Author Topic: On the Nature of Self Inflicted Suffering: Mukesh Eswaran - Oct.-Dec.2008, MP  (Read 1669 times)

Subramanian.R

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All suffering is self inflicted.  We may believe that the cause of our suffering lies elsewhere -- in the world, in our circumstances,
in other people, in our fates, and so on.  But we are wrong.  We are deceiving ourselves.  Our suffering is self inflicted.  It is the
purpose of this article, to argue why this is so.  Clear recognition of this fact may perhaps, motivate us to hasten the sadhana
necessary to stop afflicting ourselves. 

We do not wish to inflict suffering upon ourselves but we all do, nonetheless.  We bring on suffering by looking for happiness
in he wrong places and in the wrong way.  Indeed, we seek happiness for the wrong 'person'.  The source of suffering is
ignorance of one's true nature.  The calamitous error we make  -- one that is the root cause of all our troubles -- is that we take
ourselves to be something we are not.  We take ourselves to be the ego (our sense of self).  We believe that our BEING is the
ego.  So firmly are we wedded to this notion that we go through life without ever questioning it.  By happiness we invariably
mean happiness of the ego; by sadness we mean sadness of the ego.

As long as we identify with the ego, and seek its happiness, we are doomed to disappointment.  What the ego wants is
wealth, fame, comfort, happiness, power, sexual gratification and the like.  We imagine that we will be happy if we find these.
It is a matter of common experience, however, that even if these are found the satisfaction they yield is short lived.  The ego
soon takes these for granted and grasps for more, Why is this?  What is the deep rooted reason responsible for the ego never
saying,, 'Enough'?  And if ego is indeed the cause of suffering, why do we attach ourselves to it so strongly?  Further, Advaita
insists that the ego is a fiction.  Why then do we find it so difficult to jettison it and live a life free from suffering?  There is a
very fundamental cause that provides answers to all these questions.  Although that cause, which is explained below, is
scientific in nature, it is easily understood.  For this, however, we have to understand the key role played by the ego in
evolution.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva,               

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

The ego was evolved by Nature to enhance the material well being of individuals.  Ego is a vehicle that greatly promotes
the physical survival of a body.  A sense of self that identifies itself with a particular body keenly looks out for the body's
needs and does whatever is needed for its survival.  Those with a stronger sense of self,  garner more resources for
themselves precisely because they are more self centered.  And greater the availability of resources to an individual fosters
his physical survival.  Furthermore, it also fosters the physical survival of his offspring.  It is one thing to have many children,
but to ensure their survival is quite another.  The number of children who survive into adulthood depends on the resources
available to their parents.  In our evolutionary past (going back a million years or more), individuals with more resources had
more surviving offspring.

Why is this capacity to have more surviving children in our ancient past relevant to our subject?  Because that is what evolution
crucially depends on.  Children genetically inherit their parents' physical and psychological traits and, by surviving, will themselves
pass these on to posterity.  In the process of evolution, a trait like physical strength that increased an individual's ability to
acquire material resources, then, was embodied in more people in subsequent generations than traits that were less successful
in this regard, (simply because people of the former type left behind more surviving children).  People who possessed traits that
helped them acquire material resources lived longer and so had more children.  At the same time, they also genetically transmitted
these very traits to their children. 

It follows that the traits we observe in people today are precisely those that have proved themselves successful in the past in
terms of the narrow yardstick of evolution, namely, the number of surviving offspring.  After thousands of generations in our
evolutionary march , only those traits that were most successful in appropriating resources (the 'fittest') remained in the population.
It is in this way that successful traits got singled out by Nature and passed on to future generations.  In short,  in the struggle for
survival, Nature 'selected' those traits that succeeded in reproducing themselves. (This process was referred to as 'natural selection'
by Charles Darwin in his classic book, The Origin of Species, and is the principal mechanism through which evolution works.).

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

Subramanian.R

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continues....

Evolution, then, forged and established the ego because it greatly facilitated physical survival and reproduction.  Because
it has such a long evolutionary history, ego is deeply ingrained in human nature.  (Darwin himself did not propose the role
for ego that is being suggested here, but that role is a hypothesis maintained in this article. The only sage who has written
about the evolutionary significance of ego, to my knowledge, is Sri Aurobindo - see especially his The Life Divine.  In the
Christian tradition,  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is the only mystic who accorded evolution any role in spirituality, in particularly
in his posthumously published The Phenomenon of Man, Harper and Row, New York, 1959).

This is why it is so hard to cast off or circumvent.  We believe it defines who we are, and this is the source of our tenacious
attachment to it.

The ego is trained to respond only to pleasure and pain.  Pleasure was the carrot that Nature offered to attract the ego
to situations that were beneficial to an individual's survival.  Pain was the stick Nature wielded to drive it away from situations
that were detrimental to survival. 

Individuals who embraced pleasure and fled from pain did better in evolutionary terms, and so now we all tend to welcome
pleasure and resist pain.  Our firmly entrenched notions of 'good' and 'bad' derive from Nature's twin devices of pleasure
and pain, and they serve to keep the ego in place.  We pursue what we believe is good for us and shun what we believe
is bad.  'More of everything good and less of everything bad' is the ego's motto.  This is the modern evolutionary  reason
that explains the ancient insight of Hinduism and Buddhism that desires are the principal tentacles of ego, and, therefore,
constitute the major impediments to liberation.           

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

People all over the world are egoistic.  Egoism is a condition that blights the lives of almost all humans.  Yet, Advaita claims
that the ego is an illusion.  In what sense this is so?  Ego is an illusion in the sense that it is not a permanent attribute
of human nature.  It is true that egoism is pervasive, tenacious, and universal.  Advaita take the Truth as that which is
eternal.  Since ego is not eternal, it is an illusion.  It was created by Nature as a vehicle to promote the physical survival
of the body.  If one manages to sidestep its workings even for a moment (as in the enlightenment experiences of the
Self realized sages), one sees that the ego is an illusion.  Ego is Nature's creature, manufactured for evolutionary purposes.
But it is not the truth of our being.  It is in this sense that ego is an illusion, as is its perception of the world.  (Recent developments
in neuroscience have demonstrated that the sense of the self is created by the brain.  (See e.g. The Feelings of What Happens:
Body and Emotion in the making of Consciousness by A. Damasio, Harcourt Brace and Co., New York, 1999.).

There are further consequences that arise from the sense of self. The pursuit of material well being pits one ego against other
egos that are engaged in a similar manner. This results in conflicts, for resources that accrue to one individual frequently come
at the expense of others.   Conflicts in turn lead to anger, hate, the proclivity for violence, the penchant for revenge, and other
unsavory emotions.  These negative emotions arise in the long march of evolution because the actions that sprang from them
enabled individuals to seize more resources for themselves -- resources that they could not have otherwise acquired in the struggle
for survival. 

These negative traits are hardly conducive to happiness;  indeed, they are now deemed to be 'sins'.  So how could they arise?
Nature's purpose in constructing the ego was not to make people happy or virtuous.  What nature rewarded was the capacity
to acquire resources and the reward of it conferred was better chances of survival for oneself and one's children.  In other words,
the reward Nature offered for garnering more resources was greater representation of an individual's traits (genes) in future
generations.       
             
contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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continues....

This is not to suggest that people consciously wanted to maximize the number of children they left behind.  Most people
do not think in this manner at all.  The point is that those people who had 'successful' traits DID leave behind more people
like themselves -- whether they intended to or not.  Nature did not rely on people's intention to bring this about.  To the
extent that anger, competitiveness, violence. and ego-strength facilitated an individual's survival (and that of his offspring),
to that extent these negative traits got distributed more broadly in the human population and got more firmly entrenched in
human nature.  It is for this reason that such traits are almost universal in humans.  They persisted because they served an
evolutionary purpose.

We are now in a position to appreciate why the ego can never be permanently happy.  The ego was designed by evolution
to make comparisons.  As we have seen, an individual with an abundance of resources will do  well in evolutionary terms (as
measure by the size of his progeny).  But another individual slightly more resources will do even better.  People who were
predisposed to constantly comparing themselves, with others, and improving their own lot accordingly, therefore, did better
in evolutionary terms.  And so the psychological tendency to gauge one's well being by measuring oneself against others got
embedded in human nature (either genetically or through imitation  by children).  Nature has thus programmed humans to live
by making comparisons.  It is not enough that we are rich.  We want to be the richest. It is not enough that we are powerful.
We want to be the most powerful.  (articulating the deep desire in humans to excel in status and power, Caesar is said to have
remarked, 'I would first here in a village than second in Rome.'  Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar available on line at http//penelope.
uchicgo.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Caesar*.html.)  And even if we fortuitously happen to be the richest and most
powerful, we constantly worry that we may not always remain so.  This is why the ego can never be truly happy.  Nothing is ever
enough because nothing it can grasp is entirely permanent.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                     

Subramanian.R

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continues......

Since the ego masquerades as our being, it is perpetually insecure.  It is constantly in need of support to assure itself of its
legitimacy.  Its pose as our being is a wholly fraudulent one, and so it is always in need of defence against this falsehood.
Sri Bhagavan Ramana said, 'What is the ego, then?  It is something intermediate between the inert body and the
Self.  It has no locus standi.'  (Be As You Are, The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, by David Godman.) 

The ego is incessantly trying to acquire whatever it believes will strengthen its position --- more wealth, more power, more
status.  But no matter how great the wealth it amasses or how artful the defence it mounts, it cannot transform a lie into
truth.  The attempt is very costly, however, though we may not recognize this cost, because we are accustomed to it.   In fact,
our whole lives are taken up by this dubious activity of propping up this fraud.  How much  costly it can get?

For the ego, therefore, the lasting happiness is an unattainable goal.  The attempt is doomed to failure from the start.

This brings us to the issue of suffering.  Why is suffering self inflicted?  Identification with the ego, is the cause of suffering.
If a man's wealth were lost in robbery, he would be greatly upset and saddened because he subscribes to the belief, 'I have
lost my wealth.'  His sense of loss and grief comes from his voluntary identification with a psychological claim to the missing
wealth.  He would not react in this way, if it were a stranger's wealth, that was stolen.  If his awareness were not tied so
firmly to a particular body-mind, his reaction to the loss would be greatly muted.  Were he to approach Sri Ramana, the Sage
would surely have urged him to ask himself, 'Who is that has lost his wealth?'

We have seen why we are so attached to the ego and why, as long as this is so, suffering is inevitable.  To recapitulate:
promoting happiness is not why Nature created and programmed the ego for.  The ego's reason for existence is something
else altogether -- to help procreate and to garner what ever resources it can to advance procreation.  There are only two masters
the ego reacts so:  pleasure and pain.  Nature has burdened us with an illusory sense of self because those among our forebears
in our evolutionary past who embraced this fiction left behind more offspring  (who genetically inherited the same inclination).
Ego is the earthly inheritance that  Nature has bequeathed to humans.  And it is this bequest that we have to disown through
intense sadhana (self inquiry), if we wish to perceive the Truth about ourselves.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

The ego may be a fiction,  but suffering cannot be easily dismissed.  It is certainly very real to us.  We feel it deeply.  Nevertheless,
it is true that is only our ego that suffers.  What is attached to wealth, for example, will suffer, when wealth is lost.  It follows that,
from the standpoint of Truth, suffering is an "assumed burden"  because we choose to identify with the ego in the first place.
Suffering is a self inflicted wound.  Because we have lost sight of the fact, that we make a choice, we attribute our suffering to
some other cause -- to other people, to our circumstances, etc.,  Our ego is a device,  a concept that Nature has fabricated.
But it is WE who have opted to embrace, love, cherish, and worship it as an idol.  This is entirely OUR own doing. The conclusion
is inescapable. SUFFERING IS SELF INFLICTED.

What about the pain the body feels when it is hurt?  That, surely, is not self inflicted?  True, physical pain is not necessarily one's
own doing.  Nevertheless, the suffering that usually accompanies it,  is.   That is why, when a most painful osteo-sarcoma was
eating away His body, Sri Ramana did not suffer.  There has to an ego present that accepts suffering.  When there is no ego,
there may be pain but not suffering. 

But behind all the machinations of the ego, there stands our true nature, our true Being, untainted by all the suffering the ego
creates for itself.  Once we recognize and acknowledge our true Self, our suffering vanishes.  The world as IT IS PERCEIVED BY
THE EGO, is then seen to be maya, an illusion.  This is what the Sage assures us. 

What is the solution to the problem of suffering, then ?  Since evolution has shaped our behavior over a million years, what
chance do we have of escaping from its clutches?  There IS an escape route.  However, except in the cases of a fortunate few,
it usually requires great effort.  It consists in recognizing that our true nature is the same as God's.  This is our heavenly inheritance.
This is our birthright, the Being of our being.  The scriptures and countless sages are unanimous in asserting this. We have
forgotten our birthright and are wandering around like nomads in alien land, fighting and struggling for more of this or that, when,
in truth, everything that exists is ours already.  Our being permeates the entire universe and here we are trying to appropriate
fragments of the world and claiming exclusive ownership of them.  How absurd it seems when we think that we have renounced
our divine birthright and are begging for scraps to feed a worthless fictitious idol !

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

right2be

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Wow, very nice write up Submaranian. Very informative and insightful.

Thanks for sharing this !

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

The problem of suffering is to be solved, then, by shedding our false identity and retrieving knowledge of our true one.
We have to escape from the mechanical rut that Nature has trapped us in.  we have to surrender our tendency of
grasping for more and more to offer more and more as tribute to our ego.  We have to stop voluntarily identifying with
the ego and recognize that the ego itself a pathetic creature of a mechanical deity, Nature  We have to cease being
enamored by Nature's earthly bequest to us if we are to retrieve our heavenly inheritance.

Different spiritual traditions prescribe different means to accomplish this.  But if all our problems arise because of the
fateful error that we take ourselves to be something we are not, then the most natural thing to do would be to question
our identity.

This is why the technique Sri Ramana recommended (self inquiry) is the most direct.  By persistently asking oneself the
question, Who am I? and rejecting every answer offered by the mind (which can only serve up more concepts), self inquiry
promises to break our identification with the body-mind and reveal our true identity as the Self.  Until we have first hand
experience of this, we are doomed to keep heaping suffering upon ourselves.

concluded.

Dear right2be

Thank you for your appreciation of the article.  I also find it refreshingly original.

*****

Arunachala Siva.           
« Last Edit: May 21, 2013, 01:28:06 PM by Subramanian.R »