We tend to think that only poor people suffer, and incorrectly assume that the affluent do not. However, the fact is that everyone suffers, rich and poor, though we all suffer in different ways.
Poor people tend to suffer at a more physical, tangible level. The rich seem to be better off there, but they continue to suffer inside, on a mental level. We may think this is “less severe” but the interesting thing is that suffering itself is an inherently mental experience. Tangible, physical difficulties don’t really cause suffering unless they disturb the mind. So, the suffering of an affluent person is, in the end, just as “real” as that of the destitute.
Suppose you asked all the rich people in the world, Are you really happy?” How many would answer with a confident and honest, “yes”? And, if you asked the same question to poor people, would the percentage of positive answers be significantly different?
Śrī Kṛṣṇa describes our conditioned, saṁsārika existence as “an abode of misery” (duḥkhālayam – Gītā 8.15). Since the rich and the poor both exist in saṁsāra, it is to be expected that both groups experience suffering.
Who do we blame for this? Almost everyone blames someone else: their spouse or lover, ex-spouse or ex-lover, their children or parents, boss or co-workers, siblings or friends, teachers or students, and so on. People often berate one another, “Why are you so selfish?”, “Why can’t you understand me?”, “How can you be so ungrateful?” It is very rare that anyone’s ego (ahaṅkāra) allows them to take responsibility for their own problems.
The immediate result of blaming others is self-disempowerment. When we believe that our happiness or suffering depends on others, we forfeit our own control over it. Since we cannot really control what others do, say, and think—and it is exhausting to even try—the end result of putting our happiness in the hands of others is that we will probably never be truly happy and will instead be exhausted by the constant struggle for it. Thus the ego protects itself at the expense of our own happiness.
We should try instead to embrace happiness at the expense of our ego. This starts by accepting the fact that we are responsible for our own happiness and distress.
External situations are beyond our control and are influenced by others. But since suffering is a mental experience, if we take control of our own mind and not blame others for our problems, we will become impervious to suffering, under any external circumstance.
Even our external situation will change if we take responsibility for our lives. External reality is, ultimately, a result of our previous actions. Those actions result from our desires. Those desires result from our state of mind. We are not very aware of this causal chain. So we focus only on the external situation as the source of our trouble—like a mother blaming her baby for labor pains, forgetting that it was her own desire and actions that started the whole thing. If we are more aware of the causal chain, we will know more confidently that changing our state of mind empowers us to change our desires, actions, and ultimately even our external situation. But until we clearly understand that we are the cause of our own happiness and suffering, we will keep on blaming and criticizing others and thus remain disempowered and stuck in the network of karma.
Understanding that we are responsible for our actions is the first step. It empowers us to make choices. Next, we need wisdom, because wisdom empowers us to make wise choices that truly lead to happiness. Śrī Kṛṣṇa gave this very practical and important advice to Arjuna, “Wisdom will enable you to completely relinquish the shackles of karma” (Gita 2.39).
We have numerous opportunities every day to observe whenever we blame or criticize others instead of looking at our own mind as the cause of the problem. If we are sincere, we can probably see how much we try to manipulate external circumstances through gossip, slander, and so on. We should therefore make every effort to desist from such things more and more thoroughly, apologizing to those we have tried to control. This is very difficult at first, because our empowered ahaṅkāra gets in the way. But it is rewarding in the end.
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