The Meaning of Suffering



Dear Agni Yogis,


all our Broadcastings are cornerstones for the building of the world of the future; contributions to the forging of a new consciousness, which will lead in time to a new behaviour and thus to a New World.




If we want to make progress, spiritually and materially, we have to find above all a new way of thinking, a new attitude towards all the suffering which we see in the world and which befalls us ourselves.


In order to be happy in spite of the omnipresent immeasurable suffering, you need to know three things only:


1. The meaning of life,

2. The meaning of the suffering, and

3. The usefulness of obstacles.


We had already talked about the first point, the second we are discussing today and the third we shall address in the next Broadcasting. All three taken together tell you: You may grow greater and preserve your joy of being amongst all, even the most terrible conditions. Indeed, adverse circumstances offer you a particularly favourable opportunity to strengthen the power of your spirit.


The disciple asks, "Why is it so difficult for people to understand why they have to suffer?"


Because they do not know the laws of existence: evolution, karma and correspondence. Because they limit their thinking to their brief current incarnation and refuse to acknowledge the eternal existence of their true self.


Christianity, as taught by the Church today, is unable to explain the meaning of suffering. If you consider one life only, this is actually impossible. The benefit of suffering can be recognized only by an immortal.


It is still more intolerable to humanity to hear of the usefulness of suffering. The reason is not fear of pain or discomfort, but that people fail to cognize a life transcending earthly existence. (AUM 284)



1. Hints at wrong Behaviour


"You said: Agni Yoga is a synthesis of science and religion. Can we explain the meaning of suffering scientifically? "


Yes, for sure! In our life and in the Cosmic Order, suffering has a function that is as indispensable as pain:


Pain points to weak spots or wrong behaviour of the body. When I keep banging my head against the wall, the body through pain sends the signal to me that I am going to harm it if I continue to do so.


Actually, I have to be grateful for this warning as it helps me to protect, to maintain and to strengthen my body.


A child does not know what fire is like until he has burned himself. Of course, adults may respond to this example with a supercilious smile, but they make their own experiences using the very same methods. (Heart 202)


The same is true of suffering:


Pain shows the body and suffering shows the soul where it is still weak or behaves wrongly.


"If that is the case, I can only be grateful for all the suffering that befalls me!"


Indeed! These hints help you to fix weak points, to correct misconduct, violations of the Cosmic Order, and to further develop your Eternal Individuality.


Without suffering, you would not even notice that you are living wrongly and inflicting harm on your soul!


You can understand and approve of your fate, even if it appears to be all too hard: Suffering points to your own weakness: You encounter exactly that from which you - in contrast to others - still suffer, which means from which you still have to learn.



2. Overcome Suffering through Self-perfection

Michelangelo „David“


What do you mean, what follows from all that?


"I have to work on myself in order to overcome the suffering!"


That is the decisive insight! Sorrow teaches you to seek and to heal that what is still vulnerable within yourself. If you succeed, the suffering ends, because then it has served its purpose!


Here is a saying that you should ponder in your heart and call to your mind every day:


A great, strong soul does not suffer – just as a healthy body does not hurt. (Michelangelo "David")


"How shall I start practically?"


Next time you suffer, do not accuse other people or the circumstances! Better ask yourself: What is still weak or imperfect within you? What does the suffering want to point out to you?


Find the cause of the suffering within yourself, nowhere else!


In the Broadcasting "Exercise Inviolability", we had already talked about some typical examples of suffering: The death of a beloved one, humiliations, torments, disappointments, fraud, abuse, false accusations, the terrible state of the world, the ignorance and imperfection of our fellow human beings, failure, your own shortcomings, etc.


We had shown how you can overcome these impairments by changing your thinking, your consciousness, your attitude. In the same way you can deal with all other cases of suffering.



3. No Suffering in a perfect World


"This world is so imperfect! There is so much suffering! Why does the good God allow all that to happen?"


This is how many complain. That, however, is wrong. The correct way of looking at things is exactly the other way round:


This world is indeed imperfect. It still requires suffering until it is put in order.


In a perfect world, in which everyone behaves properly, in which truth, justice, beauty, love and the hierarchical order prevail, there is no need for suffering: There is no purpose left which it might serve.


"Up to today I thought: A perfect world is intact because there is no suffering in it."


Now you have to rethink: First, this world must be put in order, only then, and not before, pain will disappear – because then it is no longer necessary.


We just said: The individual human being overcomes his suffering by perfecting himself. Likewise, we can only defeat the misery and suffering of the world by creating better conditions on this earth which are in accordance with the Higher Will.


"But there is no perfect world!"


Right. But what we can say is: The more the world deviates from the Cosmic Order, the greater the suffering will be. And the more the world corresponds to the Cosmic Order, the more suffering is reduced.


In itself, Cosmos does not envisage any need for suffering. The Divine Order is unspeakably wonderful and beautiful. As long as we are living in accordance with it, only joy can reign.


Mankind was not made for misfortunes. (Community 189)


Suffering arises when we place ourselves outside of the Higher Order.


Pains are unnecessary where the cosmic rhythm is not violated. (Hierarchy 397)



4. Suffering created by Man himself

Pablo Picasso „Guernica“


"So what is it that leads to the misery and suffering of the world?"


The imperfect human order, the terrible conditions created by ourselves on Earth which are diverging from the Divine Law: All the untruth, injustice, ugliness, and unkindness that each and every one of the billions of human beings on this planet either creates himself or allows to happen dozens of times each and every day.


We humans cause the suffering ourselves under which we groan.


The Great Creation does not foresee a need for suffering. With terrific zeal people drive themselves into the circle of suffering. Verily, every physician will bear witness that without evil there would be no suffering. (Fiery World I, 618)


Often you hear the outcry, the moan, “Why is there leprosy, why calamity?” Poor humanity, We regard your ailments as your own progeny. Evolution does not need so many impediments. The ladder of ascent does not need so many superfluous steps. (Infinity I, 4)


The usual charge: "Why does the good God allow all this suffering to happen?" is quite wrong:


It is the free will of man which is responsible for all the suffering in the world!


This free will is a great achievement of evolution. Even God does not interfere with its working. For, according to Cosmic Justice, we ourselves must experience on our own body what we are bringing about when we abuse this great gift.


"I am not in a position to change the world as it is! Nevertheless I must suffer? "


In fact, you are not necessarily always directly personally responsible for the suffering you are experiencing. But it is like this: If an order is wrong, all those living under it will have to suffer.


For example: What happens if the hierarchical principle is disregarded and a false leader is being put at the head of a state or a business enterprise? All members of this institution will be made to pay for his mistakes in the form of wars, poverty or bankruptcies.


Therefore, each and every one of us in his own interest should make every effort in order to improve conditions.




Thus, let us finish with the undignified whining that usually breaks out at every minor or major catastrophe! Let us set up our life – both the individual and that of human society as a whole – in such a way that it conforms to the Cosmic Order! Only thereby can we remove the suffering from the world.


May people not complain, but live more purely! (AUM 5)



5. Necessity of Suffering in an imperfect World

Nicholas Roerich „Armageddon“


"So what is the function of distress and suffering in the world?"


In an imperfect world, suffering is necessary and even salutary! It is a tormenting power that points to disturbances of the order. Without this haunting warning, we humans would not even notice where we are lagging behind the course of evolution and where improvements are urgently needed.


Do not think that suffering is ordained for those on Earth. Perfection is ordained. It is disharmony on Earth that causes pain. (Supermundane 505)


There is a need for suffering everywhere where there are misconduct, violations of the Cosmic Law, of the Higher Will.


Humanity has suffered most through its severance from the Higher Will. (Hierarchy 279)


Under normal conditions, humanity does not need pain. Such an unnatural state is caused by an improper life. (Supermundane 65)



6. Suffering a Result of Ignorance


Mostly, if not sheer malice is involved, it is ignorance which leads to wrong behaviour. Because they do not know the Higher Order, most people do not even realize that they are violating Cosmic Law. Therefore we cannot say clearly enough:


The source of all suffering is ignorance. (Helena Roerich Letters Vol. I, letter of 17.04.1934)


Ends the ignorance, ends the suffering.


All human sorrow is the result of ignorance. Knowledge, let us reiterate, will put an end to the suffering of mankind. (Infinity II, 828 [428])


Only when we have acquired the necessary knowledge, the individual and humanity as a whole will be able to avoid the mistakes that cause the suffering.


It is not suffering that is needed, but liberation. (Agni Yoga 527)


Without stupidity Earth would be a paradise. (Brotherhood 316)


"So what is my most important contribution to fighting the suffering of the world?"


Obtain higher knowledge. Overcome your own suffering first. Then spread this knowledge and thereby help your fellow human beings to defeat their misery!


Nothing should deter one from sharing his knowledge and encouraging the growth of consciousness. Therein lies love for one’s fellow men. (Fiery World I, 617)


We see again: spiritual help is the most important and the most effective!


Help in spirit is the most powerful. (Leaves of Morya’s Garden I, 359 [422])


True giving is of the spirit. Let every heart pour forth streams of spiritual gifts. Not without cause is it said that every beat of the heart is a smile, a tear, and gold. (Heart 386)


Any businessman may help combat physical pain by material means. But only those who know can relieve spiritual suffering!


Knowledge is above everything. Each one who contributes a particle of knowledge is a benefactor of mankind. (AUM 440)


Few are those who are qualified to help the people to gain knowledge. (Supermundane 174)


Only spread joy around you, then you can never be wrong!


You were not mistaken in expounding joy. (Leaves of Morya’s Garden I, 220 [251])



7. Impulse for Progress


In addition to pointing to misbehaviour, suffering has yet another function: It gives us an impetus to progress according to the plan of evolution, to overcome obsolete attitudes, habits, and ways of life.


One of the key messages of Agni Yoga is:


People suffer in order to ascend. (Brotherhood 331)


Similarly, the Bible says:


For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth that we might be partakers of his holiness. (Hebrews 12, 6, 10)


Suffering purifies. It urges us to discard those bad qualities that have caused the pain, and to acquire better ones.


Spiritually overcome suffering ennobles us, as evidenced by the beautiful face of Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.


Each growth of spirit requires burdening through circumstances. There exists an ancient legend that out of human sufferings are created gemstones. (Hierarchy 38)


"So again, I have to change my attitude?"


Yes! Consider suffering as an impulse that pushes you to take the next step on the ladder of spiritual ascent! Then it will get the best out of you!


Like as every grain of sand, leaf of tree, sense or organ of body has developed by stress and strain and all that action of life which impels to stress and strain and consequent suffering, so it is that all the best in man can only grow by suffering. (From the Mountain Top I, Lesson “The Deliverer”)


Analyze your life! What do you discover: From what resulted the key findings and the progress you have made?


"I have actually learned from suffering!"


You are becoming convinced that people are open to cognition. Such a step of evolution is not accidental. Many shocks and much trepidation have compelled hearts to shudder and begin to resound. Verily, heavy must be the burden in order to enter the Beautiful Garden. (Brotherhood 299)


Those who declare that it is possible to attain spiritual growth without suffering speak a great untruth. (Helena Roerich Letters Vol. I, letter of 07.03.1935)


When, at the close of his long hard struggle, a disciple has reached a certain degree of the Great White Lodge and can look back on the path he has trodden, he may be able to see that, figuratively speaking, the icy blasts on his bare skin, the burning heat of the Sun, the heavy blows on the unprotected flesh, the stabs of enemies and all the other calamities which threatened to overwhelm him, were so many necessary tests of his power of endurance, his vital energy, and ability to maintain a state of equilibrium in the face of every disturbing condition, and were all essential to the unfoldment of his spiritual nature. (Teachings of the Temple Vol I, Lesson 153 “Pledge Fever”)


Unfortunately, it is thus with people: Without suffering, most of them would not move forward at all.


The noblest way to gain insight is through thought and reflection, the simplest by imitation, and the bitterest by experience. (Buddha)


He who does not voluntarily learn to refrain from violations of the Divine Order; he who does not strive to discard the qualities that stand in the way of further evolution, and to acquire those necessary for mastering the future – he must be forced to do so by sheer suffering.


Not shame so much as suffering will compel quests for salvation. (Fiery World I, 508)


Above all malice and selfishness cause much suffering. These people cannot or do not want to learn in any other way. They actually deserve our pity, because there is still much suffering in store for them.


Those who have turned away from the spirit must endure unhappiness, because why else would they return to the spirit? Therein lies the meaning of great events. (Agni Yoga 14)


So long as selfishness exists, pain must live to do its perfect work. Banish selfishness, and the cause and sequence of pain must follow, for selfishness lives and thrives on gratified desire. (Teachings of the Temple Vol. I, Lesson 47 “Right Application of Law”)


Therefore, folk wisdom says:


He that will not hear must feel. (Oskar Pletsch "He that will not hear must feel")


You act smarter! You avoid suffering by purifying yourself voluntarily and continuing to perfect yourself.


Not through fear of any punishment, but in anticipation of their own destiny, should people turn to purification. The measure that each one sets for himself is not severity but justice. (Fiery World I, 578)


How lamentable it is that most people can refine their feelings only through suffering! The time will come when people will be amazed that they have refined themselves through suffering, having missed many opportunities for elevating their consciousness. Could it be that man evolved from stone, since we see that a sharp blow is needed to ignite a spark in him? (Supermundane 339)


When we want to follow the Mahatmas, we must go through the suffering of this world like them. Only by making this experience on our own body and raising above it can we help all those who are still dwelling in grief and misery.


How, then, can the heart realize all the beauty of Existence if it has not penetrated into all the joys and sorrows of life? Thus it is that often, reading the Book of Lives, the heart trembles, but then the tear of suffering is transmuted into a pearl. The more fiery the heart, the greater the joys and the sufferings. (Fiery World III, 208)


Let us patiently participate in the suffering of Christ, so that we may deserve to share in the glory of his kingdom. (Rule of St. Benedict, preface)



8. Suffering and the Law of Correspondence


"Why me?"


This is how people complain who cannot understand why they have to suffer. However, thereby they are accusing God Himself and doubting the meaningfulness of the Cosmic Order. Many even lose their faith out of sheer desperation over all the suffering that they have either to watch or to endure themselves.


When a man cries out—Why?—he is thinking neither of the past nor the future. He isolates himself from the Higher Forces, as if accusing Them. (AUM 288)


That must not be! You must never lose the childlike confidence in the beauty and justice of Creation! That is why it is so tremendously important that you understand the meaning behind your or your fellow men’s suffering!




We had already talked about the law of correspondence. (See the corresponding Broadcasting of the Series "Introduction to Agni Yoga"). It says: You attract exactly those experiences which are necessary for your further development. For this, too, you should actually be grateful!


Desolate, weary burden – bearers, embryonic saviours of men and worlds, strive to realize but for the hunger and thirst, the weariness and pain, you could never know the fullness of eternal love, could never taste the water from the fountains of eternal truth or know the blessed joy and peace which follow upon righteous toil and patient endurance of pain. (Teachings of the Temple Vol. I, Lesson 27 “To the Faithful”)


"That means, suffering is a help?"


Suffering is a guidepost!


When you follow it, you will find the shortest path to the necessary improvements in living conditions. The misfortune in which you are just now being caught is nothing but the next step on the ladder of ascent. When you have climbed it and overcome the suffering, you will be standing on a higher, greater and stronger position than before.


The suffering of the spirit is the one ladder on the shortest path. (Leaves of Morya’s Garden I, 206 [232])


Each suffering is already an advancement. (AUM 295)



9. Suffering and Karma

Otto Dix “War”


"Is not Karma a cause of suffering as well?"


Yes, often Karma has to enforce necessary developments which people obstinately refuse to enact.


Some spirits are ruled entirely by karma, which means that the knowledge of the spirit is at a minimum and karma is the sole possibility of evolution. (Leaves of Morya’s Garden II, 255 [258])


Above all, we need to experience on our own body the effect of violations of the Higher Will which we have committed ourselves in this or in an earlier incarnation. This explains much of the suffering we see and endure each day.


There was a time when much of the evil karma the present race is now paying, might have been paid by other means than those which have precipitated the present world crisis, but the people would not hear or obey the injunctions – nay, the pleadings of the Initiates and Prophets of the Great White Lodge as they were voiced through preceding centuries, leaving the karmic law no other alternative than that which has culminated in the present world-wide struggle [World War I]. (Teachings of the Temple Vol. I, Lesson 188 “War and Peace”)


This concerns not only humanity as a whole, but also each and every one of us. A meaning of suffering is also: Karma allows us to pay back old debts, to remedy injuries to the Cosmic Order which we ourselves have created. A mature spirit will be grateful for that: Or do you want to remain indebted to the Universe?




Today's churches are spreading superstition worldwide when they claim that our sins may be washed away by the death of Christ on the cross or a bath in the Ganges. This is a lesson for weaklings and drillers of thin boards who are reluctant to take responsibility for that what they themselves have brought about.


The New Man thinks differently: He does not require forgiveness of his sins. He asks to be allowed to make up for the mischief he has caused. He is glad when he is given the opportunity to do so.


A wise philosopher, having been sold into slavery, exclaimed, “Thanks! Evidently I can pay back some old debts.” An emperor, nicknamed the Golden, [Akbar the Great] was terrified, “Luxury pursues me. When will I be able to pay off my debts?” Thus have wise people thought about the quickest payment of their debts. They understood that former lives surely did not elapse without incurring indebtedness. But a man with much income must make haste in settling his accounts. (Brotherhood 273)


It is better to purify oneself by suffering than to remain stained.


"I am not aware of any guilt, and yet I have to suffer?"


Remember, there is not only personal, but also family, group, folk, and planetary Karma. Thus, the suffering that justly afflicts someone was not always caused by direct personal guilt. It may also be based on your manifold, unavoidable, indirect involvement in everything that is happening around you.


In the Karmic sense, you are complicit alone by paying taxes. Or by not preventing something that should not have happened (for example, cruelty to animals in industrial livestock farming).


"And what about the many innocent children?"


Be sure: There are no "innocent children"! Trust in the justice that reigns in the Universe. There is no effect without a cause. Merely, we humans are not always able to recognize the cause of a particular suffering. Especially when it lies in a past incarnation, we can only guess at it according to the nature of the suffering.


For details, see our Broadcasting "Karma – The Law of Cause, Effect and Responsibility" (Series "Introduction to Agni Yoga").



10. Turn Suffering into Joy


"If suffering is not foreseen by the Cosmic Order, how can I turn it into joy?"


We had already seen (Broadcasting "Exercise Inviolability"): Suffering is not an objective state. It is not the external circumstances that make you suffer, but your own thoughts and feelings. One still suffers from the same misfortune at which another is already in a position to rejoice.


Suffering is a state of the consciousness.


In order to transform suffering into joy, you "only" need to change your consciousness and take the right mental attitude.


"What kind consciousness do I have to form for that?"


As we said at the beginning: You must know the laws of existence, the Cosmic Order, karma, reincarnation and immortality, the uninterrupted continuity of life, the meaning of life as well as the usefulness of obstacles. Only on this basis can you think well, beautifully and great. And when you think correctly, you do not need to suffer, then you can always be happy!


He who thinks beautifully cannot suffer! (Brotherhood 160)


"What exactly does that mean?"


Through this knowledge you find: Suffering helps you to achieve the goal of your life, to realize the meaning of your life, which is:


Perfect yourself infinitely! The meaning of life is to grow greater. The meaning of suffering is to grow greater.


On this basis, your attitude changes: What appears as suffering to your perishable personality is indeed revealed as a benefit to your Eternal Individuality – something to look forward to.


Is it not better to suffer much but with the possibility of advance? (Brotherhood 78)


What follows from that?


"I am grateful for all suffering as it enables me to grow!"


Yes; like Christ on the cross or Plato in slavery you sense the injury very well. But because you love the spiritual ascent, you rejoice at the profit you may derive from the suffering – and thus you overcome it.


These sufferings are transformed into joy, into a new spiritual ascent, provided there exists the fire of true love. (Helena Roerich Letters Vol. I, letter of 07.03.1935)


So then, why is the Cosmic Order so magnificent, the world a paradise despite all that suffering on every new day?


"Because it grants me so many best opportunities to grow greater!"


Remember this wisdom:


How other people treat you is their karma; how you react to it is yours. (Wayne Dyer)


"What a nice picture! I have to keep the surface of my consciousness calm and smooth, whatever it reflects. "


A reflection is clear on a calm surface. Each agitation distorts the clarity. Likewise, the primary energy requires calmness in order to reflect Truth. People talk much about the tranquillity of wise men, but it is really a great tension, so great that the surface of the energy becomes like a mirror. (Brotherhood 132)


Friend, if you want to see a clear reflection in a pond, wait until its surface becomes calm. Calmness is the garment of wisdom. (Supermundane 690)


In our context, this means: You alone and no one else is responsible when you allow the feeling of suffering to arise within yourself. You are unable to control the behaviour of the others. As opposed to that, it is in your power alone whether you react to it insulted, offended, hurt, irritated, annoyed, or even aggressive – and thus disfigure your own aura! –, or whether you always behave in a calm and loving way and feel grateful and even joyful.




When you suffer, this is evidence of wrong thinking, a false attitude, a weakness, or a disease of your Higher Self. On the other hand, when you rejoice, how ever the external circumstances may look like, you are exhibiting the greatness and strength of your soul.


The sign of health of the spirit is: Joy of being! (Nicholas Roerich "Krishna")


Joy is the health of the spirit. (Fiery World I, 298)


The quotation we mentioned at the beginning of this Broadcasting, according to which the suffering of the world ends when the ignorance ends, has yet another meaning, when we refer it to the individual human being:


A wise man does not suffer.


For he knows the order of existence, and therefore he thinks in the proper way.


"How should I proceed in practice?"


Next time you feel pain, ask yourself: Why are you still suffering instead of rejoicing? Where do you think wrongly? Which false attitude do you take? What is the benefit of this suffering for your ascent? On which spiritual foundation may you place yourself in order to find your way back to joy of being?


This is the path of Agni Yoga: With the right attitude to the circumstances, with the power of your spirit you transform the thorns on your way into roses.


Easy and speedy is the path of heart and devotion, which transforms all the thorns into a blossoming garden. (Helena Roerich Letters Vol. I, letter of 07.03.1935)


We notice again the huge importance of mastering your thoughts and feelings: Suffering or joy arise depending on whether you allow yourself be carried away by the circumstances to wrong thinking or feeling, or whether you remain steadfast in an attitude that is in accordance with your Higher Self.


We shall talk in detail about the practice of supervising and directing your thoughts and feelings in one of the following Broadcastings.


The transformation of suffering into joy is a victory of the spirit over the circumstances.


Joy abides in the solemn victory of the spirit. (Heart 71)


Thereby, you achieve a true transfiguration of your everyday earthly life: Without the material circumstances changing in any way, just because of a new mental attitude you are now living in a paradise, in the highest conceivable world. You overcome the suffering and actually create:


A new world in which there is no suffering.


Everywhere it is indicated that suffering is the best purifier and means of shortening the Path. Thus, fiery transfiguration even on Earth lifts one beyond suffering. One should not evade suffering, for without suffering earthly achievement does not exist. (Fiery World I, 618)


The foundation of every higher joy is suffering. “Suffering precedes joy”—let us remember this. (Helena Roerich Letters Vol. I, letter of 24.06.1930)


When you have completed this learning process, you will have become a truly inviolable and invincible Great Soul. Then you will no longer suffer, how ever the conditions may look like which have befallen you.