Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Life is full of suffering, as they say, and none can escape from it. As William Wordsworth has stated, “Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark, and shares the nature of infinity.” Philosophers from time immemorial have tried to find ways and means to get rid of suffering. Prince Siddharth of Kapilavastu had left his royal palace and princely comforts to get rid of suffering. According to the legend, being brought up in luxury and all the comforts, he had no idea regarding the sorrows and sufferings of mankind. But one day, he moved out of the place for sightseeing and for the first time he came in contact with instances of disease, old age and death. He realized that sufferings were too real and even if one could get rid of some of the miseries of life, none could escape from disease, old age and death. Every human being had to go through these inevitable agonies. The prince became very sad to see so much suffering. That very night he left his family and the palace and decided to go in search of some sage who could show him the way to get rid of suffering. He wandered around but could not find any preceptor who could do that.
After a long period of wandering he finally sat under a Bodhi tree and started his meditation to succeed in his pursuit of truth. After some time, Prince Siddharth attained enlightenment and he came to be known as the ‘Buddha’ — the enlightened one. After that he always tried to enlighten people on the most important questions of sorrow, its origin, its cessation and the path leading to its cessation. The four noble truths preached by Buddha are: (1) Life in the world is full of suffering, (2) There is a cause of this suffering, (3) It is possible to stop suffering, (4) There is a path which leads to the cessation of such suffering. All the teachings of Buddha centre round these four truths.
Buddha was the propounder of Buddhism. He had many followers. He told his followers that desire is the root cause of suffering. It is due to ignorance that we desire many things and if our desires are not fulfilled we feel sad. So if we can get rid of our desires, our sufferings will come to an end.
It is a fact that all Indian thinkers recognize the existence of suffering, though the diagnosis of the malady is not unanimous. Buddha suggested an eightfold noble path to reach a state free from misery. Because of its emphasis on suffering, many thinkers condemn Indian philosophy as pessimistic. But the accusation is unjust, because though Indian philosophy starts with pessimism, it does not end in pessimism. Rather it gives hope to people and suggests ways to attain perfect happiness.
Now leaving aside philosophy we may consider the sufferings of the people at large. For us it is not so easy to dispel all our desires and all our sufferings are not due to only desire. There are several causes of sufferings. It is also true that some of our sufferings are too real and intense to dismiss them so summarily; they just force themselves on us. Happiness and misery, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain are relative terms. One cannot exist without the other. And that is life, I suppose, going through phases of joy and sorrow. Life cannot consist of only happiness or only misery. They both go together.
Yet I believe that we often take a very gloomy view of life, and harp on all our misfortunes. In fact, I do think that happiness is our own creation to a certain extent. Much of our unhappiness we bring upon ourselves, by making a mountain out of a molehill. Nobody can give us happiness on a platter, if we are not prepared to look at the bright side of life. That is why I think that life is like a portrait painted by a skilled artist—full of grey and bright colours. So is our life; it is colourful if we look at the whole picture, without taking into the mind the minute details, which are shades of grey. It is also a fact that the shades of grey make a picture more colourful in contrast—and that is applicable to life as well.
We often make too much of some trivial matter, which distorts the true picture of life. It might be so silly that you might laugh over it, when you think calmly and reasonably about the matter. But at the time it happened it seemed like a major crisis in your life. Let’s analyze this with simple examples from real life: LPG might have suddenly dried up when you were in the process of cooking some dainty dish for some guests or perhaps the burner had developed some faults; or the electricity might have gone off when you were entertaining guests or when you had just put the batter for the cake in the oven. Sometimes taps go dry and you do not get even a trickle of water, when you have loads of utensils to wash. All these incidents are extremely annoying no doubt, but they are not earth-shattering incidents and they really should not be allowed to put you out of temper. These irritating things do happen in each person’s life, but we should take them in our stride, treating them as minor problems, without getting unnecessarily dejected and miserable. We should not really give them undue importance. In fact, these minor and trivial incidents become more intense, if we give them excessive importance.
It is, of course, very true that we may have a genuine reason for our grievances. It may be anything under the sun. Somebody may have let you down, somebody may have made an unkind remark about something you value, or perhaps your closest friend has betrayed you. You might have been hurt by the disloyalty of someone whom you trusted implicitly, or it may be a family feud, which is the hardest to bear, but our miseries will only increase, if we keep brooding over these acts of disloyalty or betrayal. It is, of course, easier said than done. Yet we might at least try to shrug them off.
Some of our grievances are so negligible that they do not even deserve a thought, let alone a drop of tear. Yet we often give importance to them and destroy our peace of mind as a consequence. I think that a period of calm reflection will be enough to recognize grievances or failures for what they actually are. Any little thing can destroy our happiness if we give it a chance. Most of the time, our grievances are so trivial that they are not really worth making a fuss about.
Often we lose our temper at the slightest provocation, which might turn into a major source of unhappiness. But many of us perhaps may wonder afterwards why we lost our temper over such trifling incidents. This happens only when we give over emphasis to a particular insignificant part of our life.
The other day I met a young lady, who is usually very charming and vivacious. But on that day I found her to be quiet and dejected. I was puzzled over her change of attitude, but was reluctant to probe into the matter, as it would be impertinent to be curious about her personal life. But after a while she herself told me that she was very much upset and was not on talking terms with her husband, simply because he had made some adverse comments on her newest hairstyle. Arguments and heated words followed, resulting in a flood of tears for the lady and frigid ominous silence in the case of the husband. The lady confided to me that she had later on realized that the matter was nothing serious and she should not have flared up like that, since it was not worth making all that noise over so trivial a matter. But in spite of the realization of her mistake, she did not want to be the first one to say that she was wrong, though she was terribly unhappy. She knew that she was being silly, but her pride stood in the way of reconciliation, thereby making her more and more miserable. I think that the initial causes of our unhappiness are so small and insignificant, that it is hardly worthwhile giving it a second thought. If we only do not make a mountain out of a mole hill, possibly we would be much happier.
Sometimes of course some of our grievances may be genuine. Someone might have hurt us by making an unthinking and unkind remark, which happens to be intensely painful, or in some other way. But that does not mean that we should let it dominate our thoughts altogether and allow it to cast a shadow over our lives. If you forget about the little details and look at the whole life as a totality, perhaps you would get a truer picture.
Another factor, which may add to our unhappiness is jealousy. If my neighbour’s child does better in the examination than my child, I may become jealous. There is nothing so self-defeating as jealousy, because it gnaws into our peace of mind. Once we fall under the destructive grip of jealousy, we can never be happy. Jealousy is a monster, which destroys our finer feelings and clouds our judgment. Once jealousy grips us, we can never think rationally about anything.
As we see, all great paintings are made up of light, shade and colour. Life is very much similar to a painting. When you find yourself going through some depressing phases, I think that you should remember that it is not a true picture of your life. Like the artist, we have the power to make life more interesting and more real by adding colour in the form of all those good things, which we may have ignored.
For every one there are bound to be bad times—days, weeks or months of sadness and despair. But these times are not all sad or all bad. To be so is against the law of nature. According to this law, there cannot be all joy or all sorrow, since life consists of both these aspects. Without sorrow we will not ever understand the meaning of joy, since they can be understood only in contrast to the other. Though we may be overwhelmed by grief, we should remember that somewhere in the dark background there must have been bright patches too. But to discover the points of light on that dark background, we have to look at the picture as a whole. We cannot really appreciate a picture in bits and pieces and to realise its beauty we have to watch the whole thing. The same is the case with human life as well.
It is very true that we cannot shrug off our sufferings so easily, as we are only finite human beings. Even the wisest amongst us often fall into black depression wherever some misfortune befalls on them. It is difficult to treat life so philosophically. Most of the philosophers remark that “ignorance” is the main cause of suffering and due to this ignorance we desire many things, which are mundane and common place. If the desire remains unfulfilled we fall into flat despair. Therefore Indian philosophers suggest performance of “niskama karma”, that is, doing duty without the expectation of any result. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna stated in his discourse with Arjuna that “Karmanyeva adhikaraste ma phalesu kadachana” (You have a right to action, but no right to the result). The Bhagavad Gita describes “Sthitapragya” as a person, who remains unaffected by pleasure or pain. But it is not so easy to become a ‘Sthitapragya’, since we (lesser mortals) cannot remain unaffected by prosperity or adversity, joy or sorrow. We naturally want some good results for our actions. It is a fact that all our actions do not bring the expected result. The actions of the common people are not ‘niskama karma’ or disinterested actions. When we do something, it is always done with a hope for some gain. It is hope that keeps us going. It would certainly have been better if we could do something without expecting any result, because in that case we would not have suffered due to the non-fulfillment of our expectations. But it is no use building castles in the air. It is not possible for ordinary people like us to perform “niskama karma”.
But it is also true that our expectations are the root cause of our suffering. If we do not get what we want, we become depressed. May be, with practice and meditation we will be able to minimize our sufferings, though it will not be that easy. But at least we can concentrate on life’s pleasures without harping on pain. Everyone’s life goes through joy and sorrow. We do experience sorrow, but not through all our life. Surely there are some happy incidents as well. Usually we are overwhelmed by the sorrow in our life and forget the happy times. We have to note that life is not all grey; there are streaks of colour in it. Without colour and without light, no picture is wholly real. Fate is not capricious; it distributes favours to everyone impartially. So the next time you fall into a dump, do remember the happy times in your life. That is the way to take life as it come—and it does help. Let us then remember the happy moments in our life, dear reader, and let us make each other happy. Then the earth will be a perfect place to live in. Wish you all the happiness, dear reader.