How can Vedanta help us to overcome the suffering and pain we experience in life?
In spite of what people think about Vedanta, its goal isn’t to provide clever philosophical dissertations on the meaning of reality or be a topic for intellectual pursuit. Neither is Vedanta out to “prove” that reality is non-dual or to align itself with scientific findings. All of these are just side shows to its real objective.
Vedanta’s purpose is to alleviate suffering by the removal of ignorance. “Ignorance,” in this case, means areas in which we are blind to the truth. Vedanta states that you already are what you’re looking for so there’s nothing to gain. One must only remove that which conceals the truth about reality. Vedanta is often compared to a thorn that is used to remove another thorn. Once the thorn is dislodged, both thorns are thrown out.
For qualified seekers, Vedanta alleviates suffering by the close and sustained examination of experience and the constant discrimination between what’s real and what’s not. Vedanta’s contention is that you cannot be the person you believe yourself to be. This isn’t to say there is no person (because we obviously experience ourselves as a person) but that when closely examined, the person is found to be insubstantial and have no independent existence. This isn’t some outrageous claim. When one earnestly looks for “me” they are unable to find it (you don’t need Vedanta to show you that!).
When we identify with the body, mind, intellect, ego or our likes and dislikes we only set ourselves up for trouble. Why? Because all objects, including this body-mind, are temporary, not reliable, and are bound to change. We suffer because, as the Buddha suggested, we grasp at that which cannot be held onto.
However, Vedanta isn't nihilistic. It simply reorients one’s identity to that which is changeless, always present and impossible to negate—awareness (a.k.a. the Self). This change of identity relieves a whole host of psychological problems associated with the belief that I am this body-mind-sense complex.
For example, if I’m not the body, I needn’t worry about it’s nature to become diseased, old and die. If I’m not the mind, I needn’t worry about its unwelcome thoughts. If I’m not the ego, I needn’t visit a shrink once a week to help me construct a better, more likable version of “me.” I can rest my identity on simple, changeless awareness—the “light”— and let whatever karma play out knowing that ultimately, I am not the doer.
And while this doesn’t save us from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” by taking a stand in awareness it saves one from misinterpreting reality and the suffering associated with a misunderstanding of who/what I am. In the end, Vedanta gives you the confidence that whatever happens, I am always okay.