Happiness’ in Suffering
By Dr.Vrinda (Vrndavanlila Devi Dasi)
Our cow, Surabhi was lying sick in a helpless state, unable to even stand on her legs. The doctors in the city are good only for treating cats and dogs. Their apathetic treatment had made me rely on the Lord Himself and seek guidance from baba, my father in the law staying in a village in Orissa. As I followed his instructions, everybody in our family sat in front of her taking turns to chant the mahamantra till very late in the night.
Round 2 at night my turn came. As I chanted, she just kept her head in my lap and tried to sleep. As the beads slipped through my fingers, I tried to concentrate on the sounds. Her innocent face and eyes made me suffer silently. I was thinking how selfless a cow’s life is… through out her life she just gives, gives and gives. Even when our own biological mother stops giving us milk, she continues; she helps us in serving the Lord. Her very presence reminds one of the Lord Govinda…Gopala. Even till her last day she gives the goldmine of dung and urine and post-death, she gives her hide for being used in the service of the Lord. Surabhi’s picture that hung in front of me depicted her standing behind the tribhanga form of the Lord, licking His lotus feet. I almost urged the Lord to bless her with health. It seems my suffering was directly connected to hers, my happiness at this moment seemed to be defined by physical state. As I murmered my prayer, my mind raced back in time. It unconsciously paused at different points of time in my life where in the suffering peaked to its summit.
Long time back, as a child of about 3 years I had been mistakenly left in the school on a holiday. As I cried alone unable to go back home, my heart hankered to see my mother. The end of suffering lay in my mother returning to pick me back; so many such instances flashed….the suffering of not being able to complete the homework, anxiety of reaching the school in time, of exams, of getting first position in the class, of finding relevant literature for writing the thesis, separating from parents and family after marriage and so on but ‘suffering’ has been there constantly present. How the definition of ‘happiness’ and ‘suffering’ keeps changing for us even within this one life itself? Afterall we are denizens of relative world. How true Srila Prabhupada was when he said that though everybody hankers for happiness but they do not know what true happiness is. “Temporary cessation of misery is falsely called happiness”. How surprising it is that though fundamentally we are ‘sacidananda’ – eternal, full of knowledge and blissful but our material existence takes its toll in several ways. Misery in all its three form abound our lives, making us suffer (pade pade yad vipdam) every moment but it is a blessing in disguise. Suffering is “a process of purification” [SP, Morning Walk; March 25, 1976, New Delhi] … distress is the stuff that devotees are made of:
catur-vidhā bhajante māḿ / janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī / jñānī ca bharatarṣabha [Bg. 7.16] [O best among the Bhāratas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me — the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.]
This makes us easy to understand the depth of Queen Kunti’s prayers wishing calamaties befall her again and again so that she “could see You (the Lord) again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.”
vipadaḥ santu tāḥ śaśvat / tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darśanaḿ yat syād / apunar bhava-darśanam [SB 1.8.25]
So, is this suffering which can be a crucial stepping stone to devotional service and is the form of Lord’s mercy or anugraha so easy to ‘get’ and ‘taste’? How wonderful maya is! Despite being in “dukhalayam”, all the time pierced by the three dents of adhyatmika, adibhautik and adidaivik sufferings – Prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah [Bg. 3.27] – we do not realize that we are suffering. The illusion is so overwhelming that chasing the objects of sense gratification we have forgotten our real svarupa and we choose to be in a state of willful suspension of disbelief. Even in the course of Srila Prabhupada’s lecture there was an instance of a man, one of the audience who saw no problem in being reborn as a ‘dog’ in his next life – “Happiness of a fool.” Fools rush in where angels fear to tread! The illusion is so great that even Indra forgot his position. Instead of feeling captive of the curse, was enjoying the “fall”. He refused the pleasures of the might and heaven even at the behest of Narada muni just to remain in a hog’s body on earth and ‘enjoy’ the company of female hogs and eating abominable things.
Prabhupada: If you are asked to stand here for five hours, you’ll feel most uncomfortable. But they are standing for five thousand years, no uncomfortable. This is punishment. Punishment is there, but unaware. So everyone is like that. Anyone in the material world, they are being punished in different degree, but unaware. That is maya’s grace, that although he is punished, he cannot understand.
Guru-krpa: So they answer that “If you’re happy, then what’s wrong with that?”
Prabhupada: Yes, that class you are here. You go on with that happiness. But we are not satisfied with this. You are rascal, you are happy in that way, but we are not. That is the difference between you and me.
Guru-krpa: Happiness of the fool.
[Morning Walk — April 24, 1976, Melbourne]
Without exception, in this material world everybody is subject to the sufferings of janma mrtyu- jara-vyadhi. The big question is why is everybody subject to these three miseries and the four sufferings? What did we do to incur this punishment? Why does it illude us so terribly?
This suffering is “due to ignorance. I do not know. I am committing sinful life, I am committing mistakes; therefore I am suffering.” Any intelligent man knows that he is suffering and tries to find a solution to it. A guru rescues his disciple from ignorance (ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya) and sufferings caused because of ignorance and disobedience of His law. The Lord is so merciful that though on one hand He punishes the erring children but at the same time He also provides for us to return to Him. He himself gives the instructions to break the glass ceiling of illusion and suffering. Five thousand years ago, the Lord spoke Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, which is nothing but science of devotion through following varnasrama dharma. Through different logic He proved to Arjuna how it was his dharma to fight. A bonafide guru being the representative of the Lord passes on the same message to his disciples. Vyasadeva also while recording the conversation between the two, at no point wrote “It is my opinion”. Instead he wrote “Sri Bhagavan uvaca” – “Whatever writing, it is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Carrying on the same tradition, our own Founder-Acarya, Srila Prabhupada also conveyed the same message. Even in his last conversation just before he left his material body he stressed on the importance and implementation of daiva-varnasrama dharma in the society beginning with ISKCON itself.
He is a nitya siddha, but being a vaishnava he was “para dukha dukhi”, so in order to relieve others of their sufferings, of which they are sometimes foolishly not even aware he took the pains of reviving the Lord’s message – daiva varnasrama dharma. One may give so many excuses of not following it, but that is the only way. This was suggested to even Arjuna, whose devotion to the Lord is established beyond doubt. He had the privilege of being dear friend of the Lord, the one for whom He happily accepted to be the charioteer, the chosen one for receiving the divine message directly from Him, yet he was instructed to following the varnasrama dharma, in his case the kshatriya dharma. Further, since everything is meant for the pleasure of the Lord it becomes devotional activity. Bhakti which has never been easy, particularly in this age of Kali needs more attention; thus more stringent observance of daiva varnasrama dharma. We are yet to become “anyabhilasita-sunyam / jnana-karmady-anavrtam // anukulyena krsnanu-silanam bhaktir uttama [Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11]
An honest introspection would reveal not so pleasant truths for most of us. Therefore, the relevancy of the message of “daiva varnasrama dharma” of the Lord and the guru to us. If we do not follow the instructions of our acarya we are no less than a “kali-chela”. More than anything else it is like committing a spiritual suicide. It is this which will help us realize our original svarupa of true eternity, knowledge and happiness. Further, what is the difficulty? We take a step towards Him, He takes ten… I am just a puny practicing devotee, when the taste of licking the honey bottle from outside itself is so ecstatic, I wonder how it would be when I actually get to taste it? Hare Krsna!
(Author can be contacted at: email@example.com The article originally appeared in “The Eight Petals”, an e-newsletter in support of varnasrama dharma.)