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, one transcends the realm of tamas and rajas, and develops the sattwic tendencies of the mind, then pain and pleasure lose their meaning.
In this life, everyone has 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 near and dear one, I do 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 according to the conditioning.
By spiritual practice, by exposing ourselves to spiritual environments, and at the same time, through a process of self-enquiry, jnana yoga, it may change slightly. Even if we are not able to change our attitude completely, like the great saints did, we can definitely make certain amendments which are in the interests of our personal happiness.
One day, Saint Francis and Brother Leo were going to Assisi. They were ordinary mendicants, not saints as we think of them today, just ordinary beggars. On the way, they stopped at a monastery in the middle of the night. It was snowing. They knocked on the door, hoping to be received by one of the monks. However, the gatekeeper opened the door, looked at the two scruffy beggars, abused them soundly, and slammed the door in their face. So they had no shelter for the night. It was freezing cold. They were shivering and hungry.
Again Saint Francis knocked on the door. The monk opened it and came out. He kicked both of them out onto the road where it was snowing and below freezing point, and he went back inside, slammed the door and bolted it. They were ordinary beggars with weak bodies. They had travelled for miles and miles with great difficulty, barefoot and dressed in rags. Brother Leo was very angry, but Francis kept quiet.
The doorkeeper suddenly had another thought in his mind. He began to feel compassion for the two beggars he had kicked and who were out in the snow, in the freezing cold. His human nature spoke to him and his animal nature retired. He felt a little bit of compassion. He decided he should check to see if they were still outside, because if they died, the police might come and interrogate him.
The monk went outside and found the two shivering by the roadside. He brought them in and sat them down by the fire. He offered them something hot to drink, and they quietly took it. Then the monk asked, “Do you mind that I kicked you?” Brother Leo was ready to give a sharp reply, as most of us would do.
However, Saint Francis replied, “No, no. For me life is a game, an expression of the divine plan, and everything that happens in life is part of the cosmic plan. If you kick me, or if you bring me inside, serve me with a hot drink and make me comfortable, it makes no difference. Both are subjects of the mind and body.”
One who lives in the body reacts to physical stimuli. One who lives in the mind reacts to mental stimuli. But one who lives in the self, the soul, the atman, reacts to the soul. How can he react to the physical and the mental bodies?
Saints and sages of the calibre of Saint Francis are rare, but that is the goal which we have to achieve if we want to rise above pain. We can’t run away from it. Pain and pleasure follow us like shadows, and unless we are able to transcend the body and mind, we cannot get away from them. For this purpose, the intelligent and sincere practice of yoga should be followed.
Intellectually we can never transcend pain and pleasure. Through yoga, however, we can do it. The great saints and sages have left their mark in history, so that we may be able to follow and walk in their footsteps. They are our lights and our guides. It is their path which we have to follow.
—printed in YOGA, Vol. 18, No. 5, May 1980