In the Bhagvad-Geeta, Lord Krishna describes the material world as a place of suffering (8.15). What is our experience ? No matter how careful we are, some kind of suffering keeps on coming. In fact, it actually comes to us from three sources. The first and foremost is suffering given by our own bodies and minds. But fortunately most of it is avoidable if we attend to the needs of the body by way of : “He who eats properly, that is, not too much or too little and only eats what is required for the proper maintenance of one’s body ; has appropriate recreation which do not in any way hurt oneself, one’s own mind or others ; has proper engagements which again are not harmful to oneself in any way either by being excessively busy or not having enough to do or which are dangerous in nature ; and finds adequate time to sleep, enough to rejuvenate one’s body and mind ; his suffering reduces ( Bhagavad-Geeta 6.17).
Similarly, we need to attend to the needs of our minds also. The mind is more delicate than the body and needs more careful handling. There are detailed instructions in the bonafide scriptures about the proper control and upkeep of our minds. Answering Arjun’s query about the possibility of controlling the mind which is flickering, agitating, strong and obstinate ( 6.24 ), Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Geeta : “It was possible to do so by suitable practice and renunciation” (6.35). What are these practices ? These relate to proper engagements, constant alertness, time for meditation and chanting, proper sleep and faith in God. And what is to be renounced ? Greed, lust, anger, illusion, false pride and jealousy must be renounced, besides anything else which is harmful to us ; nothing useful should be renounced out of sentimentality, which many of us may be inclined to do.
The next source of suffering comes to us from other people. They criticize us, envy us, speak ill of us, hurt us, etc. Again, this source of suffering can also be greatly reduced by how we ourselves behave towards other people. If our attitude towards others is helpful, kind, friendly, understanding, compassionate, respectful, etc, then we are likely to get a lot less suffering from others.
The third source of suffering comes from the natural forces like excessive heat or cold, torrential rains and floods, draught, earthquakes, etc. Human beings with their ingenuity have been able to greatly reduce these sufferings by use of air-conditioning and heating, flood-protection measures, storage of rain water and by construction of earthquake-resistant buildings, etc. However, the fact remains that no matter what we do, our bodies will surely get old and also sometimes get sick. There will always be someone who would give us trouble, and the natural forces are impossible to fully contain, like the tsunamis.
Then what are we to do ?. The answers are again to be found in the Bhagavad-Geeta : “Whether it is suffering or even pleasures as is our experience also, they are temporary in nature, one must learn to tolerate them. It is easier said than done. How does one go about tolerating the inevitable suffering ? As mentioned earlier, the material world is a place of suffering, which means suffering cannot be totally eliminated no matter how careful we are. Therefore, in order to eliminate suffering one has to transcend the material world mentally while one is alive and “physically” after death by attaining liberation. The mental part involves accepting the inevitability of suffering, tolerating it as it comes without being mentally afflicted and hoping for a bright future.
This is hardly possible unless one has strong faith in the existence of God and after-life. Human-beings, as we have all realized, are helpless beyond a certain point. If one does not have faith in God, one cannot hope for too much. We can only go upto a certain level and then we must leave it to God and His infinite justice and mercy. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Geeta says : “That this material world works under my direction” (9.10), which means natural justice, as opposed to chance phenomenon. This chance possibility is what gives us the maximum suffering, that is, anything can happen at anytime. Fortunately, this is not so.
We can transcend suffering like a heart patient who accepts controlled suffering by getting operated in order to have a better life in future. In the Bhagavad-Geeta there is a verse which says : “That which is in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar” (18.37). Another example of this is regular exercising, like walking. The bonafide scriptures like the Bhagad-Geeta are very practical. By following the scriptural directions, “Let the scriptures be your guide” (16.24), one can avoid most sufferings and can cope with sufferings, which cannot be avoided by transcending them and ultimately eliminating them by getting liberated.