“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
WHY WE SUFFER
Have you ever asked yourself why you suffer?
I’m sure we can all come up with many reasons why we are unhappy, but have you ever looked deeper into what lies at the root of suffering?
Why do we as human being have the capacity to experience suffering?
What if we could be happy all the time?
According to the Yogic perspective, we suffer because of 5 reasons. These 5 causes of suffering are in Yoga called Kleshas. They are our primary motivations towards actions, thoughts, and emotions.
Without them, we wouldn’t be able to act in the world. It is through their action that we create and uphold our sense of identity. At the same time they lie at the root of our suffering in life.
The causes of suffering are all created at the level of the mind. They explain why we have so many struggles in life rather than being happy all the time.
THE 5 KLESHAS
Let’s have a look at these 5 reasons for suffering:
The fear of death:
The most primal fear of the human race is the fear of death. In our day-to day existence, we experience this primal fear as a clinging to life and as a fear of cessation.
Many of our fears, worries, anxieties, and struggles in life spring forth from our survival instinct and need for security.
This fear of death is not necessarily limited to a conscious fear of dying and self-preservation. It also represents a subconscious fear related to our instincts and reflexes. Look at your emotional reactions and inquire whether at their root lies fear. In daily life we often find this fear of death under the mask of clinging to life, or a fear of cessation.
We can find a common example in love relationships. How do you react when your partner wants some space and more alone-time? Think about it for a moment.
Many of us feel pain and despair when our loved-one pulls back. Our need for intimacy rises. We want to spend more time together and become even clingy. Perhaps things were going well for you, but now you suddenly want to spend more time together and no amount of time is really enough to fulfill this need.
If you look deep into your pain, you will find that at its root lies fear. Fear that he/she doesn’t love you anymore, fear that they will leave you, the fear of being alone, or the fear of not being good enough. It is a fear of cessation that finds it expression in clinging to something, a clinging to life.
We all have things that we dislike or do not want. The human mind creates a duality between that which is desirable, and that which is undesirable.
Often our painful experiences and memories are the ones that create aversion. This can be a rejection of experiences, actions, situations, or people.
Aversion creates suffering because through it we resist life. We don’t accept things the way they are. This resistance causes tension within our mind. It doesn’t allow us to see the beauty because we are too focused on that which we have aversion to. Moreover, aversion means that there is a desire for the opposite of that which we are rejecting.
You have probably heard this one before. Desire is the black sheep in all world traditions.
Desire is the result of the experience of pleasure. Once we know pleasure, we want more of it, we cling to it. Desire is what creates addiction. It is like playing with fire.
When our desires are fulfilled, we light up the sky and glow with happiness. When our desires and needs aren’t met, we burn and are unhappy.
Even though desire can be a positive thing, it makes our happiness dependent on something external. We are at the mercy of the object of desire.
The sense of individuality is the human ego. It is the feeling that you are you. It is that which gives your mind a feeling of identity and separation.
This feeling of separation is what prevents us from experiencing the bliss of wholeness.
The Yogic tradition talks about Avidya. It calls the lack of knowledge of your true nature ‘ignorance’. This has nothing to do with your intellectual capacities or level of education.
Ignorance means that you identify with your mind and personality. That you are unaware that there is an essence within you which transcends them. This essence is of a spiritual nature. You can call it your soul. Aligning yourself with your soul and your true essence will take away the ultimate root of suffering.
THE BIRTH OF SUFFERING
Yoga Psychology does not only show us the causes of suffering that are created within our mind. It also explains to us how they relate, and how they are born one out of the other.
At the root of all suffering lies Ignorance. If we were aware that our true nature is that spark of light and peace that we can find within – and if we would fully identify with that essence – nothing would cause us pain.
The problem is that it requires more than a mere intellectual understanding of this. To eradicate this ultimate cause of suffering means that you have to transcend the individual identity and ego. This is what in spiritual traditions is called Enlightenment.
This does not mean that you have to become enlightened in order to ease your suffering. While everyone ultimately could tap into their true nature, there are more accessible and practical ways to transform pain.
Out of ignorance, our lack of knowledge of our true nature, comes forth our feeling of Individuality and Ego. From our ego, the other three causes of suffering arise.
The personal ego looks at the world and decides what is good and what is bad. What does your ego want? What protects, builds, and nourishes it? This is the birth of Desire. When there is desire, there is automatically rejection. What does your ego reject, what do you dislike, or not want? Out of desire, Aversion is born.
The purpose of the Ego is to protect itself and its survival, which explains our innate fear of death. Fear of death, aversion, and desire are all functions of the individual ego or personality.
According to the Eastern spiritual traditions, the only way to cease suffering is to first become aware of your pain. What is causing suffering in your life, and which klesha lies at the root of that suffering? Awareness is the first step to happiness.
Understanding your pain allows you to take a step back and look at it from a more objective perspective. For example "I am angry with my boyfriend because he doesn't have time for me" can translate into "I have a desire to spend time together". You have a desire which is not fulfilled and this is why you are experiencing anger. By understanding yourself, perhaps this time you won't pick a fight with your boyfriend about spending time together. With your increased awareness, you can simply communicate your desire and needs to him.
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If you want to learn more about this topic and about depression, check out my book Depression Decoded! It dives deep into the topic of emotional pain and happiness. You will learn about the mental, emotional, energetic, and physical seeds of sadness and depression, and practices to alleviate them.