Dukh, Suffering and its Meaning

What is Suffering and why is there so much of it, I have often contemplated it. There is of course pain which is part of the existence of all living things, even plants. My wife has a health condition and goes through terrible bouts to pain on a regular basis. She has suffered through it most of her life. We know why the pain exists, but why my beloved has to endure this suffering, I know not.

My body has been blessed to not have endured much physical suffering, but my mind has lived through pain. I have gone through a few major and some minor episodes of depression. But more on that later. Coming back to physical suffering, my Grandmother in her final years was paralyzed, completely bed-ridden. Our family, specifically my Mom and Aunt, took care of all her needs at home. As children we grew up watching her suffering. Was there any meaning to it? A lady who was so devout, who lived her entire life in the loving service of her family and tribe, endured such pain. I couldn’t understand it. But perhaps she knew. She hung on to life for so many of those years because of her love for her family, it perhaps kept them together. Her care in that household became the shrine to her loving existence.

Tera bhana meetha lage

Guru Arjan

These were the last words of a gentle being, before his passing on, post enduring many days of physical torture for fastidiously sticking to his belief system. On the face of it he seems to have said, “Whatever Your (the lord) will, I find sweet”, it is a loving acceptance of the ways of The Universe. And yet, to me there seems deeper meanings. Perhaps he foresaw the difficult times ahead for his people, and the level of mental fortitude they would need to endure it.

Viktor Frankl talks about the Meaning of Suffering many times over in his seminal work – Man’s search for meaning. He cites Dostoevski, “There is only one thing I dread; not to be worthy of my sufferings” and says that man can endure any amount of suffering, if he can find an ultimate meaning to it. Now this could be through existence for a loved one, for a higher cause or for completion of a work that gave your life meaning. After his freedom from the Nazi Concentration Camps, where he lived through tremendous suffering, he found meaning through his work as a doctor, a therapist.

I came to understand, over time, that my depressive episodes were consequences of my own actions. By attaching too much with my Ego-Mind or in Sikhi, the word for it is “Haume“, I realized that the negative thoughts were more about self-inflicted judgement. I wallowed in the suffering of my past actions, of words and deeds that I found naïve or foolish. It was hard to find forgiveness, even though, largely the world around me had moved on and didn’t care. Whenever, the Ego-Mind, the Haume, had led me astray, the recognition of it caused even more pain, moving me to a downward spiral. In my last episode a few years back I took help of a therapist and that helped shorten the cycle.

The Ego-Mind, this child, is at its most vulnerable at times of great change, its bi-polar nature tries to find outlets to attract attention and create importance for itself. Now that I reflect on it, too often we fail to love ourselves enough. The light within us need not be judged through the prisms of our mind. As I fall, and I’m bound to many times in the future, this self-forgiveness, this love and gratitude towards the light within, has helped me pick myself up much faster. It has helped ease my suffering and bring joy in this existence.

One dies and a new one blooms

Have you ever experienced snow fall, it is a magical experience, there is a beauty and gentleness to it. But if one tries to describe it, words are not enough. Frozen water is falling from the sky, the clouds are dark and grey, there is a cold wind blowing outside and most times you don’t feel like going in it. Its the same trying to describe ones state of mind through a depressive episode and it is hard to see the beauty in it.

Now, imagine you are standing under a bright yellow lamppost and look up to the sky. Close your eyes and feel the warmth and glow of the light. Now, open your eyes and concentrate on a single snow flake at a time. Try to see its shape, feel it hit your face and palms, let the water melt on your skin. And feel yourself melt with it. I understand it now, accept the sweetness in it, in those dark skies and cold winds. For it has taught me empathy. It has created compassion in my being for my sisters and brothers who have to endure the same.

The meditation practice has helped create awareness, in recognizing the patterns, the actions, the emotions that are dangerous and could cause future suffering. I have tried to take them in the spirit of lessons that the Guru has presented, that must be overcome to reach the higher levels in this game of snakes and ladders. I have had to go through the lessons that were meant for me in this lifetime, and perhaps will have to go through them again if the learnings haven’t been fully imbibed.

All I ask from my Inner Guru is, that they give me the strength to endure the suffering of This Existence through Love, through Forgiveness, through Gratitude – for that is the only thing that can give meaning to This Existence.

This attachment with the Ego-Mind is grave, hard it is for me to stave
O Mother, please save me, for this monster is forever ready to devour me.

This attachment with the Ego-Mind is grave, through love and gratitude Inner Guru has me saved.

8 thoughts on “Dukh, Suffering and its Meaning

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  1. I suggest you to read Guru Arjan Dev je, life cycle from child to Gurur and Guru to supreme sacrifice for faith… Inspite of having immense spiritual powers if he wanted he can change fate but he accepted tera pana mitha lage muje kao j har namm chitare…

  2. This is heart warming. Life has so much more to offer…people have misunderstood the word ‘love’ for ages! This is how it feels. To involve, to accept, selfeless, transactionless. and to everyone around you – empathy!. Beautifully put Sir.

  3. What a coincidence Brij, I just finished Man’s search for meaning and I come across your post 🙂

    I suggest you to try “The untethered soul”
    If you haven’t yet.

    Be happy and stay blessed 🙂

  4. What a coincidence Brij, I just finished Man’s search for meaning and I come across your post 🙂 yes, Frankl’s existential analysis and finding meaning through love, courage and passionate work is like drawing a parallel with the Dhamma taught by Gauthama.

    I suggest you to try “The untethered soul”
    If you haven’t yet.

    Be happy and stay blessed 🙂

  5. Sharing a passage from – The Cross of CHRIST – John Stott

    “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours….’ ‘The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

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