Miseries and Sufferings and the Law of Karma
Nobody born in this world is immuned from negative experiences — failures, sorrows, miseries, old-age, disease and death. From Poorna Avataar (divine incarnation) to the most lowly one, everyone has gone through some or the other negative experiences.
Prabhu Ramachandra-ji had to spend fourteen years in ‘vanvaas‘ (exile). People were after the life of Lord Krishna right from the time of his birth. Lord Jesus suffered the most painful death one can imagine.
If everything is going on well in one’s life — financially well off, a comfortable place to live in, very good physical and mental health, good family life, family members also enjoying good health, good relatives, friends and neighbors, good social relations, and there is peace, contentment and happiness in one’s life — will following questions come to such a one’s mind: Who am I? Where have I come from? Did I exist before birth? Will I exist after death? Or is my existence limited between birth and death or so to say between the womb and the tomb? If I existed before ‘birth’ what was the nature of that existence? If I continue to exist after death what will be the nature of that existence? Etc. Never!! In fact this person would turn around and say, “I am not an idiot to entertain such stupid questions.”
On the contrary, if things were to go from bad to worse in his personal, family, professional and social life then the questions would start arising: Why did God create this world? Why did he create me, only to have pain and suffering? Why is there so much misery in the world? Why do some people seem to have everything good in their lives? Etc.
Barring a few almost all those who came on the spiritual path were due to some kind of suffering or misery which they had encountered in their lives. Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira, born as royal princes, though they themselves never experienced miseries and sorrows, they came on the spiritual path after perceiving sorrow, old-age, disease and death in ephemeral existence. It is a rare one like King Janaka, who, though living in luxuries of a palace was inclined towards spirituality and went on to be a realized master. But even he had the sorrow of not having a son.
The soul that is without suffering does not feel the need of knowing the ultimate cause of the universe and realize one’s own essential Self, which is Pure Blissful Awareness, nor does the question “Who am I?” will ever arise in such a one’s mind. Sickness, grief, hardships…are all indispensable elements in the spiritual ascent.
In the Puraana, Lord Shiva says that when someone has shani dosha (inauspicious planetary position as per a person’s horoscope), the purpose is to make him turn towards the Lord, towards spirituality. If everything is going good for us we will develop attachment to this ephemeral world and would never ever think of a higher Reality beyond the apparent. Moreover, attachment to anything temporary will definitely cause sorrow, misery and pain when it gets destroyed. There are very few like Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira, who even though were born as princes and lived in the luxuries of palace; had the viveka buddhi (discriminative intellect) to recognize the impermanent nature of the entire creation and the futility of getting attached to it. They also recognized the existence of a higher Reality. They developed vairaagya (dispassion) for sansaara (worldly life) and renounced everything to seek that Absolute Truth. The vast majority of the ignorant masses do not have viveka buddhi and therefore never develop a dispassion for samsaara nor do they even suspect the existence of a higher Reality, even after suffering for several lives.
Never to suffer would mean never to have been blessed.
Ending one’s life prematurely or committing suicide is no solution. Nothing ends by doing so. In the next life we will have to continue suffering what we could have finished exhausting in this life. On the contrary by doing so one loses a golden opportunity of experiencing and exhausting one’s karmaphala (fruits of action) as well as of progressing on the spiritual path. In fact I would say realize the Truth here and now and end the cycle of birth and death once and for all. If at all suicide has to be committed, then it must be committed on the mind, where the suffering is deposited and not on the body, which is insentient and feels nothing. The mind is the real culprit, being the creator of the anguish which goads one to suicide, but by an error of judgment, the innocent, insentient body is punished for it.
To understand why we suffer in life and the way to transcend it, we should first be able to comprehend the Law of Karma very well.
Life can be understood only on the assumption that each existence is bearing the penalty or enjoying the fruits, of vice or virtue, earned to our debit or credit in some former period or prior existence and that is the only logical explanation for the disparity between man and man, his environments and his experiences. No deed small or great, good or bad can be without effect: this is the Law of Karma; the Law of Deed, the Law of Causality, Compensation and Retribution, in the spiritual world.
“Karma” literally means “deed” or “act”. More broadly, karma means the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction. According to the Veda-s, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil we will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determine our future. Our total cumulative past, modified in the present, becomes our future.
Human beings are said to produce karma in four ways:
* Through actions that we perform ourselves
* Through actions others perform under our instructions
* Through words
* Through thoughts and feelings
One man is born a prince, while another is born a pauper. One is strong while another is a weakling. One is handsome and attractive, while another is ugly and repulsive. One is saintly while another is satanic. One lives up to a hundred years, while another faces death in the prime of life or even in infancy. One rolls in luxury throughout his life, while the other drags on a miserable existence from the womb to the tomb. One is loved by all while another is hated by millions. One meets with a happy and natural death surrounded by his near and dear ones who bestow all love and care on him, while another dies despised as a criminal on the scaffold. The whole nation mourns the death of one man, while another dies unknown, unwept, unhonoured and unsung. One baby has a perfect physique, while another is sadly deformed at birth. One child easily becomes an adept artist or a gifted musician with very little training, whereas in some aristocratic families we find that in spite of tremendous effort of highly qualified teachers and hard work on the part of the youngster himself he is hardly able to make any progress in learning. There are also child prodigies with no background of training.
Out of two children born of the same parents and brought up under the same environments, one turns out to be a brilliant scholar with fine manners and the other becomes a dull-witted, good-for-nothing vagabond for no apparent reason. Why all this disparity? Is God partial to one and prejudiced to another? We cannot attribute motives or qualities to God. If so, He is no God at all, as partiality, prejudice, anger or any other quality are imperfections and cannot exist in Perfection itself, which is God. If so, what can be the cause? Each man gets what he has asked for, by his own actions and thoughts. The past has decided the present.
If it is conceded that the present is the effect of the cause that was the past, it necessarily follows by the same logic, that the past and the present together decided the future. The past has already been lived and therefore cannot be unlived, but the effect can be exhausted without accumulating further causes which may produce undesirable effects in the future. To that limited extent, may be our future can be said to be in our own hands.
The Law of Karma says: “As you sow, so you reap”. We cannot sow the seeds of bitter gourd and expect to reap a crop of sweet mangoes. Like begets like. Love begets love. Hatred cannot beget love. That which we think and experience, not only happens to us, but becomes a part of us. And since it is a part of our being, it becomes that which must be met if it stands between ourselves and our awareness of our oneness with God or the Absolute Truth.
Since oneness is the substratum of existence, we are all interconnected with each and every entity. There cannot be any thing or being in absolute isolation in existence. So every thought that emanates from the mind has its cosmic effect on things, beings and the environment. The patterns we build within ourselves in our interactions with other beings and environment remain embedded without respect to time. If we reap what we sow, then some might expect a close proximity in time between the two events. However there is a quality about the unconscious that is timeless.
It is said that some grain seeds have been discovered in archaeological remains from ancient Egypt which may be as old as 4 or 5 thousand years. When these seeds were placed under conditions suitable for germination, they came to life even after lying dormant for centuries. So, within ourselves we may find that the seed of an attitude or action in one experience may not come to fruition until many incarnations later. Some complain that it is not fair to have to pay for something that someone else did. However, that is just the point: We are meeting ourselves; it was not someone else but ourselves, who in those experiences in the past established the patterns dictating the circumstances in which we find ourselves in the present.
Another aspect of this law that may not be well understood is the movement of seed (thought) form, at the level of the mind, to manifestation. That which is held in one experience as the attitude or a pattern of behavior may be brought into manifestation in a subsequent incarnation as a quality of the body. Thus our present physical appearances or diseases may be the consequences of antecedent attitudes and actions.
A serious misunderstanding of the law of karma is that we are paying for some indebtedness we have incurred. It is not a matter of paying a debt, but rather of coming to grips with that which the self has built. This distinction should make a considerable difference in our attitude. One point of view suggests that an arbitrary judge is requiring payment; the other has the connotation that the kaarmik manifestation is the natural and lawful consequent of antecedent behavior or thought. When the kaarmik experience is especially painful it may be felt that there is a retributive quality to karma. But neither God nor the law is punitive or retributive; rather that which we meet is the natural result of that which we have previously built for ourselves.
Now, if we live by law, then we judge by law. If we live by faith, we judge by faith. If we live by grace, then we must practice grace and be gracious. If we want friends then we must first be friendly. If we want others to be patient, then we must be patient first with ourselves and then with others.
We need to learn to forgive even our worst enemies and pray for them. If we have hatred for any being, even for a fraction of a moment, even in a dream, we cannot progress on the spiritual path. If we want love, friendship, affection and care in our lives we need to radiate first those very thoughts and feelings to the world around us.
When we avenge a wrong done to us, the other being will carry the ill-will, which will manifest in a future incarnation as revenge against us. Then again we want to avenge. This will go on unless both the entities bury their hatchets and forgive each other wholeheartedly once and for all and get moving on the spiritual path. Otherwise we are stalling our spiritual progress by wasting numerous lives together in trying to avenge the wrong done by others.
When we understand the law of karma, then we are able to understand events in our lives in the correct perspective. With this understanding we are able to deal with it in a detached manner, without being too emotional about it.
When sadness and sufferings become intense and intolerable, know for certain that a new era is going to dawn bringing signal progress. It has happened in so many people’s lives.
There are two ways of overcoming sorrows. Either dissolve the ego completely or expand the ego to such an extent so as to contain the entire existence. This is what is attained in meditation.
An ageing master grew tired of his apprentice complaining about unhappiness and problems, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked. “Bitter”, spat the apprentice. The master then asked the young man to take another handful of salt and put it in the lake nearby. Once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake”. As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No”, said the young man. At this the master took the young man’s hand, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. That is called expanding the ego.”
Stop being a glass. Become a lake!!!
Actually the so called pairs of opposites such as: joys and sorrows, birth and death, success and failures, positive and negative, creation and destruction, etc. are like the two inseparable sides of the same coin or the two ends of the same battery cell. It cannot function in isolation. Can a battery cell function with just one end either positive or negative? No! It needs both the diametrically opposite ends to function. So also there cannot be birth without death, pleasure without pain, joys without sorrows, happiness without misery, etc., in the ephemeral existence. If we chose one, the other will automatically follow. There is no way it can be prevented. The entire creation is a play of these pairs of opposites. Realization of Truth is transcending these pairs of opposites — transcending the relative joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains, etc. and being in Absolute Bliss.
The biggest cause of all our problems in life is our desires and our attachment to things and beings. Attachment is such a funny thing that the very thing that we are attached to becomes the cause of our extreme sorrows and miseries — be it close family members, property, money etc. Even though we are fully aware that death will eventually take away everything from us we still continue to cling to things and beings and therefore suffer.
That which death can snatch from us is not important. Money then is useful but not important; so also power, prestige, relatives, etc. That which death can never snatch from us is the only entity which is the most important.
Losses do occur in life, but it is not what life takes away from us that count. It’s what we make of what is left with us.
No doubt everyone has one’s own duties to be fulfilled — as a relative, friend, professional, citizen, etc., but one has to do it with a saakshi bhaava / witnessing consciousness, nothing more.
There is one very important difference between ordinary people and wise men having similar miseries in their life. When an ordinary person is caught in a storm he prays to God for freedom from the storm. On the other hand when a wise person is caught in the storm he prays for freedom from the fear of the storm. In the absence of fear one can effectively deal with any problems of life.
When miseries come in life we become miserable. But when the same miseries come in the life of a wise one he doesn’t become miserable because he has “become a lake”. Let the miseries come but to be miserable or not is one’s own choice. Remember, in life we get what we deserve, according to our karma, not what we desire and God knows what we deserve.
Life is neither lived in the tomb of the dead moments of the past nor in the womb of the unborn moments of the future. Life is not a continuous procession of past regrets and future anxieties. Life is lived in the dynamic present. The present moment is all that we have at our disposal. These living, dynamic present moments are the only fields to be hammered at, wherein are all the glories of life, all the gains in existence.