I came across an article on the Cold Case Christianity website titled “Where is God During Natural Disasters“, and it got me thinking about how other worldviews address this question.
EVERYONE needs to be able to offer an answer to this question because EVERYONE has a worldview whether they realize it or not. Christians and atheists debate this subject, but what about Hindus or those from an Eastern worldview?
The Himalayan Academy has an interesting book called “The Path to Siva – A Catechism for Youth” that addresses various subjects including natural disasters, evil and its ties to karma. As the name implies, it was written to “inspire youth to know and follow that venerable way of wisdom embodied in the Saiva Siddhanta traditions of South India and Sri Lanka.” Let’s see what it says.
The law that causes an object to fall to the Earth we call gravity. The law that governs the reaction of thoughts, words and deeds we call karma. It is an automatic system of divine justice. By this law, what we sow, we will reap…Gurudeva said, “You are the writer of your own destiny, the master of your ship through life.”…Karma applies not only to individuals but to groups, communities and nations. [“What is Karma”, Number 31]
In the highest sense, there is no good or bad. God did not create evil as a force distinct from good. He granted to souls the divine laws of dharma and karma along with the freedom to act as they wish in the great ocean of experience…As Saivites, we do not see a sharp contrast of good and evil in the world. [“What About Evil, Hell and Sin?”, Number 25]
Each soul is created by God Siva from Himself. Siva’s nature is pure love. So, goodness, compassion, understanding and joy are natural qualities of the soul.. Since God is everywhere and in all things, there can be no place for evil. Evil is often looked upon as a force against God. But we know that all forces are God’s forces, even mean, hurtful actions...Yes, bad things do happen. Still, the wise never blame God, for they know such things are the return of our self-created karmas, tough lessons that help us learn and mature…Knowing this, the wise accept suffering from any source, be it hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, famine, wars, disease or
personal tragedies. [“Are Souls and World Essentially Good?”, Number 24]
These are some interesting and I would say foreign beliefs to many people. If you read anything about karma it is usually stated as a “divine law“, “a science” or something similar. As stated above, it is “an automatic system of divine justice“. Hmmm…how does this exactly work?
Q: If karma is an impersonal law, like the law of gravity how can it mete out justice?
Q: If justice can be meted out, how is it really just when the vast majority of people have no memory of what they did to cause themselves to be in the painful situation they are experiencing?
This would be analogous to the police showing up to your house unannounced with a search warrant, arresting you and putting you into jail for the rest of your life and not telling you what you did to deserve your punishment.
Q: How is justice meted the first time you enter onto the wheel of samsara? What would you have done for example to be born a dalit/untouchable or an animal?
Based on the Hindu/Eastern pantheistic worldview, if ALL IS GOD and GOD IS ALL then there is no distinction between good and evil. If you say something is EVIL, then you are saying God or the Ultimate Reality is EVIL which a person can’t do if they are to be consistent. This is exactly what is acknowledged above in the Path to Shiva book. So if God isn’t part of the equation, it has to be your own doing and the return of your own negative karma that has caused the condition you are in.
The Garuda Purana is one of eighteen Mahapurana texts in Hinduism, and many chapters are a dialogue between Vishnu and his bird mount Garuda. Some of the dialogue is as follows:
Garuda it is most difficult to get human birth among all these births. This human birth is most sacred of all births…Holding these it is the human birth that is most exalted. In that human birth there are Brahmins, kshatriyas, vaisikas and sudra, thus four sects of people.
Among the humans too the Brahmin life still exalted. Among the Brahmin persons, the one who are involved in the studies of Vedas and understanding of the puranas lead a better life in comparison to one’s leading mundane lives getting embroiled in day to day living and squabbles…it is the human birth which leads to swarga and getting mukthi.
The Garuda Purana also provides details on the fate of those who commit various sins and earn negative karma.
Those who, self-indulgent, do not worship Siva, Sivâ, Hari, Sûrya, Ganesa, the wise, and the good teachers,–these certainly go to hell.
the murderer of a virgin becomes leprous…who steals a book-is born blind…who steals food becomes a rat; who steals grain becomes a locust
The pupil who does not serve his teacher becomes an animal,–an ass or a cow.
Who hates mother, father and teacher, who quarrels with sister and brother, is destroyed when an embryo in the womb, even for a thousand births
The stealer of gold attains the condition of a worm, an insect and a bird
These and other signs and births, O Lord of Birds, are seen to be the karma of the embodied, made by themselves in this world. Thus the makers of bad karma, having experienced the tortures of hell, are born with the residues of their sins, in these stated forms. Then, obtaining for thousands of lives the bodies of animals, they suffer from carrying burdens and other miseries. Having experienced as a bird the misery of cold, rain and heat, he afterwards reaches the human state, when the good and evil are balanced.
Karma which has been made, whether good or evil, must inevitably be suffered. Karma not suffered does not fade away even in tens of millions of ages.
According to Swami Sivananda, the diseases we suffer from the birth are all products of actions done by us in previous times. See the table below for some of the diseases one is said to get based on specific negative karmic actions in previous lives.
|Who insults others, breaks promises, causes great disappointment to another, deprives one of his property, disgraces others in public||Gets mental agony and pain.|
|Who plugs up or blocks up the hole of a rat or a snake, who catches fish and causes them to die by suffocation, who stifles the life of any creature||Gets Asthma, lung diseases, pleurisy, bronchitis (severe), pneumonia, etc.|
|Who indulges with prostitutes, commits adultery, and leads an impure life||Gets leprosy.
|Who casts lustful look on women, who eyes others’ property, whose heart burns at others’ well-being, who visits nautch-parties||Gets permanent eye-diseases.|
|Who is hypocritic, who under the guise of goodness and virtue continuously torments others with petty tyranny, who constantly ill-treats, beats and deals harshly with little children||Gets bad itches and skin diseases.|
|Lawyers and advocates who twist truth and falsehood in court-cases||Get colour-blindness, saint vitus’s dance, squint-eye and cataract; are born with a deformed body and afflicted with loss of memory.|
|Cruel doctors who ill-treat patients, and give worthless medicines charging high rates, who inject aqua and charge high fees,||Are born as women and have womb-disease. Their conceptions and delivery will be attended by severe complication, pain and will mostly result in abortion|
|Who torture people in prisons||Will be born cripples and paralytic and will suffer from chronic nervous pains and rheumatic troubles.|
|Capitalists who extract forced labour from workers, and pay them very low wages in factories, etc.,||Suffer from Asthma, great suffocation, and tumour in the brain with unbearable pain, and will also become subject to gout, rheumatism, lumbago and hunch back|
In the book “Karma – The Ancient Science of Cause and Effect“, Jeffrey Armstrong gives more details about how this system of divine justice actually works. It’s interesting he uses the word “science” when talking about karma. On page 10 of the book he says, “We initiate an action and at a certain time in the future, we reap the fruit of our deeds…’As you sow, so you shall reap.’ Karma is the science of our actions and their outcomes.” This is a mere assertion that karma is a “science” and is nowhere substantiated in the book.
Mr. Armstrong describes our existence here on earth as being in a park gaining different experiences along the way. There are also mandatory park rules that need to be followed, and the key players in the operation of the park are divine beings or “gods” called “devas” or “devis“. These gods have power over and manage certain departments or forces of nature analogous to someone being in charge of the water department, electricity, gas, etc. As Mr. Armstrongs says:
The devas are crucial to the understanding of karma, since they are the delivery system for our long-forgotten parcels of karma...everything we do creates a stream of karma packets, letters, and packages with out names on them, which is constantly being “returned to sender.”
So using the delivery system analogy, the devas make sure humans are held accountable for their actions by making sure they receive the effects of their karma. In order for this delivery system to work efficiently,
the many souls in the park have to be brought together again and again in various situations in order to pay back debts to each other…the devas sometimes need to control our actions in order to position us next to someone with whom we have old karma to pay or receive…All of the inexplicable and unavoidable coincidences, accidents, or enforced circumstances in our lived are the actions of the devic air traffic control department.
So everything that happens to you, good or bad, is a result of karma you have sown. So for example, if you get into a car accident why would you sue the person who hit you? You are only receiving your deserved parcel of karma from the devas. To interfere with the just distribution of your karma would appear to generate more negative karma for you.
The book “The Science of Karma” by Pujya Dadashri is written as a series of questions from a Questioner to Mr. Dadashri. Hmmm….there is the word “science” used with karma to try to lend some sense of credibility. Below is an exchange about how karma is managed and controlled. Let’s see if the answer agrees with that given by Mr. Armstrong in his book. Is there a contingent of devas managing and orchestrating the karmic delivery system?
Questioner: So who manages all this?
Dadashri: The rules of karma are such that when you create karma, the result will come naturally and automatically.
Questioner: Who decides the fruits of karmas we have to experience? Who makes us experience these?
Dadashri: They do not need to be decided. The karma itself does this. It happens on its own.
Questioner: Then who governs the rules of karma?
Dadashri: When two atoms of Hydrogen and one of Oxygen come together, we automatically get water. That is the rule of karma.
Questioner: But somebody must have made that rule?
Dadashri: Nobody makes the rules; otherwise there would be a creator. Nobody has to make the rules. This puzzle has come about on its own governed by the laws of science…this world is run only by Scientific Circumstantial Evidences.
Dadashri: If someone were needed to deliver karma-fruits, then he would have to have a gigantic office. Everything runs scientifically. There is no need for a middleman. When the time is up for maturation of karma, it automatically comes into effect. Just like these mangoes that ripen automatically. (pgs. 37-38)
He further states the effects of karma and who is responsible:
The existence of bondage lies entirely on you, you are responsible for it. Everything is your own projection…Everything you encounter is your own design; nobody else is responsible for it. For endless lives, you have been responsible, “wholly and solely.” (pg. 17 & 18)
The responsibility is your own. You are wholly and solely responsible. When a person gets shot, he is suffering the effect of his past life’s karma. (pg. 23)
Karma requires time to come into fruition; for some people it may take five hundred to even a thousand years to mature. (pg. 37)
From the above we see that Mr. Dadashri contradicts what is stated by Mr. Armstrong as to how the whole karmic delivery system works. As he says “There is no need for a middleman (i.e. devas). Who is correct? How is any of this scientific?
Let’s recap what has been stated by proponents of the concept of karma:
- Everything you encounter is your own design. You are wholly and solely responsible. What you sow you will reap
- The devas control various forces or departments of nature (i.e. hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.)
- The devas control the delivery of your parcels of karma
- The devas bring people together in order to pay back karmic debt
- The devas don’t control the delivery of your parcels of karma. The results of karma will come naturally and automatically. There is no need for a middleman (i.e. devas)
- When a person gets shot, he is suffering the effect of his past life’s karma.
- knowing such things are the return of our self-created karmas, the wise accept suffering from any source, be it hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, famine, wars, disease or personal tragedies
In an article titled “There is no Injustice” taken from a theosophy website it says:
Madame Blavatsky has said in “The Secret Doctrine” that it is only this teaching of the Law of Karma that will ever satisfy the mind and heart of the intelligent and thinking person who seeks answers to such pertinent questions as “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why do disasters happen?” and “Why do some people suffer?” and so forth.
At some point, either earlier in the present lifetime or in a preceding lifetime, the person must have behaved in an unpleasant, harmful, negative, or inappropriate way, and committed what Buddhist teachings call “non-virtuous actions.” For every action, there must be and always will be a corresponding reaction at some future point…What we reap is what we have sown.
There is no Divine Being behind this Law of Universal Balance, Harmony, and Equilibrium. It is simply LAW, uncreated, eternal, and immutable, the Law inherent in the Universe. It just simply is…
if we find any people particularly marked out for persecution, we may be sure that as egos in other times they had been the offenders and are reaping what they sowed…“There is no injustice. What we see as apparent injustice seems so because we do not see the causes which have produced the present ill effects.
Karma is the key-note to all conditions, for it governs the smallest atom as well as the highest spiritual being; it governs men, animals, worlds, and periods of evolution, in their individual actions and in their collective interactions.
Below are questions from a reader about the above article on the Theosophy website with a response.
Q: How does Karma explain the Holocaust and the millions of victims. Were these victims perhaps ALL former agents of the Inquisition or some other past madness?
Q: How about the hundreds of schoolgirls captured by Nigeria’s Islamist sect Boko Haram who have subsequently been subjected to rape, forced marriage and coerced participation in ambushes OR the citizens of North Korea who for their “sins” against the state will have 3 generations of their families executed?
Q: Are children raped or otherwise abused by their parents/relatives or family “friends” living their presence as they set up for themselves in their past? Of course, I can go on and on…
Q: No such thing as innocent victims?
The reply to questions above is given below:
If these awful situations are not due to the Karma of the souls involved, then what are they due to? And if Karma is an accurate explanation for SOME things, how can it not be valid for ALL things?
But a study of Theosophy and careful thought over its doctrines of Karma and reincarnation leads one to conclude that these MUST all be Karmic consequences. The particular past action that puts one person in such a position may be quite different and may have occurred in quite another time, place, and era, from that which puts another in the same position at the same time. But in all cases everything proceeds according to the Law of Karma – the Law of self-created destiny – and so yes, it is true in one sense that there are no “innocent victims.”
Through past actions and deeds, each soul has indeed fashioned for itself its own experiences and circumstances, whether pleasurable or painful… Their Karma caused their pain…
So based on what we’ve seen about the karmic delivery system, we would have to believe that all those tragically killed in the 911 World Trade Center attacks were deserving of what happened to them and were either (1) brought together at the same time by the devas to mete out justice that was deserved or (2) it happened naturally and automatically without intervention from the devas. The same would be true of those who die in hurricanes, tornadoes, other natural disasters, mass killings, etc.
Those of an Eastern worldview believe the soul or “atman” is eternal. You will eventually be reincarnated, gain additional experience in the park and go through 100’s or 1,000’s of lifetimes until you finally escape the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. There should not be a feeling of outrage or tragedy from events as noted above. The people that were part of these tragedies and disasters are only getting what they karmically deserve. It is just part of the automatic system of divine justice.
I wonder if other people who hold to an Eastern worldview would agree with Mr. Armstrong or Mr. Dadashri’s explanations of how karma works? I have a feeling there isn’t a consensus on the subject.