We experience pain and pleasure at the physical level and emotional level.
The scriptures say, and it is something we all can easily relate to, that the experiences at the Physical level are temporary, they last only for the duration of the experience, and can be experienced only when experienced directly. The experiences at the physical level are directly under the control of the senses – Touch, Sight, Smell, Taste and Hearing.
While the pain or joy at the physical level is the result of a direct experience, we also experience joy, pain and suffering without being involved directly. When we are able to transcend beyond the physical self, we are able to experience other’s pain, where the mind is able to feel the pain or the sorrow of others. We experience this when someone close to us is not happy or not keeping well or is in pain. Even if this individual is hundreds and thousands of miles away, still we feel the pain or the joy.
Two people when subjected to very similar difficult situations, can both feel the pain, but while one may suffer and unable to bare, may die, the other may go through the pain, fully aware that he/she has no choice but to go through it, and come out at the other end, successfully.
I was reading the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl, and this is demonstrated so well in Viktor’s writing. Between 1942 and 1945, Viktor labored in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. In one such experience at the concentration camp, he writes “…Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food, unhygienic living conditions, hard labor, extreme whether conditions, poor clothing (a prisoner used to wear one shirt for 6 months), frost bitten feet because of the worn out shoes, and various mental stresses may suggest that inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an INNER decision, and not the result of the camp influences and conditions alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my suffering.’ “. These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyr whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last INNER FREEDOM cannot be lost. The way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement.
There are many such experiences of people rising above the suffering and pain in the concentration camp, that Viktor shares, and he says “All that oppressed me at that moment, became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method, I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past (DETATCHMENT). Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psycho-scientific study undertaken by myself.
Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and Death, human life cannot be complete.
It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful. “
Spinoza says in his Ethics – ‘Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.’ ”
This is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita, and Vedanta. It is the attachments and desires that cause suffering, and the attachments and desires are driven from a dominating mind (emotion), and a weak intellect. The Sages through years of study have prescribed that the way to detatch is to Strengthen the intellect, which keeps the mind and emotions under check, and frees up inner resources to lock on to a higher purpose and goal. Once we are locked on a higher goal or a purpose, we automatically let go over the lower. It is like climbing the ladder, once we have one foot locked on the higher step, we let go of the lower step.
A strong intellect capable of being able to discriminate, eventually enables us to transcend the intellect and connect with the spirit / atman within us. The scriptures say we need the intellect to bridge to the atman, but once we have crossed that chasm and connected with the atman(Spirit), the body, mind and intellect dissolves.
Once the mind and intellect dissolve, the pairs of opposites / duality ceases to exist, and when the duality ceases, there is no agitation, there is no noise. There is total silence. It is like the electron that needs the force of the lower orbital to jump to the higher, but once it jumps to the higher the lower ceases to exist.
While the pain is real, the suffering is not.