Karma, suffering, and forgiveness

I treat patients with chronic pain.  Most of my caseload is in fact, people who have been “suffering” with their problem for many years.  By definition, chronic pain is pain that has been present for more than 3-6 months and the source of the problem is not easily identified.  This means that, in many cases, there are no tests that can elucidate the source of the problem.  The pain is real and the ramifications of chronic pain spill over into affecting personal lives and professional lives.  I have seen more people than one could believe who, because of a neck injury, have lost their jobs, lost their marriages, and ended-up addicted to some form of self-medication.  These stories are all too common and they are tragic.  

Karma is simply defined as action.  Many years ago, I was communicating with a spiritual adviser and we were talking about some of my cases.  As I described each, difficult case, he would listen and remind me that the injury was a choice – usually subconscious but still a choice.  At first when I heard this, I was taken aback and defensive about the current state of my patients.  “Nobody chooses accidents!”, I would say.  He would take each accident back to twenty-four hours or more before the event and remind me of all the conscious and subconscious choices a person makes to put them in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”  Of course, we cannot control random events.  Random things will happen and sometime, even when we are leading a completely conscious life, we cannot control the actions of other conscious beings or unconscious sources of energy.  

So what can be done with chronic pain or chronic states of suffering.  Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment or became a Buddha when he understood that suffering was a natural part of life.  Most importantly, he also understood that there was a way out of suffering.  The Buddha came up with the Four Noble Truths: 1) There is suffering; 2) Suffering is related to ignorance and craving of impermanent things – this creates karmic debt; 3) Nirvana breaks the cycle of suffering and acquiring karmic debt; 4) Following the eightfold path leads to nirvana.  The real key to ending suffering then, is to follow the eightfold path.  While I don’t go through Buddhist philosophy with my patients I do encourage them to consider the importance of dealing with karmic debt and letting go of the past.  The second of the eightfold path is “Right aspiration” or “Right Thoughts.”  In this, the Buddha encourages us to think positively and let go of the past.  

As a practical tool for my patients in dealing with chronic pain, I suggest two things they need to do: 1) accept what has happened and know that you are suffering but, there is a way out and it begins with forgiveness.  Forgive everyone you might be blaming for your current situation and forgive yourself.  You can do this as a daily meditation that includes a mantra such as, “Today I forgive everyone, including myself, for past events that led to my suffering.”  2) Meditate daily.  It is the most powerful act to deal with past karma that is still sticking to you and affecting you.  You need not do anything other than get in touch with your spiritual or energetic self everyday.  This process is like removing burs of past karma.  Every time you spend time consciously focused on something like your breath or a mantra, you remove more burs of the past.  

These two tools, are two of the eightfold paths but they are also a part of every major religion.  Right action, forgiveness, and prayer (meditation) have been a part of evolved societies for millennia.  Even Christ during his crucifixion asked God to forgive those who did this to him.  Without forgiveness, there can be no healing and there can be no attaining nirvana and no end to suffering.  Ending suffering is not a passive process.  Nobody else can do it.  If you accept your role in creating it and let it go, you begin the process of healing.  It takes practice and it does take work but the alternative is insufferable.