Edited by Jerry Katz
Unavoidable Pain Vs Mental Suffering
by Colin Drake
Here is an email I received regarding pain and suffering:
As far as I understand, as long as you don’t identify with anything but awareness you should be good. You can still experience mental pain and physical pain, and should avoid it by all means.
What is unnecessary mental pain vs. necessary mental pain exactly?
You mean the mental pain you suffer by the loss of a loved one, vs. the mental pain of not achieving enough in the world and leaving your mark (or at least blaming yourself for not)?
A person has annoyed me and angered me. Is the mental pain necessary or unnecessary? Should you react to these feelings of anger?
With regard to the first point: one naturally avoids pain but the focus is on remaining identified with, and as, Pure Awareness. Then pain will occur occasionally but will not produce mental suffering as it is not identified with.
I distinguish between pain, mental and physical, which is endemic to life in the body/mind and mental suffering which is caused by identifying oneself as a separate object in a world of such. So, some pain is unavoidable but all mental suffering is avoidable by correct identification. To give a rather radical example of this … Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj are three of the most famous self-realized masters of the last two hundred years. They all died of cancer but did not mentally suffer although the body was in great pain, as they were not identified with it … just regarding it like a damaged suit of clothes that they were about to discard. Here is an excerpt from The Gospel of Ramakrishna:
The Master’s body was being racked with indescribable pain. The devotees could not bear the sight of this illness; but somehow the Master made them forget his suffering. He sat there, his face beaming as if there were no trace of illness in his throat.
When asked why a devotee of God should suffer so he replied ‘it is the body that suffers’.
This does not mean that we should not look after the body for it is our temporary dwelling and the instrument through which we, as Pure Awareness, act in, engage with, and enjoy, the world. That is it is the conduit through which Consciousness can ‘know Itself’ when in manifestation as the material world (Cosmic Energy … Consciousness in motion). Thus we need to keep it in the best possible condition to maximize its potential, whilst being in pain reduces our ability to enjoy life … thus lessening its usefulness. Also, at the surface level, we all like to be pain free with a healthy functional body.
A good example of mental pain is that caused by the loss of a loved one which is natural, but leads to unnecessary mental suffering when one ‘stews’ on this and it becomes self-pity. This can only occur when one is identified with the ‘small self’, that is as a separate object, rather than the Pure Awareness (Consciousness) that underlies everything. Once again from The Gospel:
The devotees sat speechless and looked grave thinking of the Master’s suffering, when he said “Do you know what I see right now? I see that it is God [Consciousness] Himself who has become all this. It seems to me that men and other beings are made of leather, and that it is God Himself who, dwelling inside these leather cases, moves the hands, the feet, the heads. I had a similar vision once before when I saw houses, gardens, roads, men, cattle – all made of One Substance, as if they were made of wax.”
Whereas, ‘the mental pain of not achieving enough in the world and leaving your mark (or at least blaming yourself for not)’ is unnecessary suffering caused by misidentification, for in Reality there is no separate self who is the doer … As far as Awakening is concerned there is nothing to achieve for one is already That (Pure Awareness), which is easy to verify by noticing that there is effortless awareness of the ever changing thoughts and sensations. And within this paradigm the unchanging Self is this awareness whilst the mind/body (thoughts and sensations) consist of a flow of ephemeral transient objects …
I recently received an email from a reader concerning ‘’societal reinforcement for this kind of (unnecessary) suffering. I am thinking about media in particular that seems to exploit people as victims. If there is a complaint, then there must be some causal factor that must be to blame. We live in a world of extra sensitivity to the world around us. Seems feeling at one with the world would reduce the blame, not to mention the feeling of being alone.’ This is a good point and the problem is exacerbated by the present day focus on (cult of) the ‘individual’.
Finally considering the last question: ‘A person has annoyed me and angered me. Is the mental pain necessary or unnecessary? Should you react to these feelings of anger?’
One needs to investigate and find out ‘who is this me that has been angered?’ If this is a separate object then the annoyance is obviously unnecessary mental suffering caused by misidentification. If one is correctly identified then one harbours no self-image (which needs to be protected) and thus one does not take anything personally, which eliminates many instances which could cause anger or annoyance to arise. As for whether one should react, what is required is a suitable response bearing in mind that the ‘person’ in question is a manifestation of the same essence and thus should be treated as such whether they are aware of this or not.
This may all sound somewhat theoretical but,as far as the tendency to judge others goes, this will lessen as you awaken for you will start to see that they are of the same essence as yourself. However, do not be too hard on yourself if this takes some time to manifest, as the habit to judge others can be very deeply ingrained. You could always adopt Swami Vivekananda’sapproach … when he was asked how to deal with people who ridiculed his spiritual beliefs and lifestyle he said he would give their opinions no more weight than those of dogs yapping at his heels! That is not to say that one should regard them as dogs, just their opinions … which is not demeaning for you should not demean yourself by identifying with your mind and likewise you should not demean ‘others’ by identifying them with their minds (opinions).
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Colin Drakes ebooks and hard copy books, with full descriptions and reading samples are available at www.nonduality.com/colindrake.htm
The Gospel of Ramakrishna, tr by Sw. Nikhilananda,1942, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York,p.969
Sri Ramakrishna’s main disciple who bought Vedanta to the US in the late 1890s.
C. Drake, Awareness of Awareness – The Open Way, 2013, Tomewin, p. 83