Ram Dass on Suffering as Grace
Ram Dass: For most people, when you say that suffering is Grace it seems off the wall to them. And we’ve got to deal now with our own suffering and other people’s suffering. That is certainly a distinction that is very real, because even if we understand the way in which suffering is Grace – and the way in which it can be a vehicle for our awakening, it’s quite different to look at somebody else’s suffering and say it’s Grace. And Grace is something that an individual can see about their own suffering and then use it to their advantage. It is not something that can be a rationalization for allowing another human being to suffer. And you have to listen to the level at which another person is suffering. And when somebody is hungry you give them food.
As my guru said, God comes to the hungry person in the form of food. You give them food and then when they’ve had their belly filled then they may be interested in questions about God. Even though you know from, say, Buddhist training, or whatever spiritual training you have had, that the root cause of suffering is ignorance about the nature of dharma. To give somebody a dharma lecture when they are hungry is just inappropriate methodology in terms of ending suffering.
So, the hard answer for how you are able to see suffering as Grace, and this is a stinker really, is that you have got to have consumed suffering into yourself.
You see, there is a tendency in us to find suffering aversive. And so we want to distance ourselves from it. Like if you have a toothache, it becomes that toothache. It’s not us anymore. It’s that tooth. And so if there are suffering people, you want to look at them on television or meet them but then keep a distance from them. Because you are afraid you will drown in it. You are afraid you will drown in a pain that will be unbearable. And the fact of the matter is you have to. You finally have to. Because if you close your heart down to anything in the universe, it’s got you. You are then at the mercy of suffering. And to have finally dealt with suffering, you have to consume it into yourself. Which means you have to–with eyes open–be able to keep your heart open in hell. You have to look at what is, and say, “Yea, Right.” And what it involves is bearing the unbearable. And in a way, who you think you are can’t do it. Who you really are can do it. So that who you think you are dies in the process.
Like I am counseling a couple who went to a movie and when they came home their house had burned down and their three children had burned to death. Three, five and seven. And she is Mexican Catholic and he is a Caucasian Protestant. And they are responding entirely different to it. She is going in to deep spiritual experiences and talking with the children on other planes and he is full of denial and anger and feelings of inadequacy. And in a way, that situation is so unbearable and you wouldn’t ever lay that on another human being but there it is. And what will happen is she may come out of this a much deeper, spiritual, more profound, more evolved person. And he, because the way he dealt with it was through denial, may end up contracted and tight because he couldn’t embrace the suffering. He couldn’t go towards it. He pushed it away in order to preserve his sanity.
In a way, there is a process in which suffering requires you to die into it or to give up your image of yourself. When you say “I can’t bear it.” Who is that?
They talk about the saints of India as the living dead, because they have died into who they thought they were. And they talk about the saints for whom all people are their children. So that everybody that is dying is their child dying. It’s easy to say “Well, it’s not my child.” or, “It’s not my brother or my friend.” This poem may be familiar to most of you, but I still think it’s worth it: