Often people ask me, “Why is there suffering? How can I avoid suffering?” My answer is, “You cannot.” When people are facing very serious illness or great loss, they often ask me, “How can I still have faith?” My answer is, “Keep the faith.” All medical treatments work better if you have faith. Does fear ever help you? No. On the other hand the fear makes you feel worse. It puts more poison in your system. When faith is lost, everything is lost. If you don’t have faith in your doctor, even if he or she gives you healing nectar, I doubt that it will work for you. So, it’s not the doctor or the medicine; it is your faith that is the most important. Keep up that faith; and, then, do whatever you should, whatever you can to take care of the situation.
Even with strong faith, it may happen that some will not be cured or will even lose their lives. But, if this happens, remember that the life is not lost. Only the body is lost. The soul is immortal. There is a big problem when people don’t believe in the afterlife. They say, “Oh, this is it, finished.” That’s another big reason why someone might lose faith—he or she thinks that when someone dies that is the end. We have to understand that the soul is immortal. Nobody can destroy it. In a way, everything is immortal; everything is filled with life. There’s no dead matter in the entire universe. God created everything, is it not so? Is God alive or dead? Alive. And God created everything in God’s image. So how can a live God, a living God, create dead matter? If God is alive, everything is alive.
Then what is it that we call death? Change of form, change of name. Somewhere in the forest there was a tree. When the tree died, it was no longer there; but, now, you use the tree’s lumber as rafters and beams to build your house. The tree dies, and the rafter is born. A piece of cloth dies, a nice robe is born. Firewood dies, ash is born. Food dies when it goes into the stomach and energy is born. It only changes from one form into another form. The essence is the same, it’s always there. When it changes its shape, you give it a new name. Likewise, the body that has been left by the soul is not really dead. Living particles from the cosmos were gathered to make the body; and, when the time came, the composed body decomposed and separated. Then, the particles go back to their source.
The only thing in life that is certain is change. If we believe that everything that happens in our lives is for our highest good, then we will have more peace. If you see everything as God’s story, why should you worry about anything? It’s all God’s—pleasure, pain, profit, loss—everything is God’s. The world is a mixture of ups and downs. If there is one, there is the other.
The major cause of worry is the loss of people or material things in our lives. You may have lost someone or some thing. But don’t lose something else: your peace of mind. With the proper understanding you will realize you never came with anything and you are not going to go with anything. It is the mind that wants to cling to things, to possess things. As pure Self you don’t own anything. You utilize things in order to serve well. We come empty‑handed and go empty‑handed. In the meantime, if things come, enjoy them. Things are simply loaned for our use, they are not ours to possess. And if they go, accept that also. Realize there must be a good reason; because what we need will always be provided. But remember: What you need will be provided, not necessarily what you want.
The Nature of Suffering
Don’t think that Nature or anybody is interested in causing you suffering. Our suffering is the way to clean out our problems. There’s no gentle way. If linen is dirty it has to go through suffering in the laundromat. You cannot expect the laundryman to fold it, put it on the altar, burn some incense and say, “Get clean.” No. The cloth has to go through suffering, washing and drying; then it is nice and clean. So that’s what. Suffering is the effort that goes into cleaning out the problems. The suffering increases if you resist it, if you don’t understand its purpose.
So if we understand this well, we will accept all the adversities and suffering. We will thank the people who bring us sufferings. Why? They are messengers of God. When somebody comes and brings you some suffering, know that God has sent that person out of His kindness. Accept it. Knowing the purpose and the meaning of suffering itself is an answer to suffering. Once you know that suffering is for your benefit you won’t have to be worried about it. You won’t suffer for that. You will gladly go through it.
So, have faith and know, “God is doing it for my benefit.” Whatever you cannot control, leave it to God. Whenever you’re able to correct a problem by yourself, take care of it. Beyond that, offer it to God: “It’s all Yours.” The great advantage in this attitude is that you keep your peace and you don’t create negative feelings. Because the moment you create negative feelings, you lose your peace.
Do our loved ones belong to us? Can we possess them? Can we take them with us when we go? Life is like a journey. In between birth and death, many people come into our lives. They are all our fellow travelers and teachers. Don’t we often meet people in a plane or on a train? You may say hello to each other, sit together for a while, until the destination of one person is reached. Then you say, “Bye, bye; see you later.” We are all on a journey, and we each have different stops we make along the way.
It’s all right to mourn the death of the body. But, we also have to accept the inevitable. Everything that is born will eventually die. Still, you do love that soul. So, if you are feeling sad, pray for that soul. That is the best way to help that soul. If you still love that soul, pray for that soul. “May that soul be at God’s feet or in a higher place and find peace and comfort.” You can also help the soul by letting go of your grief as much as possible, as soon as possible.
Sometimes when you grieve, you bring more sadness to that soul; because that soul watches us. Even though the body is no longer there, the soul can still watch you, at least for some time. If that particular soul is attached to you, he or she will be watching you. When you grieve, the soul becomes unhappy, thinking, “I am free now. I am running around, moving freely. I am happy; but, in my name, my loved one is sad.” Why are we sad? Because we don’t have that person in the physical body among us. It is for our selfish reason that we feel sad. Then, you make that soul sad by your unhappiness. When the soul leaves the body, it’s a release from the prison, the body prison. You ought to be happy about it. If you can’t be happy, at least pray for their soul; don’t feel sad about it. That’s not going to help anybody—neither that soul nor your soul.
Physical death is not the culmination of the soul’s journey. The Bhagavad Gita says that the Self is eternal. The body may die, but the soul never dies because the soul is part of God. We come into a body and we live in the body; it’s like a recreational vehicle. When the body gets into an accident, or, because of illness, the body isn’t good anymore, the soul leaves the body to take another body. Then it continues its journey.
Excerpted from Adversity and Awakening by Sri Swami Satchidananda.