When we are struck by a personal tragedy we try to understand the cause of our misfortune and ask the question “Why me?” We see others going about their apparently normal lives and we feel bewildered, isolated and alone in the midst of our confusion and pain. We ask ourselves “Is there a reason for this or I am the victim of cruel bad luck?” According to yoga there is no such thing as blind chance or accident and if our finite mind is not able to find the cause of an event, it does not mean that it is accidental.
Swami Vishnudevananda says: “The word ‘karma’, from the Sanskrit root ‘kri’, signifies action or deed, whether physical or mental. Karma is the sum total of our acts, both in the present life and preceding ones. Karma means not only action, but also the result of the action… Wherever there is a cause, an effect must be produced. A seed is a cause for the tree, which is the effect. The tree produces seeds, and becomes the cause of the seeds. The cause is found in the effect and the effect is found in the cause. This is the universal chain of cause and effect which has no end. Everything in nature obeys this law of cause and effect. The laws of gravitation, cohesion, attraction and repulsion, the law of like and dislike… From the vibration of an electron to the revolution of a planet, from a mango falling to the ground to the powerful willing of a yogi… all these are the effects of invisible forces that work in concord with the law of cause and effect. No event can occur without having a cause. The breakout of a war, the rise of a comet, earthquakes, floods, diseases of the body, fortune, misfortune, all have a definite cause behind them.”
From this perspective nature or God neither punishes or rewards. No one is to be blamed. It is just the unceasing precision and scientific accuracy of this law at work. However, if we take an individual life as an isolated event that begins with the birth of the physical body and terminates with its death, we cannot find any correct explanation or solution to the affairs of life. Swami Vishnu again reminds us that our present life is momentary, a mere fragment, when compared with our whole soul-life. Life does not end with the disintegration of the physical body. There is reincarnation. There have been countless previous lives whose imprints (DNA?), if we could decode and understand them, would give us a perfect, satisfactory answer and solution to all the intricate and complicated affairs of life; then there would be no room for grumbling or lamenting.
There is nothing chaotic or capricious in this world. Things do not happen by accident or chance in a disorderly manner. They happen in regular succession. There is a certain definite connection between what is being done, thought and said by us now and what will happen in the future. This knowledge gives us a strong sense of responsibility and makes us creators of our destiny: “You sow an action and reap a habit. You sow a habit and reap a character. You sow a character and reap a destiny.”
But are we to suffer passively the results of karma? Just as rainfall is not under the farmer’s control, yet he continues ploughing the field under unfavourable weather conditions exercising self-effort. Similarly, yoga practice is self-effort to neutralise negative karma which concerns the past but also allows us to shape the future with our own hands. “You are the masters of your destiny!” Swami Sivananda exhorts us to arm ourselves with discrimination, discernment, cheerfulness and undaunted spirit. “Do not give up hope and do not say ‘my karma has brought me to this’, do not become a fatalist, do not yield to inertia, you can change the unfavourable circumstances into the best possible ones.”
The suffering we are experiencing now can become the prod to go deeper within, to get to know ourselves better and awaken our potential of wisdom, love and compassion. There is nothing like suffering to empathize with others and open our heart. The Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross wrote his most beautiful enlightened poetry after undergoing his own “dark night of the soul”. May his words be a soothing balm that give you strength and inspiration:
… Oh, night that guided me/ Oh, night more lovely than the dawn/Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover/Lover transformed in the Beloved…
I remained lost in oblivion/My face I reclined on the Beloved/All ceased and I abandoned myself/Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.