Do We Have to Suffer?
The following question was asked in a forum, to which this writer replied in kind. We are posting the question here in the Table of Contents for now, but may eventually move it to the Questions/Answers section of this website.
“Tell me one thing: why do we have to work so hard for moksha, why not go directly there, why do we have to suffer?”
First, the short explanation, and then the longer one.
The short one:
We have to work so hard for Moksha because in this Game of Life (wherein Moksha is the Goal) we are here to test ourselves to the limit (because it is our Real Nature to be our best and not accept mediocrity).
When the Game begins, we don’t just walk off the field (of Prakriti) and claim ourselves victorious (Liberated). We are here to ‘play with gusto and give it all we’ve got’ and thoroughly enjoy this Game from the beginning to the end.
When we play so hard (with all our heart and soul) there might be some painful moments, but if we learn from each mistake, play fairly, and keep the goal in mind we will never suffer the loss of our dignity (our Divine nature).
Now, the long one:
According to Rishi Patanjali:
To him (or her) who renounces the fruit of his actions, the power of perfect discernment comes, and all selfish motives and pain end. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Chapter 4, Sutra 29
have to suffer because we make the wrong choices.
We make the wrong choices due to ignorance and ego. In the beginning of
life we are ignorant, but we remain ignorant only because we stay in our ego. We do not have to stay in our ego. The only reason we stay in our ego is because we choose to.
You might remember the story of Duryodhana from the Mahabharat:
Now, you might say that it must be Ignorance alone that would make one choose to do what is wrong and remain in their ego (false identification), and you would certainly be correct. In the beginning, Ignorance and ego cover the mind and naturally we are unable to see (perceive) our real nature (soul-nature). However, when the light of Wisdom shines on the mind by the grace of the Wise or by virtue of our own past karma, and ego loosens its grip on the mind, we gain an insight into our real nature as ATMAN. Now (having this insight), we can choose to broaden our understanding by going deeper (continuing to clarify the mind) or we might ignore the insight and continue to follow our ego, in which case, we would be ignorant to do so.
Ultimately, each soul must deliberately choose to do what is right and give up their ego and drop all their images (false beliefs, expectations, misconceptions, etc.). This is the process of spiritual growth (Sadhana). It doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because we want it to happen, and we make up our mind to make it happen.
Animals do not ‘want’ to give up their ego (that is, no such desire arises in their mind). First of all, they have no awareness of their ego or ignorance. Only human beings are aware that they are self-conscious and ask the question “what am I” or “who am I.” Being born as a human being we want to know the answers to these questions. The problem (or really, the challenge) is, when we are born for the first time as a human being we have already accumulated innumerable impressions (samskaras) having lived through millions of other lives as various creatures. From these impressions in the subconscious arise tendencies that can conflict with our desire to ‘Know Thyself’ (to be completely free of Ignorance). As human beings, we sometimes find ourselves torn between doing what is conducive to our higher well-being (Self-realization) and doing what suits our mind and ego (which have been influenced by our lower self). This ‘tug-o-war,’ or dichotomy continues until we make up our mind. Until then, we will have to suffer. But do we really have to suffer? NO. We do not have to suffer. . . .
is inevitable, but suffering is optional." Dr. Khanna
There are times when we may have to endure pain for the sake of doing what is right. Even though that pain is painful it will not cause any suffering, and may even bring, or sustain, happiness. On the other hand, sometimes we do things we know we shouldn’t do—things that we know could cause pain and suffering—but we do them anyway because we want to satisfy our images or selfish desires. In the short term, we might experience some sensation of pleasure or ego gratification, but in the long run we inevitably suffer.
Does this mean we actually choose to suffer? No, it means we choose to ‘take our chances,’-- we take risks that we should not take, but because we are in our ego we take them anyway. We think we can ‘get away’ with doing something wrong, like being lazy, for example. If we are lazy, we don’t say “I am going to be lazy because I choose to suffer ill-health and financial ruin.” Nobody says that. In other words, they don’t choose to suffer. If we do not know that smoking tobacco is bad for us, and we go ahead and smoke, we are doing so out of ignorance. If we know smoking is bad but do it anyway, we are doing it because we are in our ego. In both cases, one will suffer (but more so in the second case). Since ego is a byproduct of Ignorance, we might as well say that all suffering is the result of ignorance. Since everyone is born ignorant (more or less) we could conclude that everyone must undergo suffering. This is probably the case, but I don’t believe it is absolutely necessary. It is possible that someone on being born as a human being would never deviate from the path of Dharma (from following their Higher Nature) and could avoid all suffering. Even if such a thing is very unlikely, it is still good to keep in mind that pain is enevitable and suffering optional because it helps us to forbear life’s trials and tribulations but also makes us take responsibility for our actions and well-being.