Making the distinction between pain and suffering, or ignorance and knowledge, is simple in principle, but the distinction often requires a high level of discernment, which is where things fall apart for most people.
If a person is steeped in ignorance, egoism, hatred, attachment, or clinging to bodily life due to fear of death, annihilation, or the potential for suffering, then they will simply fail to understand the distinction between these things because they are living in an illusion/a lie instead of dwelling in the clear experience of the undistorted Truth as it is without feeling personally bound to/by it in any way.
The formula for distinguishing pain form suffering and ignorance from knowledge is simply: ignorance is tied to suffering, and pain and knowledge are tied to a clear understanding of experience and receiving undistorted feedback from it. Suffering can sometimes include pain, but pain does not have to include suffering. Both pain and suffering can provide valuable information for growth and course correction, but because most people often try to avoid pain, and seek pleasure, they inadvertently create unnecessary suffering as opposed to gaining knowledge from experience instead.
Pain is an inevitable part of life. Our species (and almost all other living beings for that matter) evolved to experience pain as a requirement for survival. Without the experience of pain, most humans would not have lived long enough for our species to exist for the 200,000 odd years that we have been here on planet Earth, and most humans would definitely not survive for their entire lives with all their limbs or digits in-tact if they survived beyond childhood at all without experiencing pain.
“Feeling bad,” or experiencing emotional discomfort, is, as unpleasant as it may initially sound, a form of “pain” that is just necessary feedback for effectively living in relationship to others in society. And your conscience, which guides this process of feedback, serves as one of the most important forms of intelligence that you posses for social/relational knowledge acquisition.
To advance on the Yogic path, you must become effective at understanding the distinction between suffering and pain so that you can more effectively identify useful feedback within your inner space as opposed to simply acting upon your attached and fearful animal nature which strives to avoid suffering in a counterproductive way and seeks out pleasurable experiences based on compulsions that are warped and unnatural due to their connection with the conditioning of history, society, and so forth.
If you do, think, or say something harmful, for example, it actually serves you well to feel remorse or shame. Not feeling shame for doing or saying something harmful to yourself or others is a sure sign of ignorance and egoism that will certainly lead to further suffering and negative Karma in the long-run, especially if this disregard becomes a learned behavior. This explains why psychopaths and sociopaths, who often turn off, or become disconnected from, their social-emotional negative feedback abilities create so much suffering within their relationships and society. Psychopaths and sociopaths simply do not have an effectively working conscience. As someone who has a working conscience, and emotional capabilities, you possess a highly advanced form of intelligence and it is, therefore, recommended that you use these abilities wisely and effectively.
The only time that negative (or even positive) feelings become an issue is when one gets stuck in a feedback loop that keeps certain feelings around for longer than is necessary to learn the lesson that they have to provide. Emotions become destructive as opposed to constructive when a person begins to over-identify with certain feelings, or get stuck in chemical patterns that make their feelings habitual or compulsive and difficult to shake as they become more and more attached to experiences in their minds (that may have been previously unrelated), creating stronger neurological connections between certain feelings, people, and experiences, that are based on ignorance and illusions that eventually lead to suffering.
When negative feelings are created during times when they are inappropriate, for example, if a person is feeling shame for things that they have no control over, or that they did not do, or that they have no real basis to be ashamed of because the thing that they are ashamed of is natural, like their bodies, menstruation, or their sexuality outside of any destructive sexual behaviors that they may engage in that causes harm to others, or because they are taking on the warped messages of society to feel shame for things like their hair, skin color, jobs, etc only due to warped ideologies/illusions that are perpetuated and maintained by many others outside of them, that they then take on within them, as opposed to supported by any aspect of Reality, then unnecessary suffering results.
Ignorance (and get used to reading about it from this perspective when you read my work because it is the example that I have come into contact with enough to validate from personal experience as a physically melanated female in this world, and should not make you feel like you are personally being attacked unless you have somehow identified yourself a false sense of self around the dynamics that this creates in society), for example, expressed in things like putting others down due to the color of their skin, is only a display of deeply seated illusions and delusions that leads to negative Karma due to hatred. This form of ignorance creates not only misconceptions about others that unconsciously guides behaviors and leads to stupidity like costuming in blackface (where the joke is actually on the wearer of the blackface), but also causes many to justify absurdities like slavery, unfair treatment, and casual disrespect in the media and real-life. This ignorance is what also created caricatures (like you can still find prominently displayed in the antiques store in the Flagstaff, Arizona mall if the store is still there after Covid) and the existence and use of derogatory labels and words like the N-word that is used to dehumanize others in American society. These examples are such clear examples of ignorance that they could not be clearer.
If you do something harmful to others, or think harmful thoughts that manifest into behaviors that are steeped in the ego as opposed to resting in the neutral non-judgmental Truth as it stands, or behave in a way that is not based on your True understanding of your undistorted Self (that includes all as a part of you), then, shame or guilt serves a purpose. Shame and guilt is a sign that your conscience is working and is prompting you to course-correct. Due to overidentification with the false sense of self that most people have, however, many often simply deflect these inner signs and turn them into projections or ways to try to hurt others who are “causing them hurt feelings.” Americans, for example, often refuse to reconcile their history of inhume treatment of others in the same ways that other countries have legally and financially reconciled their ills (resorting to only occasional apologies at the bare minimum to help public image), and instead “cry-out” about how others hurt their feelings by bringing up the fact of their harmful Karma (actions that have a cause and effect in the world) in the first place.
Sutra 2.27, however, reminds us that there is wisdom to be gained on each limb on the Eightfold path, and that this wisdom is what burns out ignorance by supporting one to fully develop the skill of discernment…discernment that is required to avoid suffering by not falsely associating things that are pleasurable temporarily with things that are “good,” and things that bring pain (like conscience) with things that lead to suffering. Not becoming steeped in attachment, ignorance, egoism, hatred, clinging to bodily life, etc will prevent all true seekers of liberation from living in illusory fear that leads to greed, violence, lack of self-control, and so forth.
Discernment it what supports those who are truly on this path with accepting pain as purification (while not going out of their way to attract it), and understanding pain as an inevitable part of life that comes from interfacing with the environment and with those who are steeped in ignorant animal attachments. Discernment is what supports one with receiving the feedback that is necessary to process his/her point-of-reference to the Truth and the True Self at all times by adjusting to his/her conscience and allowing pain to arise as a means to course-correct when necessary (which is not the same as indulging in suffering).
Pain and suffering are two separate things, and we can thank all racists and other ignorant people for the important example that they display for our clear understanding of this Truth. (See how everything serves a purpose and can be used for good when one gains a neutral perspective?)
No one is responsible for how you feel or for your liberation. And also remember that no one has the right to intentionally harm you or suppress your right to exist freely without causing harm to others either.
It is inevitable that those who are living in ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life due to fear of ego-death (the 5 obstacles/delusions that get in the way of an effective Yoga practice) will inevitable attempt to, or inadvertently, create harm to themselves or others when behaving out of their dysregulated animal nature (heck, fear of death the third time it almost occurred within a short period of time even led me to create internal suffering and tension for myself due to holding on to anxiety–so we are all vulnerable to one extent or another), and thus, any being on the path to liberation must learn how to accept, but not cause pain as a part of his/her Niyama practice.
Your freedom and happiness cannot be given or taken by any other human being because all beings are inherently equal in Reality; this Truth (as we all “know”) is Self-Evident and does not change (like the Truths of the limbs on the Eightfold Path) based on time or sentiment. Knowing the Truth, however, and living it are two different things, but it is only living the Truth that secures the liberation that you seek.
As we continue to explore the wisdoms gained on the Eightfold Path moving forward, always remember that for True liberation, Yamas and Niyamas are non-negotiable.
While you cannot control what others do, or think, or what Karma they create, you can ensure that your liberation is secure by staying grounded in the Truth of Sutra 2.5, and never making excuses for any ignorance that you exhibit or observe. It is just as ignorant to make excuses for ignorance as it is to live in it.*
*Racism is a fact of American society…a pain that many of us have come to accept and use as purification and Self-Alignment. This should not be a surprise to anyone at this point in history. Writing or speaking about racism is not a “scolding” of anyone’s ego, and it certainly can never be a scolding of the Self (the Self is not touched by any of this ignorance). Racism is what it is. If the people in society change, then so will racism, but racism’s eradication makes no difference for any seeker’s personal liberation. I simply invite you to look clearly at what is reflected through/by racism, and other delusions/illusions, in Maya since there is much to be learned from simply observing and clearly seeing it without attachment, but still with compassion if you are inspired to do so since people did, do, and will suffer as a result of it’s existence within the hearts and minds of homo-sapiens for centuries.
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