For the wise man,” says the Sutra, “ all is pain”.
This may seem a stern statement, yet if it be examined and found true, the narrow path of detachment leading to the peak of discrimination will be more easily trod.
‘The wise man’ says Vyasa, in his commentary on the Sutras of Patanjali, is somewhat like an eye-ball: the minute spider’s web, when put in the eye causes pain by its touch, but it does not cause any sensation when put upon the other limbs of the body.”
The wise man not only has a far more sensitive instrument than the average man, but has, in his interpretation of experience, the light of spiritual understanding. Not only is he more acutely aware of the aggregate of human pain, he is conscious of its significance. And it is because he understands (stands under, as it were) the sufferings of men, that he is able to lift them up and release them from their woes.
In general, man experiences pain blindly, in ignorance of its meaning. Even when seen to be obviously self- inflicted, it is consigned to the category popularly called ‘ bad luck’. Most men think pain is inevitable, unavoidable, part of the make-up of life, but that the chances are that it will attack others rather than themselves. If it comes, then the best thing is to shake it off as best we can and to forget about it as soon as possible. What is not generally realized is that merely to shake off pain is to expect it to return, just as merely shaking off moths from an old coat will be to expect them to return and lay their eggs again in due season. If we do not want our clothes to be damaged, we must destroy the moths and clean and air our clothes. Similarly, if we desire release from the suffering of turning in an endless wheel of cause and effect, we must destroy our illusions and purify our minds by detachment and discrimination. If we continue to hold an erroneous attitude to our present experiences of pleasure and pain, we can only expect to reap a harvest of painful experiences in the future.
Having listened at the feet of a traditional teacher to an exposition of the holy scriptures, the devotee knows indirectly and believes in full faith, that all that is seen and felt is merely phenomenal, the natural interplay of the three Gunas, Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa. In the realm of the Gunas, he is told, there is no permanent pleasure, no perfection and no peace. The world, having been brought about by a disturbance of the Gunas, which are adverse to each other, pain is inevitable. Tamas, heavy and dull, looks on in apathy while Rajas in its passing struggle inflicts pain on the sensitive and peace-loving Sattwa. All is inter-related : there is no such entity as an isolated sattwic organism. In the realm of sense-perception any pleasure that is experienced is haunted by the ghost of pain, which stalks abroad to warn men of the danger of indulgence.
The wise man, who has realised the Self, his true spiritual nature, is not deceived by the game of the Gunas. He knows that both mind and body, which are in the realm of matter are essentially inert and that all his mental and physical experiences are essentially unreal. He is not deceived by the apparent life and reality given to them by the reflection of his Spirit in phenomena. Having realised that all experience is ultimately pain-giving, he is dis- identified from the mind, the experiencing agent, and is therefore liberated from all subservience to suffering.
For those who desire release from the web of self- created suffering, the analysis of pain in the Sutras of Patanjali will be found most helpful. Under the cool, calm gaze of reason, the fever of desire must abate, the pleasures offered by the world must lose their fascination and evaporate like clouds in the sky. For if pleasure is seen to hold the very seeds of pain, will it be so eagerly desired ?
“ All is pain to the wise man.” Pantanjali divides the experiences of man into three categories—A. The pains of consequence, B. The pains of annoyance and C. The pains of impressions.
A. The pains of consequence
The ignorant man who is thirsty on a hot summer’s day, drinks quantities of iced water, unaware that this will never quench his thirst. Similarly the man who is thirsting for pleasure falls wildly and unsuitably in love, or begins the restless and increasingly dissatisfying habit of drink or drug-taking, totally unaware of the consequences of his actions. Squandering his natural energies, he is heading for disaster, increasing the debit account called ‘ Karmic residuum ’ in the bank of his subconscious mind.
‘ Karmic residuum ’ is two-fold ; firstly there are the seeds to future bondage in the form of attachment for the objects giving imagined pleasure, and secondly those that are caused by the rise of forms of aversion to all that interrupts the enjoyment of the pleasure selected.
In addition there is the knowledge that no amount of sense gratification can produce any real satisfaction. It is a well-known fact, widely ignored, that the more the senses are indulged the more demanding they become. Just as there is no peace in the household tyrannised over by the spoilt child, so is there no peace in the mind of one who is a slave of sense- pleasure.
Man is often driven to pleasure by his desire to avoid pain, the pain for instance of performing some uncongenial duty, the pain of boredom and so on. Pleasures that are indulged in as means to escape from unattractive outlines of life are the most short-lived and reap most surely the pains of consequence. The analogy is given of the man who being afraid of being stung by a scorpion and trying to avoid it, is bitten by a snake.
The wise man, on the other hand, while enjoying the pleasures that come to him in the nature of things, does not reap the pains of consequence, because, unattached as he is to the joys of life, he feels no aversion to their interruption. In this way he reaps no ‘ Karmic residuum‘ neither the fruit following on attachment nor that following on aversion. Free from the bondage of the Gunas, he witnesses their sport and enjoys the sunshine and the shadows of the movement we call life.
B. Pains of annoyance
Vachaspati Mishra has remarked that Pantanjali probably gave no detailed exposition of these pains of annoyance because they are altogether too well known to require description.
Who is free of the petty annoyances and nuisances of life ?
Whereas the pains of consequence were pleasurable to begin with, these pains of annoyance are unpleasant all through, in the beginning, the middle and the end.
We are annoyed when things are not as we like them to be, when people do not behave as we expect them to behave, when we are treated as we do not wish to be treated.
The wise man, however, does not superimpose individual wishes on the passing show of the world, he reflects rather than seeks to resist those elements that would be disturbing to another. Expecting nothing for himself, he is never disappointed : why should he be annoyed ?
C. Pains of impressions
The average man is unaware that the causes of his pain lie deeply buried in his own subconscious mind, that hidden in the pigeonholes labelled ‘Pleasure and Pain’ there lie impressions connected with these experiences which condition reactions to outer stimuli. These impressions spring up at the slightest provocation creating individual attitudes to whatever fruits of good and bad actions that may appear in life.
A man who has some unpleasant task to carry out, finds that it is aggravated by the fact that past unhappy impressions are connected with it.
A child, we find, who has not yet begun to store up unpleasant impressions rarely objects to such things as washing -up or waiting on a railway station, which seem to try the patience of so many. Were people to attack the duties of life without the taint of previous impressions, very much less pain would be felt in their performance.
The conclusion is that all experience is aggravated unnecessarily by the mental attitude brought to bear upon them and thus it can be seen that the stream of pain is indeed beginningless. The more sensitive to pain a Yogi is, the stronger is his desire to put an end to it by taking refuge in Right Knowledge—the only destroyer of the darkness of Sansara.
According to Yoga it is Illusion that is the seed producing what Yyasa calls this ‘ huge heap of pains.’ Just as a man with a disease wants to know the cause of the disease and desires a remedy to cure it, so the man who is the most sensitive to the disease of ignorance will most earnestly desire a means to cure it. Pain in the body is useful, it is a symptom that something in the system is out of order, it is an indication that steps are required to put the disorder right.
Similarly the pain that comes through an erroneous conception of reality is a useful symptom of the illness of illusion which must be cured if suffering is to cease. Let us not be like a woman who having lost the sight of one eye, refuses to have an operation that would cure the sight of the other and who thereby loses her sight altogether.
Liberation from the bondage of the Gunas can only come about through the right understanding of the illusory connection of Spirit and Matter.
To know the Self as pure Spirit is to be detached from the experiences that arise through its reflection in matter.
To cease to be attached to pleasurable things and averse to painful ones is to know the Self as Spirit.
“ In avoiding the cause of contact lies the most effective preventive of pain.”
As the sole of the foot can be pricked by a thorn, the most obvious remedy is to avoid putting the foot on the thorn, or at least waiting until a shoe is first put on. The Yogi who knows that all pleasure is accompanied by pain, no longer seeks it, or if it comes to him unsolicited he is protected from the pains of consequence by the strong shoe of spiritual detachment.
If pain comes to him, he is in essence free from the suffering it entails, for he knows that the experience is only a reflected one. Beyond the Gunas, he is beyond experience : having realised the Spirit he is no longer bound by its reflection in the world. The wise man is one who has applied the remedy for the disease of illusion, the remedy of right knowledge or discrimination.
In the blue sky of the infinite Spirit, sail the clouds of opposites, the golden cloud of joy and the grey clouds of sorrow.
Like clouds which change their shapes continually and then evaporate, so do the states of mind and body change their forms and evaporate through right knowledge.
To be attached to the gold in life implies aversion to the grey. To transcend the opposites is to realise the infinite Self.