Karma, Reincarnation, and Suffering: By Alan Jacobs
There is a great deal of misery and anxiety occupying peoples’ minds these days about the suffering currently undergone on the Planet through terrorism, local armed conflicts, starvation, disease and economic depression. Many atheists and agnostics base their skepticism about the existence of God on the observation that a benign and benevolent God of Love could not possibly exist, or else he would not permit so much world suffering.
According to sages, the highest teachings of the world religions are contained in the idea that we are all “One” and that we come from the same divine source to which many names can be given. Sri Ramana used to say that, “God is the actual form of love”. So why then so much suffering in the world? From the standpoint of our own teaching, that of the great Sage, Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, we must first understand that this plane of existence must be seen as a field of Karma in which the plan for human evolution is embedded.
As the Bhagavad Gita, and Ramana Maharshi point out, men and women are born into this planet with Karma or Destiny preordained by Iswara or Almighty God, for their own spiritual development. This was stated to Paul Brunton in his dialogue with Ramana and is fully recorded in the Book ‘Conscious Immortality’.
Nobody actually dies in Reality. Lord Krishna told Arjuna “Do not grieve!” After an interval of rest, the soul or jiva is reborn into a new life, again chosen from its latent tendencies, accumulated in previous lives, for his or her spiritual growth. This cycle continues until as a result of meritorious deeds they are, then through Grace, eventually brought to this teaching which in due course will lead them to Self Realisation. Then the whole Karmic scheme collapses and nature of God as Love is realized.
Sri Ramana’s point of view is well and fully expressed in a long answer given in Talks No. 272 on October 23rd. 1936. Also David Godman’s excellent anthology ‘Be As You Are’ has a long Chapter , N0.20., entitled Suffering and Mortality, and a further Chapter called Karma, Destiny and Free Will, with all the appropriate answers to this unnecessarily vexatious question. For those who are troubled by the problem of world suffering they would do well to read this material. Briefly Bhagavan states that from a higher perspective the question concerning the triad of world, God and individual should be seen as inventions of the mind. From a lower perspective, instead of worrying about the world, we should allow ‘He who created it to look after it’.
If this is accepted then the sufferings which people endure are benign in the sense that this is their preordained karma for the soul’s spiritual development. Bhagavan once said that all suffering leads to God Realisation. Nobility of soul and very many virtues are only born out of suffering. This samsara which is a time of purgation and purification uses suffering to bring its children back to true values rather than linger in the hedonism of a decadent and corrupt culture. As Hafiz wrote
“Never the greatest man that yet was born
Has plucked a rose so soft it has no thorn.”
We live in a world based on the law of polar opposites, which we have to surmount.
There has always been suffering on the planet. The suffering endured in the two great world wars makes contemporary suffering almost infinitesimal in comparison. At the same time we must never be hard hearted and indifferent to any suffering, and always act with compassion. As Bhagavan taught, if suffering comes our way, and in our path, we must do our utmost to relieve it. The Jnani is all compassionate, not only to human beings but to animals and plants as well. The greatest help we can bring to Humanity is our own Self Realisation which mitigates world suffering both amongst believers and the faithless.
The question is often asked “how do I deal with suffering when it happens?” Primarily one must ‘accept’ that whatever it is , ultimately it is all for the best. The human mind cannot understand the Higher Wisdom. With this form of surrender, one gradually perceives the lesson that we were meant to learn from our suffering. Every day living is full of stress, anxiety, loss and disappointment. After the acceptance to which I have referred we must hand over the whole burden of our life to God or the Sat Guru in our Heart as an act of surrender. Then he carries our burden, and all our cares are his.
Ultimately we must accept that everything which happens from galaxy to atom does not move without the permission of the Divine Will. Who are we with our petty egotistic humanoid perception, based on personal pleasurable satisfaction, to question the actions of the Master of the Universe, which are beyond our intelligence to even remotely fathom?
Note from the Editor: Alan Jacobs is prominent devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and has written a number of articles on this site. Alan’s article on self enquiry is given below. It also contains more information about Alan. Alan is also the moderator for the largest Sri Ramana group on yahoo groups called HarshaSatsangh.