The Real Cause of Suffering
Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda
Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh
As human beings, we all want to be happy. And one of the ways to be happy is to feel that everything is okay. The world is okay, and I am okay. But the trouble is, the world doesn’t seem to be okay, nor do we seem to be okay. Therefore, in order to be happy, most people live in some form of state of denial or escape.
This was not the teaching of the Eastern sages, at least on this level. They declared that this life is fundamentally suffering, and, therefore, if you want to be happy, you have to find another solution. Sometimes that solution was to get to heaven or to have a better birth.
But that’s in the future. We want to deal with our situation right now. And if we do, we have to try to understand one fundamental fact. Suffering could be said to have two aspects–one that we can’t do much about, and one that we can do something about. For example, if we have chest pains, those pains are suffering. But the real suffering is not the pain; the real suffering is worrying that we are having a heart attack. In other words, suffering is caused by our interpretation of our situation.
The same applies to almost everything around us. Suffering is caused by birth, death, sickness, old age and pain according to the philosophers, but the real suffering is caused by our attitude. If we see birth, death, sickness, old age and pain as natural phenomena, there is a minimum of suffering. If we have a different attitude, it can cause great suffering.
Fundamentally if we look at our inner self, we will discover that it is what we think about ourselves that determines how much suffering we’re undergoing. That frequently causes a state of anxiety; perhaps anger is always there, perhaps jealousy, perhaps greed, perhaps sadness. Something is there that is our real suffering and determines how we meet life. It is not the outer things that are the cause of our suffering, but how we react to them. What is left over when there is no outer stimulus is what is important.
The key to solving the problem is to recognise that these inner negative states, which seem to be at the core of our being, really are not at the core. There is something within us that is more fundamental, that is aware of all these states. It has the ability, not necessarily to get rid of these states, but to objectify them rather than identify with them.
Normally we do this by offering everything to God, by surrendering, by repeating God’s name or through introspection. The objective is to not tackle these things directly, but rather to identify with that which is aware of them. This is the purpose of all our spiritual practices. And the more we go to this deeper depth of ourselves, the less power these negative states will have over us.
So, we can say that life is fundamentally suffering, but at a deeper level it is all divine. And the scriptures tell us that not only is Divinity beyond all suffering, but that That is what we are. So our solution is not so much at the physical and mental level as it is at the level of our identity: Believe the scriptures and the gurus when they tell us that we are That. Recognise that we are the witness of all these states, and allow the healing to take place.