In spiritual circles there is a lot of talk about suffering. There are those who believe that we are here on Earth to suffer, that life is suffering. There are those dedicated to emulate the suffering of the great saints and sons of gods. That by suffering in resonance with them, by sharing their crosses, we will reach salvation, they believe. There are those who believe that through discipline of mind and body, by the ascetic life, by avoiding desire and forbidding pleasure, by denial of the sins of the flesh, we can reach Nirvana. There are those who would advise you to cultivate kindness and equanimity. That whenever you feel anger towards another you should create a mood of forgiveness within yourself. Whenever you feel fear just go through the pain and find your courage – feel the fear and do it anyway. Put your attention on serving others and you will forget about your own fear, they say.
These are all strategies for living and although there is a grain of truth in all of them on their own they do not provide the answer. Strategies live in the realm of doing and life is about doing – about action. So it is easy to understand how we have been led astray. Those who have interpreted the great saints and sons of god did not have access to the missing piece themselves and so they did not know what was missing.
So what is the missing piece of the puzzle? And why is it so elusive? The answer is difficult to hear. It is the same answer that the great saints and sons-of-god spoke about. And it is so hard to hear because it is too simple. The answer is that it is necessary to experience simplicity itself on a daily basis. The ultimate simplicity is awareness of your own being. To become aware of simple being is so easy to do that we miss it. We think it should be harder. We think it requires a deep mystical experience only attainable after years of meditation under the guidance of a guru. The reality of existence though is so simple, so intimate, so known to us that we overlook it – we can’t see it. Like the river to a fish it is the very water in which it swims. It is right there, it is the ease and comfort of our own body, it is right there in the calm stillness behind and within each breath we take. The practice of meditation is needed simply to strip away the layers of complexity, of thinking and emotion that we put in the way of simple unordained existence. With regularity, in fact, daily exposure to simple, pure existence our overly complex minds and emotions settle down so that the simplicity of pure being becomes a permanent, conscious part of our waking state. This experience of reality is the basis of true self not the story of “me” that we mistake as who we are. The unordained, bear, stripped down, experience of reality that knows nothing of thought, knows nothing of the past or the future. It simply is. It is what we all experience all the time except mostly we are not aware of it. It is so familiar and intimate to us that we don’t notice it. We look beyond it to the external world.
So what about pain and suffering? As you become more accustomed to living in simplicity, in a state of pure being, your relationship to suffering changes in a fundamental way. Suffering itself transforms. You find that suffering is not any longer “your” suffering. It becomes impersonal. It becomes awareness of suffering. As you become free of the ego you understand that it was the ego that created the suffering. The ego hangs on to past pain and relives it. The ego needs to suffer so it can say how nobody understands it. So it can say it is alone. So it can say it is more worthy of merit than others. So it can say it is better than others. So it can play the victim, hard done-by by others. All the posturing of ego contain within them suffering. We suffer for the things we desire but can’t have. We suffer for the situations we wish to be rid of but can’t shake loose. We suffer because we don’t have enough money. We suffer because of what our parents did to us. The list goes on an on but it is all suffering of the ego.
As the process of becoming free of ego progresses the need to carry on suffering diminishes within ourselves. We naturally feel more balanced. Equanimity evolves naturally within us. No need to cultivate it. Now we become more aware of the suffering of others. We can see clearly that their suffering is also ego and we naturally want to be of service to alleviate that suffering.
The religious traditions were not wrong but they put the cart before the horse. The road to salvation is not through suffering. But the true liberation from suffering that comes from living in pure being brings with it a transformed relationship to suffering, that leads to compassion for others and the genuine, spontaneous need to serve others.