About Suffering


Hello, Carlos

I have a question that has been on my mind for a long time: what is the meaning of suffering? I`ve been watching a documentary about the children’s slaughter in some countries in Africa and I was terrified.
In one of the previous classes you mentioned that this topic is or was one of your preoccupations too. Please share with me your perspective on this.

Yes, it has been and it continues to be, maybe not one of my preoccupations, but one of the main issues that have filled my heart. Why is there suffering? Why do we have to suffer? What is the meaning of it? Is there a meaning? To really answer these questions whole books could be written, and, of course, have been written, but even so, the question has not really been answered. In this short letter I can offer you some of my thoughts… but this is really not an answer, only some ideas that can guide you in your own search for this beautiful question: what is the meaning of suffering? Or even ‘what is the meaning of life?’

Yesterday I was walking down the street, coming back after doing some shopping and I saw 3 very young girls, around 13 or 14 years, teasing another young boy, the same age as the girls, that was walking in front of them. He was obviously having a very hard time, repressing his tears very hard. The girls were really having fun, laughing and being very pleased with his pain. Why was that happening? I don’t mean the specifics of why the girls started to make fun of that boy. But why are human beings able to so easily inflict pain on other beings, humans, animals or plants?

Of course, there can be many answers to this, but, for me, the main reason why a person can create suffering in another being is because of ignorance. I don’t mean ignorance in the general way that it is often taken; a PhD can be completely ignorant or an illiterate person may not be ignorant at all. The way I refer to ignorance is the lack of knowledge, understanding or experience (actually, from the way I’m using these words, knowledge, understanding and experience are one and the same thing) that we are not separate individuals who need to survive in this huge and unfriendly universe, but, quite the contrary, that nothing is separated from anything else. That I, the other person, the tree, the planet and the sun are apparently separate parts that actually belong to one body. Just like my little toe, my hand, the liver, the blood, the white cells in it and my head are apparently separate parts that actually belong to one body.

The reason why the world seems to be separated from ourselves, the reason why I seem to be separated from you and you from the rest is only an illusion created by seeing the world from the very limited point of view of our own limited senses. No different from the illusion created by our senses that the sun is moving or that 100 years is a long time (see this fascinating representation of the universe: http://primaxstudio.com/stuff/scale_of_universe/).

And just like the aim of my body is to live, the aim of this ‘big body’ is LIFE; it’s beauty, it’s love, it’s intelligence.

Children slaughter somewhere in Africa is an extreme example of a very basic cause: ignorance.

It is ignorance of who and what we really are that creates the fears and the greed and the cravings and the selfishness and the excesses and all the wide variations of emotions and actions that have created and still create the written history of humanity.

Without a doubt the slaughter of kids in Africa is a huge and extremely sad example of this ignorance, but without going so far and so large, we can find the same ignorance at a much smaller scale in our everyday life. A line is not a point, but without millions and millions of points the line would not exist.

This ignorance of what we really are makes us feel so separate from everything else that we continuously feel threatened by this big world; in particular we feel so frightened that life is not going to give us what we need, and even worst, that it will take away from us the very few things that we were able to get through ‘my own efforts’ (please see the reflection The Ocean http://blog.yogaofpresence.com/2012/04/17/the-ocean/) that we develop an ability to protect and secure and we become no different than an animal in the middle of the jungle. In our everyday life we can see this behavior on the streets, for example, when people are driving with the feeling that everybody else is not actually a person, but an obstacle on the way.

But with human beings it is actually much worse than with animals because in the animal’s case greed, for example, does not exist. It is only humans which have this incredible ability to think, that can create an emotion like greed. A person in their ignorance of their true place in the universe, having tasted pleasure or power or fame and seeing that these things make him forget, even for short moments, his fears, loneliness and sense of smallness (all emotions created by this ignorance), wants more. We all know that things like pleasure, fame or glory are very short-lived and the only way to keep them is to get more. This, coupled with the sense of indifference of what is not his, makes an ignorant person embark on a self-indulgence trip. What can all the excesses we see every day be, other than people trying to get as much as they can from life because of the fear of the sense of emptiness they feel inside?

But not even going as far as this, we can see this ignorance in everyday situations. People selling their cars without telling the possible buyer of defects or problems the car may have so as to get as much money as they can, or in lying even to friends or family in order to get something one may want, or people feeling so desperately lonely that they need to lie about their true feelings to possible partners in order to get some sex.

Another way this ignorance is expressed is in the way people need to attract attention to themselves. Just look on the streets how most people dress. In essence, to put on clothes is only for protecting oneself from the weather. But the reason why we dress nowadays is mostly to attract attention. And why do you think this is the case? For the simple reason that the ignorance of who we actually are makes us feel so separate and small that we need the reinforcement, the attention from other people to make us feel that we are valuable, that we are something.

All these situations seem to be very remote from the slaughter of kids, but the root cause of any suffering that a human being can inflict on another person, animal or plant is always the same:  ignorance, the not knowing that we are not separated from the whole.

The understanding of our wholeness is what the search of any person should be all about; it is not about ‘Me and my happiness’, like the new-age pseudo-spirituality that is in fashion right now…although, interestingly enough, the moment I understand the truth of my position, I become a happy being. Why? Because, when I understand the Whole, I understand that even ignorance is an aspect of it… No different from my foot not knowing the contents of this letter. That is the magic and beauty of the Whole: it includes everything, even suffering, even ignorance, without being affected by them. The whole remains what is, untouched, unmoved; still Beautiful, still Loving, still Intelligent. It is for us that knowing or not knowing makes a very big difference. The bible says: Look for the Kingdom of Heaven and everything else will be added onto you. For me (and, of course, this is very different from the traditional way of understanding this statement) this means: understand your own Wholeness, see for yourself that you are actually not separated from anything else, and then any other question, wish or problem will be resolved.

Thank you for your question. I hope you find some things to help you in your search. And please, don’t hesitate to write again if you wish.

All the best,



Categories: Reflections

There are 4 comments

  1. Marana

    Hi Carlos,

    it’s a beautiful article…letter, I do not know exactly how to call it. Related to the meaning of suffering, I have in mind a beautiful poem written by Lucian Blaga, “Lauda Suferintei” (“Praise suffering”).
    Unfortunately I have found no translation of the poem in English. The way I understand it, a certain kind/amount of suffering, put to a good use, becomes a mean for spiritual growths.
    I tried to approximate a rough translation of 4th stanza, keeping rather the meaning and not the rimes:

    “Father who are and will be,
    Do not disrob us, do not impoverish us,
    Do not banish all suffering from the realms.
    Banish only the one that tears apart,
    But not the one who strengthens
    Being into being.”


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