God does not create the world’s and people’s doership
Nor does he prompt one’s karmas
Nor yet the fact of experiencing the fruits of action
Only the laws of nature prevail and operate.
— The Bhagavad-Gita
Why do we suffer? Why should the sweetest and the most innocent child suffer? Why has God created suffering?
God has not created suffering. Some philosophical schools of India even believe that God and Nature are two coeval forces operating together without infringing each other’s nature. Others propose only that God manifests, by a part of Her/Himself, in the form of nature.
In any case, it is not God who has made the laws of nature. It is not God who comes to the chemistry lab and, while we are mixing mercury and oxygen molecules, S/He somehow steps in and creates for our sake a compound called mercuric oxide! Nor is it God who, to punish our over-indulgence in cakes at Christmas time, gets our stomachs aching.
If you pour in the vial some copper, no matter how much you pray for mercuric oxide, you will get only copper oxide. And, understanding the laws of Nature, we should vow not to over-indulge again – not just pray for the stomach ache to go away without medicine. The Laws of Nature prevail and operate – says the Gita, a text spoken by God in the Krishna manifestation.
This is the view of ALL systems of philosophy in India. Jaina tradition, hardly known in the West but on par with Buddhism, has gone into it most deeply.
The laws by which our psychophysical personalities also follow the laws of nature.
Newton’s third law of motion
For every movement in one direction there is a movement in the opposite direction.
is parallel to the Law of Karma, another law of nature:
For every action in one direction there is a reaction in the opposite direction.
Numerous Greek philosophers believed in reincarnation as a matter of course; the belief was banned by the Judeo-Christians, but still persists in pockets of the West. So does nearly half of humanity (India, China, Korea, Japan, SE Asian countries) believe in re-incarnation today. To this large segment of humanity, re-incarnation is not a hypothesis, not a mere theory but
a guide to daily actions, emotions and choices one makes, and
the basis for the interpretation of suffering (or enjoying).
Not only teachers and philosophers but so many Indian novels and movies carry this theme and interpret the events on its basis.
Oh , Arjuna, I have passed through many incarnations and so have you. I know them all but you do not know.
So says the Gita.
With this interpretation of life as an eternal continuum, and this continuum operating within the laws of Naure, of karma, a soul looking like a child is a child to the parents, but at the same time it may be in his/her ten millionth body. We suffer along with our children because compassion and love are natural urges in human beings. May they remain so; may the parents continue to suffer when the child suffers, but the neutral observer within them, the buddhi, must also remain operative to understand a phenomenon in its true perspective.
Nor should we be tempted to say:
Oh, you were a bad person in one of your last bodies, so you suffer; what do we have to do with it?
In this very life we make mistakes and see their consequences. A child plays naughty, but knows the laws by which the parents operate and expects the consequences. In this child’s suffering, it is not the child who is being punished. Although many Indian texts speak of God punishing or rewarding the souls, that is not the deep philosophical view. If one plants a berry tree, it is not God’s reward that berries will grow. If one plants a thorn tree, it is not God’s punishment that one’s foot may be pricked by a thorn. Once again, the Laws of Nature prevail and operate.
Today I think an angry thought about my nature. The thought shows itself in my facial expression, in the way I pass by the neighbour with a colder than usual greeting. The neighbour reacts and throws anger at me. He has powerful friends who can destroy me. It is not God’s act that my business then suffers; it is the law of nature, reaction to my mental act of anger.
I love this child. So sweet and innocent. But not all of his/her minds in the million bodies of the past were sweet and innocent. If this sweet and innocent child spits at a neighbour’s dog and the dog bites (not that this particular child will do that), and the neighbour reacts, I cannot say, well, this is a sweet and innocent child – why should the neighbor’s dog choose to bite him/her?
While we explain to the child the consequences of his/her acts, we continue to love, and protect the child from future dog bites. Yet the first dog will still growl when it sees the same sweet and innocent child again. The past actions visit us in the present. The present ones will visit in the future, in the form of natural karmic consequences.
Let it not be that by neglecting the child’s mistake in the name of love we sow the seeds of a worse tree growing in the child’s future.
Let it not be that we ‘punish’ the child beyond what is needed to prevent the child from repeating an undesirable act. That unjust act on our part will definitely serve as a seed for a poison tree in our future life, or future lives.
Let it not be that we love the child less and do not get the dog bite treated. That negligence also will plant a poison tree in our life, or lives, and we will have to eat its bitter fruit. Not remembering our act of today, perhaps we will be complaining all the while against God’s injustice!
Let it not be so, that, as a sweet and innocent child of loving doting parents in the next body, or in one of the future bodies, we may have to eat of the poison tree we planted today. But our parents of that time will love us nevertheless, and, if unwise and ignorant of the Laws of Karma that are included in the Laws of Nature, will complain about God’s cruelties. Let it not be so.
Remember that laws of karma are jet planes hurtling us to our destinies, the destinies we have made for ourselves by planting certain karmic seeds. The thrust of a jet plane’s forces moving in one direction, backwards, pushes it in the opposite direction, forwards.
May this suffering child continue to receive the balm of the parental love and understanding. Let it not be that neglecting to give love now, you be deprived of parental love in a future body under the laws of karma.
There arises the question: by this argument, are we saying that it is the neglected child’s karma that s/he be neglected, and so the negligent parents need take no blame? This line of thought has been thoroughly misused by the nefarious Indian caste system to continue the suffering of ‘lower’ castes. It falls in the same category as some Christian priests in early 19th century preaching in favour of the rich mine owners who had 8 year old children working in coal mines 12-16 hours a day. It was said to be God’s will!! The devil can quote the scriptures freely to support his devilishness. We blame God or karma for our social injustices to exploit and hurt large masses of downtrodden people. Let it not be so.
The above statements leave us with a lot of questions, like, why do we pray? (The Jainas and the Buddhists, both reputed to be atheists, also pray). The force of prayer is known to reduce suffering. We shall need to take up this and such questions at another time.
Swami Rama, Freedom from the Bondage of Karma
Swami Rama, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita
Swami Veda Bharati, God
Ovid (Ovidius Publius Naso), Metamorphoses, Chapter 15 titled Nux (Nut), section on the teachings of Pythagoras.