Pain and Suffering: the Play of the Gunas and the Role of the Vital Nature

There is a part of the vital nature which takes a perverse pleasure in flaunting illnesses, pain and suffering publicly to collect the sympathy of friends and acquaintances. These things become the topic of conversation and extensive gossip. Thus, the vital nature may prolong, accentuate or even call in various forms of suffering in order to carry out a form of ‘self-aggrandisement”.

It is however, not the purpose of pain or suffering to strengthen the ego-personality; rather, pain and suffering are psychological ‘wake up calls’ which are intended to shake the individual awake and drive him into activity. Pain and suffering arise as part of the play of the Gunas. Excessive rajas can lead to stress and strain, and thus, initiate a fall into the Guna of Tamas. Indolence, weakness and darkness are also prime causes of imbalance and suffering. Thus, for most people, there is a constant shifting between these two Gunas and their varying causative factors in suffering. When Sattwa is in the ascendant there tends to be both a more balanced perspective and a greater awareness to minimize suffering caused by either excess or deficiency in the action of the other two Gunas.

Of course, as Buddha pointed out, suffering and pain are part of the experience of life and can act, when utilized as part of a spiritual awakening, as a spur to a change in standpoint that takes the seeker beyond the psychological state of suffering that pertains to all life in the world. This does not imply that there is no pain, but that the attitude one takes allows one to grow beyond its limiting impact on the being.

The Mother observes: “One thinks of curing an illness only because one suffers. If it caused you no unpleasantness, you would never think of being cured of it. So, in the economy of Nature I think that the first purpose of physical suffering was to give you a warning.”

“Unfortunately, there is the vital which pokes its nose into the affair and takes a very perverse pleasure in increasing, twisting, sharpening the suffering. Now this deforms the whole system because instead of being an indicator, sometimes it becomes an occasion for enjoying the illness, for making oneself interesting, and also having the opportunity to pity oneself — all kinds of things which all come from the vital and are all detestable, one more than another. But originally I think that it was this: ‘Take care!’ You see, its like a danger-signal: ‘Take care, there’s something out of order.’ “

“Only, when one is not very much coddled,, when one has a little endurance and decides within himself not to pay too much attention, quite remarkably the pain diminishes. And there are a number of illnesses or states of physical imbalance which can be cured simply by removing the effect, that is, by stopping the suffering. Usually it comes back because the cause is still there. If the cause of the illness is found and one acts directly on its cause, then one can be cured radically. But if one is not able to do that, one can make use of this influence, of this control over pain in order — by cutting off the pain or eliminating it or mastering it in oneself — to work on the illness.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Body and Physical Consciousness, Will, Discipline, Endurance, pp. 88-90

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