Intriguingly, from this question stems another question—Is there suffering in this world? Both being perceptions, which one is more relevant in context of life?
To most of us adversities in life are perceived as suffering. For others, though small in number, hardships offer opportunities to make a difference in this world. Jesus symbolizes the Grace in accepting suffering with prayers in his lips for the tormentors. History is replete with heart rending episodes of patriots and martyrs who endured suffering smilingly.
Often one hears that opportunity to take care of specially—abled individual enables one to learn the joy of love, patience and compassion! In fact there are several instances in which people, in search of purpose of life, chose to relinquish Money, Power & Status. Their subsequent life style and contribution to earthlings shall always inspire mankind!
To name a few such achievers Gautama Buddha, Charles Dickens, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Stephen Hawking, APJ Abdul Kalam.
Image by Zoriah CC BY-NC 2.0
Thoughts on Suffering. Emotional or physical disabilities are factors that disturb us all. Competitive environment creates financial insecurities—a major cause of worry. Other aspects that disturb our comfort zone are social injustice, lack of social grace, and covetous nature of majority. In the process intra and inter personal relationship suffer causing unhappiness all-round. If these be the factors responsible for suffering, then we need to consider whether suffering is caused by situations or something else!
Perspectives of few quality thinkers on suffering:
a) Be all you Can Be by John C. Maxwell. “Adversity is not our greatest enemy. Human spirit is capable of great resiliency and resourcefulness in the face of hardship”. Someone said, ‘cripple a man and you have Sir Walter Scott; raise him in poverty and you have Abraham Lincoln; strike him down with infantile paralysis and he becomes FD Roosevelt; deafen him and you have Beethoven; call him a slow learner, retarded and write him off as uneducable and you have Albert Einstein; call him dyslexic and you have Leonardo Da Vinci; label him as unteachable in school you have Thomas Edison”.
b) The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. “We don’t know all the tests God will give you…..You will be tested by major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems…senseless tragedies…..God tests my faith through problems, ……..A very important test is how you act.……When you understand that life is a test, you will realize that nothing is insignificant in your life…. Some tests seem overwhelming, while others you don’t even notice. But all of them have eternal implications.”
c) APJ Abdul Kalam. “Problems should not become your master. You have to become the master of the problems. God gives us the opportunity to grow through problems. You have to concentrate on what can be done, not what you think cannot be done.”
d) Cause & Effect Phenomena. This phenomenon is an intrinsic aspect of Creation as corroborated by maxims like ‘man is a creator of his own destiny & as you sow so shall you reap’. Global warming is the most alarming and almost irreversible consequence of choices made by humans disregarding the perfectly designed ecological balance. On that analogy, situations faced are the consequences (effect) of one’s own choices as also reinforced by the understanding that we are products of our own choices only and not situations/environment. To quote James Allen in his book ‘ As A Man ThinketH’— “all you achieve and all that you fail to achieve is the direct result of your own thoughts. You are the master of your own destiny.”
e) Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Renowned Viennese psychiatrist, founder of Logotherapy. During World War II he spent three years at German concentration camps including Auschwitz & Dachau. Endured years of unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps. Excerpts: “Hunger, humiliation, fear and deep anger at injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion, by a grim sense of humour and even by glimpses of the healing beauty of nature—a tree or a sunset. ….. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself and must accept the responsibility that his answers prescribe…. He who has a why to live can bear with any how….In concentration camps every circumstance conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold. All the familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is the last of human freedoms—the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances. …… For a writer who faces fully the ubiquity of suffering and the forces of evil, he takes surprisingly hopeful view of man’s capacity to transcend his predicament and discover an adequate guiding truth”.
f) As A Man ThinketH by James Allen. Published in 1904 has evolved into a classic. Excerpt—“Suffering is always the effect of wrong thought ….It is an indication that the individual is out of harmony with himself, with the Law of his being…..Suffering ceases for him who is pure. There could be no object in burning gold after the dross had been removed and a perfectly pure and enlightened being could not suffer”.
Circumstances vis-a-vis Response. Most people, being ‘problem NOT solution focused’, get rattled when chips are down. Whereas one has no control over occurrence of situations, one always has the choice of response either to get swayed by circumstances or respond differently—“the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances”.
Why People Suffer? Best illustrated by few real life episodes:-
- I met a teenager who was intensely depressed consequent to rape. She was into self harm needing admission in ICU several times. Despite despicable childhood experiences including rape, Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, evolved into a world renowned woman of substance.
- Specially—abled son and wife suffering from Parkinson’s disease seldom deterred Arun Shourie, Scholar, Author, Former Editor & Cabinet Minister from pursuing his purpose of life and write the 26th book—Does He Know A Mother’s Heart ?—published 2011? . The book is based on his research on ‘Suffering’.
- Nelson Mandela & Aung San Suu Kyi rejected comfort for years of imprisonment to free South Africa of apartheid and restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- One black woman in 50s withstood public insult and suffering when she refused to leave her seat in the bus for a white in USA. Her stand against discrimination set in motion a movement for equality and justice culminating into historical election of a black as President.
- Anil K Kumar, Paraplegic Home Kirkee Pune. A road accident ended the aspirations of this young fighter pilot soon after commissioning. Has no sensation in his body below the neck. An accomplished writer and highly skilled in computer. I was impacted by his vibrant attitude on first meeting. He was an epitome of how to deal with adversities with a ‘disarming’ smile!
In the ultimate analysis, how one perceives suffering, depends entirely upon how one responds to situations. I am, therefore, inclined to think that there is no suffering per se