An often misunderstood concept in Indian philosophy is the idea of Duhkha. Literally, Duhk

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An often misunderstood concept in Indian philosophy is the idea of Duhkha. Literally, Duhkha means a "bad hole", as in the center of a wheel. If the center of the wheel is off kilter, it causes disharmony and a rough, uncomfortable ride. This state of unrest and disturbance is a metaphor for phenomenal life. All of phenomenal existence, i.e., all things with a beginning and an end, whether material, sensory or psychological are in a constant state of flux. There is no rest for one who lives a worldly existence, everything is in a state of chaos, everything is Duhkha. Another aspect of Duhkha is the sense of something missing or incomplete with life. This general sense of anxiety and restlessness with life is intertwined with the other disharmonious aspects of Duhkha, creating an endless chain that creates more suffering, feeding the fire of discontent. The Bhagavad Gita is concerned with this state of reality and assures the individual that they are not "...doomed to ignorance and bondage." (3:32) In fact, Duhkha is a necessary prerequisite for taking the path of liberation. If the common life was not inherently flawed, there would be no incentive for searching for the divine. By moving beyond a world centered viewpoint and becoming detached from events, emotions and thoughts that arise, an individual can liberate himself from Duhkha and enter a state of bliss. Because man identifies himself with the material aspect of his existence, body/mind, rather than in his true nature, the spirit, he views reality in the context of his ephemeral nature rather than his eternal nature. Duhkha is inherent in his phenomenal aspects of existence, therefore experiencing Duhkha is inevitable. By moving from an ego, body/mind centered existence, liberation from this self-inflicted suffering can be obtained. Lord Krishna illustrates Duhkha and how to become liberated from it: "...he who restrains his senses with his mind and directs his organs of action to work, with no feeling of attachment -- he, O Arjuna, is indeed superior." (3:7) By living a controlled, disciplined life, a sincere person becomes detached from the excess baggage that all activities bring with them. This is not to say that "bad" things will not happen to the liberated individual, his past karma is unavoidable, regardless of his present state of being. It does mean that Duhkha will disappear for that individual. When something negative does happen to him, it will not have a lasting effect on him, thus, it won't create more karma with its potential for Duhkha. The Gita describes this when it says: "...perform your prescribed duties to His (Krishna's) satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage." (3:9) Reactions to activities, whether good or evil, create more karma in a never ending circle that places the individual firmly into the common world perspective where the mindset of Duhkha abides. For example, if an individual, while riding down the road in his car, gets cut off by another driver who then yells some obscenity at him, his reaction to the event is the key to his suffering. The undisciplined individual, imprisoned in his ego- centered, I/me/mine mindset, might get angry and swear some obscenity back at the person who offended him, possibly resulting in a fight, injuries, imprisonment, or even death. Thus, from this one situation, the individual experienced disharmony and unrest for both himself and others by his attachment to the event. From this attachment came negative actions (karma) that perpetuated itself in an endless chain of misery. In reality, no one is yelling obscenities, or getting angry, there is only the obscenity and the anger. Thus, in the Gita it warns about emotional attachment: "The love and hatred that senses feel for their objects are inevitable...." says the Gita, "But let no one come under their sway; for they are one's enemies." (3:34) The disciplined individual in the same situation would act entirely different. He might feel compassion for the other mans ignorance and might try to understand why he acted so badly. Or, he might find it amusing that someone would cause themselves so much unrest and disharmony by acting so rash and foolishly. The disciplined person may not even notice the event at all, thinking it an ordinary occurrence and not even worth a moment of his attention. By being detached from the situation, and seeing the "big picture," negative karma is not created and Duhkha is avoided entirely. "Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to material senses, mind and intelligence, one should control the lower self by higher self and thus - by spiritual strength - conquer the insatiable enemy known as lust." (3:43) Feelings, desires, thoughts and sensations have no energy in themselves. They are only secondary characteristics of reality (Prakriti). Primarily, they are what they are and nothing more. Therefore, the individual who understands this "...holds himself unattached, perceiving that it is the gunas that are occupied with the gunas." (3:28) The enlightened man is unaffected by actions because he allows them to act out in accordance with their own nature. Although trapped in material reality, he no longer associates with activities of material existence, they are like flies that buzz around him. Instead of getting angry and exerting wasted energy in swatting the flies, the enlightened man accepts their nature and allows them to run their course. The ignorant man, not understanding the natural process, forms attachments to the activities, thinking himself to be in control of reality. Krishna describes this individual: "The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature." (3:27) Only by understanding the nature of reality and basing a spiritual practice on accepting reality as it is, can an individual cease experiencing Duhkha. THE CONCEPT OF DUHKHA IN THE BHAGAVAD GITA by Gary L. Ray Religious Studies 506 Religions of India San Diego State University


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