Wealth and Suffering in Human Life

Krishna's Teachings

by Jayaram V


Chapter 2, Verse 8

8. For even on obtaining undisputed sovereignty and an affluent kingdom on this earth and lordship over the gods, I do not see any means that can drive away the grief, which is drying up my senses.

Arjuna echoed a very ancient truth regarding the limitations of power and wealth. He rightly concluded that neither wealth nor power could mitigate suffering. Today, this is common knowledge. Perhaps, in the days of Mahabharata the implications of unbridled materialism were not yet fully known to most people. Those were the days when people were still searching for permanent solutions to the problem of suffering. Only a few wise people, seers and sages had that knowledge.

Today, we know that suffering is inherent to all life and common to all. Both the rich and poor suffer from numerous problems and afflictions. The rich may suffer differently from the poor, but suffering is common to all people, irrespective of their wealth, power and social standing. The body itself is a great source of suffering because it is subject to numerous modifications such as aging and sickness, so also the mind. That suffering is further aggravated by our actions, thoughts, desires, attachments, habits, relationships, past karma, fate and so on. Therefore, resolving human suffering is not easy.

With wealth and power, you may buy luxuries secure your life or control others, but neither wealth nor power can mitigate your suffering. It can be resolved only when you find the right causes and a permanent solution. You may succeed in the first part, but the second part is very difficult because you do not know which spiritual solution is right for you and by which path you can attain liberation. The Bhagavadgita primarily deals with the problem of suffering only. It traces your suffering to your desires and desire-ridden actions, in other words to your karma, and suggests several approaches or yogas to resolve it. Its solutions and methods may appear simple, but they require a lot of sacrifice and effort.  

Your suffering is caused by your actions, the actions of others and the acts of God or fate. Therefore, in addition to knowing the causes of karma and ending it, you must also learn to endure suffering by practising restraint, detachment and renunciation. Whether you are rich or poor, a householder or a renunciant, you are vulnerable to suffering. Even great yogis and self-realized souls go through a lot of suffering before and after they attain perfection. Their experience shows that liberation may free the souls from the bondage to births and deaths, but their bodies go through suffering even after they experience oneness with God. It is because liberation does not make the bodies any better. They may have the predominance of sattva. Yet, they are still fragile and vulnerable to disease and suffering.

Suffering is common to all living beings and cannot be resolved with material means. Materialism may help you enjoy life and luxuries, but cannot cure your unhappiness. We know this from the lives of many rich people and celebrities who do not know how to manage their wealth, health, fame, relationships and habits. Some of them end up committing suicide or succumb to self-destructive habits, as they can no more bear with their suffering. Thus, we know that worldly life is not a solution to suffering but a problem and a cause in itself, especially when people do not know how to control and discipline their minds and bodies. This is an important lesson, which people learn either from their own experience or by observing others.

Having experienced a great moral and spiritual crisis in the midst of the battlefield, Arjuna reached that stage of spiritual awakening. He realized that neither kingdom nor lordship over heaven would make him happy or resolve his suffering. He learned an important lesson during that churning and realized that he needed a spiritual solution rather than a material one.

Suffering has its own importance in our lives. Although it upsets our lives and interrupts our routine, it also serves as a warning system that something is wrong with you, your life or your actions. It helps you realize your mistakes or your imperfections. For example, if a person is having chronic pain in some part of his body it is an indication that there is a problem with it and it needs a medical examination. You know that if he ignores it, it will only get worse. Sometimes, if his karma is not good, the pain may persist even if he does his best to cure it. In such cases, he can only endure it by cultivating patience.

The same is true with mental suffering also. It arises because of some mistake, error or imperfection in the mind or its working. Our mental suffering is mostly caused by our own thinking, behavior, judgment, prejudices, irrational beliefs, lack of discretion or self-control. Compared to the physical causes, the mental causes are more difficult to trace. Therefore, it takes more time to resolve.

Whatever, may be the cause, if you are suffering, try to analyze it and find the causes either on your own or with the help of others. Once you find them, try to resolve them. Many people blame others for their suffering, but the truth is if you believe in karma, you must take responsibility for your suffering, even if you allowed others to hurt you. Then, you will have better chances to address it.

Suffering is the inevitable outcome of our imperfect lives and wrong actions. You must take it seriously as a warning, use it to know your mistakes and imperfections and correct them if possible. Arjuna experienced suffering. He realized the futility of material means and wanted to resolve his suffering by seeking spiritual guidance from Lord Krishna. In that he was wise. He was also lucky because he found a true master, God himself, for his guidance.

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

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