Pain and pleasure are attitudes of the human mind. When the mind is under the sway of tamas and rajas, the two lower qualities of human evolution, then it is in a state of psychosis and neurosis. When, by evolution and constant sadhana, you transcend the realm of tamas and rajas and develop the sattvic tendencies of the mind, then pain and pleasure lose their meaning.
In this life everyone has his own sufferings. Our attitude is dependent upon what is happening in our personal life. I lose my business and you lose a beautiful wife. When I have lost my business why should I not be happy? When I have lost my near and dear one, why should I not feel free? Because the mind has been trained from time immemorial to behave in a particular fashion, and we react to different situations in our lives as per the conditioning.
By spiritual practice, by exposing yourself to spiritual environments, and at the same time through a process of self-enquiry, gyana yoga, it may become possible for your attitude toward life to change slightly. Even if you are not able to change your attitude completely like the great saints did, you can definitely make certain amendments which will be in the interests of your personal happiness.
Once St. Francis, with Brother Leo, was going to St. Mary. They were ordinary mendicants, beggars, not saints as we think of them now. When they reached St. Mary, in the middle of the night, it was snowing. They knocked at the door of an inn. The innkeeper opened the door, looked at the beggars and banged the door shut. So they had no place to stay. Again they knocked because it was very cold, and they needed shelter. The man opened the door, saw the same two beggars, abused them and slammed the door. They were shivering and hungry. St. Francis knocked at the door for the third time. The man opened the door and came out. He kicked both of them out onto the road where it was snowing and below freezing point, and then he went back inside, slammed the door, and bolted it. They were ordinary beggars with weak bodies. They had travelled for miles and miles in bare feet and rags, with great difficulty. Brother Leo was very angry, but Francis was quiet.
The innkeeper suddenly had another thought in his mind. He started to think of the two beggars he had kicked. They were out in the snow, and it was very cold. His human side spoke to him, his animal being retired. He felt a little bit of compassion. He thought that he should check to see if they were still there, because if they died the police might come and interrogate him.
He went out and saw both of them shivering in a corner. He told them to come in, brought them near the fire, and offered them something hot. They quietly took it. Then the man said, 'Do you mind that I kicked you?' Brother Leo was ready to give a sharp reply, as most of us would do. St. Francis said, 'No, no. For me life is a game, an expression of a divine plan, and everything that happens in life is a part of the cosmic plan. If you kick me, or if you bring me in and serve me with hot things and make me comfortable, it makes no difference. Both are subjects of the mind and body.' These things are not subjects of the soul, the atman, the self, supreme consciousness. One who lives in the body reacts to physical stimulus. One who lives in the mind reacts to mental stimulus. But one who lives in the soul, the atman, the self, reacts to the soul. How can he react to the physical and the mental bodies?
Saints and sages like St. Francis are rare, but that is the goal which we have to achieve if we want to transcend pain. We can't run away from it, because pain follows us- it's our own shadow. Disappointments, frustrations, nervous breakdowns, emotional things, all follow us because they are our shadows, and we can't get away from them unless we are able to transcend the mind and the body. For this purpose, intelligent and sincere practice of yoga should be followed gradually, in the form of hatha yoga, raja yoga and bhakti yoga.
Intellectually we cannot transcend pain and pleasure, never! But through yoga we can definitely do it. The great saints and sages have left their marks on history so that we may be able to follow and walk in their footsteps. They are our lights - they are our guides - it is their path which we have to follow.