Passion And Suffering – What Is The True Meaning of Passion?

Last updated on October 20th, 2020

What is the true meaning of Passion header

Passion means suffering.

Interesting.

But what did our ancestors really have in mind when making this remarkable connection?

I believe that almost every article about the connection between passion and suffering is either one-sided or incomplete.

Because suffering is not a prerequisite but a consequence of passion.

And the oldest scriptures of mankind support this. 

Let’s dig deeper and find out: Why does passion mean suffering?

 

Most articles about passion refer to Greek and Latin translations and passion synonyms. The Greek word πάθος (páscho) means suffering and the verb “to suffer” originates from the Latin word “pati”.

A quick and “obvious” conclusion is drawn: real passion has an annoying byproduct, which is suffering.

For the success-oriented person who is passionate about reaching their goals and working productively, suffering is simply seen as the “self-imposed” hardships they experience while following their dreams.

To confirm this interpretation, we often read the quote from German theologian and university professor Jürgen Moltmann (born 8 April 1926) who said: “Passion is loving something enough to suffer for it.” 

In this context, what is the biblical meaning of passion? Most articles suggest that the Passion of the Christ makes this very same connection by simply equating passion with “enduring pain”.

For the modern day human being, the message is clear: if you want to be passionate about something, suffering is necessary before you can reap the fruits of your actions.

First, you need to work hard, then you can play hard.

Kind of make sense…

But is this really the true meaning of this remarkable, linguistic connection between passion and suffering?

No, it is not.

Our ancestors had quite a different meaning in mind when they observed passion and suffering within themselves.

2. What Is The True Meaning Of Passion And Suffering? - Passion Etymology

First, let’s have a look at some additional translations.

In the German language, passion is called “Leidenschaft”, and in fact, we can also find the word “Leid” or “Leiden” in it, which directly translates into “suffering”.

It is a very negative word with additional translations pointing to “sorrow”, “pain”, “grief”, “agony”, and “misfortune”.

The ending “-schaft” in Leidenschaft is related to the English “shaft”, and originates from the Indo-Germanic verb “skab” (to cut, carve and create). 

2.1 Does Passion Create Suffering?

The Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer † 21.01.1872 wrote the following German play on words:

Passion and Suffering Quote by Franz Grillparzer

Eifersucht ist eine Leidenschaft,
Die mit Eifer sucht, was Leiden schafft.”

„Jealousy is a grievous passion that jealously seeks what causes grief.“

Or in other words: “jealousy is a passion, that seeks with great endeavor that what creates misfortune/suffering.”

2.2 Passion and Suffering in Ancient Sanskrit / The meaning of passion in hindi

In Sanskrit, the predecessor of all Indo-Germanic languages, the word for passion “आवेग” stands for even more than just “excitement” and “fervor”. As a root word it also translates into “haste”, “hurry”, “rushing into” and “inflammation”. 

Various translations point us into the direction that passion creates suffering. What happens if we shift our focus on the understanding that “suffering follows passion”?

2.3 Does A Passionate Life(style) Lead To Suffering?

Thinking this through philosophically, we consequently come to a very different explanation: 

Since we live in a world that is impermanent by nature, everything we build will eventually vanish and everyone we love will eventually die, including ourselves.

The original connection of passion and suffering understands this and implies that the more passionate we are about something, the greater the suffering we experience from the unavoidable separation from it.

The original connection of passion and suffering is the understanding that passion leads to suffering.

Let’s dig deeper and go back in time.

3. What did the Stoic Philosophers say about passion and suffering?

Stoicism is a school of philosophy that began in 300 BCE. The Greek Chrysippus and the Roman Marcus Aurelius are two of its well known representatives.

Stoics believed that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allowed one to understand the universal reason (logos) and overcome destructive emotions and passions.

They listed four passions that every philosopher needed to avoid: Distress, Fear, Lust, and Delight.

A wise man is therefore capable of using reason to judge his emotions. Only then “Apatheia” can be achieved, which refers to a state of mind in which one is not “disturbed” by passion and suffering.

3.1 Stoicism: Freedom From All Passion

Passions were understood to be harmful to the wise person because the end goal of Stoicism was a virtuous life “in agreement with nature and living by reason.”  

Marcus Aurelius said: “In the same degree in which a man’s mind is nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer to strength.” 

And in a different context he says:

The mind which is free from passions is a citadel.

Stone Statues of Chrysippus and Marcus Aurelius
Stoic thinkers Chrysippus and Marcus Aurelius

Every passion, therefore, causes “unpleasant consequences”. Because no good or virtuous outcome can be expected from “psychological manipulation” or any “emotion that undermines reason”.

How did the Stoics get the idea that passionate action ultimately leads to a non-virtuous life which disturbs the mind and causes suffering?

4. Ancient Vedic Knowledge About Goodness, Passion, and Ignorance

In ancient Vedic scriptures whose oral traditions are believed to go back even further than the Egyptian hieroglyphs (3000 BCE) and first Sumerian texts (3200 BCE), passion is an essential part of the concept of understanding human nature.

According to Vedic knowledge, in this material world, all living entities need to act in some way or the other. At no given time can a living entity stop doing something.

Vedic scriptures describe three natural modes (“gunas”), namely goodness, passion, and ignorance, that influence everything we do. 

The Sanskrit word guna, literally means “rope,” implying that goodness, passion, and ignorance are the ropes that bind us to the material world.

The 3 modes of nature
Vedic knowledge: The three modes of nature in action

If Rajo-guna (passion), is dominant in a person, it is felt as an insatiable desire for temporary things, striving for more of them, and perpetual dissatisfaction. 

In the Bhagavad-gita, the most famous of the Vedic literatures, it is said:

The mode of passion brings forth “ambition, lust, greed, anger, and frustration”. Whereas the mode of goodness brings forth qualities such as “joy, wisdom, and altruism”;

The mode of ignorance, however, brings forth “laziness, delusion, and apathy”.

“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works performed in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (BG, 14,16)

4.1 From The Mode Of Passion, Grief Develops

And in the following verses it is said:

“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, madness, and illusion develop.”

“When there is an increase in the mode of passion, the symptoms of great attachment, an uncontrollable desire, hankering, and intense endeavor develop.”

Interestingly, and consequently, the Vedic scriptures also identify these modes in the way a person gives charity, speaks, worships, and eats.

“Foods in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction” (Bg. 17.8). These palatable and nourishing foods include grains, milk products, fruits, and vegetables.

Food cooked more than three hours before being eaten, which is tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed, and unclean, is enjoyed by people in the mode of ignorance.”

And Foods that are overly bitter, sour, salty, dry, or hot are in the mode of passion. These foods disturb the mind and cause disease. […]

The explicit understanding of passion and disease has been kept throughout the centuries. The Greek word “páscho” (πάσχω) does not only mean suffering but also “to ail”, be sickly and to be in poor health. The word “Leiden” in the German translation of passion (Leidenschaft) is often used as a synonym for disease.

4.2. Happiness And Passion

Since these modes influence a person’s character, behavior, and approach to life, they ultimately also determine a person’s happiness.

For example, if goodness predominates, one will aspire for long-term happiness, even if one must accept temporary inconveniences.

The person overtaken by passion is usually satisfied by short-term happiness and doesn’t expect much more out of life. 

And the person dominated by ignorance rarely achieves happiness at all.

5. Compassion and Passion

When we now have a look at the word “compassion”, it is not, as often proclaimed, the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings of others while they are passionate about following their dreams.

No, we show compassion after someone has experienced misfortune, lost a dear friend, lover or family member.

And the more a person had been entangled with or developed passion for something material and impermanent, the more we feel obliged to show compassion to this “unfortunate soul”.

6. The Bottom Line of Passion and Suffering

This article is not about stopping anyone from following their dreams.

Quite the opposite, it should encourage us to find out what is important to us and bring it back into perspective.

What we are trying to get and achieve with all our energy may be impermanent.

And when we lose it, which we will eventually, it will inflict suffering.

To what extent is up to us.

7. And of course, there is always more...

The oldest scriptures of mankind did not stop here.

While “the mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings” and someone in this mode “is always bound to material fruitive activities”, […],

even “the mode of goodness, which is illuminating and develops knowledge,” someone in this mode, becomes “conditioned by the concept of happiness.” (BG 14,7)

The Vedic conclusion implies that we can only break free of the stranglehold of all the three modes by “transcending” them.

In this spirit,
Have a purposeful life!

Image credit for the cover photo of the article: The connection between passion and suffering: Sammy-Williams

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