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If suffer you must, suffer rightly || IIT Bombay (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, painful thoughts are common to us all. Sometimes, even though we might be aware of them, we are not able to overcome them. What kind of benefit does the mind see in these painful thoughts? Is it a tactic of the ego to keep itself alive? Is it seeking the pleasure of being alive even in the pain?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Yes, obviously. The thing with pain is that you cannot have pain if you don’t exist. So, even pain ratifies your existence.

The ego is such an insecure thing that to prove to itself that it exists, it can even put itself in pain. And it says, “Because I can experience pain, so I exist. Don’t tell me that I am fake. Don’t tell me I am a myth.” Because, you see, ultimately the ego is a myth, and therefore it is always scared that somebody will call the bluff and say, “Oh, you are such a fool. You don’t even exist!” So, it keeps trying all kinds of tricks. That is the first thing.

Next, you remember only the pain that comes with thoughts. What you don’t remember is something more important. Let’s say you remember that you lost rupees hundred in the past, and that pains you. Let’s say you are in the thought process right now; you are repeatedly thinking about those hundred rupees you lost in the past and experiencing pain. At this moment, if I tell you that right now you are about to lose rupees ten thousand, what will you do, or what will happen to you rather?

Q: I will come out of that previous thought and take action.

AP: Exactly. The past is of very little value compared to the present. Equally, the loss you might have suffered in the past is of very little value compared to the loss you are about to suffer right now, and are in fact suffering every passing moment. And why exactly are you suffering the loss every passing moment? Because you are too busy and lost experiencing the pain of the past. You are so focused on the past losses that you have just no cognizance of what you are currently and continuously losing on.

The loss right now is tremendous. You can express that loss in various ways. It is an opportunity loss, much better could have been done; you wasted that time in self-pity and melancholy. You could call it a time loss; you could call it an energy loss; you could call it the loss of one’s very life.

So, I am not saying that the loss in the past didn’t happen or that it had no value at all. Obviously, we all suffer as we live our lives, and there are memories, trauma and suffering. There is no person who has not suffered and is not suffering. But the question is different: the question is, is it so that you have suffered in the past and the suffering has come to an end? No. The suffering is continuing and by thinking of that loss, you are amplifying the suffering.

See, it is like this. You are driving your car on the highway and you brush against a bike; some paint from your bumper comes off, and it is indeed a loss, one doesn’t deny that. And now you are continuously thinking of it, continuously thinking of what the bike rider was doing, what you were doing, who was at fault, how it could have been avoided, and how much money you need to spend to get the bumper painted again. And what is approaching you from the front? A sixteen wheeler truck. Now, what should I think of, the loss that has happened, or the loss that is about to happen? And it is not as if the truck isn’t honking, but you are lost.

So much is at stake right now. Better be cautious, take care of it. You have an immense treasure; somebody stole from it a little bit in the past, but still so much of it remains. So much of it. You could say the entirety of it remains. But you are at the risk of losing it if you don’t wake up.

Q: But Acharya Ji, pain is not always related to the past incidents or past pain. Sometimes it may also be related to current situations. So, what to do in such a scenario?

AP: If current situations have pain, ask yourself what makes you bear that pain. If you are bearing the pain to preserve your bondages, then you are your own enemy. If you are bearing the pain to fight your bondages, then the pain is worth it.

Pain is unavoidable. Pain is the very fact of life. The question is, what is it that you suffer the pain for?

And believe me, there is nobody who doesn’t have to suffer. I don’t have to convince you, you know that very well, right? Look around yourself—what do you see? If you look honestly and deeply enough, you will see a lot of suffering. So, suffering is. Suffer for the right cause. That is the best you can do.

The solution to suffering is not a state of no suffering. The solution to suffering is right suffering. And to complete the story, I would say, if you suffer rightly, then slowly your tendency to suffer keeps reducing and, probably, potentially, one day you can come to a point where you don’t suffer. But one need not think of it. Where you stand, as things are, just think of choosing the right suffering. Most people suffer in a way that exacerbates the suffering. Most people are their own enemies.

Challenge your suffering. Ask what it is doing to you. After each day of suffering, are you more prone to suffering or are you getting liberated? Is your suffering helping you or pushing you deeper into itself?

Choose the right suffering. I repeat, just take this home: Choose the right suffering.

Q: I have heard you say that only bad actions can come from a bad actor, that the bad actor does only bad actions. So, I want to know how this cycle of bad actions coming from a bad doer impacts the doer. Will it make him worse?

AP: Yes, true. Bad choices reinforce your tendency to make bad choices. Equally, right choices strengthen your resolve to make right choices. That is why abhyāsa or practice is so important.

The more you are accustomed to making wrong choices, the more difficult it would be for you to just suddenly make a right choice. The entire momentum of the past will militate against rightness. That is why it is important to not be casual with even little choices. They begin in a casual way, and very soon become a habit.

The ego is nothing but a habit. What else is life? A battle between clarity and habit. On one hand, there is clarity regarding what you must do; on the other hand, there is the physical and social habit telling you to do something else; and these are always in conflict. Unfortunately, mostly habit prevails. And if the force of habit is so powerful, you better be cautious of it. Do not allow yourself to be habituated towards the wrong things.

Shri Krishna talks of two central tenets of spirituality in the Bhagavad Gita : vairāgya and abhyāsa . Be dissociated, be detached to make the right choice, because you are attached to the wrong one. Therefore, detachment is needed to make the right choice, and then do it again and again.

He says, “Be nirmama ; be hard-hearted towards yourself. Don’t be in your own favor. Don’t patronize yourself too much. Be nirmama .” What does nirmama mean? Not identified with the self. And then keep practicing this thing, because it is a very old habit, you know, evolutionary habit.

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