“The threefold miseries are (1) those miseries which arise from the mind and body, (2) those miseries inflicted by other living beings, and (3) those miseries arising from natural catastrophes over which one has no control.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.2 Purport)
Read enough Vedic literature and certain patterns start to emerge. Similar phrasing. The same terminology referenced by a host of sources. As lists are always a good way to get creativity in writing started, so many kinds of enumerations are provided for understanding the world around us.
Indeed, there is a common reference to “three worlds.” Those are upper, middle and lower. The middle is where we sit at present. It has both misery and joy, heartache and elation. The dualities fit between the bookends of two events contrary in nature: birth and death.
At birth the individual spirit soul enters a body consisting of three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. The exact makeup is not the same for each person, though patterns develop to provide the groupings known as species.
Death is when the same soul leaves the body. At birth there is joy and happiness at the gift of life, and at death there is sadness over losing the association of the departed. Yet the person who really sees understands that the spirit soul is the same throughout. It is untouched by the changes to the body.
The suffering that occurs while in a material body in the earthly realm comes from three sources. These are often described as the threefold miseries of life, and examples are all around.
The source here is a bhuta, which refers to a living thing. You are going through the day just fine. Everything is alright. The weather is nice. There is no work. Finally, time for some relaxation.
You take a trip to the store. In the parking lot you prepare to enter a spot. After parking in the spot and walking towards the entrance of the store, someone starts yelling at you. They wanted that parking spot. You didn’t see them, and neither were you in a rush to snatch anything from anyone.
In your mind you don’t even care. You would have gladly parked somewhere else to accommodate. But this person is not rational. They yell and scream, cursing along the way. The incident just ruins the rest of your day. This is one example of many kinds of pain inflicted by others, with whom we share the material existence.
You used to be able to eat bread without a problem. In fact, you never really paid attention to what you ate. Everything went smoothly in life. You didn’t worry so much.
Through advancing a little in age, the change is sudden and drastic. Now eating bread causes a breakout on the face. There are rashes along the body. You have to carefully watch what you eat now. So many other problems inside, as well. It’s not the same as when you were twenty.
Adhyatmika miseries come from the atma, the self. Mental and physical ailments have the potential to arise within. After birth, there is old age. Disease is present, as well. These are contributing factors to death, which is inevitable.
You have relatives coming to visit. It is their first time leaving home. They are coming to a new country. You are excited to have them, but at the same time nervous about everything going smoothly. Let there not be any problems.
Sure enough, right away there is an issue with the weather. There is a snowstorm locally on the day of their expected arrival. You monitor the progress of the flight, as it took off despite so many earlier flights getting cancelled.
It ends up being diverted to another city. Now your relatives are arriving two days later. No problem, as you head to the airport on the day of the scheduled arrival. The issue here is that there is a jam on the runway from planes landing. These were the flights cancelled from the snowstorm two days ago.
You end up waiting at the airport for hours and hours. By the way, it is the coldest day of the year. You haven’t experienced this kind of cold in a long time. You have no way of communicating with your relatives, as their phone service only works in their country of origin.
This kind of misery is caused by the higher powers. In insurance policies the reference is to “acts of God.” Hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, heat waves and the like are due to the influence of the devas. These are the residents of the heavenly realm. They have material bodies, also, but consisting mostly of the mode of goodness. Therefore the duration of life is longer.
Whether living higher, lower or in between, some kind of misery will be there. The spiritual world is a different story. One name for it is Vaikuntha, which means “free of anxieties.” The Supreme Lord resides on the different planets in different expansion forms. His body is full of bliss and knowledge, and for Him there is never a distinction between material and spiritual. He is not subject to the threefold miseries of life.
When He descends to the earthly realm, He maintains His transcendental position. Through incidents like swallowing the forest fire in Vrindavana and thwarting the rain attack from king Indra, Bhagavan proves that He also protects His dependents from the common miseries of life. Therefore the wise choose His shelter instead of trying to overcome the miseries themselves. They get protection through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Protection from miseries to seek,
But never full safety to reach.
Since rain or disease coming,
Friend an adversary becoming.
But like Krishna the hill holding,
Safe despite whatever unfolding.
Since above nature standing tall,
Bhaktas with love His name to call.
Categories: the three