“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
Friend1: Alright, enough of the safe stuff. Today I’m really going to challenge you.
Friend2: You think that scares me? I’m not afraid of you.
Friend1: No, no. I’m going to bring up stuff that you’re not supposed to talk about. This isn’t just being inquisitive about the nature of the world and what the ideal situation is. I’m going to reference some ugly aspects of recent history.
Friend2: Really no difference there, but it’s nice to know you think that way.
Friend1: Here we go. Let’s first establish something. The material world is a dangerous place, right?
Friend2: At every step there is danger. No one is truly safe.
Friend1: Unless you take up devotional service, bhakti-yoga. Then the vast ocean of suffering turns into the size of a puddle left by the hoofprint of a calf or something.
Friend2: “For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda or the giver of mukti, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf’s hoofprint. Param padam, or the place where there are no material miseries, or Vaikuntha, is his goal, not the place where there is danger in every step of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.58)
Friend1: Thank you. This is obviously one justification for trying devotional service. The world is dangerous. You never know when something bad is going to happen to you. Better to be safe and take the shelter of Mukunda, which is one name for the Almighty.
Friend2: Yup. You got it.
Friend1: Okay. So here we go. How do you explain the horrible things that have happened to devotees?
Friend2: Recently or from way back?
Friend1: Take any incident. Recently there are so many tragedies documented. Children being molested by people posing as guru. Women being taken advantage of. Lives are essentially ruined, and the tragedies occurred within societies that were strictly dedicated to serving Krishna, the all-attractive one.
Friend2: Oh, okay.
Friend1: It’s not okay. These people put their full trust into the system. They gave their heart and soul. They were left completely vulnerable to these wicked people and their unspeakable acts. Then there are others who got burned by putting trust in a guru who later fell down. The guru posed as being self-realized, above the effects of maya, but they were later exposed to be a fraud. Some of these offenders are still serving in leadership or management positions.
Friend2: Listen, I agree with you. Those are indeed tragedies.
Friend1: What is your explanation, then? You realize that the skeptics will use these incidents to discount every promise made by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.
Friend2: I do. There are many explanations. I guess the simplest one would be that the soul is imperishable. Though these horrible things have happened, nothing can kill the soul. It will live on. The worst thing someone can do to me is harm the body. That body is indeed temporary.
Friend1: Hmm, I think that’s a little weak. You’re using the difference between body and spirit to deflect attention away from inexcusable behavior.
Friend2: I’m not. I’m simply telling you the truth. Krishna started His conversation with Arjuna on this very topic. Arjuna was worried about the bodily welfare of people fighting for the other side. In the same light, we’re speaking of the bodily welfare here, so it’s important to keep in mind the eternal nature of the soul.
Friend2: There is the karma-angle of it, too.
Friend1: Like these people had it coming? It was in their karmic store to get betrayed in this way? Don’t you think that’s a harsh thing to tell a victim?
Friend2: It’s simply the fact. We all have so many sins we have committed in the past. Shri Krishna does say that one who takes up devotion in earnest has exhausted all their sinful actions. They behaved piously in the past as well.
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)
Friend1: Right, so if these people removed all their sins by taking shelter of Krishna and His representative, why did this bad stuff happen to them afterwards?
Friend2: We can look to the example of the electric fan. If you turn it off after it’s been running, obviously there is no longer a cooling effect.
Friend2: But notice that there is still some spinning. That is the result of the previous action, i.e. turning on the fan. So the effects of past karma in bhakti is similar. Though you’ve turned off future sinful activities, the results of past sins may not be complete yet. There may be some further punishment that appears in the future.
Friend1: Two questions on that. Shouldn’t Krishna stop those reactions from coming? He is all-powerful, after all. He can stop the fan’s spinning immediately if He wanted. Secondly, why don’t the reactions come right away?
Friend2: For the first point, the protection is there. Krishna guarantees that anyone who takes up bhakti in earnest is saved from the greatest type of fear. The soul’s welfare is guaranteed, no matter what happens to the body. There are so many examples of this. Prahlada survived the horrible attacks of his envious father. Hanuman faced tremendous obstacles in Lanka. He was ready to give up a few times. The Pandavas had bad things happen to them all the time. The protection was always there, since Krishna assured their future wellbeing.
Friend1: Okay, but what about the timing of the reactions? Why can’t we get the punishment right away?
Friend2: Shri Rama addresses this in the Ramayana. Oh, here is another example of people getting burned in devotional service. During that time, many sages were living in the forest. They went there to better focus on their meditation and service to God. The forests were thus known as tapo-vanas, places conducive for tapasya, or austerity.
Friend1: How did they get burned?
Friend1: What’s that?
Friend2: Night-rangers. Man-eating ogres would attack these innocent people. Imagine that. The sages weren’t bothering anyone. They barely had possessions. Why would anyone want to attack them? The Nishacharas were envious of God, and so they wanted to stamp out any sign of devotion to Him. The sages were known to be the most powerful in their worship. They were physically weak, unable to defend themselves. These ogres would not only kill, but they would eat the dead bodies afterwards.
Friend1: Oh my God. That’s terrible.
Friend2: Rama, who is God Himself, heard about this and stayed in the forest to offer protection. One time there was a battle with an ogre named Khara. Rama explained to the fiend that his due punishment was now arriving. Khara thought he had gotten away with killing sages. Rama made the comparison to the flowers blossoming on trees during the proper season.
Friend1: I see. So these bad characters will all get their due, even though they may not have been punished yet. You realize some of these people are still posing as gurus? How crazy is that?
Friend2: That’s the material world. You can get burned even by so-called religious people. Yes, Rama characterizes the reactions as ghora, which means “ghastly.” The punishment is commensurate with the crime. Despite these horrible things happening, be confident that there is no wasted effort in devotion. Just the sound of the holy name itself is so purifying. It will provide rescue, even if that rescue is difficult to believe in right now.
From devotion to God supposed to be safe,
Why then horrible things like murder and rape?
By men posing as guru authority commanding,
To this day in same position standing.
Like turned off fan continuing to spin,
In devotion possible effects of past sin.
For offenders at right time punishment to come,
Bhakti still best path, protected by Almighty one.