Many of the most devoted religious people I know are actually quite narcissistic. Their magnanimous pursuit of peace, love and harmony seems noble enough, but it’s actually because they are so self-absorbed and seeking these things for themselves. If they are fortunate enough to develop enough self-awareness to recognize this, they sometimes go the opposite direction. They start seeking to cause pain on themselves, thinking it will lead them to enlightenment. Other times their guilt at being so narcissistic causes them to sabotage themselves, as a way to punish themselves for being so unworthy. Either way, you lose…
The best example I’ve ever witnessed to the futility of self-inflicted pain was when I visited the Sri Siva Subramaniya temple in Fiji with my Breakthrough U group. The temple was surrounded by people with spikes driven through their hands, flagellating themselves, or dragging themselves around the temple, bleeding and bound by barbed wire. Like crazy people of many organized religions, they were playing the cosmic frequent flier game, hoping that by enduring enough pain in this lifetime, they would collect enough points to reach bliss in the afterlife. (Or in a reincarnation.)
A lot of organized religions teach that pain and suffering create purity and selflessness, but that entire premise is preposterous. Because you are never as centered upon yourself as when you’re suffering, and never as self-absorbed as when you’re in pain. If you have an infected abscess tooth throbbing and I called you with an opportunity to save ten kittens, five puppies, and the Amazon rainforest, you’d say something like, “I’d love to help you, but right now I simply have to find a dentist who can make this pain go away! Please try me later.” The same is true for depression. To be depressed, you have to be centered on yourself.
Creating suffering and pain for your self becomes self-defeating, because it makes you intoxicated on yourself and perpetuates the negative cycle. Whereas when you help alleviate suffering and pain for other, it takes your focus completely off your self, and moves you toward happiness. When you lose this self-absorbed focus on your self, you realize you are something quite different from who you thought you were. You realize you’re not playing the lead role in the opera – you are the opera itself. And that’s where freedom and happiness reside.