The source of our suffering

There is an Urdu shayari that says “Marz badhta gaya ju’n ju’n dawa ki”. In English, it means “the disease kept worsening as the medicines were taken”.

Evidently, the medicines didn’t work. Rather, they might have contributed to the worsening of the disease.

Why so?

Probably, the diagnosis was incorrect, leading to a useless, or may be a harmful, prescription.

We are suffering, and we all try our best to eliminate/avoid suffering our whole lives. But still, our efforts don’t yield much. Rather, the more efforts we make, the more we find ourselves suffering. The ways we are trying to eliminate our suffering are not working. They are not only unproductive but seemingly counter-productive. Even though we make all the efforts to reduce/eliminate suffering from our lives, we find that we are continuously becoming worse-off. Our childhood was better than our teen years, which were better than our 20s and 30s, and which turn out to be better than the rest of our lives. Our lives consistently degrade in the happiness value as we become older.

Why does it happen? Why are our ways/medicines not working?

Probably, the answer is that our diagnosis is not correct. Our understanding as to why we suffer is probably not correct. If we do not even have a correct understanding of why we suffer, then we are going to treat or avoid our suffering in unproductive ways. And probably that is what we are doing.

One of the biggest misconceptions, and the most harmful one, that people carry is that they suffer because they have a good character i.e. they suffer because they are honest; they suffer because they are kind-hearted; they suffer because they are compassionate; they suffer because they love and trust others. Now, with such a reason for our suffering, we are martyrs. And we feel some relief in calling ourselves martyrs. We did not suffer for any trivial reason or in the pursuit of money, fame or worldly things; we suffered for our good character. We have a good character, and that’s why, in this world filled with characterless people, we suffered. We had to suffer because we are the only ones with the character; rest all are pure opportunists, characterless people. This is how we think. And this is how we boost our egos (Yeah! I’m the only one with the character amidst this crowd of characterless people).

Even though such a diagnosis of our suffering gives some immediate relief by uplifting our ego, it doesn’t work and hasn’t worked in providing us the tools to make our lives better. Rather, such a diagnosis suggests that our happiness lies in abandoning our character, a source of suffering. And this is also what we have been and are currently doing. The society has become more and more characterless as the time has passed. And I think this misplaced diagnosis is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, causes behind our moral degeneration. If we believe that character leads to suffering, then, given who we are (joy-seeking creatures), we are going to abandon the character. And that is what we have done en masse.

Now, let me say that the reason for our suffering is not the character but the lack of it. And the reason for our circumstances is not others but us. And when we blame others for our problems, we are assuming that all the wise people, including all the prophets and Gurbani, are misplaced in their understanding. The message from all major scriptures including Gita, Bible, and Gurbani is that we create our reality; whatever happens to us is our own creation. The opportunities and the adversities we face are the results of our own thoughts and actions of the past and the present. Gurbani says:

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Now, when we try to accept that we are responsible for our circumstances, we start blaming and cursing ourselves, feeling even worse than before. If we do that, we are again going to go back to cursing others since cursing ourselves is a much more painful activity than cursing others. The idea here is to accept responsibility for our present and then work towards changing it for the better, not to get stuck in the present and keep cursing ourselves. The power to create our reality that has been given to us – we should always acknowledge. If we have created the mess we currently find ourselves in, we can create something better, not just better but far better, not just far better but heavenly. So, responsibility for the present and belief in our power to create a better future must walk hand-in-hand. If we don’t take responsibility for our present, it means that we don’t believe ourselves to be the creator of our reality. And if we take responsibility for our present, we should also believe in our ability to create a brighter future and work towards it, lest we may get into blaming ourselves, thereby using our creative energy for a negative purpose.

It happens at times, especially when businessmen or successful people share their success stories and tell us that they created their lives themselves, that we accept we are the creators of our lives. And realizing this, our confidence is boosted, and we believe that we can achieve whatever we want. But then, as we go through our life, and unwanted things happen to us, we again get back to blaming others and feeling discouraged and helpless. Rather than spending our time is fixing the problems or taking a different way, we waste our time in holding people responsible for our miseries and misfortunes.

The other mistake that we do, even when we believe that we are the creators of our lives, is that we believe we create our lives through our actions alone. We do not consider our thoughts or intentions important. After all, who gets to look at your thoughts? And nothing changes just by thinking. Things happen only when we take action. This is what we think, and therefore, we disregard the importance of our thoughts and pay attention to only our actions. However, spirituality says that life flows out of your intentions. Gurbani says:

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If we are always thinking negative thoughts, we are going to reap negativity in life, no matter how much we try to project ourselves as good through our actions.

And if we are always thinking positive thoughts, we are going to reap positivity in life, no matter what others think about us. What others think about us is their thoughts, and their thoughts will determine their future, not our.

There are several other (incorrect) diagnoses of our suffering. We think we are suffering because we do not have enough money; we are suffering because we do not have good friends; we are suffering because we do not have sexy girlfriends or boyfriends; we are suffering because we do not have a good job or a good boss or supportive parents.

And when such are our diagnoses, it is entirely natural for us, given who we are – joy seeking creatures, to seek more money, to seek more friends, to seek sexy partners, to seek a good job. But none of us find all of these things, and we continue to believe that our suffering is the result of the absence of one or more of these things. And in our seeking and struggle to acquire and possess these things, we suffer even more, much more than we suffered without them. Our path to joy becomes our path of suffering. Our struggle to have happiness ends in even more suffering.

And we again come back to the questions: Are we doing the right things? Have we understood the problem well enough? Is our diagnosis correct?

I believe we are suffering because we are not making the right choices. And making the right choices requires having the right character and an understanding of how life works. I’m not saying that you should have a character even though it is a costly affair (i.e. brings a lot of suffering). I’m saying that you should have a character because it brings joy and peace of mind.

I believe you are suffering because

  1. You are making a wrong choice in the moment, the choice concerning the interpretation of the event. The circumstances are what they are. Different people interpret different circumstances differently! What some people interpret as challenges enough to be discouraged, others consider as opportunities to be made maximum use of. What some people consider as irresponsible behavior, others consider as a symptom of a deeper problem the other person may be suffering from. What some people consider as the end of life, others consider as an opportunity to create the life anew. Don’t you think there can be multiple – positive as well as negative – perspectives possible on every circumstance? And if you choose to take a positive perspective on the current circumstance, would you still suffer? Then, isn’t suffering a result of the choice you are making in the present moment?
  2. You are focussed too much on the problem and not on the potential solution.
  3. You have forgotten that you are the creator of your life and that you have the power to create a different, much beautiful, reality.
  4. You have forgotten that in the bigger picture of life, all of the life’s circumstances are opportunities for you to know and grow yourself.
  5. You have forgotten that these circumstances are temporary, not matter how permanent they may seem.
  6. You have forgotten that there is a higher power at work here, making a path for you for a better future.
  7. You have forgotten that you are much more than your circumstances and conditions, that you are even beyond this physical body.
  8. You have forgotten about your divine heritage.
  9. You have forgotten that you are eternal joy.
  10. You have forgotten that you are always loved and cherished by God.
  11. You have forgotten that you still have so many things to be grateful for.
  12. You have forgotten that if you continue to focus on the gratitude and positive things in life, the life will become better on its own. Because this is how the laws of the universe operate.
  13. You have forgotten that nothing in life is to be cursed because everything is your own creation. And by cursing your circumstances, you curse yourself since you created them.
  14. You have forgotten that the greatest success in life is not about having the biggest cars or the biggest houses or having the sexiest partners or having the highest paying job.
  15. You have forgotten that the greatest success in life is about having joy in the heart, peace in the mind, vibrancy in the body, and love in the relationships. If you have these things, your life will be better than that of millionaires. And if you know this, why aren’t you investing in these things?
  16. You have forgotten that your worth doesn’t depend on how others perceive you. Your worth is determined by you and the Lord. The Lord considers you worthy just as you are. She doesn’t require you to prove your worth or change in any way to become worthy. He accepts you just the way you are. But since he has accepted you unconditionally, you don’t value his acceptance. You have chosen to value the judgment and opinions of others, who manipulate you and require you to behave in particular ways. And following their dictacts, you feel tired. But who are these people? These people do not have any power over you other than what you give to them.
  17. You have forgotten that the greatest treasures of life lie not outside in the world but inside the human heart.

And I believe that if we remember back what we forgot a long time ago, we’ll be happy once again!

Dhan Guru Nanak!

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