Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
A lecture by Giriraj Swami
University of California at Irvine
May 18, 2005
Hare Krsna. We welcome you to tonight’s discussion. Imagine a person going in to see a movie that is already in progress. In the movie, a man is sitting peacefully at his desk, and then someone come in and shoots him. The person watching the movie might think, “Oh, how horrible! Why did that happen?” But having come in mid-way, the person was not there to witness what had already happened, how the man in the office had actually arranged for the murder of so many other people. So, based on superficial appearances, one might say, “Oh, he was just an ordinary fellow. Why did he have to suffer so?” But there were things that the man did that led to him being shot that we are unaware of. And that is pretty much how the law of karma works.
The word karma is a Sanskrit term that means, literally, action, or activity, but it also conveys the sense, based on knowledge from the Bhagavad-gita and other ancient texts, that for every action there is a reaction. In classical physics there is a similar idea: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever we do in the material realm creates a reaction. “As you sow, so shall you reap.” The Bhagavad-gita explains that there is a great chain of cause and effect, of actions and reactions, and that the intricacies of action and reaction are difficult to comprehend.
In general, actions are divided into three categories. The first is called simply karma. Karma is also a generic term, but in a certain context it has a specific usage. In the context of these three categories, karma means activities done within the Vedic injunctions, or activities within the laws of God, or the laws of nature. Vikarma means activities done outside of the Vedic injunctions, outside of the laws of God and nature. And akarma refers to transcendental activities.
Another distinction is between pious activities and sinful activities. A pious activity, or punya, is a progressive action, one within the laws of God and nature. And a sinful activity, or papa, is a degrading action, one that violates the laws of God and nature. Just as crime by definition means an act against the laws of the state, similarly, sin by definition means an act against the laws of God, or the laws of nature.
Generally, everyone in the material world is engaged in a combination of karma and vikarma, of pious and sinful activities. Although one may be unaware of the Vedic injunctions, any normal person has an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Our conscience will tell us, “You should do that,” or our conscience will prick us and we will feel, “Oh, I should not have done that.”
Every action brings a certain type of reaction. In general, the reaction for a pious activity is material enjoyment and the reaction to a sinful activity is material distress. Because everyone in the material world engages in some combination of pious and sinful activities, everyone suffers a combination of pleasure and pain. But whatever reaction we get, either in the form of pain or in the form of pleasure, is due to some past action that we performed, even one that we may have forgotten. Although a person who contracts a disease may not be conscious of how or when he or she came in contact with the disease, the illness itself suggests that he or she came in contact with some germ or condition that gave rise to it. Similarly, when we suffer we should know that we have done something in the past that has given rise to the adverse situation.
So in terms of karma, suffering is not accidental; we are not innocent victims of some vicious person or circumstance. Certain actions incur certain reactions, and we are getting the reactions that are due to us for our past actions. In fact, it has been stated that by looking at your present body, you can understand what your past activities were, and that by looking at your present activities, you can understand what your next body will be–because the body itself is a result of past activities or karma. And built into the body is a certain degree of happiness and distress.
But beyond both of these categories of punya (pious activities) and papa (sinful activities), or karma and vikarma, is another category altogether: akarma, or transcendental activities that are beyond material pious and sinful reactions.
Now, to understand the full significance of akarma, or transcendental activities, we must understand something of the soul, of the Supreme Soul, of the relationship between them, and of the purpose of the material world and the goal of human life. According to the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures, the living entity is spiritual, not physical or chemical, and is called the atma or jivatma, in English the soul or individual spirit soul. The nature of the soul is eternal, whereas the nature of the body, or anything material, is temporary. The energy is not temporary, but the forms that it takes are. So we could say that there is conservation of energy. But this body is temporary. In fifty years, although the elements of the body will still exist, the body will not.
As spiritual beings we are by nature eternal. The Bhagavad-gita explains that for the soul there is neither birth nor death:
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ‘yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Bg. 2.20)
We are eternal, and because by nature we are eternal, we feel awkward in the atmosphere of temporariness. Therefore no one wants to die. No normal person wants to die, because as a spiritual soul he or she is eternal and desires to live in a spiritual atmosphere where there is no birth and death.
That natural desire can be fulfilled when the individual soul establishes a proper connection with the Supreme Soul, a connection that in Sanskrit is called yoga. The word yoga means, literally, to connect. It is the origin of the English word “yoke,” to join or link. By yoga the individual soul can connect with the Supreme Soul and engage in activities for the satisfaction of the Supreme, or for the development of God consciousness, that are not of the material world. They are not karma or vikarma but akarma. As long as we engage in material activities, even pious ones, we have to take birth in the material world to get the results. And as long as we take birth in the material world, we have to suffer disease, old age, death, and rebirth.
The Bhagavad-gita says, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: we should be conscious of the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease, factors that accompany the physical body. As soon as the soul enters a material body, birth, disease, old age, and death are inevitable; every embodied soul is bound to suffer them. None of us want such miseries, however, because as spirit souls we are beyond them.
Material science attempts to counteract such miseries, but ultimately, when it comes to these four factors scientists are unable to succeed. And they will never succeed. People have been trying to stop disease for centuries, but they can’t. We might counteract a certain disease or the manifestation of a certain disease for some time, but that same disease could return, or the patient might contract another. Even if scientists find a cure for one disease, another will come, and another. If we were to actually succeed in eradicating disease, the hospitals would become empty. All the patients would go home. The doctors would be free. But on the contrary, there is always a clamor for more hospital rooms, more beds, more doctors, more nurses–because we are not actually able to stop disease.
Likewise, no one has been able to solve the problem of old age. There are now ways to mitigate the effects of age, and cosmetic techniques to mask the aging of the body, but old age continues, and with it the eventual loss of mental and physical strength. It is quite common now that people suffer from dementia and lose their memory to the point that they do not even know who they are. They cannot recognize even their own dearest family members. So nobody wants to grow old, but we are unable to stop old age; it comes with the physical body.
The same with death. For millennia people have been trying to find some way to stop death, but they can’t. We even have the expression “as sure as death.” And just as death is sure, so is rebirth. According to the Bhagavad-gita, for one who is born, death is certain, and for one who dies, birth is certain (jatasya hi dhruvo mrtyur dhruvam janma mrtasya ca), because the soul, upon leaving the body, must enter into another body to enjoy and suffer the reactions due to its past activities. As long as we continue to engage in material activities–karma and vikarma–we will be forced to suffer repeated birth, disease, old age, and death.
The physical body is like a prison cell for the spirit soul, who is being punished as long as he is in the body. Therefore an intelligent person will think, “How can I get out of the bondage of material existence? How can I get out of the repetition of birth and death?” He or she will not think, “How can I enjoy life in the prison better?” Yes, you can get some better facilities in the prison. If you behave well or have some influence with the authorities, you can enjoy a little better standard within the prison. But that is not the goal; the goal is to be released. In the same way, we may make some adjustments to enjoy a little better standard in the prison of the material world. You might be a first-class prisoner with a big house and a Mercedes car, or whatever, but you are still a prisoner. You may feel proud: “Oh, I am first-class prisoner. Look at that poor fellow. He is just a third-class prisoner.” But you are still a prisoner. You are being punished, and not just with disease, old age, and death. Those are basic, but there is an endless chain of other miseries that we suffer daily. Even in Southern California, although it might not get that cold and or that hot, still you get stuck in traffic and have trouble finding a parking place. Those are also miseries. In whatever situation we are, even if from one point of view we are sitting pretty, we are still obliged to suffer.
The human form of life has a type of intelligence that the lower species do not have: the intelligence to consider, “I don’t want to suffer, but I am being forced to suffer. Why? I don’t want to grow old, but I am forced. I don’t want to die, but I am forced. I don’t want to get sick, but I am forced–and so many other miseries. Why? And how can I get free?” When that consciousness awakens and one begins to inquire, that person is actually exercising his or her human intelligence. Otherwise, the animals also eat, they also sleep, they also mate and reproduce, and they also defend themselves and have some sort of shelter. So if we use our added intelligence as human beings just to achieve a higher standard of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, we are not really using it for its proper purpose. We are just being polished animals. An animal might eat with his claws and fangs, and we might eat with our knife and fork, but the animal enjoys just eating as much as we do. We might sleep on a nice, soft mattress, and the animal might sleep on the floor of the jungle, but when the animal is asleep he does not know he is sleeping on the ground, and when we are asleep, we do not know we are sleeping on the mattress. The animal enjoys his sleep just as much as we enjoy ours. So it is a type of illusion to think that by using our intelligence we can improve our standard of animal activities–eating, sleeping, and the others. The animals enjoy those activities as much as we do.
Human intelligence is meant to question why we are here, why we are suffering, how we can get free from suffering, how we can realize our eternal spiritual natures. When that inquiry awakens and one begins to seek the answer to those questions, one is considered to have awakened to human consciousness. The Vedanta-sutra says, athato brahma jijnasa: Now that you have come to the human form of life, you should inquire into transcendence, the Absolute Truth. And when one does seek answers, one will, if he or she is sincere or fortunate, come in contact with divine knowledge, either through sacred literatures or through realized souls. This is the beginning of the process of yoga.
Of course, what is known as yoga and is so popular today is pretty much the physical aspect of yoga, and that does have its place. It minimizes the disturbances to the body so that the yogi can meditate on the Supreme Soul. In the Vedic system the physical practices of yoga are not meant to improve the health of the body just for the sake of being healthy, for enjoying the senses, but to minimize the ills of the body for the yogi so that he can meditate on the Supreme for long periods without being disturbed by physical ailments.
In the classical astanga-yoga system there are eight rungs, like a ladder. (Asta means eight, and anga means parts.) The first two steps are yama and niyama, following the prescriptions and prohibitions. No one can become a yogi–no one can get release from the cycle of birth and death–unless one can control one’s senses and mind. So that is the beginning–yama and niyama. After a person learns to strictly follow the rules and regulations, he or she begins to practice asanas, various postures, and thereafter pranayama, breathing exercises that help control the mind.
But from there one must progress further. One must practice pratyahara, withdrawing the senses from their objects, and thereafter dharana and dhyana, different intensities of meditation. Such meditation leads to the final stage, the perfection of the yogic system, called samadhi, or spiritual trance. In samadhi the individual soul has direct realization of the Supreme Soul–and of one’s own spiritual identity–and one’s consciousness become completely absorbed in the Supreme. Thus one transcends the material miseries. Even within the material body, a yogi in the advanced stages does not identify with the body, and so does not suffer the material miseries in the same way.
The Bhagavd-gita describes samadhi as follows:
yatroparamate cittam niruddham yoga-sevaya
yatra caivatmanatmanam pasyann atmani tusyati
sukham atyantikam yat tad buddhi-grahyam atindriyam
vetti yatra na caivayam sthitas calati tattvatah
tam vidyad duhkha-samyoga-viyogam yoga-samjnitam
“In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. . . . This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.” (Bg. 6.20, 21, 23)
If a man is attached to his car and another car hits it, he may jump out and shout, “You hit me! You hit me!” Now, why does he say, “You hit me!”? I did not hit you. I hit your car. Why are you saying, “You hit me!”? Because you identify with the car. If someone else is riding in the car, who does not identify with the car, he will not be so affected. But because you identify with the car–“This is my car”–and invest so much of your consciousness in it, you get very upset. I was in a small shop in Chicago when a car grazed a customer’s vehicle just outside the doorway. Boy, he ran out–we all ran out–and it was as if his mother had been run over. We looked and looked and looked, and finally we saw a small scratch. “Oh, this is my brand new car!” He was really disturbed. He was a nice man–I am not finding fault with him–but he so much identified with that car that even that little nick caused him such agony, such intense pain, because of false identification.
So, although the yogi is in his body, he does not identify with it. Thus he can remain in meditation for hours, for days, and not feel the pangs of hunger or thirst. He doesn’t experience the dualities of heat and cold, because he doesn’t identify with his body. He is living in it, but he doesn’t identify with it. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even need the body. For what he is doing, being absorbed in the Supreme, ultimately he doesn’t need a body at all. And when the soul of the perfected yogi leaves the body, it does not have to take birth again in the material world in another physical body to enjoy and suffer the results of pious and sinful activities. Because the yogi has been completely absorbed in spiritual activities–the individual soul’s relationship with the Supreme Soul–he is fit by his consciousness to enter the spiritual realm and live eternally with the Supreme Soul and the other perfected souls. That is really the purpose of human life.
Now, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Of course, in the material world no one is all good and no one is all bad, and so no one’s life is all pleasure or all pain. Everyone is good and bad, and so good and bad things happen to everyone. Still, an intelligent human being will learn from whatever happens to him. Superficially, one may complain, “Oh, my boss abused me; this is bad.” Or “I found out that I have a terrible disease; this is bad”–or whatever. But what am I meant to learn from this? When we realize that we are meant to learn something from a situation, we see that the situation that appeared to be bad is not actually as bad as it seems. It may actually be good. For example, you lose our job and feel horrible. But now what? What are you going to do with your life? You may end up doing something better than you would have if you had just continued with the same job. Or I get some disease. Now I can’t eat meat. I can’t play football (not that we have anything against football). I can’t do the same things. Now what am I going to do? In the end you may do better than before.
And if one thinks, “I did not want this to happen. Why am I forced to suffer?” and “I was hell-bent for happiness, and instead I got pain. What do I do now?” and if one takes to the process of liberation from the material miseries, one’s life can become completely successful.
So from the spiritual point of view, nothing in the material world is good or bad. It all depends on how we use it.
‘dvaite’ bhadrabhadra-jnana, saba-‘manodharma’
‘ei bhala, ei manda’,-ei saba ‘bhrama’
“In the material world, conceptions of good and bad are all mental speculations. Therefore, saying ‘This is good’ and ‘This is bad’ is all a mistake.” (Cc. Antya 4.176)
Someone told me about a lady whose husband had won the lottery. Up until then the family had been relatively happy, but as soon as they won the lottery, everything changed. There was so much anxiety in the house, so much tension among the family members, so many disagreements about how to spend the money, that they actually considered that they were happier before they won the lottery. It is the same point in reverse. We may think that something is good, but it may turn out to be bad if we don’t use it in the right way. And something may appear to be bad, but it may turn out to be good if we do use it wisely. Therefore the whole question of why bad things happen to good people presupposes certain categories that may not be valid in application–or that require nuanced definitions.
Now, if we accept, as we do, that God is the cause of all causes, and if we trace whatever happened to us back, ultimately, to God, and if we believe, as we do, that whatever God does is ultimately for the good of everyone, then how can we say that something is ultimately bad? We must understand that there is some purpose for our suffering, and when we understand that purpose and come to the absolute platform, we will see how the suffering served as an impetus for our advancement.
People who don’t have that much faith or that much knowledge, when there is some calamity and they consider God to be the ultimate cause of it, they blame God. In a way it is natural to blame God, but those who do so don’t really understand the situation very deeply, how God’s ways work.
The classical biblical story of the problem of evil is the book of Job, which was adapted by Archibald MacLeish in a play called J.B. In the play comes a couplet, “If God is God He is not good,/ If God is good He is not God.” The idea is that if God is God, if He is all-powerful, then He is not good, because He allows so much bad in the world. And if He is good, then He is not God, all-powerful, because otherwise He would have stopped the bad, the evil. From a certain perspective, such problems can exercise a person’s mind. But if we step back and look from a broader perspective, with knowledge from books such as the Bhagavad-gita, we will see that people are getting what they deserve. “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And if we have an even higher vision, we will see that although things may appear to be good or bad, actually nothing is good or bad intrinsically; it all depends on us, how we use it. We will see that whatever situation we are in, God is giving us the opportunity to come to a higher level of consciousness and to progress towards the ultimate goal of human life.
Historically, there have been schools of education that believe that we should not give children tests. We should just draw out their spontaneous desire to learn and let them explore naturally, and not burden them with tests. Now, there is some truth to that idea. When children are small they should be given freedom, but at a certain stage they need the discipline of the tests, and examination of students who have gone through the systems without tests has shown that they don’t learn as much as those who have had tests along the way. So tests can be good for us. This might not be a good thing to say to an audience of students, who might be thinking that tests are one of those bad things that happen to good people, but from the educational point of view tests can be good, because we sometimes learn more when we have to pass a test. In the same way, we have tests in life. God gives us tests. The basic question is whether in the face of adversity we are going to think of Him or forget Him. Are we going to make the best of the situation and serve God, or make the worst of it and reject or forget God? And the ultimate test, the final exam, is the time of death. It is said that all of a person’s activities are tested at the time of death. If we pass the final examination at death, if we think of God at the time of death, then we graduate and go to God. We don’t have to return to this miserable world in another material body.
Yoga is a practice that helps us to think of God. Our final success in the practice of yoga will be judged at the time of death, and if we are truly fixed in God consciousness, if we do not identify with the body, then the transition called death will just be like walking out of the classroom after the last exam into freedom. Nobody is going to cry, “Oh, I’m leaving this classroom. I agonized here for so many hours, and now I have to go.” We will rejoice, “I passed! I am out of here!” So that is goal of human life: to pass the final exam–to think of God at the time of death–and to graduate, to leave this world of birth and death and enter the eternal, spiritual realm.
Now, one may question, “Well, this astanga-yoga may be beneficial, but it does sound difficult. Maybe if I were living in India, in the Himalayas, and had a proper teacher I could practice it, but what about here and now?” There is an answer for that, a method meant specifically for the present age, that basically achieves the same results as astanga-yoga but with much less physical rigor. This practice is the repetition of mantra. Mana means “mind,” and tra means “that which delivers.” By mantra the mind is delivered from its preoccupation with material things and brought to God consciousness. By the repetition of mantra one gets the same result as through the practice of astanga-yoga, but the physical process is very easy. It simply involves repetition of the mantra. Of course, one has to persevere in the practice to get the result, but the beauty of the practice is that even in its early stages one can feel pleasure from chanting the mantra and from hearing it. Now, one can repeat the mantra within one’s mind, but the difficulty there is that our minds are so distracted that if we try to chant mentally and our mind wanders, there is no mantra. But if we chant audibly, even if our mind wanders temporarily we have emitted transcendental sound vibrations that will purify us, and then when we bring the mind back to the sound of the mantra we get even greater benefit. But the power of the mantra is such that even if the mind wanders, the influence of the transcendental sound purifies one’s heart and one makes progress. One’s consciousness is elevated, and one can more easily focus the mind on the mantra and be less distracted.
So in the present age of Kali–there are different ages, and the Vedic literatures recommend a specific process for each age–in the present age, called Kali-yuga, the recommended process is the chanting of mantra, of divine names. There are many mantras, but one is called the maha-mantra, or “the great chant for deliverance,” and many of you may know it: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Someone may question, “You mean this whole long lecture was just to get us to chant Hare Krsna? These are the same people that used to go out on the streets and sing and dance and harass people at the airports? This whole elaborate discussion was just for that, to come to the point that we should chant Hare Krsna?” Well, yes . . . and no. Yes, we would be happy if you chanted Hare Krsna, because it has helped us and we are convinced that it can help you too–if you give it a fair chance. But no, even if you don’t chant Hare Krsna, if you just think about some of questions that we have raised and try to find the answers to them, whether through the Bhagavad-gita or not, we will be happy. We will be happy because we are not sectarian. We just want that people should use this valuable human form of life for the best purpose, to make a permanent solution to the problems of life–not the problems of making the payments on the VCR or the car or the house, but the real problems of repeated birth, death, old age, and disease. If someone imagines that they can find real solutions through material means–“Oh, science, stem cell research, genetic engineering: no more disease, no more old age, no more death”–that is an illusion. But if we get a sense that we don’t have to just go along with the miseries, with the prison life–that a solution is possible and we are not doomed to suffer forever–if we have a sense that we can actually get out of the prison and become free from the repeated miseries of material existence, that itself is enough. And if one just pursues that sense, one will ultimately be successful.
Thank you. Hare Krsna.
Ksuddhi dasa: You often hear people say they are so glad that God blessed them by giving them material things, and they think that’s a real blessing, but sometimes it may be better to have more difficulties. One time, when I was in South Africa, five thieves came and attacked me in the house where I was staying. One of them held a crowbar, and the others all had guns. One of them put a gun to my head, and the thief with the crowbar said, “Shoot him; kill him.” They didn’t want any witnesses. I was terrified and at first I tried to think of ways to save myself. But I saw that nothing would work. Finally, within myself, I just surrendered to Krsna. I thought I was going to die, and I prayed to Lord Krsna, “This is it. Now you do with me as you like.” So I just chanted. I chanted two rounds, two very good rounds, and suddenly the thieves got scared and left. So, I was thinking, when difficulties come up they help make you aware of your actual condition and help you to really remember God.
Giriraj Swami: God gives us different tests along the way–pop quizzes, or more major exams like mid-terms–and they are meant to help us to realize how much we know and how much we don’t know and where we have to study and learn so that when the final exam does come there is no weaknesses in our preparation.
There is a great devotee mentioned in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. She was actually a queen, but in the course of historical events she and her sons were sent into exile, and while they were in exile they were always close to God. In the end they were successful in their struggle, and her son was crowned king. They regained their kingdom, which was their right. But at the end of their ordeal she prayed to Lord Krsna:
vipadah santu tah sasvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darsanam yat syad
“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (SB 1.8.25)
In other words, “I wish that all those calamities we suffered in exile would come again, because in those calamities I was close to God, and I would rather have calamities and be close to God than have comfort and be away from God.” Of course, a yogi or a devotee of her calibre is always close to God, both in material happiness and material distress. But it is common that when people are in difficulty they remember God; they pray. “There are no atheists in the foxholes,” when one is under attack in war. In adversity people think of God and pray, and when the trial is over they think, “Oh, now I can relax and enjoy,” and they forget about God.
Student (1): How can we understand that action is inaction and inaction is action?
Giriraj Swami: She is referring to a verse from the Bhagavad-gita:
karmany akarma yah pasyed
akarmani ca karma yah
sa buddhiman manusyesu
sa yuktah krtsna-karma-krt
“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.” (Bg. 4.18)
An intelligent person sees action in inaction and inaction in action. Inaction means no reaction. A devotee engages in many activities for God, for Krsna’s pleasure, but he suffers no reaction, so it is “inaction,” akarma. And a false renunciant tries to be inactive in order to avoid reactions that will bind him to the material world, but even while engaged in so-called meditation, he still has to breathe, he still has to eat, he steps on insects when he walks, and so he become entangled in material reactions–because he has no knowledge of devotional service to Lord Krsna.
Student (2): If there is action and reaction, then why do good things happen to bad people?
Giriraj Swami: Here in America people usually ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But in India, where I lived for thirty years, people more often ask, as you have, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” There is a little bit of envy there. In other words, “I am working so hard, and that guy is lying and cheating and swindling, and he is living in a big mansion and enjoying all the good things in life, and I am still struggling in my little apartment. Why do good things happen to bad people? They should be suffering like me!” Well, you know the answer: Whoever is enjoying now has done some pious activities in the past. Now he may be misusing his pious credits–he may be squandering his pious credits–but he did something good in the past.
Our spiritual master told a story about a yogi who gave different blessings to different people. The first to approach the yogi was a prince, raja-putra. He blessed the prince, ciran jiva: you should live a long life. In your past life you performed pious activities, so in your present life you have been born a prince, and as a prince you are enjoying all sorts of opulence and engaging in all sorts of sinful activity. So you should live a long life, because as soon as you die you will have to suffer the reactions to all the sins that have committed. So you better continue to live.
Next was the son of a sage, muni-putra. As the son of a sage he was performing great austerities in the asrama of the sage. So the yogi blessed him, ma jiva: you need not live. There is no need for you to live now, because with all your austerities and God consciousness, you are liberated. So you can leave your body now and enjoy the fruits of your penance and austerities.” Then a butcher. The yogi blessed him, ma jiva mara: you should not live and you should not die. You should not live, because your present life is horrible, slaughtering innocent animals–blood everywhere, a ghastly situation. So you should not live. But you should not die either, because for all of the innocent creatures that you have killed you will have to suffer reactions in the next life. So you should not live and you should not die. And to the sadhu, the saintly person, the bhakta, he gave the blessing jiva va mara: you may live or die. It doesn’t matter, because in your present life you are relishing in God consciousness, Krsna consciousness. You are serving God, Krsna, so you are happy in your present life, and in your next life you will continue to serve Krsna in Krsna consciousness. So you may live or die; it will not make any difference.” These are the four lessons given to the four types of people.
If, as you say, good things are happening to a bad person, then we can only wish that he does not die, because when he does he is going to get the reactions for all his sins. So that is the best we can wish for him–other than Krsna consciousness.
Student (3): Maharaja, can you explain about the 9/11 incident and how it relates to karma?
Giriraj Swami: Can I explain about the 9/11 incident and how it relates to karma? Someone asked me that question a little after 9/11, and the answer took more than two hours, and then I had to continue it the next day. So we will save that for next time–or you can read the transcript of that earlier discussion from Visalia in October 2001.
Student (4): You said that if God is all-good then He is not God?
Giriraj Swami: “If God is God He is not good,/ If God is good He is not God.”
Student (4): What should the correct understanding be–God is all-good or God, Krsna, is good with bad?
Giriraj Swami: Let us rephrase the couplet: “If God is God He is not good.” In other words, if God is all-powerful then He is not all-merciful, because if He was both He would stop the suffering. “If God is good He is not God.” In other words, if He is all- merciful, then He must not be all-powerful–for the same reason. If He was both, then He would stop the suffering.
But the fact is that God is all-powerful and all-merciful. But His mercy takes different forms. Some sages have given the example of a parent. Sometimes the parent will give a bitter medicine to the child, and sometimes the parent will give a sweet to the child, but both are meant for the child’s good. The child may say, “Ugh. I don’t want this bitter medicine. I just want the sweet.” But the parent knows what is best for the child and administers it. Sometimes the parent will punish the child, and sometimes the parent will reward the child, but again, both are for the child’s benefit, so that the child will learn to be a good person and a responsible adult. So the same with us: Sometimes God will punish us, not because He takes pleasure in our suffering but because He wants us to learn and improve. And sometimes He will reward us and encourage us for the good that we have done. But either way, He is doing what is best for us, and the yogis or surrendered souls will accept whatever God allots as being in their best interest. They will try to understand what they are meant to learn from it and progress.
Thus great devotees pray:
tvan-mayayaddha jana isa khandito
yad anyad asasta rtatmano ‘budhah
yatha cared bala-hitam pita svayam
tatha tvam evarhasi nah samihitum
“My Lord, due to Your illusory energy, all living beings in this material world have forgotten their real constitutional position, and out of ignorance they are always desirous of material happiness in the form of society, friendship and love. Therefore, please do not ask me to take some material benefits from You, but as a father, not waiting for the son’s demand, does everything for the benefit of the son, please bestow upon me whatever You think best for me.” (SB 4.20.31)