The Profound Effect of Suffering
Basically, man's creation is such that he is compelled to bear a lot of physical and spiritual hardships in order to satisfy the needs of his life. Because it is in the course of this toil and endeavour for obtaining the material means of life that his intellectual and spiritual faculties acquire their vigour and growth.
Hardship and suffering has a profound and extensive influence in life. The spiritual powers of great men receive their burnish under the stress of calamities and shine forth better in the darkness of adversity.
Had not man, since the first days of his existence, not felt wretched on account ,of his ignorance and nescience, he would not have made any effort to obtain relief from this malady and would have languished in the darkness of ignorance and savageness, and we would not see today any trace of the manifestations of his intellect, morality and spirituality. It is the painful feeling of being ignorant that made him make an unrelenting struggle against ignorance. The all-round advancement of man and the foundations of all his progress in civic and social matters are based on this truth. Most of the great social movements that were a point of departure for human progress and a leap towards human edification were the consequence of crushing hardships and difficulties. Although adversities and vicissitudes are bitter and repugnant in appearance, and pleasures and joys are pleasing and attractive, the matter is in reality quite the opposite. Because the pursuit of pleasures and lusts leads to decadence and disaster, whereas adversities and hardships carry in their bosom felicity and success. There is a definite interrelation between experience of suffering and attainment of felicity. There is a cause-and-effect relation between hardships and adversities on the one hand and felicity and achievement on the other. Hegel, the German philosopher, says: Life is not made for happiness, but for achievement. The history of the world is not the theatre of happiness; periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony; and this dull content is unworthy of a man. History is made only in those periods in which the contradictions of reality are being resolved by growth, as the hesitation and awkwardness of youth pass into the ease and order of maturity. 7
Metals, in order to be separated from impurities, are melted in hot furnaces. Hardships of life have a similar result for the human being. They purify him and purge him of impurities, and prepare him for fulfilling his human duties. Ultimately, no individual can attain to felicity and survival except in the shadow of suffering. The Qur'an says:
Indeed We have created man in the cradle of trouble and suffering. (90:4)
Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, said:
Indeed, of all people the severest of sufferings and afflictions are faced by the prophets, and after them by others in proportion to their degree of merit. 8
In order to drive home the same point, Rumi says:
Cast was the wheat grain under the soil, Then, ears of corn were gathered from its dust, Then, it was ground between the millstones, And lo, its worth rose and it became life-giving bread! Then the bread was crushed under the teeth, And lo, it became intellect, soul and gainful understanding!
A European thinker says:
Hardships and difficulties make up the touchstone of morality. In the same way as some plants must be squeezed to give out their perfume, so also some natures have to be subjected to hardship in order that their essential talents and merits become manifest. There is no ease and comfort in the world that does not change into pain and adversity. So also, there is no hardship that does not ultimately lead to happiness and felicity. In each of these conditions, the results that we derive depend on our use or misuse of it. Complete happiness and ease are not to be found in this world. Even if, supposedly, they were to exist, they would not be fruitful, nor would they offer any kind of good or benefit. Among the teachings that have been delivered to man to this day, the most worthless and hollowest is the one that invites him to comfort and ease; for, under all circumstances, defeat and hardship are wiser teachers than happiness and comfort. Defeat reforms and strengthens an individual's character; suffering and hardship bring discipline and awareness to nature. They initiate the person in the rites of patience and forbearance, developing the most sublime thoughts and ideas in his mind. Hipper says: "What is it that leads to the development of man's profoundest thoughts? It is not knowledge or science. It is not ability and expertise either. Neither it is emotion or feeling. Only suffering and hardship can fathom the depths of human thought. Perhaps, that is why there is so much suffering in the world. The angel charged with afflicting with suffering and hardship has rendered a greater service to this world's people than what the angel of well-being and healing has brought to the world." 9
7. Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, (New York, Washington Square Press, 1968), P. 267.
8. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 15, part 1, p. 53.
9. Samuel Smith, Akhlaq-e Samuel, vol. 2, pp. 204-205.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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