May , 2024
Suffering: Source and Diagnosis
15:35 pm

Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Suffering or sorrow (‘दुःख’ in Samskrit and ‘दुक्खा’’ in Pali) is a reality of life, it is inevitable. Incarnate men like Maryadapurushottama Shrirama, Yogeshwara Shri krishna and Tathagata Gautama Buddha also had to go through a situation of sorrow in their respective lives.

Pain, anguish and agony are, more or less, synonyms of suffering. Anxiety, anger, distress, grief, depression and restlessness are the states associated with sorrow. From the analysis of this, especially from an etymology viewpoint, the result which eventually emerges is that suffering causes discomfort, inconvenience, unpleasantness, indifference, difficulty, etc.

‘Suffering or sorrow in life’ is a subject that has been discussed in socio-religious thoughts all over the world and especially in every religious philosophy of India. It has been considered in every branch of every school of thought of Indian origin. In every thought, sorrow eventually appears as the opposite condition of happiness, joy or pleasure.

In such a situation, it may seem necessary to know the meaning of pleasure, joy or happiness. However, it would be better if we keep this aside for a while and move forward with the discussion, ‘why there is suffering in life’. I believe, through this, the truth of the state of happiness will eventually come to light itself.

In the Sanatana-Vedic philosophy, misconception –Avidya (अविद्या) or ignorance (अज्ञान) is the root cause of suffering. In such a situation, the question will naturally arise: what is ignorance or Ajnana? The simple, appropriate and the best answer to this is to live in falsehood with illusion –Maya. In other words, deviation from the truth –Satya.

What is the truth? There is only one Truth. It is the Indivisible Totality forming the Jagat –Universal Unity. The Indivisible Totality is addressed by countless names including Brahman. Brahman is also an eternal, fully conscious and continuously flowing Universal Law form. Realizing and accepting this reality and stepping forward on a life-journey according to the ultimate call of that very Indivisible Totality is the pursuit of the truth –Satya. It is also in compliance with that universal moral code of conduct, which is essential for the appropriate functioning of the system from the beginning up to the universal level, and from which there cannot be any escape.

This is the real knowledge. This is Vidya, i.e., “प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म”, because He (Brahman) is the purest (the real) or the Ultimate Truth; (the basis of all); no one has ever been, is, or will ever be pure like Him, “न त्वावाँऽअन्यो दिव्यो न पार्थिवो न जातो न जनिष्यते/ –Na Tvaavaanaanyo Divyo Na Paarthivo Na Jaato Na Janishyate/” (The Yajurveda, 27: 36)

What is the prime call or an urge of the Creator of the Universe –Indivisible Totality or the Universal Law of Unity for a human being, the known superior of all creatures? It calls upon one to separate him from the false idea of his own entity and accept the truth of being an inseparable part of the same Indivisible Whole. It urges one to come out of the imagination of his unilateral existence, to give up the desire to fulfil his own interests and accept the reality that his own welfare is only in the welfare of all, while stepping forward continuously on life-journey.


If one wishes to understand ‘suffering’ in very simple words, Tirthankara Mahavira generally considered possession as the root cause of suffering. In Jain philosophy, greed, attachment and affection prepare the ground for possession and man moves forward for individual gains. Resultantly, he continuously faces stress; stress gives birth to suffering, which affects the soul. By coming out of the state of attachment for personal gains, thus giving up passion, affection and greed is the way to get rid of suffering. This is the state of separation from Avidya or ignorance leading to the pathway to freedom from bondage. It is one’s self-light and, eventually, an act of embracing the Satya.

Tathagata Gautama Buddha minutely discussed about the truth of the state of suffering in life, the cause or origin of suffering, cessation or end of suffering and for this he called upon man to follow the ‘आर्य आष्टांगिक मार्ग’ –the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha presented before man different states that cause suffering or sorrow including dissatisfaction, desire-greed, meeting-separation, longing, and even death and the cycle of rebirth. In this chain, we can also include one’s desire for possession or the attainment to which he has no right. All these tendencies are related to the lust –तृष्णा (which is a fierce form of longing or strong desire) of the individual. That is why; the Buddha called upon man to give up lust –‘तृष्णाक्षय’. The Shakyamuni conveyed a long-term message of following the (right, beneficial and worthy) Noble Eightfold Path based on great ideas like “लोकानुकम्पाय” and “सर्वभूत हिते रता: –Sarvabhuuta Hite Rataah”, i.e., for the welfare of every living being.

In the medieval age, the First Sikh Guru Nanak Dev foremostly mentioned the situation of suffering prevailing in the entire world. Like Tathagata Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak Dev also deliberated on the cause of suffering to human beings as separation, hunger, lack of fulfilment of desires, dissatisfaction, parting etc., and the sorrow taking birth from non-attainment, discontentment and fear of death. Everyone in the world, more or less, is affected by one or the other of the above-mentioned states and individual selfishness is at the root of the unhappy situation that arises. Thus, Guru Nanak’s statement like “नानक दुखिया सब संसार –the entire world is going through turmoil” became popular around the world. The Guru has suggested the solution also. He says that a person should embrace the truth; get familiar with the Indivisible Totality –Waheguru, the Creator of Universal Unity. One should attain the state of happiness by behaving for His sake, “सो सुखिया जिस नाम आधार –only that one is happy who has based his life on Him, i.e., Truth.” In other words, man should dedicate himself to fulfil the prime expectation of the Indivisible Totality, which is the welfare of one and all, and which is the joy emanating from the realization and embrace of the Satya –Truth, and opposite to the state of suffering or sorrow originated due to ignorance.

The idea presented by a great man of the modern era like Ramana Maharshi, calling man to realize the importance of ‘introspection’ in life, also, in some way or the other, comes close to the above four analyses related to the state of suffering.

Hence, the conclusion is that man remains alienated from the Truth. He considers his self-interest as real and remains in a state of ignorance. The desire to achieve self-interest remains strong in him. He ignores the reality of the Indivisible Totality that constitutes Universal Unity. Nothing is beyond the periphery of the Indivisible Totally. He behaves contrary to what is expected by the Indivisible Totality from him. As a result, one reaches a state of sadness. Therefore, the Sanatana-Vedic philosophy, Tirthankara Mahavira and Jain thought, Tathagata Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak Dev and all other thinkers who presented their viewpoints regarding the state of suffering in life, have clearly mentioned that the reality of ‘individual-welfare is intact only in the welfare of all’. It is the true knowledge; therefore, they have urged human beings to behave in life accordingly –as per the expectation of the Indivisible Totality to tread the path of happiness –joy from the state of suffering –sorrow. The same truth also emerges from the life-journey of incarnate men who also passed through sad situations.

It may not be possible for everyone to cross this path, but the more one steps forward on it, the more he will be free from the state of suffering or sorrow. This is an undeniable truth. It is the journey from Ajnana to Jnana, that is the need of every soul on the planet Earth and the sole purpose of one’s life. 

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