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Theosophical view

In one of his letters, Mahatma K.H. wrote:

Nature is destitute of goodness or malice; she follows only immutable laws when she either gives life and joy, or sends suffering [and] death, and destroys what she has created. Nature has an antidote for every poison and her laws a reward for every suffering.[1]

Food, sexual relations, drink, are all natural necessities of life; yet excess in them brings on disease, misery, suffering, mental and physical, and the latter are transmitted as the greatest evils to future generations, the progeny of the culprits. Ambition, the desire of securing happiness and comfort for those we love, by obtaining honours and riches, are praiseworthy natural feelings but when they transform man into an ambitious cruel tyrant, a miser, a selfish egotist they bring untold misery on those around him; on nations as well as on individuals. All this then — food, wealth, ambition, and a thousand other things we have to leave unmentioned, becomes the source and cause of evil whether in its abundance or through its absence. Become a glutton, a debauchee, a tyrant, and you become the originator of diseases, of human suffering and misery. Lack all this and you starve, you are despised as a nobody and the majority of the herd, your fellow men, make of you a sufferer your whole life.[2]

Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

We maintain that all pain and suffering are results of want of Harmony, and that the one terrible and only cause of the disturbance of Harmony is selfishness in some form or another. Hence Karma gives back to every man the actual consequences of his own actions, without any regard to their moral character; but since he receives his due for all, it is obvious that he will be made to atone for all sufferings which he has caused, just as he will reap in joy and gladness the fruits of all the happiness and harmony he had helped to produce.[3]

See also "Evil".

According to Annie Besant

Annie Besant asserts that pain is primarily the product of desire. Desire, fulfilled or unfulfilled, will always give rise to new desires, thus creating an endless cycle which has at its center suffering. This pain and suffering, however, is merely a means to an end. It serves as a teacher. The major lessons and uses of pain taken from her Meaning and Use of Pain are outlined below:

The Learning of Law

The first purpose of pain, Besant goes on to say, is to learn self-control. This self-control is described as aligning ourselves with the Laws of our existence.

… he will learn by pain to regulate his desires and no longer to let the horses of the senses gallop whithersoever they will, but to curb them and rein them in, and permit them only to go along the roads that are really desirable.

And so gradually by this education of pain, working upon mind through the body of desire, this knowledge of Law in the external universe grows up. So that here the meaning of pain is hostile contact with Law, the effort to break Law that never can succeed; and the use of pain is the gaining of the knowledge of Law, and so the guiding and the education of the lower nature by the reasoning intelligence.

The Conquering of Desire

Pain, brought about by change and death, is the catalyst that propels us forward, that points us in the direction of the eternal. It is only by seeking the truth of the infinite that we may rise above the pain, the pain that is, albeit, so useful in our growth and development:

For in this fashion, by disease and misery, by poverty and by grief, we learn that everything that surrounds us — not only in the physical world, but also in the region of desire, and in the region of the mind itself — that all these things are changing, and that in the changing he who is changeless may never find his rest. For at heart we are the Eternal and not the transient; the center of our life, the very Self within us, is immortal and eternal, he can never change nor die. Therefore, nothing that changes can satisfy him; nothing over which Death has power can bring to him final happiness and peace. But he must learn this lesson through pain, and only in that learning lies the possibility of final joy.

Nothing that is transitory can satisfy the Soul, and that only by learning the transitory nature of the lower life will the Soul turn to that in which true happiness and satisfaction must lie.

Desire for transient objects is bad insofar as it causes personal pain. The conquering of desire is the conquering of personal pain:

Everything must become undesirable save the Eternal, which is the essence of the Soul himself: and so gradually the Soul learns by pain in the physical universe to get rid of desire.

Pain as an Internal Instrument

And then he begins to use pain instead of merely feeling it; and there is a distinction between the two. He is no longer at the mercy of pain, but he takes pain into his own hands as an instrument and uses it for his own purpose; when he finds this pain — we will say which comes from unkind action, or from misjudgment of motive or of conduct — the Soul takes the pain in hand as a sculptor might take a chisel, and with this instrument of pain he strikes at his own personality, for he knows that if it were not for this personality which is selfish, he would not feel the pain at all, and that he may use the pain as a chisel to cut off this personal weakness, and so remain serene and untroubled amid the conflicts of the world.

Patience and Endurance

Pain has another use, now a matter of choice by the free Soul, the Soul that means to be strong, not for himself but for the helping of the world, the Soul that realizes that he has to live for others, and knows that he can only learn to live for others if he is strong in himself; then he will choose pain because only thus can he learn endurance: he will choose pain because only thus can he learn patience. Those who never suffer must always remain weak, and only in the stress and the agony of the combat will the Soul learn to endure...


And for one other thing the Soul will choose pain — that it may learn sympathy. For even the strong Soul would be useless if he had not learned sympathy. Nay, the strong Soul might be rather dangerous than anything else if he had become strong without compassion, and had learned to gather force while he had not learned to guide that force aright. For force that is only strong and not compassionate may trample instead of raising, and of all things that would break, as it were, the heart of the Soul that would fain rise. Strength, not having that touch of sympathy which is keener than all sight and is the very intuition of the Spirit, might be used for mischief and not for helping; he might injure where he desired to help, and might crush where he desired to lift. And so the stronger it is, the more eagerly will the Soul seek this lesson of pain, in order that by feeling he may learn to feel, and that by his own pain he may learn how the pains of the world shall be healed; for otherwise we may not learn. Not from without but from within we have to be built, and all the pains that we have in our imperfections are, as it were, the stones with which the temple of the perfect Spirit is finally built. Pain in the end there will not be; but pain in the building there must be; therefore the Disciple chooses the Path of Woe, because only by woe may he learn compassion, and only as he thrills to every touch from the outer universe will he, who is to be the heart of the universe, be able to send out responsive thrills of healing, which shall pass through all manifested life and carry with them the message of helpfulness and of strength.

Additional resources



  1. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 88 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 273.
  2. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 88 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 274.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), ???.