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Suffering is a choice || Acharya Prashant, On Vedanta (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): Vedānta is concerned with our suffering and it is not the body that suffers. The body might get hurt, wounded, diseased or aged, but it never suffers. The body can become an object in the field of suffering but the body itself is never the experiencer of suffering. The mind can suffer when the body is in pain. The sufferer is always the mind. The mind is the subject, the sufferer, and it is possible that the subject mind is suffering because the object body is in pain. But that's not a compulsion upon the mind. The mind has a choice. The mind always has a choice whether it wants to suffer or it wants to realize.

Vedānta is concerned with suffering, therefore Vedānta is concerned with the mind. Let's please remember, the body never suffers. A particular condition of the body can cause suffering in the mind; can ‘potentially’ cause suffering in the mind, not ‘necessarily. The body is in one configuration, the mind says, ‘The body is healthy therefore I am satisfied.’ The body shifts to another configuration, the mind says, ‘The body is not all right, the body is diseased, the body is paining. And because the body is paining, therefore I am suffering.’ That's a decision made by the mind.

And as it is with every decision, here again the discretion or indiscretion of the decision maker is involved. So, the aim of Vedānta is to bring discretion to the mind so that the mind does not suffer. Having known that the subject matter of Vedānta is the mind and its suffering, and Vedānta wants to put an end to the suffering of the mind; we read the verse in the right light.

‘When the mind comes to an end, it goes beyond death.’

In the sense that as long as the mind is alive, it is alive in the realm of beginning and ending. The life of mind is the tick-tock of time. Time denotes an initiation and a closure, a rise and a fall. Therefore, the mind lives in perpetual death. Equally, you could say that the mind lives in perpetual beginnings. But then you see, beginnings are not so much of a nightmare. Beginnings are associated with hope. Therefore, though beginnings are synonymous with endings, it is not the beginnings that haunt the mind so much. The mind is befitted by endings.

Death…death matters a lot to the mind and the mind continues to live in a domain where the specter of death keeps looming large. Therefore, the life of mind is always in the shadow of death. Therefore, when the mind comes to an end, death comes to an end. You will have to pay attention. As long as the mind is alive, it is alive in the cycle of birth and death, rise and fall, entries and exits, beginnings and ends; that's the life of mind. In this life of mind, there is suffering. Therefore, this life of mind must come to an end. And when this life comes to an end, death comes to an end. The death of mind is actually the death of ‘death of mind’. Because the mind lives in death. And hence, when the mind meets death, it is death to ‘death’. Is it getting too complex? Getting it?

The matter is simple. It is not your nature to suffer; nobody likes to suffer. It's an obvious thing, no? We are not dealing with the stars here, we are dealing with ourselves here. And there is nobody who finds joy in sorrow. Human beings across times, cultures, continents, ethnicities, ideologies, genders; they all crave Joy. When they can't have Joy, they settle for its cheap substitute called happiness. But that's what we all want, no? Without exception.

Not only human beings, even animals and other conscious beings do not like to suffer. If you observe the behavior of any conscious being you will find that it acts in a way that would avoid suffering. Wherever it finds suffering it turns away from there, no? These are fundamentals, you must keep these in mind.

Vedānta does not operate in a vacuum. Vedānta does not vaguely utter something for the sake of it, the purpose is very clear. The purpose is to rid man of his needless suffering. That's the purpose of Vedānta, very clearly. To that end Vedānta explores: what is it that suffers, who is it that suffers? That's the reason why the question of identity is so central to Vedānta. That's why Vedānta keeps asking who are you-who are you, who is the doer, who is the sufferer, who is the speaker, who is the experiencer? This question is intimately linked to the situation of suffering. Because if you want to remove your suffering, you have to first of all know who the suffering entity is. If you do not know who is suffering, how will you get rid of the suffering? Common sense, no?

Having known who is suffering: the mind; you want to see what is it in the mind that suffers, what is the process of suffering? And when you investigate the mind you find that the mind does not have to do anything special to suffer. The way the mind is: a product of imperfect consciousness, a product of conditioned consciousness; its very existence is suffering. Not that the mind has to get into something outrageously bad, or be subject to vices or evil to suffer. No. The way the mind is, it is designed to suffer. It does not have to do anything extraordinary to suffer, it does not have to go out of its way to suffer; the very default situation of the mind is suffering.

So if you are suffering, there is nothing extraordinary about it. It is the most common thing to suffer—having seen that the mind and suffering are just one thing. They cannot be separated, the mind and suffering are just one thing. It is not even proper to say that the mind suffers. It is more accurate to say the mind is suffering. Because when you say the mind suffers, you entertain yourself with the hope that it is possible that the mind may not suffer. That's not possible. If the mind is, it will suffer. If the mind exists, it will suffer. So, the mind is suffering.

Therefore if you want to bring an end to the suffering, you have to bring the mind to an end. And that's what this verse is referring to. The mind, the common mind, mind as we know it, mind as we experience and live it, has to be brought to an end. Life as we know it, has to be brought to an end. Our existence as we have experienced it, the familiar kind of existence, the routine pattern-based life; it has to end, if suffering is to end. Are you getting it? And that ‘ending of suffering’, you can call as ‘the mind's liberation into Brahma’.

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