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What Hinduism Can Offer To Help With Your Pain: Part 4

June 11th, 2007 · No Comments

This post is part of a series about how Hinduism views pain and suffering.  Today, we’ll look at When Religion Becomes A Hindrance, Rather than A Help:

Although religion can be a positive resource for some, there are times when religious coping can be ineffective. For Hindus, a first potential challenge may be the feeling of passivity or fatalism that may arise because of karma (karma = the principle that determines the unfolding of events, based on how a person has lived). A patient can feel hopeless or unable to change things because he feels that things are fixed by karma.

Hindu traditions counter this by saying that a person can start in the present moment and go forward, living his life in a positive way by following dharma (dharma = sacred duty). If a patient currently experiences pain, change can occur by attending to present appropriate action. If one’s present state is a consequence of what has gone before, the urgency of responsible and appropriate action becomes greater, not less.

Acceptance can be misunderstood as passivity. Hindu traditions do advise a focus on appropriate action, rather than outcome, but this doesn’t mean inaction, “avoid attachment to inaction.” People with pain can be encouraged to actively manage their pain and continue to seek improvement, but become detached from the outcome of these efforts.

Lastly, there can be a risk of feeling that one is failing the test of pain and suffering, that one isn’t succeeding in achieving an even disposition. However, the religious practices of Hindus teach trying one’s best. Detachment can even be sought from the degree one achieves detachment; that is, a person can attempt to be less concerned about his success or failure to be detached. The process of trying is important, rather than a focus on a final goal of being detached. Patience with oneself is encouraged. Patients can also try to learn as much as possible from their current situation, including their apparent failures.

It would be important to note that any one Hindu may be at any stage of spiritual growth with respect to viewing her physical pain and suffering as Hindu traditions teach. A person may or may not even be using his religious resources for support to cope with pain.

The level of religious coping may change across time, for example, as aspects of a person’s illness change, including severity of pain, and as the availability of other resources changes. As in any religion, there would probably be only a small minority of Hindus who wouldn’t struggle with some aspect of their experience of pain or for whom acceptance is easy and unchanging; however, many strive to be faithful to their own religious tradition.

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