life and soul and dedicated his body to Krishna’s service and that has become his real identity – he loved being a servant.

So far I only love being an enjoyer and despite all my chanting I still strive for the moment I can lay down my japa, sit down, and just enjoy being myself and indulge in whatever little pleasures my life has in store for me.

Sadly, these moments define my life not as I want it to be, much work lies ahead if I want to change it around.

In the meantime I got sudden interest in how other people, especially our acharyas, managed to shake off their material identities and stopped seeking the safety of their maya provided comfort zones.

More on that later.