Vraja Bihari Das

Like Prahalad we need to accept inconvenience of suffering. We can’t circumvent this rule if we want to make any tangible advancement. Of course, our tests and challenges will be much smaller, but they will for sure demand we abandon our goal of ‘relief’ or ‘peace’. We are expected sooner or later to live for a cause beyond our own.

Suffering is a reality of this world. Those who live in denial by constantly seeking relief are most miserable. Those who accept the reality, learn to also transcend it. Many devotees may speak and declare this world is full of suffering but deep within we may only think of how to be happy in this world. Such devotees’ suffering has no end. And the pain is more acute because we are disconnected from our needs and we profess Krishna consciousness but are also misaligned from Krishna’s expectations from us.

Therefore on Narasimha chaturdashi festival let us brace ourselves for new challenges.

You may protest: but suffering is painful and I don’t want pain. 

No one wants to suffer. Every species of life tries to minimize suffering; this is natural and necessary. Nevertheless as human beings, we have a choice to face suffering with dignity.

Two types of suffering

Regressive suffering is that pain or misery which you can avoid if you so wish, and if you don’t, it chokes your thinking, stifles your growth, and leaves you internally clueless. Existential suffering on the other hand is something that happens inevitably in your life and you can’t avoid it. So better accept it. This suffering helps us grow and learn lessons in life.

If someone pinches you hard on the elbow it hurts but it doesn’t damage. Similarly when setbacks come, it’s hurting but we have to ask if it’s damaging or merely hurting. If it’s more than a hurt, and prevents our growth then we need professional help and we need to save our souls.

Existential suffering is unavoidable and is part of a package called life. This involves old age, disease, accident, death of loved one etc. You may try your best to prevent it but this suffering is beyond our control. When we accept it graciously rather than fight it, we also find the event less painful. Many fight this; as old age strikes, they worry about death. 

I knew a friend’s father who repeatedly told me that he wishes to die peacefully in sleep and with a sudden cardiac arrest. He said he doesn’t want cancer or paralysis. I probed him if he has a choice about his death and besides, why he wants that kind of a death anyways? He said because he doesn’t want to be a liability on anyone. I asked him a more intimidating question: “are you afraid that if you are bedridden by a disease you will be dependent upon others and would thereby loose control on what you are doing and what you want?”. He instantly said yes and exclaimed that’s exactly what ‘I fear’ and what ‘I don’t want’. I then took a deep breath and confessed to him that I too have same fears, but added another pointed question: are we associating lack of control to indignity? 

He looked at me stunned and after a reflective pause, confessed yes.

Many of us think if we loose control in life, we have lost self respect. But material nature, Srila Prabhupada repeatedly taught us, is nobody’s servant and is not obliged to give us control over our body. We may become totally vulnerable and helpless at some point of time. But we can still accept it and still be dignified. Modern lifestyle unfortunately teaches us that we are supreme controllers and this brings more suffering because life is harsh and we are not in control.

Existential suffering needs to be faced soberly and prayerfully. And that’s when we learn and grow and become stronger. When we fail to learn lessons or grow from unavoidable circumstances then we transform it to regressive suffering.

To be continued….

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