Meaningful Suffering versus Meaningless Suffering – Dr. Aziz on The Times of India, Speaking Tree
by robert aziz
At the very heart of the developmental model outlined in my work The Syndetic Paradigm: The Untrodden Path Beyond Freud and Jung is the ethical challenge of moving from meaningless suffering to meaningful suffering. Of course such a progression does not appeal to everyone, as many would prefer the 'work' to benefit their lives to the extent they would be without suffering altogether.
Meaningful suffering, simply stated, carries us forward. Consciousness and life arise out of it. Meaningful suffering is transformational and to the extent that it is transformational we can speak of it as being a suffering that is clean burning. Meaningless suffering, by contrast is dirty burning. With meaningless suffering, life is left to smolder away unproductively. Meaningless suffering neither heals nor transforms because in it one is necessarily separated from the life process itself. One is separated from the healing and transformational process of self-organizing Reality by one's wrongful clinging to mere illusions of meaning. Meaningless suffering, to put it somewhat differently, carries us away from the real work we should be doing. It diverts our attention from the real developmental work at hand. Tears, for instance, are not always clean burning. Contrary to the assumptions of most, tears do not necessarily indicate that a process of transformation and healing characteristic of meaningful suffering is underway. Tears may have nothing whatsoever to do with transformation and everything to do with an unproductive descent by way of the controlling ego into an illusion of helplessness and self-pity. Such suffering, no matter how intense and passionate, will give birth to nothing; for it is the emotional equivalent of spinning one's wheels on ice or in mud without traction, even as one pushes the gas pedal through the floor, as it were.
There certainly are countless ways in which illusion may supplant Reality. I have termed one such illusory construction a false absolute. False absolutes are created through the fixing or concretization of meanings that should otherwise be engaged or understood in terms of actual process. For instance, when the significance of a very well played game between two highly competitive, skilled teams is reduced to the 'winning' goal, is not the meaning of this otherwise glorious contest compromised? Is process not compromised when the side that scores the final goal is elevated to the exclusion of the no less skilled and determined players of the opposing team? I am not saying the 'winners' should not take the prize, but what I am asking is why are we so inclined to destroy a glorious process by imposing on it a false absolute? Under such circumstances, I would moreover ask, how will the 'losers' overcome their 'humiliation' and almost certain entrapment in meaningless suffering? I especially think about this problem when I see children and young adults competing.
Another example of meaningless suffering stemming from one's identification with a false absolute would be a situation where the ideal of simply being in relationship or marriage would carry more weight than one's experience of the actual process of that relationship or marriage. People, in this regard, may very well be married to the ideal of marriage, rather than an individual. Of course the great problem with all of this is that one's 'experience' of the relationship will be entirely removed from the actuality of the relationship as it exists in process. The relationship will be held in a type of unredeemable state. All that is not functional or healthy will go unchallenged, thus negating any potential whatsoever for the emergence within the relationship of something deeper and more meaningful. Process succumbs to the imposition of a false absolute; the otherwise meaningful succumbs to the meaningless.
To the extent we reduce the process of unfolding Reality within which we are standing to a false absolute, we reduce ourselves to a false absolute. To the extent we reduce ourselves to a false absolute, we needlessly assign ourselves to a state of interminable suffering. For instance, materialism has not so much to do with owning things, as it has to do with identifying oneself with what one owns or perhaps doesn't own. A person can have one thing and be materialistic; a person can have many things and not be a materialist; a person can have no things and be a materialist; a person can have many things and be a materialist. Whichever way it comes through, to the extent that one's identity is tied to material things, one's identity is tied to a false absolute. This being the case such an individual will experience the loss of material things very differently than one for whom no such identification exists. Loss under the circumstances of identification will be tantamount to a loss of soul experience. To the extent identification continues and one's idolatrous relationship to a false absolute continues to supplant one's relationship to the transformational dynamics of self-organizing Reality, the individual's suffering will not halt.
Enlightened masters have long understood that the human tendency to identify oneself with one's body constitutes a comparable problem. As with material objects, the body can be a source of enjoyment and pleasure. Equally, the body can play an important role as a vehicle of our spiritual development. To the extent, however, the body is viewed as something more than a vehicle, to the extent we identify ourselves with it, the body becomes a false absolute and as such a source of suffering of an entirely different order, perhaps even meaningless suffering. Indeed much as the loss of things material would be experienced by a materialist altogether differently than by a non-materialist, one's experience of the suffering of the body is greatly shaped by the extent to which one identifies oneself with it—the extent to which one experiences such suffering strictly in terms of the incomplete and confining filter of that identification. To the extent we identify ourselves with the body, our experience of the suffering of the body is wrongly confined to the restrictive terms of the false absolute of that identification. Accordingly, rather than opening the door to our fundamentally unalterable connection to the healing and transformative process of self-organizing Reality, we close it.
There can be no question that one of the most impassioned teachings of the modern period in this regard was delivered by Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) during the last two years of his life as he journeyed through the excruciating pain so characteristic of the bone cancer with which he was afflicted. Throughout his ordeal, Sri Ramana never abandoned the calm focus and beautiful smile with which he had always instructed those who drew near to him. Despite his unwavering serenity and radiance, many of his devotees remained distraught. Some wanted Sri Ramana to receive more medical support; others held expectations he would act to cure himself of the cancer. Sri Ramana gracefully declined. "Duraswami," Sri Ramana explained to a disciple, "is crying because he thinks I am suffering agonies! My body is suffering but I am not suffering. When will he realise that I am not this body?" His experience, Sri Ramana would have his disciples understand, was in no way tied to or defined by the suffering his body was undergoing; for Sri Ramana in no way identified the 'who' of his being with his body.
Often the reasons for the sufferings of individuals are explored in terms of antecedent conditions, the laws of cause and effect, which of course can never be overlooked. Although these laws are vital to any inquiry into the meaning of one's suffering, we may at times need to bring into the equation an understanding of that which one's suffering is actually working to disclose to oneself and perhaps even others. The question I wish to raise here is simply this: If Sri Ramana had not been afflicted with such a devastating form of cancer; or if he had cured himself of it, as perhaps he might have been able to do; if Sri Ramana had not embraced the meaning of his suffering as he did, how would he have been able to disclose with such efficacy to his disciples and others what they needed know? How else could it have been so convincingly disclosed what it means for the 'who' to be released from a false absolute into a direct encounter with Reality in process?
Click here to read this article on the Times of India, Speaking Tree.