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Suffering is an ingredient of life which has spread through the whole of the world. The holy scriptures tell us: "Unto whom should I tie up and give the bundle of my pains? The whole world is overflowing with pain and suffering…" (p767) and also "Wherever I look, I see loads of pain and suffering." (p710) So, across the whole of the globe, pain and suffering are a major part of life which all who have to traverse through this human existence will have to endure to a lesser or greater extend. The scripture continue to advise us that: "Remembering Him in meditation, a profound peace is obtained. Pain and suffering will not touch you at all." (p44) Only by meditating upon the Almighty Lord is ones pains and suffering destroyed. We are reminded again and again in the Guru Granth Sahib that only by remain in the domain of the Creator Lord can real peace be obtained. The Guru tells us: "O my mind, without the Lord, there is no other at all. Remain in God's Sanctuary forever, and no suffering shall afflict you. ||1||Pause||" (p47)

The Sikhs believe that there is but one God - creator, kind, benevolent, caring, loving, sustaining, as well as fearless, just, forgiving. His/Her creation is real and not illusory and everything works according to His/Her Will. Human being, endowed with ability to make personal choices, has been given a unique position among God's creation.

In Sikh metaphysical thought, God is both transcendent and immanent. In this non-dualistic approach, evil has no separate existence. The faith is life-affirming and persuasion is for a purposeful, active, responsible, caring, and prayerful life. Even though all humans emanate from the same light, they are born in a variety of circumstances. The differential placement, however, does not constrain their possibility for union with the Eternal. Provided they live in His will, God bestows His nadar (grace) on them.

The Sikh scripture recognizes five root problems: kam (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment), and ahankar (pride, ego). If these problems are eliminated, the experience of suffering is impossible.

Modes of Suffering

Causes for suffering could be various, e.g.: Natural: like floods, epidemics, droughts, and earthquakes; Physical/Mental: like pain, disease, separation, anxiety; Social: like institutionalized injustice, inequality; Metaphysical: like unbridled desires and alienation from God.

The Sikh Scripture is replete with references to sufferings which may relate in one way or another to any of the causes. The faithful are enjoined to recognize that in His Will, pain and pleasure are a part of life and that humans cannot run away from either. They must exercise balance in dealing with both the states. In this article we shall mainly focus on the enigmatic, random suffering: spiritual, moral and physical, that seem so much a part of our lives.

There is so much suffering which individuals, groups, and communities may have to bear because of factors related to prevailing societal mores. Examples of such suffering are not lacking in history or in the contemporary world. The magnitude and intensity of suffering can be gauged from the well-documented accounts of genocides. The Sikh faith has a proactive approach in this area. Guru Nanak was a witness to the horrible suffering inflicted on the hapless civilians, men, women, and children, by the invading forces of Babar. He was deeply troubled by the insensitivity of the administration and the clergy to the problems of the people, particularly those of the so-called lower castes.

Here it may also be instructive to look at the writings of Guru Tegh Bahadar as an example of the Sikh response in such situations. Non-attachment to the transient worldly things, possessions, and relationships, and maintaining equipoise in situations of pleasure and pain, honor or dishonor, is the way of a Sikh. The final stage of spiritual development is equipoise when one is afraid no more, or is always in the state of abhai pad - spiritual fearlessness. In the ideal social environment nobody frightens nor is any person afraid of anyone else.

The Sikh persuasion is that social evils must be confronted and people's suffering alleviated. The believer should not be an idle bystander. He should be involved proactively on the side of righteousness. Injustice, oppression, and discrimination at the societal level must touch the conscience of all. Nanak says, "In an uneven situation when a 'tiger' mauls the herding 'cattle', even God must respond."

Personal and Worldly Suffering

Apart from suffering caused by determinate reasons, there is so much more to human suffering which knows no barriers. Quite often, the causes for this are exclusive, if not totally unfathomable.

Suffering, commonly referred to as dukh, says Nanak, is universal. One may think he alone is the victim of suffering, but when you look around, you find sorrow in every home. Lost in love and attachment of material world, no one seems happy. In fact every one is beset with one's woes. Even the monarch of a mighty kingdom is not happy. Since so many suffer pain, deprivation and widespread ill treatment, it must be God's dispensation. It must be Thy writ that pain and pleasure exist together and our lives are bound by both. From whoever one may seek help, he is found to be weighed down with his own travails.

Spiritual ignorance and ego delude man's intelligence and create doubts. Doubt creates indecisiveness and anxiety. It is troublesome and not easy to cure. It cannot be dispelled by mere talking.

One should understand that life is not only suffering, but also joy. God created pain along with pleasure. All crave for happiness, little realizing that pain also comes in the wake of pleasures.

One should accept suffering, as God's will - hukam. The realization of hukam moulds the individual's outlook and alleviates suffering. Therefore, one should submit to the will of God to attain happiness.

Prayer is important to find peace. It helps one to get strength to endure the suffering and its consequences. Get your mind immersed in His name and abundant happiness will be your lot. Those who practice the True Name, enjoy everlasting peace. Concentration of mind is a prerequisite to get over mental tension. Contemplation on divine word helps.

Pursuit of learning does not bring peace unless one can control desires. Being rid of hauman, one is blessed with peace and equipoise. The five evils are subjugated through prayer, and one attains supreme bliss. Gurbani eradicates evil propensities and conquers egoism, dispels fear and elevates one to a state of celestial peace.

Those who see pain and pleasure as one, understand the true meaning of the Word and find peace. Through reflection one should cultivate temperance and non-involvement in temporal life.

Spiritual Gain?

Learning to live in God's will is the highest spiritual state. Believing that God is the supreme benefactor and that even in pain there may lie some good leads to living becoming a joyous experience.

As a life affirming faith, Sikhs are enjoined to shun the path of denials, austerities, renunciation or asceticism. Ritualism, superstition, etc. are also shunned.

"Why do you go searching for Him in the woods and on mountaintops when He dwells within you?...Fasting, pilgrimages, staying thirsty, hungry or unclad does not earn merit. The Lord is not realized by rituals, austerities, continence or pilgrimages. Omens, good and bad, affect only those who do not remember the Lord. By not eating, you only cause pain to yourself."

Perhaps the best examples of Sikh response can be found in the writings and lives of the Gurus. Guru Arjun's life is an example in accepting extraordinary pain and torture as God's will. On the banks of river Ravi, the Guru was put through torture by pouring scorching sand over his bare body under the orders of the Mughal Emperor. Distraught onlookers were amazed to hear the Guru recite, "Thy Will is sweet to me, Nanak only seeks the gift of Thy Name."

The above article with thanks to: based on article by Nirmal Singh of Farmington, CT (USA)


All references are from Sri Guru Granth Sahib see the page number.