By Uma Ram and K S Ram
March 25, 2019
A popular doha of Kabir says: ‘Dukh mein simran sab kare, sukh mein kare na koi / Jo sukh mein simran kare, dukh kahe ko hoi?’ – Everybody prays in distress; nobody prays in happiness / If you pray in happy times, why ever will you suffer distress?
There is a higher idea contained in the couplet. The key words are: Dukh, sukh, and simran. Dukh relates to body and mind; it does not affect the Atman. Dukh can be understood as tapatreya: the threefold distress, that is, adhyātmika, suffering caused by diseases and mental stress; adhibhoutika, suffering caused by other living creatures and adhidaivika, suffering caused by physical happenings such as earthquakes.
Sukh may relate to body and worldly comforts, as also the natural state of atman, that is, absence of any form of Dukh.
Simiran is not exactly prayer – at least, not the kind of prayer that is implied in the above doha’s translation, where you pray for relief from existential distress, or for gain of worldly goodies. Simiran is meditation in the sense Ramana Maharshi used the term, that is, a constant remembrance of and instinctive communion with your eternal equation with God, also called ajapa-japa.
A logical question arises: Any form of prayer to God or remembrance of Him, whether in times of distress or joy, should be rewarding. What is wrong if you pray in times of distress?
Praying and communing are acts of the mind. When you pray in times of joy, your mind immerses in God-thought. But when you pray in times of distress, your mind is pre-occupied with the distress and the urge to be rid of it. Meaningful communion is just not possible in such a state. In fact, when in distress you do not commune at all: you indulge in desperate prayer, calling upon the force to rid you of the distress. Since distress always is existential in nature, your entire act is doomed to a mundane exercise.
Jesus exhorts his disciples not to come to prayer when there is an issue raging inside their mind relating to worldly affairs. He says to first go sort that matter out, and only then, when calm, to come to prayer. That is, not to pray in Dukh, but rather in Sukh, so the exercise can be fruitful.
When you pray for things like relief from distress, you may often find your prayer answered, but such relief is destined to be impermanent if it fails to consolidate your faith along the right path. A new distress will confront you sooner or later. This cycle of distress-prayer-forgetfulness-new distress-return to prayer will go on and on and you will make no meaningful progress toward an enduring resolution of all distress. The cycle is likely to extend beyond one birth and death to multiple births in multiple wombs, not necessarily in human species.
On the other hand, if you cultivate joy born of contentment and a realisation of the fact that happiness is our natural state, and cultivate the habit of unending communion with the Self within, you establish yourself in eternal joy. As Adi Shankaracharya declares, such a one is full of joy, irrespective of the mundane circumstances she is placed in. Distress can never approach her.