“Suffering without knowledge, without remedy, is animal life. One who cannot understand that he is suffering and who thinks that he is very well off is in animal consciousness, not human consciousness. The human being should be cognizant of suffering the threefold miseries of this planet. One should know that he is suffering in birth, suffering in death, suffering in old age and suffering in disease, and one should be inquisitive as to how he may avoid the suffering. That is real research work.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Easy Journey To Other Planets, Ch 2)
I do not have to be of advanced years to begin the journey as a scientist. Credentials from a highly respected institution are not necessary, either. For instance, the person who initially hypothesized a correlation between lightning and electricity was basically a tinkerer. A hobbyist who dabbled in various interests when finished from his day job as a printer, he contemplated aspects of nature and what they might actually be.
He therefore devised an experiment involving a kite and a key. The spirit of community so strong at the time, he wrote down the parameters of the experiment and first sent it to those interested from another continent. It is said that someone else actually proved the hypothesis prior to the originator of the idea doing the same with an experiment at home.
The suffering avoided in this case was lightning strikes to important buildings. If lightning were indeed just electricity, one way to mitigate damage to structures would be to put up something like a rod. It would hopefully be the first object to attract the electricity, and the captured charge could then safely be brought to ground using connected wires.
To avoid suffering a person does not have to be that mature. A small child might observe an adult running toward the home. It is raining outside and they do not want to continue to get wet. The excess water causes suffering in terms of soaked clothes and possible damage to any objects carried in the hands. The child follows the example of the adult.
A person observes what they think to be suffering and then devises experiments to see if they can replicate the situation. They might try the same with mitigation attempts. For instance, placing the lightning rod on the roof of the home and connecting a grounding wire is a kind of experiment. The next time there is a lightning storm, the scientist, whether by profession or spirit, can observe the results to see how everything worked out.
The journey through life involves many such cases of observation and experiment. If I start to notice that after consuming bagels I feel increasingly lethargic, have itchy skin, and develop a bloated stomach, I might try avoiding the food in the future. If the negative symptoms correspondingly go away, I have an idea on how to avoid a specific type of suffering.
Not every observation will be written down. If the negative response to a certain stimuli took place many years ago, the entire episode might be forgotten. The next time the opportunity rolls around I have no reservations with following through. It is only until the repeat offense to the sensibilities takes place that I have an inkling of deja-vu, that maybe I went down this road before and did not like the destination.
In the future, I should have a better memory. To further increase the potential in avoiding suffering, I will write down every negative experience. The list grows exponentially, requiring many volumes of work, but at least the encounters will not be forgotten. If there is any question about a particular choice moving forward, I can apply recall from consulting the written word, with appropriate indexes to speed up the lookup process.
A person can apply these same principles for realizing the pattern of birth and death. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the animal society cannot do anything to mitigate their suffering. They are lucky to notice a few warning signs portending danger, but there is not much they can do in terms of the scientific method.
In the human birth we have the opportunity for both developing an elaborate system of security and also researching into the root cause of all suffering. That information fortunately descends from the highest authority figure.
We do not have to discover the truth, in this case. The root cause of suffering is birth itself, and connection to the Divine is the only way to stop birth from occurring in the future. We can try our best to avoid one negative situation and another, but eternal time continues to move forward, and it has slated death as our final destination.
पुनर् आवर्तिनो ऽर्जुन
माम् उपेत्य तु कौन्तेय
पुनर् जन्म न विद्यते
punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
One who contemplates the lotus feet of the personal God while quitting the body, at the time that kala delivers the final blow, will not have to return to the realm of birth and death, mrityu-loka. Their destination is the eternal realm of Bhagavan, and one who goes there never has to leave.
Why I am suffering now?
In future to avoid how?
Through observation gaining,
Experiment and results retaining.
But from shastra saving time,
That miseries from birth to find.
Better that destination home to call,
From where never again to fall.
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