What is the (“existential”) purpose of suffering? That question has pursued me for many years now. My own personal struggles I’ve found easier to respond to, in relative terms, coming to see them as a learning ground for a deeper existential and spiritual understanding. What’s always been much more difficult for me is witnessing, or simply knowing of, the suffering endured by other humans and animals in incredibly cruel and/or dangerous circumstances e.g. subject to physical and/or psychological violence, hunger, displacement, personal loss, etc. Consequently, I’ve felt an existential imperative to gain some constructive perspectives on the meaning of suffering in order to understand how best to remain in touch with my empathy, whilst at the same time avoiding the pitfall of feeling discouraged.
The spiritual challenge we face is to be joyful no matter what life conditions we are experiencing i.e. whether we are surrounded by love and good fortune, or suffering and injustice. The tantric tradition offers a helpful insight by distinguishing between ananda, which is our innate blissful state of consciousness, and sukha, which is the emotional state of ordinary happiness that is dependent on external conditions. Ananda abides ceaselessly within us, therefore, there is no contradiction in being joy-filled even in the midst of challenging and painful life circumstances. “… ananda designates a way of experiencing and loving reality that is completely independent of circumstance. […] it [is] a state of absolute contentment, acceptance, and quiet yet sublime joy; the peace that passeth all understanding.”
I recommend keeping the emotional, sukha-oriented mind out of the equation when witnessing the suffering of others, using instead techniques that are rooted in ananda, like light radiation which involves opening our hearts, stilling our minds and (having the intention of) allowing what we perceive to be healing energy, love and good wishes to pour out of us. Moreover, I suggest not having any expectations of what the outcome should be. Life’s design is much more than we can ever fully comprehend. All the same, we have the power to bring positivity and love into all situations we witness, as well as into our actions and attitudes each and every day; the echo of which will reverberate through the transpersonal field, bringing greater coherence there with the potential for a similar resonance on the physical plane.
Edited extract from my book “She Who Is Unto Herself”
Photo c/o Wondermar: http://bit.ly/27R7PLr
 Wallis, C.D. (2013) Tantra Illuminated. Mattamayura Press: San Rafael, CA, p.104.