Suffering Due to Ignorance and Delusion

Krishna's Teachings

by Jayaram V


Chapter 2, Verse 11

11. You grieve over those who should not be grieved for, and yet speak like the learned; wise men do not grieve over the dead or the living.

The primary aim of any religion is to teach its adherents how to live their lives and conduct their thinking and behavior in a world of conflicting truths, so that they can overcome their suffering and attain liberation from the mortal world. In order to achieve this objective it has to teach them or inspire them to contemplate upon human suffering, its causes and remedies, by which they can not only deal with their suffering but also help others. The truth is suffering is the central and dominant theme of human life. It is further aggravated by transience and our inability to cope with it

We must know how to manage our lives without being crushed by suffering or by the forces that are beyond our control. It is where our faith and religious beliefs come into play. They must help us understand the causes of suffering so that we can safely find solutions to resolve it, mitigate it or live with it. Faith must be relevant to our problems and our temporal and spiritual needs. Without providing satisfactory answers to the problem of suffering, no scripture, belief system or religion can satisfy our intellectual need to find a rational basis for pursuing spiritual goals or manifesting our higher nature. Hinduism survived for so long because it is grounded in the reality of human existence, without sacrificing its higher aims.

Suffering, therefore is the first and the most important mystery to be explored, understood and resolved before one can proceed safely and convincingly on the path of spirituality towards liberation. The starting point for all philosophical and religious debate is the enigma of existential suffering, which is inherent to life in all forms and aspects. It challenges your knowledge and abilities, tests your strength, and in your weak moments utterly exposes your helplessness and hopelessness in the backdrop of a remorselessly merciless world. It is the most important teacher in your life, who teaches you the harsh lessons of life, subjecting you to the fear of pain and the desire for pleasure. No one is safe from its wide net, nor can anyone who is bound to mortality and sense objects can escape from its powerful hold.

Nature has interwoven suffering into every aspect of human life, so that it would serve forever as a grim reminder of our imperfections, incapacity and inadequacies. It is so deeply ingrained in our nature that it cannot be separated from us as long as we cling to our old ways and to our lower nature. Suffering is the correcting mechanism, which manifests in our lives whenever there is a flaw in our thinking, actions and decisions. Therefore, to the discerning eye suffering is self-revelatory. It can potentially reveal the problems in your life and their solutions too.  

The problem of suffering demands as its permanent solution austere spiritual effort, which leads to equanimity, sameness, detachment, renunciation, an open mind, a broader vision, understanding and discernment. It requires a way of life which willingly accepts suffering as a learning experience or a correcting mechanism or the expression of divine will, and helps you make peace with it. It sets in motion a revelatory process which culminates in self-transformation, discernment and liberation.

One can find a similar theme in the organization of the Bhagavadgita also. The first chapter deals with the sorrow and despondency of Arjuna, and the subsequent chapters on the various ways and approaches to deal with it effectively. In this verse, Lord Krishna pointed to the unnecessary suffering which was previously expressed by Arjuna. He said that Arjuna was speaking like a wise person, yet he was suffering like an ignorant person by grieving for those who should not be grieved. His suffering was caused by ignorance and delusion or his mistaken notions about Self.

It was not that the people for whom he was grieving were inconsequential or do not deserve any mourning upon their loss. He was pointing to the fact that those people had souls in them which would continue their existence in afterlife even if their bodies perished. Wise people who know the spiritual nature of all living beings do not worry about life or death because they know that beings are repeatedly subject to birth and death until their liberation.

Note : These commentaries are not part of the Bhagavadgita Complete Translation.

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