Between Asuras and Māyā: The Hindu Aetiology of Suffering Cover Image

Between Asuras and Māyā: The Hindu Aetiology of Suffering
Between Asuras and Māyā: The Hindu Aetiology of Suffering

Author(s): Vasile Astărăstoae, Constantin-Iulian Damian
Subject(s): Christian Theology and Religion
Published by: Editura Universităţii »Alexandru Ioan Cuza« din Iaşi
Keywords: Hinduism; suffering; karma; Upaniṣads

Summary/Abstract: Hinduism is a generic term for a variety of schools, sects and practices that share common sources, beliefs, and concepts, but also encompasses divergent doctrines and ways of life in a single religious, philosophical, and social system. Inside this multifaceted tradition different and contradictory religious aetiologies of human suffering can be identified. In the Vedas, suffering is caused by an external agent (i.e. a personal activity of gods or asuras, which men can appease by rituals, rites, sacrifices, amulets, etc.) or as a godly punishment for man’s desires and anger. In Upanishads, suffering is related to karma, dharma, and samsara, as a natural consequence of the transgressions from this life or from past ones; the individual is the cause of his own suffering, by his karma. Seen in the wider picture of Vedanta, suffering has no substance, being part of the illusory empirical world that deserves no attention; assumed or self-provoked, empirical suffering suggests detachment from this world and turns attention to the reality of Brahman. We consider that these aetiologies of suffering influence Hindus’ attitudes towards bodily pain and medical action, which can range from accepting treatment and pain relief as gifts from the gods (obvious especially in traditional medicine’s mix of religion and magic) to ascetics’ total indifference to bodily suffering.