Gurmat asserts that the whole world is in suffering and the source of its suffering, its disease is ego (haumai –sense of self-representation), since most do not recognize the source of their suffering as their own creation through habitual psychological patterns and attachment. Suffering is defined as “wanting things to be different to what is”, a state of non-acceptance brought about through the rigidly of the ego-centric “requirements”. Suffering is experienced as anger, attachment, greed, craving and as the ego, a separated fragile insecure sense of self.

At the source of suffering lies judgment of experience, which are judged as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The sense of self grasps, or attempts to maintain experiences judged to be pleasant, or avoiding, moving away, repressing experiences judged as unpleasant. These automatic and habitual patterns are almost invisible to awareness, unless one cultivates awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations and stimuli through meditation practices.

Suffering is therefore a matter of one’s own perception rather than objective reality of existence being as it is and not distorted through the processes of interpretation resulting in avoidance or attachment. Attachment to state of happiness itself is suffering, as once again, the intention is to maintain a situation in a static and inflexible manner, which by default is impossible in an ever changing Universe.

Suffering manifests both internally and externally, the internal forces that give rise to suffering are the habitual behaviour patterns and the misidentification of the empirical ego as the authentic centre or self.

The empirical ego further experiences internal suffering because of its cravings (trisna) to be a permanent entity that is separate and different from others, and a sense of, security and validation (SGGSJ 75-77). This inherent deficiency and fear of mortality leads the ego to form attachments (moh) to an ever changing and impermanent existence experienced (SGGSJ 1423). This in turn gives rise to cyclic behaviour patterns, which reinforces the empirical ego's cravings for permanency. (SGGSJ 129)

Mind body connection

In modern society and particularly in the Western world, the affects of thinking on our body has only recently been recognized. Humans have the unique ability to create unhealthy mental states which impact their health and well being. There is no training of any kind offered in the schooling system which help individuals learn the harmful effects of certain type of thinking, how to dis-identify from the continuous thought streams or how to cultivate health and wholesome mental states.

Unfortunately, such ignorance (avidya) has manifested itself in the overwhelming presence of diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart conditions, depression, cancers to mention but a few. This lack of awareness is perhaps the greatest cause of human suffering in the modern world, thoughts which divide us within ourselves and others are the greatest source of human misery.

The instinctive response of the ego to real or perceived threats and danger give rise to the threat-stress-response, flight, fight or freeze, experienced both psychologically and physiologically. While the response to threats is an evolutionary and necessary mechanism, ongoing perceived threats create mental and emotional states in which flight becomes self-isolation, fight become self-criticism and freeze becomes self-absorption or getting absorbed in our thoughts which in turn perpetuate the threat-stress-response, generating yet more negative emotions and worsening the physiological impact and general health.

The Haumai (ego) has several activities which help appreciate how it functions. It is occupied either by thoughts of the past, or fantasying about the future, or telling itself stories of being a victim or a hero, this constant fusion with psychological and emotional content and inner chatter ensures that direct awareness moment by moment experience of here and now, how things actually are is lost to the internal preoccupation.

In addition, the Haumai, (ego) believe what it think to be true, thoughts are never challenged and therefore the ego-complex identify and fuses itself with thoughts and the emotions generated. This identification also known as cognitive fusion is usually involuntary and unconscious process and is known as Manmukh in Gurmat. Cognitive fusion combined with avoiding difficult emotions tend to pull one out of the present moment and into “stories” it tells and believing. Combined with limited compassion and self compassion adds to the cause of suffering both to self and others.

The recognition of suffering itself is the first step in understanding how to alleviate suffering. Once suffering is understood then the cause of suffering begins to reveal itself as the ego-attachment, firstly to itself, and then to specific states judged to be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Insight into the causes of one’s suffering and healing of suffering involves one’s whole being, including intellect, cognition and emotions, which is worked through by cultivating awareness, learning to recognize the unadulterated experience in its authenticity. Symran, (Sanskrit word simritti) also the word Sati in Pali is translated as mindfulness, which literally means to “remember” or re-connect, to bring back together, to harmonize (sehaj) our experience into an integrated non-dual whole Oneness.

Acceptance in awareness or non-judgmental present moment awareness helps create the psychological space to recognize the unfolding moment by moment experience or Hukam.

According to Gurmat, ultimate source of suffer (dukh) is the fusion of our “identity” with a false sense of self , called Haumai or the ego-complex, which binds the human condition into a cyclic condition at both a psychological level but also with cycles of birth, death and rebirth.


naanak dhukheeaa sabh sansaar ||
O Nanak, the whole world is suffering.
houmai rog vaddaa sansaar
Egotism is the prevalent disease of our existence.
dhukh sukh eaehu jeeo badhh hai houmai karam kamaae ||
Beings are bound by pleasure and pain, earning their Karma in egotism
houmai dheeragh rog hai dhaaroo bhee eis maahi ||
Ego is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well.