“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.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.25)
Question: “I practice devotional service regularly, but still from time to time, bad things happen to me. When they do, I can’t help but blame God. ‘Why do You put me through this? I thought You’re supposed to relieve my suffering?’ I know I shouldn’t think this way, but I can’t help it. What should I do?”
Answer: Many people faithfully observe the regulative principles of devotional service, which consist of the chanting of the maha-mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) and abstention from the four pillars of sinful life (meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex), but still suffer frustration from time to time. This is because the practice of devotional service does nothing to guarantee material fortunes. In fact, many times just the opposite occurs. Krishna will take away things that we are attached to so that we can better focus on our service to Him. Since our attachments to material things are so strong, many of us get angry and frustrated when bad fortune occurs. Many people try their hardest not to blame God, but they just can’t help it. Generally speaking, this type of anger directed towards God is viewed as irrational, but it can also be a sign of great devotion.
For aspiring transcendentalists, the first lesson taught by the Vedas is that we are not this body. What are we then? We are spirit souls, part and parcel of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The body, along with everything else in this material world, is temporary but our true identity, represented by the soul, is not. The illusory energy known as maya clouds our judgment and causes us to associate with our body. Maya tricks us into thinking that if we perform just enough activity, we will be happy. This is how karma works. Other people are also performing fruitive activities, meaning that everyone is essentially trying to be God. Since there is only one God, every person’s pursuit of material perfection is bound to fail. This failure doesn’t come all at once. Rather, the conditioned living entities suffer many setbacks in life, but this usually doesn’t deter them from trying to find material happiness.
“O son of Pritha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.13)
There are two energies that exist in this world, the material and the spiritual. The spiritual energy is eternal and full of bliss. The material energy is just the opposite. Everything relating directly to God is part of the spiritual or superior energy. The material energy is completely revolved around matter, which is temporary, thus it is known as the inferior energy. We living entities technically belong to the marginal energy, meaning we have a choice as to which energy, superior or inferior, we associate with. Associating with the spiritual energy means we are afforded complete protection. This protection is for the soul and not the body. Associating with the spiritual energy means we become free from the effects of karma; we are no longer forced to suffer through birth and death. The material energy provides no such protection. The conditioned living entities are competing with each other to become God, thus they are completely in the material energy, where they have no protection. Those who are in the material energy have no right to blame God for their problems, for they have chosen to associate with an inferior energy.
The game of American football is a great example in this regard. Though the game revolves around an oblong shaped ball and teams scoring touchdowns, the most appealing part of the game is the violence. Players that carry the ball are chased after by defenders who try to hit them as hard as they can. Football is the ultimate contact sport, with injuries occurring regularly. Players in the National Football League, NFL, often say that the average person wouldn’t last more than one play in a real NFL game. This is because the contact between blockers, defenders, and running backs is something most people have never felt. Football is a game, meaning people have a choice as to whether or not they want to play it. As mentioned before, injuries are very common in the NFL. Most injuries are of the minor variety; someone pulling a hamstring, dislocating a shoulder, injuring their knee, etc. However, there have been many occasions where the injuries were very serious. Several players have become paralyzed from football related injuries. Every season in the NFL, there is at least one game where someone gets seriously injured and lays motionless on the field. Players from both teams usually kneel down and pray to God that the injured player will be alright.
Now praying to God is never a bad thing. Yet this sort of prayer doesn’t make much sense. For defenders, the object of the game is to hit other players as hard as you can while staying within the established rules. In fact, it is quite common to see the deliverer of a big hit celebrate afterwards, as if to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. It is not God’s fault that people get injured during the game. He didn’t force anyone to put on pads and run around and hit people.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.29)
This same principle can be applied to almost everything in the material world. The entire creation certainly comes from God, but karma is just one of His energies. The Lord doesn’t take a direct interest in the fortunes and misfortunes of those who engage in karmic activity. When bad things happen to us, it logically doesn’t make sense to blame God. Yet we still see that many devotees just can’t help being angry with the Lord when things don’t go their way. This may seem like a bad thing, but it can actually prove to be very beneficial to a devotee.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail. Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6-7)
Lord Krishna’s most important teaching in the Bhagavad-gita is that those who think of Him at the time of death never return to the material world. They remain on one of His spiritual planets, Krishnaloka or Vaikunthaloka, for eternity. When we get mad at God for our bad fortunes, we are at least thinking of Him. This sort of mindset isn’t ideal, for it’s not God’s fault that we chose to associate with maya and karma. However, if we think of Him when bad things happen to us, it is highly likely that we will remember Him when good things happen as well. For the devotees who chastise the Lord for their bad fortunes, God has essentially taken ownership of their mind. Krishna is basically saying, “From this point on, you are Mine. You will never be able to avoid thinking of Me. Through the good times or the bad, I will always be on your mind.”
When we are going through tough times, it may be hard to curb our anger towards the Lord, but If we can, we should try to remember the famous prayer of Kunti Devi, the mother of the Pandava brothers. During the Dvapara Yuga, Lord Krishna personally descended to earth and spent much time with His cousins, the Pandavas. The five Pandava brothers were the rightful heirs to the throne held by their father Pandu. But due to a curse, Pandu died prematurely which left Mother Kunti all alone with her children. To make matters worse, Pandu’s brother Dhritarashtra allowed his own sons, headed by Duryodhana, to take over the kingdom. Not only did Duryodhana take over the kingdom, but he tried his best to kill the Pandava brothers through nefarious means. Somehow, through the grace of God, the brothers and their mother managed to escape every calamity. On one occasion, Kunti Devi directly prayed to Krishna and thanked Him for always siding with her sons. She prayed to God to allow her to always be in misery and calamity, for it was during those times that she was able to see and remember Krishna. Such a prayer is indicative of the highest devotion to God.
The forces of maya are so strong that it is very easy for us to forget this wonderful prayer from Kunti Devi. Those who are suffering through hard times should write down this prayer and read it every day. Kunti’s prayer doesn’t just represent flattering words, but the actual truth. We will inevitably come upon hard times when we take up devotional service. The great Vaishnava saint, Goswami Tulsidas, was reproached by his wife whom he loved very much. She chastised him for having too much of an attachment to her and not enough attachment for Lord Rama. Tulsidas was heartbroken, but at the same time, he used this as an opportunity to increase his devotional service. He turned towards God and what resulted were the Ramacharitamanasa, Hanuman Chalisa, and other great works.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada faced similar hardships during his initial preaching efforts in America. As a penniless sannyasi living in New York, Prabhupada had his typewriter stolen and was almost attacked by his drug abusing roommate. He persevered, redoubled his efforts, and what resulted was a worldwide movement which made Krishna a household name.
Actually, if we analyze the lives of all the great saints, we will see that every one of them had to endure major hardships after they decided to seriously take up devotional service. The lesson is that we should try our best not to blame the Lord for our bad fortunes. Even if we can’t help it, we should at least remember to thank Him when things do go right. The best thing to do in a time of crisis is to increase our devotional activity. We can chant more, sing more songs, or read more books. The more we associate with the spiritual energy, the better off we will be. Keeping Kunti Devi and the countless other great devotees of the past in our mind, we can find happiness even on rainy days.