Q. Please help me solve one of the mysteries that panic me often. I do wish to be in the service of the Supreme Lord. But I am often disturbed by the sufferings like poverty that exists in the world. Should we just leave all this saying that it is the result of karma? And how do you preach a person, who is not getting even a meal a day about Krishna ?
A. A devotee is compassionate by nature.However equipped with the higher truth, he tries to provide ultimate relief – relief from material existence. If one is disturbed to see people starving, then he should try and feed them Krishna prasada. The food will alleviate their material distress and the fact that is sanctified food will also provide them with spiritual relief. Similarly hospitals, orphanage, schools can be operate that take care of the material and spiritual needs.
Q. How should one learn to accept happiness and sufferings equally? What does rapid sufferings of an initial beginner in spiritual path indicate? Does God give material benefits to a neophyte or does he give rapid sufferings to test him?
A. In Bhagavad Gita (5.15) Krishna says that, ‘Embodied beings, however are bewildered because of the ignorance which covers their real knowledge.’ Being in a bewildered condition therefore, the embodied soul identifies himself with the circumstantial material body and becomes subjected to the temporary misery and happiness of life. Real knowledge is our understanding of our relationship to Krishna and attempting to re-establish it. With such knowledge one becomes equipoise without any attachment to success or failure.
Regarding your point about ‘rapid sufferings,’ Srila Rupa Goswami mentions in the Nectar of Devotion that ‘bhakti is klesaghni subhada,’ that it provides immediate relief from material distress. Srila Prabhupada gives the analogy of a fan that continues to rotate even after the plug is pulled out. Similarly, one may suffer from past reactions in the early stages of bhakti but gradually this will also cease.
With respect to the third part of your question, Krishna reciprocates according to the desires and advancement of the devotee. He gave unlimited opulence to Sudama and put Queen Kunti into so much distress, both very dear devotees and in both cases the end result was bringing them closer to Him.
Q. Many people have the idea that the bad karma can be reduced or removed through meditation, worship, samskara or sacrifice. What do you think?
A. Sukadeva Gosvami gives a similar answer to Maharaj Pariksit when he asks how to mitigate the hellish sufferings and sinful reactions. Sukadeva Gosvami prescribes that by performance of atonement to the sinful activities and by cultivating tapasya, brahmacarya, truthfulness, control of mind and senses etc., one can counteract the sinful reactions. So it is possible to reduce one’s sinful actions if one follows the prescribed way. However, this is hardly possible, especially in this age of Kali, when performance of the prescribed methods of atonement according to Vedic rituals under the guidance of qualified brahmanas or strictly following the above-mentioned processes is very difficult to say the least. Further King Pariksit asks, “But how can atonement really help if the sinful tendencies are not removed from the heart of the living entity?” He will be driven by those tendencies to keep committing the same sinful activities again and again and will thus be bound to suffering. Pariksit Maharaj compares this to the bathing of an elephant, which after a nice bath, comes ashore and throws mud all over its body again. The real remedy is therefore to remove the root cause of bad karma, i.e. sinful tendencies. Sukadeva Gosvami confirms this. And he describes how to do it: by surrendering to the Supreme Lord and performing devotional service all sins are completely eradicated, just as darkness is immediately dissipated by sunlight. Krsna will automatically take away all of one’s sinful reactions at one stroke as He promises in the Bhagavad Gita, without our having to undergo much trouble for atoning the untold amount of sinful reactions we have. Cf SB Canto 6, Ch. 1.
Q. What is Karma?
A. Every action has its equal or greater reaction – this is a simple definition of karma. Whatever activity we do good or bad brings us good or bad reactions. Due to good karma one may get a beautiful body become wealthy or very intelligent etc. and bad reactions may come in the form of disease, poverty etc. or in terms of heavenly enjoyment or hellish sufferings and so on.
Q. The soul is like God but it is not God. The soul is eternal – it has not birth and death. How does the soul come into being from God? What happens to the soul after ‘complete destruction’ i.e. after the death of Lord Brahma? What happens to the ‘unused’ karma?
A. The soul is co-eternal with God, just as a spark of a blazing fire exists with the fire, although not independent of it. At the time of total annihilation all the conditioned souls enter into the body of Maha Visnu and remain there in a dormant state for eons. ‘Unused karma’ is held in a dormant or suspended state, awaiting the next creation. Each soul gets another material body in one of the 8,400,000 species of life during the next creation, according to his residual karma. If he becomes a pure devotee, all his karma is finished and he can go back to Godhead.
Q. How one can take the guidance from Krishna in day to day work and how one can be sure that, he has got the guidance to act in a prescribed way, which shall not bind one to the result of work done?
A. By His representative…. the bonafide spiritual master coming in line of bonafide spiritual masters in a bonafide sampradaya.
Q. I’m a Krishna conscious person and I regularly chant the maha-mantra and read Bhagavad-gita. For the last two years I have been suffering from certain mental and physical problems. Whatever I do, nothing goes right. It’s said in the Bhagavad-gita that the suffering one gets is due to one’s past sinful activities. Is it possible to know these sinful activities?
Is there any way to see the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna with my own eyes and to thus solve my problems?
Q. You are doing the best thing by regularly chanting the maha-mantra and reading Bhagavad-gita. It is not necessary or even possible to know exactly what sins have caused our current suffering.
In the strictest sense, all activities other than devotional service to Krishna are sinful and they result in our having to take another material body in the next life. And as long as we have a material body we will suffer. That’s certain as Krishna tells us in the Gita. He says that the body is dukhalayam: sure to give us misery. So we shouldn’t worry about specific past sins but resolve to try to engage fully in devotional service to Lord Krishna.
As for seeing Krishna with your eyes that is possible when your eyes are purified by unadulterated love for Krishna. In other words, you can see Krishna when you have nothing to ask from Him. So don’t try to see Krishna just to solve your problems. Try to qualify yourself to see Krishna and your problems will disappear.
Q. What is the significance of one’s free will and efforts?
A. As Krishna has unlimited freewill, so we have minute freewill, by which we can choose and desire to enjoy in so many ways in this world, and make efforts to attain them. Alternately, by our freewill we can choose to act in relationship with Krishna and offer our efforts in His service. By doing our prescribed duties without attachment to the results, as advised by Krishna, we are still exercising our freewill, but in subordination to or in harmony with the Supreme Will.
Srila Prabhupada often gave the simple example of the finger in relation to the body. If a finger decides to feed itself instead of doing its prescribed function of bringing the food to the mouth, and detaches itself from the body, then despite working hard, its efforts will bring no benefit to the finger. Similar will be our efforts for obtaining our individual interests in this world apart from Krishna. Such efforts may bring some temporary enjoyment but ultimately leaves the soul suffering the miseries of material existence.
Q. I have been struggling for some time with questions such as: Is everything pre-determined?
Do we have to accept that everything is pre-determined and occupy ourselves with devotional service while still performing our duties?
Or do we have to strive toward a goal (even if that means being competitive) while still performing devotional service?
A. If I understand correctly, it seems that your question focuses on whether or not someone performing devotional service should strive to achieve something in the field of their occupational duties or in some specific way strive to improve their present life situation.
Devotees also have goals and aspirations that they strive towards, but their impetus is simply to please Krishna and increase their devotion and not the achievement of any material objective in itself.
In the course of trying to cultivate our Krishna consciousness and steadily progress towards the spiritual plane, we are advised to carefully perform our prescribed occupational duties and so we do. In the course of executing duties there may be standards to achieve and milestones to be reached. Our acharyas recommend that devotees should live very simply but whatever is needed to perform one’s duties nicely, one should strive according to their best capacity and to dedicate such endeavors and all facilities provided for that service fully unto Krishna. While working industriously the devotee also knows fully well that the result of one’s endeavors is in Krishna’s hands, not merely a product of their personal efforts.
Finally, there is a clear connection between devotion-based endeavors and the notion of predestination.
As concluded in previous Digest discussions, our past actions “pre-determine” our present circumstances in life but they do not pre-determine what we choose to do now. Our present choices determine our future. What we choose to do now can be executed on the material plane (deliberately or mindlessly, impelled by past conditioning), yielding temporary material results; or our present choices can be enacted on the spiritual plane, thus lifting us completely out of the cycle of karma. In other words, a devotee is neither directly interested in changing his/her karmic destiny nor overly concerned with improving his/her material circumstances per se, simply for sake of material welfare; however he/she is keenly interested in cultivating their relationship with Krishna. The devotee is contented to base their spiritual endeavors upon whatever position or within whatever circumstance of life they find themselves. In turn, Krishna takes charge of such a surrendered devotee and their life is orchestrated by Krishna and not karma.
Q. In several places in BTG I have read that while departing the body, if the soul thinks of Lord Krishna as the last thought then it reaches only Lord Krishna, the Supersoul, as its final destination. How does this fit with the laws of karma, where your past works determine your next life and destiny in the material world? Is it not saying that all your life you can commit sins and in old age run to the shelter of Lord Krishna and try to develop the skills to think of Him in your last thoughts and thus reach Him—in other words, attain liberation?
A. One of the main teachings of Bhagavad-gita is that karma or work done for the satisfaction of Krishna brings no reaction. Such work is called akarma. The devotee serving Krishna under the direction of Krishna’s representative, the bona fide spiritual master, performs spiritual activities that not only have no material reaction; they act to purify the consciousness. Purified consciousness means Krishna consciousness.
Unless we develop Krishna consciousness during our life to remember Krishna at the time of death will be very difficult. Srila Prabhupada cautions, “Remembrance of Krishna is not possible for the impure soul who has not practiced Krishna consciousness in devotional service.”
At death, we’ll naturally remember whatever we’re attached to. If we spend our life developing attachments to things other than Krishna, we’ll remember those things and look to them to save us at the time of death. So while it is true that whoever remembers Krishna at death goes to Him, we should understand that doing so will be impossible unless we diligently practice and awaken our love for Him.