Why we need to suffer - or how to be objective about ourselves
We may wish evil on others, but never do we wish evil on ourselves, (or for those we care about). Yet, we suffer evil, wickedness and setbacks in our lives on a very regular basis. And compared to the upsides, the downside of life appears to dominate our whole life.
Most times we pass over whatever negative things that happen to us by either blaming others for our misfortune, or - when we can’t find someone to blame - blaming providence/God/karma for this unpleasant situation that we are going through.
A novel approach to this constant good/bad state of affairs that we call life would be to actually start welcoming the idea that ‘bad’ things should happen to us. What a stupid idea, you say? But if we believe in karma, and believe that we are on Earth to work out our karma from previous lives, why should we not want to get over it quickly?
Given the choice, what would anyone like to do? Would you spread your bad karma over several more lives or spend one life cleaning up all your bad karma and then setting yourself up to expand on your good karma in another life?
Karma, of course, is not anything like a 25-year home mortgage, a painless payment that almost goes unnoticed as we go about living our lives. Each time karma extracts its ‘repayment’ it does so with an acute emotional strike, somewhat like a hatchet job on our mental state. This seesaws between deep anguish and euphoria – both of which are extremely unstable mental states.
If we choose the first where a little karma is paid off bit by bit, let’s be prepared for a mediocre life of a mixture of good and bad, ups and downs (possibly a one step forward, two steps back type of life) until several lifetimes later, we are finally ready for the ‘good’ life, a life of doing good and saving up good karma until you are done on Earth.
If we choose to telescope our karma in a much shorter timeframe (and yes, we can make that choice) be prepared for some heavy duty karmic action that will sledgehammer us into a tattered life. This is free will but not as we understand it. Here we have a choice in how we choose to live our next life, a choice made by us before we take rebirth, and a choice just as easily forgotten when we actually take birth.
We are the makers our own destiny - our holy scriptures are very clear on this. And this choice of making our own destiny allows us to choose our life events before our birth. The garland of karma one wears through birth and death and rebirth is malleable. It can switched around to set up a life of events for each birth. We could choose to ‘live it up’ with your good karma in one lifetime, shunting off bad karma to another life time, or vice versa.
For example, say we were a cruel landlord in a previous life, prone to narcissism, arrogance and being ‘right’ all the time. In this birth (because of some good we did previously) we are ‘given’ a home with an average household. We go through a series of setbacks all through our life and it appears to be unending. Everything we touch crumbles, every project we undertake fizzles out, every move we make ends up harming us.
Did we, in the presence of our rebirth, choose to look at our karma in total honesty and string together a series of events to make us ‘realise’ the folly of our past deeds in the preceding lifetime? Did we, in total honesty, deem ourselves ready for a lesson in humility, understanding and compassion – something we lacked very much in the life we just had?
Probably yes – our forefathers were clear on this, giving us many adages and folklore to tell us of how karma determines our birth and lifestyle, how it can mould us into what we are and how it can be used to free ourselves from our karmic debt.
They also said we are unaware of this debt as the essence of the karma is all that we bring with us in our new life, not its memory. The memory of this collective karma sometimes penetrates the veil that enshrouds it but that is only occasionally. In general we start our new birth unaware of these consequences and what we have planned with them. There is a good reason for this – if we were aware of what was to happen to us while working out our karma, our egos most probably won’t be able to take it.
In working out our karma, we have options – curse our life/our birth, curse the people involved (it is because of them!) or accept our karma for what it is and look at our life objectively. (Please remember that karma is not fate. Fate - as non-Hindus understand it - is a notion of predestination that says everything is mapped out for you and you have no say in the matter).
Our ancient scripts lays out the way to observe ourself in an objective manner. Before looking at this, let’s familiarise ourselves with two words.
Thithiksha (fortitude) vs Sahana (patience)
Sahana is the ability to tolerate things, to be able to put up with disagreeable things. This is largely because we don’t have a choice in the matter. It is beyond our control – that is why we have no choice but to practice sahana. For example, we are in a situation in which, through no fault of ours, we lose out – be it a job, a partner, a project, a deal, whatever. Why does this happen when we did everything right? Why should someone ‘less deserving’ get it and we can’t? This is something we appear not to have any control over. Either we grin and bear it (showing patience in an intractable situation) or we lash out, making more ‘new’ karma in the bargain.
We can put all such events down to plain bad luck, nepotism, unfairness, a short shrift from providence. Or we can see it for what it actually is – a past event in a previous life that needed to be worked out in this life.
The better way to tackle the downside of karmic potshots is to have fortitude (Thithiksha). Fortitude is having the capacity to overcome an ongoing karmic situation, but yet, disregarding it. Allow the situation to happen, be aware of what is happening but do not react. It is in reacting that we exacerbate a situation, gleaning more karma in the process.
Fortitude involves looking at our lives in an objective manner. The scriptures offer several ways to attain to this mental state.
1. Feeling the presence of something beyond yourself.
Call it God or nature or any super normal being – The idea is to feel something beyond yourself, either through silence or in a conducive environment. Keeping silent for long periods of time allows the mind to un-tether itself from the senses, thus giving it an opportunity sees things for what they are. Establishing yourself in a quiet environment helps do the same thing – your senses are not working overtime and this allows the mind to slow down and gather its wits for searching objectively through the tirade of thoughts it normally endures. That is why the scriptures call for meditation and keeping ourselves away from the ‘marketplace’ as essential to knowing our Self.
2. Meditating to understand the thought process.
This is done by isolating thoughts from each other. Generally we believe thoughts run on as a continuous thread. We think of this as a process – we believe the ongoing thoughts in our minds is who we are. When we aggressively withdraw ourselves from the process, we start seeing thoughts as individual snippets, and by doing so, we become a witness to both their creation and to their individual progression. This process of becoming a witness to the thinking process allows us to divorce ourselves from the process and see us for who we really are – the witness.
3. Direct self analysis. Seeing ourselves for what we really are.
The bundle of thoughts, habits and traits that make up our personality/ego is not what we really are. To know this one must undertake the cruellest task of all – the honest appraisal of one self. The ego resides under layers and layers of contrived thinking that are like the stones of a fortress. Through a honest approach these stones or traits can be destroyed, revealing the ego for what it is – a bundle of petty traits.
There are many other ways of attaining to this level – losing ourselves in devotion to a chosen deity; losing ourselves in good works/social works; caring for our parents; seeing everything as a spark of the divine. The list is endless but all have one common ground - losing ourselves in the doing of it and not asking for any reward or fruit thereof of the action. For as soon as we ask for the payment of the deed, it is not a spiritual deed but a trade-off and it doesn’t work.
Fortitude comes about when we have understood why we act as we do, and this leads to tackling anything that life (or our karma) springs on us. As we witness the emergence of thoughts, so shall we witness the emergence of our karmic deeds/debts, and see them for what they really are.
And what are karmic debts?
They are our teachers, offering lessons to be learnt and opportunities to realign our lives. They are our makers and can be our ‘destroyers’ if we don’t handle them with fortitude. These are the laws of action and its consequences, and need to be understood from a logical point of view. If we can think through the consequence of each of actions rather than just reacting to them, we can both understand and control our action and the karma it generates.
And so it comes to what I said before – why not ask to have suffering so we get over it quickly? And go on to better things.
If suffering/karma is an important part of our purpose, that teaches us how to overcome adversity and making us stronger, smarter, why not say :”Bring it on and let’s be done with it.” After all, there isn’t much time until we die, and we do want something different in our next life, don’t we?
Destiny and the Divine Power of Love
Although the word "karma” is Sanskrit and is associated with Eastern religions, it simply refers to the law of cause and effect. Karma is not blind destiny or divine judgment, but is the principle the describes the natural reverberation that emerges from every action, whether that action is physical, emotion, mental, or spiritual.
Suffering and pain are not punishment from a tyrant God, nor are they "normal” or mere "coincidence.” When we truly understand the law of action and consequence, we can see that our lives are a result of our own moment to moment ignorance of the effects of our actions. We create our own suffering, therefore, we can create our own happiness instead, if we know how. No matter what religion or background we come from, through conscious action from moment to moment, we can originate a new set of causes, which in turn will generate a new set of results. This is how we can revolutionize our life. The power to change is in our hands.
Karma is Negotiable by Nikias Annas
Some karma quotes
Give up your selfishness, and you shall find peace; like water mingling with water, you shall merge in absorption.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Contrary to popular misconception, karma has nothing to do with punishment and reward. It exists as part of our holographic universe's binary or dualistic operating system only to teach us responsibility for our creations-and all things we experience are our creations.
We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to the selfless service or Karma-yoga. Therefore be a Karma-yogi, O Arjuna. Those who seek [to enjoy] the fruits of their work are verily unhappy [because one has no control over the results].
A man who sees action in inaction and inaction in action has understanding among men and discipline in all action he performs.
The person whose mind is always free from attachment, who has subdued the mind and senses, and who is free from desires, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from Karma through renunciation.
As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes, similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all Karma to ashes.
When you lose, do not lose the lesson.
Sometimes not getting what you want is an amazing stroke of luck.
How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.