Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXXXI

Dukha (Suffering)

Continued from Part LXXX

The ancient scriptures and sages in the Sanatana Dharma had well analyzed and explained almost all positive and negative attributes that impact human body and mind and, in turn, produce long lasting causative effect on their physical and mental state. The Dukha (or suffering) is one such negative attribute or quality that causes a deep physical, mental and emotional stress, instability and ailment among the human beings. Like several other human emotions and attributes dealt with in previous parts, Dukha is also taken as an inescapable and integral part of the life in Hinduism and the chief aim of the religious rituals and practices continues to get riddance of sufferings. According to scriptures, the pain and sufferings occur due to the person’s constant cravings and indulgence in the material world under the influence of Maya that inter alia include allure and aversion, union and separation, passion, desires, failures, aging, illness, demise, rebirth, and so on. In other words, active indulgence and attachment with the phenomenal world comprising of objects and things of transient nature is bound to cause human sufferings. The author proposes to explore and analyze all significant causes and effects of Dukha along with possible remedies in this piece.

The Concept of Dukha

Dukha (or Dukkha) is a Sanskrit term, the literal meanings of which is related to the feelings of suffering, sadness, pain or unhappiness among the human beings. However, the term comprises of the prefix du, which means bad or tough, and the root kha that implies to a hole, cavity or void; and the attribute is reckoned as an important concept not only in Hinduism but also in other Indian religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. It finds mention is several Hindu scriptures including the Upanishads and Srimad Bhagavad Gita. According to Bhagavad Gita, Dukha is a real state but transient in nature, which usually occurs owing to erroneous actions, thinking, attitude, beliefs, and perspectives. It largely depends on the way human beings perceive things and react to them, the underlying causes and viable remedies thereof are indeed attainable through intramural and spiritual transformation.

Thus, in a broader sense, Dukha or suffering is a feeling and experience of unpleasant and vexatious acts with reference to the perceptions and stimuli of some threat or real harm from the known or unknown sources. This suffering could be mental, physical or both with varying degree of being mild or unbearable, so also the frequency, intensity and duration can further compound it. Similarly, different people have different attitude and fortitude to sail through this unpleasant experience. The degree of consciousness and responsiveness too has its moderating or aggravating effects on sufferings. According to Hindu beliefs, the sufferings accrue naturally from the person’s own negative deeds and actions in the present life and even carried forwarded from the past life (refer Karma and rebirth). Therefore, every person should learn to accept sufferings also as a natural consequence in the path of the spiritual journey. In an endeavor to minimize Dukha, Hinduism accords highest virtue to the concepts of Satya (truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence).

In the context of human sufferings, one historic name that instantly flashes in the minds of average Indians is that of Gautam Buddha who was deeply moved with the sufferings like illness, old age and death before renouncing material life in favor of serious contemplation and quest for knowledge (Jnan) to seek spiritual bliss. However, much before Buddha, the causes and effects of Dukha were well known to the ancient sages and scholars as also found in scriptural knowledge. As a matter of fact, the quest for the same can be observed in almost every school of philosophy and ascetic traditions of the ancient India. The history of the Sanatana Dharma is largely a history of the human beings’ longings for an everlasting remedy of the human suffering. Without any doubt, the Dukha or suffering is an unusual condition being a product of the ignorance and desire-ridden inane actions and deeds of people. This is the main reason why spiritually accomplished ascetics and scriptures emphasize the common folks to learn the real or ultimate purpose of existence to achieve the original enjoyment or eternal bliss.

While the empirical world and living existence commonly goes by the feelings that the real happiness or enjoyment is achieved through possession and constant experimentation with the material things. On the contrary, the ancient scriptures and Sanatana wisdom, while allowing absolute minimum things for survival, recommend that true happiness is not about the possession and indulgence but in renouncement and freedom. In fact, indulgence and enjoyment of the empirical world is a never-ending phenomenon, more one accomplishes and enjoy it, greater are the cravings for even further possession and indulgence. In the process, the human beings encounter and experience inadequacies, failures and disappointment which becomes the cause of their sufferings. Hence the true happiness and freedom become synonymous, and the real enjoyment, free from any sufferings, is achieved only through the freedom from desires and attachment.

Hindu Scriptures and Dukha

As per the conventional Hindu belief, human sufferings are the natural consequence of the negative deeds and actions of the individual’s present and past life, and everyone should accept it as a just nemesis as also an opportunity to improve upon self for spiritual progress. According to the scriptures, particularly the Upanishads and Srimad Bhagavad Gita, the Self (soul) is considered eternally free from any culpability and sufferings, it is the body and its psychic elements comprising of mind, intellect and (false) ego cause sufferance corrupted under the influence of Maya (material world). The regular exercise of the central tenets of the truth and non-violence i.e., avoidance of causing harm and pain to others saves the living beings from the mundane sufferings at the same time paving way for the liberation (Moksha), It's not in Hinduism alone, other Indian religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism too largely have similar faith and belief.

During the Vedic age, the main focus in the society was to secure safety, peace and happiness with the blessings of the natural gods through the rituals and sacrifices, and to achieve these goals, the virtuous conduct and obligatory duties of an individual and society as well were the driving mantras. However, the Vedic texts had identified three different kinds of human sufferings, namely Adyatmika relating to one’s own body and mind, Adibhautika from other living entities, and Adidaivika from the nature (demigods or natural deities). The Vedic sages and texts also identified Kleshas or causes to human pain and suffering as the Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (ego), Raga (likes), Dvesha (dislikes) and Abhinivesha (fear). In a way, all these causes are interrelated and the principal or root cause of all pain and suffering happens to be Avidya or ignorance. The Atharva Veda also dealt with at length various physical and mental ailments caused owing to the aforesaid and remedies thereof.

Dukha had been further analyzed and explained in different Upanishadic texts. For instance, the Matri or Maitrayaniya Upanishad discussed at length about the nature of soul, different sources and means that cause human sufferings as also about the liberation from these sufferings through the process of self-actualization. The sages and Upanishadic texts in post-Vedic age dealt with various causes leading to Dukha, simultaneously recommending resolving it through the positive attributes like purity, fortitude, balance, detachment, indifference and equanimity through due application of austerity, restraint and renunciation. The Upanishadic wisdom says that the desire is the trigger point that put organs to selfish use bringing impurity and consequent sufferings. Three identified main inflictions include aging, illness and death which are also a grim reminder of the ephemeral or transient nature of the human existence in the material world (Maya, Samsara) and the need for the freedom from these sufferings through liberation.

For the illustration's sake, a few quotes from the key Upanishads like the Brihadarankya and Chandogya are cited here in the aforesaid context, which make a reference to human sufferings while suggesting spiritual pursuit for the realization of Self leading to Moksha (liberation).

Haiva santo 'tha vidmas tad vayam na ced avedir mahati vinastih,
Ye tad vidur amrtas te bhavanty athetare duhkham evapiyanti.

{While we are still here, we have come to know about it (soul); if you have not realized it, your destruction is assured. Those (human beings) who have realized it, they become immortal and the suffering awaits for all others.} (Brihadarankya Upanishad, 4.4.14)

Na pasyo mrtyum pasyati na rogam nota duhkhatam,
Sarvam ha pasyah paysati sarvam apnoti sarvasah. 

{When a man rightly sees (soul); he does not see (experience) death, sickness or distress. When a man sees rightly, he is able to see all, and conquer all, absolutely.} (Chandogya Upanishad, 7.26.2)

Yada carmavad akasam vestayisyanti manavah,
Tada devam avijnaya dukhhasyanto bhavisyati.

(When the man rolls up space as if it were a piece of leather, then there will be an end of his sufferings even without the knowledge of the God.) (Shvetashvatara Upanishad, 6.20)

As it is impossible for the people to roll up space, the aforesaid verse obviously implies that there is no end of miseries without knowing or realizing Brahman (God). Thus, the concept of Dukha appears in various Upanishads and narrated differently but the underlying message everywhere is that the knowledge of the soul and God is a key requirement to get over the sorrows in life. Dukha is inevitable but one can overcome it through the insight and understanding of the spiritual truth of the universe. Besides many Principal Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita has a comprehensive addressal of Dukha. Then the term also finds references in the foundational Sutras of all the six schools of Hindu philosophy, including the first three verses of the Samkhya school. These verses suggest that everyone seeks the pursuit of happiness which is the basic need of all beings but they need to counter three forms of sufferings viz. Adhyatmika that is caused by self; Adhibhautika caused by the external influences; and Adhidaivika caused by the nature and supernatural powers.

The Bhagavad Gita on Dukha

The merit and significance of the Bhagavad Gita needs no emphasis, which effectively addresses almost all aspects of human life with causes and remedies. The Gita begins itself with the theme of sorrow with Prince Arjuna illusioned and grieving with the idea of fighting to kill his own elders, kin, teachers and friends in the Kurushetra and concludes with Shree Krishna’s discourse on various facets of life with a positive note on the ending of suffering by adopting to various modes of self-realization. Like any other normal being, Arjuna is overwhelmed with the emotion of sorrow finding himself pitted against his own near and dear ones in the pursuit of worldly possessions and then Shree Krishna, believed to be an incarnation of God himself, comes to the former’s rescue by imparting the Karma, Jnan and Bhakti Yoga based knowledge that helps Arjuna to overcome his sorrow and get ready to perform his duties of a conscientious and dutyful Kshatriya in the battlefield of the epic Mahabharata. 

The aforesaid physical and mental agony and suffering cab be visualized in the following verse of the Bhagavad Gita in the battlefield of Kurushetra.

Sidanti mama gatrani mukham ca parisusyati,
Vepathusca sarire me romaharsasca Jayati.

(My limbs are giving away and my mouth is parched, my body is shivering and my hairs stand on end.) (BG: Chapter 1, Verse 29)

In fact, verses 29-31 narrate Prince Arjuna’s plight, where he addresses Shree Krishna as Keshava (slayer of the Demon Keshi) and while narrating his physical condition, he adds that his bow, the Gandiiva, is slipping from his hand with skin having a burning sensation all over, and also that his mind is in quandary and whirling in confusion making it impossible to hold himself steady any longer. Arjuna further laments that he only sees omens of misfortune and unable to foresee any good in killing own kinsmen in the ensuing battle. 

This is the usual state of the body and mind when a person experiences deep sorrow and grief over something. As the mind is the seat of all worldly desires and cravings with a commensurate consequential impact on the body, the two become the battlefield for all human beings too to reflect the cause and effect of all developments. Many human beings pass through the similar nemesis and then they look for the advice and support of their knowledgeable elder(s) or guru, who can show them the right path to come out from this difficult situation. This is what Prince Arjuna did when he surrendered himself and requested Shree Krishna to impart him wisdom and fortitude to win over the crisis.

Prichchhami tvam dharma-sammudha-chetah;
Yach-chhreyah syannishchitam bruhi tanme,
Shishyaste ’ham shadhi mam tvam prapannam.

(With my mind being smitten by the vice of anxiety and faintheartedness and my mind confused in regard to my duty, I am Your disciple, and am surrendered to You. Please instruct me for what is good for me.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 7)

The aforesaid was the moment at which Shree Krishna took over and imparted the rare wisdom and knowledge to Arjuna showing him the path of auspiciousness, the great compilation known as the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. The compilation not only embodies the virtues, essential character, glory, truth, worship of God and mysteries of universe through Jnan and Bhakti but also has incorporated the right duties and actions through Karma Yoga. The Gita is often vied as an epitome of all scriptures because it contains the essence of all Hindu scriptures. It explains all essential positive as well as negative attributes, including Dukha (suffering, sorrow and pain), their effect on human beings and remedies to overcome the vices of the negative actions and deeds. There are numerous verses dealing with the attributes, actions and deeds becoming a source of sorrow as well as multiple ways to leading to real happiness and spiritual progress of a man.

According to Shree Krishna, the human suffering and the factors causing it are real, but they are not everlasting. The sorrow or suffering is caused due to defective and wrong thinking, attitudes, beliefs and perspectives of the human beings so also the way people perceive things and react to them. To get over the physical and mental suffering, one needs to learn its underlying causes with an effective resolve to deal with it through inner transformation. The following Gita verse is relevant.

Matra-sparshas tu kaunteya shitoshna-sukha-duhkha-dah,
Agamapayino ’nityas tans-titikshasva Bharata.

(O son of Kunti, the fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress are felt through the contact between the senses and the sense objects. These are impermanent and come and go like the winter and summer seasons. O descendent of Bharat, bear with them patiently.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse14)

For instance, what is pleasurable for one person might be painful for the other. Similarly, something that gave happiness in the past, one may no longer find enjoyable it in the present. Thus, pleasures and pains or likes and dislikes are ephemeral, so often dependent on the state of mind. This could also be learned even from the simple fact of geographical location of people. A person living in the extreme north, say near Arctic, may find even the usual cold weather around the equator, say 20-25 degrees Celsius, quite warm or even hot, suggesting the sense of hot and cold are mere notions of the mind. In absolute terms, things like heat and cold or pleasure and pain have hardly any real significance. Once a person is able to rise above these feelings and perceptions, he is able to discover his real Self experiencing a stable and equipoise mind, free from all kinds of distress and sorrow. Shree Krishna has explained it to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita verses 2.54-59. The following verse beautifully describes a man with stable mind free from mundane sorrow and pain.

Shri bhagavan uvacha:
Prajahati yada kaman sarvan partha mano-gatan,
Atmany-evatmana tushtah sthita-prajnas tadochyate.

{The Supreme Entity said: O Parth, when a person gives up all selfish desires and cravings of the senses that torment his mind, and is satisfied with the realization of the self, he is said to be of stable intellect (mind)}. (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 55)

According to the Bhagavad Gita, whatever we see around is temporary and transient, even the sufferings are impermanent in the same way as our bodies are not permanent. Even the pleasures derived from the contact of senses with the material objects ultimately become the source of pain. Hence the need for the tolerance towards the temporary sufferings while striving for the spiritual progress leading to the liberation of soul as pointed out by Shree Krishna in the following verse.

Yam hi na vyathayantyete purusham purusharshabha,
Sama-duhkha-sukham dhiram so ’mritatvaya kalpate.

(O Arjun, the wise man, who is not affected by happiness and pain, and who remains steady in both, becomes eligible for liberation.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 15)

In the later discourse, Shree Krishna explains to Arjuna about the three gunas or modes of material nature, namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas representing three modes of goodness, passion and ignorance respectively. While evolving, each individual comes in contact with the material nature comprising of the three gunas and gets conditioned accordingly. Of the three, the Tamas is graded as the mode of darkness embodying all negative attributes and naturally a source of ultimate sufferings for the being. On the other hand, the Rajas guna represents passion giving rise to unlimited desires and cravings leading to bondage with the material fruit producing actions, again an avoidable mode. Shree Krishna recommended Sattava as the desirable guna, the mode of goodness, which is pure and illuminating. Individuals situated and conditioned in Sattvic gunas are free from mundane sufferings and enjoy true knowledge, happiness and bliss. (BG: Chapter 14, Verses 5-11)

Dukha in the Modern Perspective

As explained in the ancient Hindu scriptures and from the mundane experiences of people from various kinds of sorrow, sufferings and pain, it clearly emerges that, like many other human attributes, Dukha too is real but impermanent, and is caused by the defective thinking, attitude, beliefs and perspectives. Like many other human qualities or attributes, the opposite of Dukha is Sukha (happiness), and the two alternate in every person’s life depending on the aforesaid factors. Similarly, the approach towards its remedy also depends on the human understanding of the inherent and underlying causes and resolution thereof through an effective inner transformation. What was relevant in this regard in the ancient human society is also very much relevant and applicable to the modern age and society. The majority of people are inflicted with sufferings not because they are rich or poor, or for that matter much or less accomplished, but because they have cultivated or programmed themselves for this nemesis owing to their own thoughts, desires, actions and deeds.

According to the ancient wisdom, what we see around as material objects are transient and temporary with short life; hence if we rely or put too much emphasis on them, it makes our life uncertain and insecure. These are, in fact, part of the Maya or Samsara capable of causing delusion and ignorance in all living beings. An ignorant and deluded being falls an easy prey to the desires and attachment towards the sensory objects, which ultimately leads to the Karma and bondage. An ignorant person constantly remains confused under the attraction and aversion to the respective pairs of opposites such as Sukha and Dukha, truth and untruth, non-violence and violence, love and hate, success and failure, comfort and discomfort, beautiful and ugly, hope and despair, and so on so forth; the list is too long. The Karma and bondage lead to the repeated birth and death according to well considered and analyzed Hindu Sanatana belief.

As part of the material world, the majority of people overwhelmed too much under the influences with the sensory objects; consequently, they make frequent errors in judging things and acting accordingly. For instance, they fail to exercise proper discretion in their contact and isolation from the fascinating objects of desire. Consequently, they remain too much attached with the sense objects in the form of worldly possessions of material comfort and pleasure, which they perceive as the real success and goal of life for happiness. This attachment with the sensory objects, in turn, though falsely, inculcates the sense of doership and ownership. Most of the people remain unaware about the three gunas, namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and their influence and implication on their lives. As many of them find worldly possessions and tamasic qualities more fascinating, they fall easy prey to the attributes like attachment, pride, lust, envy, greed, anger, and so on. All this devoid them with the lack of positive discretion and judgment, and in turn, they distance themselves from the Self and God, which becomes the ultimate cause of the human sufferings.

If the foregoing is to be summarized, the cause of Dukha could be attributed to the following three factors:

(a) Attachment and Passion
(b) Lack of True Knowledge (Ignorance)
(c) Mistaken Identity of Self

During the Mahabharata, Prince Arjuna was deluded and sorrowful with the idea of war because of his attachment towards his family, kin, friends and other acquaintances, and their passion for securing rightful position in the material world according to their choice and perception. The same way, the majority people till date are found attached and passionate about their connections and possessions. The author has often talked about the perceptions of Sukha and Dukha with contemporary people, including friends, relatives and relatively unknown people. Many of them would question - who has seen life beyond the death and experiences like Moksha (liberation). They wish to enjoy the pleasure of every material object within or beyond their reach till they live. Consequently, they are so often found complaining and cribbing about things beyond reach and suffer with the physical and mental agonies. In this age of information technology and social media explosion, the author has seen people who get frustrated if they do not receive desired number of “likes” to their so often silly social media posts. Thus, the attachment and passion for the sensory experiences become the root cause of sufferings in most cases.

Shree Krishna has so aptly linked three gunas with the human behavior and conduct, and the mode Tamas (ignorance) as the main cause leading to the physical and mental distress in most of the human beings. It is beyond any doubt that our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and actions greatly dictate our state of mind and consequent happiness or sorrow in life. People suffer with anxiety, suspicion and doubt, when they are not fully aware of what should be done and where it would lead to, in the absence of true knowledge and understanding of the subject in hand. Arjuna had experienced similar situation in the battlefield but was fortunate to have Shree Krishna as his charioteer, guide and teacher. In the absence of the scriptural knowledge and right teacher, the majority of people remain confused about the right and wrong as also a right course of action in a given situation. The knowledge that most people have is essentially the sensory knowledge which is received in the passion or ignorance mode promoting the ownership and doership. In the absence of true knowledge, people suffer owing to doubts, confusion, and indecision or bad decision,

Another vital cause for the human sufferings is the fall out of the mistaken identity. Like Arjuna believed himself to be an important prince of the most powerful and famous dynasty of the Mahabharata age, until Shree Krishna revealed him the true knowledge and significance of Self (soul) and Brahman (God) as the only truth in this universe. Like Arjuna, most people believe the body and mind as the real physical self although the same are temporary and perishable. Due to this mistaken belief, all efforts and actions of most of the people are focused on to feed and nurture it with all kinds of material luxuries and comfort, failing which they suffer with mental and physical agony and distress. Shree Krishna truly revealed that the body and mind, being subject to decay and destruction, do not represent true identity; instead, this is the Atman (soul) that is true Self not subject to any injury or death; being pure, stable and everlasting. In fact, those who learn to be equipoise in all situations, are also able to experience true happiness and bliss in this life as well.


Dukha and Sukha so often alternate and are an integral part of the mundane life of all living beings. It's because both the attributes are linked with the senses, which by nature themselves are temporary and unstable. Thus, be it Sukha or Dukha in ordinary sense, both are the products of the instability and turmoil of the existence in the cosmos. People’s attachment and passion with the sensory objects further aggravate this position causing sufferance. The Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures suggest that these aberrations and consequent sufferings could be minimized, and even eliminated, through various techniques (yogas) such as having faith and devotion to God, acquiring true knowledge (Jnan) and indulgence in the righteous duty and action without attachment. The regular practice of the yoga and meditation helps to achieve equanimity enabling the person to achieve true happiness.

An equipoise mind takes even suffering with the same ease as happiness, and as an opportunity to contemplate about our existential truth and redemption by indulging in selfless actions, and devotion and surrender to God. As our senses are the ones who are responsible for the interaction and dependence upon the material world, our spiritual journey starts with an endeavor of their withdrawal and restraints. Once the senses are put to discipline, a person is able to conquer his mundane desires and attain real peace and happiness. People often have a mistaken belief that only the worldly possession of success, money and material objects are keys to a lasting happiness. In such case, one always finds things still unachieved that become a cause for Dukha. The reality is that the happiness gained through the material possessions in life is only temporary and transient while the real and lasting content, peace and bliss comes with the satisfaction for what is needed to meet minimum basic needs.

Continued to Part LXXXII


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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