Is the world really a place of misery?
Sometimes, the Bhagavad-gita statement that the world is a place of misery (08.15) is seen as a prescription for pessimism.
To better understand this statement, consider the relevant word: duhkhalaya (duhkha = distress, alaya = place). If we consider an analogous word such as Himalaya, it means a place of snow. But is the Himalaya a place of nothing but snow? Certainly not. It’s also a place of breathtaking beauty, the residence of rare and resilient life-forms, and the arena for adventurous mountain-climbers. Nonetheless, if someone in the Himalayas doesn’t expect or prepare for snow, they will be in for a nasty surprise or even deadly trouble.
Similarly, the Gita statement doesn’t mean that the world is a place of nothing but misery. After all, the same Gita states that all the attractive things in the world manifest a spark of the divine (10.41). That means the world features beauty and other such attractive things — things that can be sources of happiness.
Essentially, the Gita statement implies that no place in this world will ever be free from misery. Even if we create many sophisticated arrangements for happiness, distress will creep in from somewhere; we will never find perfect solutions. Every solution will spawn some problems. Thus what we celebrate as a solution will eventually turn out to be a tradeoff.
By knowing that distress is intrinsic to the world, we can avoid getting allured and misled by worldly promises that this strategy or that technology will be a panacea. Instead, we can be better prepared to face life’s existential realities effectively.
The Gita doesn’t imply that the world is a place of misery alone; rather, it implies that the world will never have a place that is fully free from misery.
Think it over:
- What does the term “dukhalaya” imply and not imply?
- Have you ever experienced how misery creeps into places that appear to be full of pleasure?
- How can the Gita’s statement about the world’s nature prepare us to face life more effectively?
08.15: After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.