The Vital Is Attached to Suffering

We frequently hear people saying that this world is a world of opposites and one cannot have joy without sorrow, pleasure without pain. This is accepted basically as an axiom for living in the world. And it is true, that for virtually everyone there is a mixture of positive and negative vital experiences, pleasure and pain, and they always seem to contain the seed of the opposite within the depth of one or the other. The Chinese symbol of the Yin/Yang shows a black center in the white segment and a white center in the black segment, and shows a dynamic inter-relationship between them that implies they are ever changing from one to the other. This symbol epitomizes the idea that pain and pleasure are inextricably intertwined.

There is a part of the vital being of man that actually can enjoy the suffering, and there is the proverb among those doing any kind of physical body-development “no pain, no gain”. It is true that this can become excessive. There are individuals who struggle throughout their lives and they seem to fixate upon this as something unique and praiseworthy in themselves. They speak constantly of their sorrows and their suffering, and look for consolation, commiseration and support from others in their suffering.

Pain in fact is considered to be a goad towards progress, as those who are experiencing pleasure generally may relax and focus on their enjoyment, while those who are experiencing pain will try to develop and find a way beyond the pain. The illustration of the violin is used to show the relevance. The relaxed strings of an untuned violin do not make music. The strings must be tightened and put under intense pressure to allow music to result from them. Too tight, however, and the strings will snap and once again, the ability to make music is lost.

It would be a radical thought indeed to suggest that under certain conditions suffering would not be required, and that a being could live on the earth without this duality of pleasure and pain dogging his every step. The possibility remains, however, in that as the individual becomes more and more centred in the divine standpoint, the surface sensations, the surface interactions take on a different aspect and both pleasure and pain become experiences of the surface being that do not touch the deeper spiritual essence or experience.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Disappointed vital desire must bring about suffering. Pain and suffering are necessary results of the Ignorance in which we live; men grow by all kinds of experience, pain and suffering as well as their opposites, joy and happiness and ecstasy. One can get strength from them if one meets them in the right way. Many take a joy in pain and suffering when associated with struggle or endeavour or adventure, but that is more because of the exhilaration and excitement of the struggle than because of suffering for its own sake. There is, however, something in the vital which takes joy in the whole of life, its dark as well as its bright sides. There is also something perverse in the vital which takes a kind of dramatic pleasure in its own misery and tragedy, even in degradation or in illness.”

“The thing in you which enjoys the suffering and wants it is part of the human vital — it is these things that we describe as the insincerity and perverse twist of the vital; it cries out against sorrow and trouble and accuses the Divine and life and everybody else of torturing it, but for the most part the sorrow and the trouble come and remain because the perverse something in the vital wants them! That element in the vital has to be got rid of altogether.”

“Yes, it is so. Even there is something in the vital consciousness that would not feel at home if there were no suffering in life. It is the physical that fears and abhors suffering, but the vital takes it as part of the play of life.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Vital, pp. 246-259

1 thought on “The Vital Is Attached to Suffering

  1. Pingback: The Vital Is Attached to Suffering — Sri Aurobindo Studies -

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