What are the three main causes of suffering & how to get relief from all the sufferings?

What are the three main causes of suffering?

There are three main causes of our suffering – papam(sin), bijam(desires) and avidya(ignorance). Srila Rupa Goswami explains in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu (Nectar of Devotion) that we suffer because of the sins which we have committed not only in this life but also in previous lives.  Let us explore the causes of our sufferings and most importantly how to get relief from all our sufferings. Srila Rupa Goswami explains about this in his book Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu (Nectar of Devotion).

Three causes of suffering

The three causes of our suffering are:

  1. Papam: We suffer because of our sins.
  2. Bijam: We suffer because of our material desires. This is the secondary cause of our suffering.
  3. Avidya: Our material desires are because of our ignorance. We fail to understand that we are in reality spiritual beings, and our eternal identity is that we are eternal servants of Krishna. Ignorance is the root cause of our suffering.

Four kinds of sinful reactions

Padma Purana explains that sinful activities causes four kinds of sinful reactions:

Four kinds of sinful reactions are:

  • The effect which is not yet fructified (aprarabdha)
  • The effect which is lying as seed (kutam)
  • The effect which is already mature (prarabdha)
  • The effect which is almost mature (karma bijam)

And because of these sinful reactions we have to suffer a lot in this material world. However, if we take shelter of Krishna and engage in pure devotional service then these sinful reactions immediately get vanquished.

Let us see how devotional service destroys each of the sinful reactions:

1) Devotional service destroys unmanifest sinful reactions (aprarabdha-papam)

In Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna says to Uddhava, “My dear Uddhava, devotional service unto Me is just like a blazing fire, which can burn into ashes unlimited fuel supplied to it.” Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.19. Srila Prabhupada explains, “The purport is that as the blazing fire can burn any amount of fuel to ashes, so devotional service to the Lord in Kṛṣṇa consciousness can burn up all the fuel of sinful activities.” Nectar of Devotion, Characteristics of Pure Devotional Service Purport.

So, if we take shelter of Krishna then the Supreme Lord guarantees that he will completely destroy all our unmanifest sinful reactions (aprarabdha-papam). It means that whatever sins for which we were supposed to suffer gets destroyed. So, in future we will not suffer for those sins which we committed in the past.

For example, Mrugrari was such a cruel hunter that he would half kill animals and enjoy seeing them suffer and die. For this ghastly act he was supposed to suffer terribly in future. But once he took devotional service to Lord Krishna, he completely got purified and got freedom from all future sufferings.

2) Devotional service destroys manifest sinful reactions (prarabdha-papam)

Our present suffering is because of our past sins. If someone is born in the family of beggars or in a criminal family or in a family where many legal issues are going on or if someone is born as blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from other diseases by birth then it is because of their past sins.

However, devotion to Krishna is so purifying that a person who is suffering because of past sins can get relief from all the sufferings. Everyone is qualified to practice devotion to Krishna. Even someone born in the family of dog eaters can take to Krishna Consciousness. And Krishna as a loving father is always ready to free all of us from all kinds of sufferings.

In Srimad Bhagavatam, Devahuti glorifies Lord Kapiladeva by saying, “My dear Lord, there are nine different kinds of devotional service, beginning with hearing and chanting. Anyone who hears about Your pastimes, who chants about Your glories, who offers You obeisances, who thinks of You and, in this way, executes any of the nine kinds of devotional service – even if he is born in a family of dog-eaters [the lowest grade of mankind] – becomes immediately qualified to perform sacrifices.” Srimad Bhagavatam 3.33.6.

Lord Krishna is so merciful that he forgives us of our past mistakes and purifies us if we take his shelter. However, it does not mean that we should start taking advantage of Lord’s benevolence and keep on committing sins thinking that Krishna will anyway purify us.

A pure devotee of the lord is always careful not to commit any sins.

3) Devotional service destroys Material Desires (bijam)

Getting relief from sins is not enough. It is important that we get freedom from our material desires. Because as long as we have material desires, we will commit sins and so we will suffer.  In Srimad Bhagavatam Parikshit Maharaj says that elephants may enter into a water body to take bath. The elephant may thoroughly clean his body but as soon as he comes out of the water, he takes dust from the shore and puts it on his body.

Similarly, there are people who atone for their sins but as soon there is an opportunity to commit sins, they indulge into it. And because of this they again have to suffer. So, it is important that sinful desires or sinful proclivity should be completely uprooted.

We can get completely purified of our sinful desires when we take shelter of Krishna.

Vedic rituals, austerity, giving charity may temporarily save us from sinful reactions but will not free us from sinful proclivities.  For example, Ajamila was doing his brahminical duties very nicely but since his sinful desires were not burnt completely so he fell down when he saw a prostitute. But later just by chanting the name “Narayan”, he was saved from Yamaduttas. And after that Ajamila practiced devotional life and got purified of his sinful proclivities.

Pure devotional service not just nullify the sinful desires, but it fills our heart with a desire to serve Krishna. Desire to serve Krishna is the antidote of material desire. Once we start experiencing bliss in serving Krishna, we give up all our material desires. When our sinful proclivity is gone, we do not commit any sins and so we do not suffer anymore.

4) Devotional service destroys Ignorance

Srila Rupa Goswami explains that among all the causes of suffering, ignorance is the root cause of all our sufferings. Because of ignorance we identify ourselves with our material body, mind and senses. And so we try to gratify our body, mind and senses in this world.  The more we gratify our material senses, more we get contaminated. We fail to identify that we are spirt souls, parts and parcels of Krishna.

So, instead of cultivating spiritual desires, we cultivate material desires. And because of worldly desires, we keep on committing sins and we suffer. However, when we start practicing devotion to Krishna, we get enlightened. Our true spiritual identity is revealed to us. We start understanding that we are spiritual beings, parts and parcel of Krishna.

Padma Purana explains that “Pure devotional service in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the highest enlightenment, and when such enlightenment is there, it is just like a blazing forest fire, killing all the inauspicious snakes of desire.” Just like when there is forest fire all the snakes of the forest get killed, similarly devotion to Krishna is so strong that it burns the snake of ignorance.

We see that when Srila Prabhupada went to west then the hippies were indulging in so many abominable activities. But once they started practicing devotion to Krishna under the guidance of Srila Prabhupada their ignorance were destroyed. Once they got the true spiritual knowledge they gave up all their sinful habits and become first class devotees of Krishna and perfected their lives.


Pure devotion to Krishna removes all the causes of suffering. So, devotional service to Krishna is the only way by which we can free ourselves from all the sins. And eventually of all sufferings both present and future. And then we can lead a blissful Krishna Conscious life.

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