PainOnce, Mother Teresa met a lady dying from cancer and in terrible pain. She tried to comfort the screaming sufferer: “You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you!”

The lady couldn’t control her anger. She got furious and screamed back: “Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing me.”

I remembered this incident when I interacted with Viswas from Orissa who wrote to me about his acute pain . Our ancestors told us that pain (suffering) both mental and physical, is part of the unfolding of karma. It is the consequence of inappropriate action (mental, verbal, or physical) that occurred in the current life or in a past life.

Pain isn’t seen as punishment from God but as a natural consequence of the moral laws of the universe in response to past behavior. They said god has little or no role in creating pain in you. The Atharva Veda says there are three major ccauses for pain: Adhyatmika (natural and organic), Adhibautika (external causes – virus, animals, men) and Adhidaivika (reasons unknown to human).

Viswas said: “If it is karma based, how come, new born babies suffer severe pain. Good people suffer pain” I have explained this in two articles: Why do bad things happen to good people ( and Is rebirth for real? (

Ancient Indians had a clear logic there. The pleasures the body can give us, such as in eating or mating, last only for a few minutes. However, the pains the body can give us can last for years. Obviously, our body is far more pain-sensitive than pleasure-sensitive. So accept the fact that the body is tilted heavily toward the pain side.

Only a few bodily parts can give us pleasure, primarily the sensory organs like the eyes, ears, and skin. But most of the or all the bodily parts can give us pain. That means, the ways in which the body can give us pleasure are few, whereas the ways in which it can give us pain are many, even innumerable. This clearly shows that pain is a mandatory aspect in life.

So, both painful and painless states should be accepted equally. As Swami Vivekananda says: ‘What we want is neither happiness nor misery. Both make us forget our true nature; both are chains, one of iron, another of gold; behind both is the real self.’

“Are you telling both pain and pleasure as same thing?…”

“As a matter of fact, yes. Modern science says the source for the modulation of both pain and pleasure originates from neurons in the same locations. The pain and pleasure processing involve many of the same regions of the brain. And the message from body parts to brain carried by the same nerves. There are no separate nerves for pleasure and pain”

“Agreed, but what’s the solution for reducing pain…?”

“We have conditioned with a wrong definition of life. The ill-definition says that the purpose of life is enjoyment and pleasure. Such a definition blinds us to harsh truths of life and fills us with the baseless hopes that some temporary adjustments or idiotic beliefs will free us from sufferings. The more you seek pleasure, the more pain you will suffer. So, first, let’s have a realistic definition of life”

“How will that help a person with pain?”

“When we have the realistic definition of life, that’s pain is mandatory, we would take precaution from childhood. We will teach our children about the reality of life. That’s what our ancestors did. They said, “Ati Sarvatra Varjayet” (Excess of any thing is bad). Don’t get overly joy. Don’t get overly sorrowed. Don’t get excited when a happiness. Don’t be frustrated or depressed on pain and sorrow. You can keep aside whatever excess you have.”

When you spread your happiness for a longer period, rather than enjoying it with extreme excitement, you will have a buffer stock for rainy days. For example , if you are living in a remote place and you have only 10 breads with you. You can finish it off in one day. Or you can spread it for 10 days taking one per day. Let’s spread our little joy for more days, rather than finish it off all of a sudden with excitement. Apply the second law of thermodynamics (total entropy of the whole universe is constant or conserved) in life. Be in equilibrium. “When we get pain, don’t get frustrated and distressed. Try to tolerate as much as possible.” This attitude has to be developed from the childhood – everything in moderation and travel through a middle path. Every parent should teach their children to take such precaution.

“But it is too late for people like me.”

“Yes, so when pain becomes intolerable, take medicines – there is nothing else we can do. I am repeating, the pain is only the result of our own karma. And there is no other go, but to face it.”

“Can’t prayers reduce the pain of body and mind?…”

“Maybe. But not for all. It depends upon many permutation and combinations. Our scriptures say even gods can’t escape from the result of their karma. So how can god reduce your pain? Of course, prayers may help you make some adjustments. For instance, when you withdraw your term-fixed-deposit from the bank for an urgency, the bank will deduct some money as penalty. Similarly, God might give you some comfort, but taking from the stock of your good karma from the past”

“We can’t walk the talk, Uday – when we face painful situations in life, we won’t be able to manage it. Those philosophies won’t work. Has it worked for you?”

“So true Viswas – it is difficult to walk the talk… Personally, I am tolerating severe tooth ache for the last 40 years. In my childhood, the treatment for tooth ache in the villages was draconian. The drilling and root canal treatment were done even without anesthesia. Even today, when I type this, I have acute tooth-ache. I can take pain-killer. But I preferred not to as much as possible. The fact is – pain (body and mind) is part and parcel of life and I can’t avoid it. If I try to avoid it, I am afraid, it may comeback with compounded interest.”

“How do you manage it?”

“Hmm…Take for instance – karmically you need to suffer pain of ten lashes of a whip. You cannot escape it. Water has three forms. Ice, water and vapor. When you are in the ice-state (rigid, body level), you will be totally broken by the lashes of the whip. If you are in the state of water (mind and beyond), there will be splashing. And if you are at vapor state (awareness), the whip will make only sound. Those lashes won’t have much effect on you…I am aware that my pain is result of my karma and nobody can help it or share it.” (Note: Awareness is knowing the difference between the real “I” and the manifested “I” )

The stories of Rama and Krishna have conveyed a great message to us as how to live a blissful life, irrespective of pain and pleasure. But we are identifying ourselves with the manifested self. So we suffer miseries and pain. Gita says: “A person who is not overly perturbed by pain and sorrow or not overly attached to joy and pleasure will remain centered and unshaken. Why is he centered? Because he has discovered the real self. And he is not identifying himself with the unreal or manifested self.”

So, to reduce the suffering of the pain, you have to discover the “real I”. Prevention is always better than cure. We should start it as early as possible. “Be in the state of vapor, not as rigid as ice. Transformation or enlightenment can never take place without this awareness. And once it takes place, such person will conquer every pain.” I told him.

Udaylal Pai

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