Hinduism's Beliefs About Suffering

In Hinduism, suffering can lead to spiritual growth.
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Hindus accept suffering as a natural part of life. People can suffer either physically or emotionally because of their attachment to the physical world. Desiring things to be different than they are contributes to suffering. Suffering can also come about as a consequence of past actions -- although it is not seen as a punishment, but rather as the unfolding of a natural law of cause-and-effect.

1 Samsara

According to Hinduism, samsara is the physical world and our physical existence. Everything in samsara has a soul or essence that is spiritual in nature but trapped in physical form. The soul is called the atman. Desire is the trap, attaching the atman to a continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth, or reincarnation. Since everything living has a soul, the next incarnation could find any soul trapped in any form, such as plant, animal or human.

2 Karma

Karma is what guides each incarnation. What people do and how they live builds karma. If people live selflessly, they build positive karma. If they live selfishly, they build negative karma. Karma can result from thoughts, words or actions. A soul’s karma determines its fortune in the next life, including the type of physical existence it will have. The ultimate goal is to have no karma remaining, good or bad. At this point, the soul has reached moksha, the end of the cycle of reincarnation, and is freed from samsara.

3 Suffering

Suffering in Hinduism is a natural part of samsara, and can follow two paths. Suffering that someone is forced to endure is thought to be the result of bad karma incurred either in this life or in a previous one. A person can also choose to endure suffering to enable a more fortunate incarnation in the next life. This choice could be to atone for a karmic debt or to promote spiritual growth. Choosing to suffer can lead a believer to fast, to refuse medications or treatments directly linked to alleviating pain, or to take other steps, such as doing penance through charitable donations or intense worship.

4 Spiritual Suffering

The atman transcends suffering. Spiritual suffering is a result of being trapped in or attached to samsara. In other words, spiritual suffering comes about only by having a physical presence. If a Hindu reaches the end of life knowing that karmic tasks remain undone or not enough good karma has been built up to erase the bad, this will cause spiritual suffering. The person might then make the effort to endure physical suffering in order to erase or atone for some karmic debt.

A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.