Friday, March 11, 2016

Suffering, Karma, Free Will, and Destiny

Everyone experiences suffering (Nanak Dukhiya Sabh Sansaar). In times of crisis some find comfort in faith, and some find themselves more lost or confused because their previous beliefs are challenged. Questions such as “Why does God allow us to suffer?” fill the mind as a way of trying to rationalize what has happened. I’ve been reading a lot about this topic and decided to summarize what I have learned because it’s an important topic that needs to be discussed. Please forgive me if I make any errors, I am just learning too. Page references to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji given in brackets.

God created everything. “He Himself created Himself; He Himself assumed His Name. Secondly, He fashioned the creation; seated within the creation, He beholds it with delight” (463). His creation also includes pain and suffering. “You created pain along with pleasure; O Creator, such is the writ You have written” (787); “You Yourself created the entire universe, and having fashioned it, You Yourself shall destroy it all” (11). God created Maya (lust, greed, anger, attachment, pride) as well. In some other religions, evil is explained as being from the Devil, antithesis to God. But in Sikhism, there is none other than God, and all of His creation (including this world) runs on His will (which we call Hukam). All things happen according to the Will of the Lord God. No one can erase the pre-ordained Writ of Destiny” (41). Some people take this to mean that since it is all under God’s will, then there is no ability to make choices to change our lives/no ‘free will’. But if we read carefully and understand, we see that this is not the meaning. 

If nothing was in our control, Sikhs would not have fought oppression and the Gurus would not have taught us to do Naam Simran,etc. Guru Ji tells us: “That alone is a good deed, O Nanak, which is done by one’s own free will” (787). So what then is pre-ordained destiny? “That which is pre-ordained, cannot be erased. Those who met the True Guru are very fortunate and blessed; through perfect karma He is met.” (110). The ‘pre-ordained destiny’ is the framework for our life (circumstances we are born into), and results from the fruits of our own actions in previous lives (karma). In Sikhism we believe God does not live in the sky, but right here in our hearts and all around us. You could visualize yourself as having two lamps burning inside yourself, good and evil, and the oil is the karma we do in each moment. The good deeds feed the good lamp and doing the bad deeds feed the evil lamp. God has given us power to think and ability to decide which side to feed, which determines if we become closer to God or continue in our reincarnations.

In our lives many people seek to explain or understand the explanation for tragedies they experience and witness such as murder, abuse or rape. These questions are sensitive topics and difficult to answer, leading people to avoid addressing them altogether. I’m going to try to shed a little bit of light on these matters here from what I have learned and my understanding. The murder victim is one who has suffered due to the free will of another individual, not because they had “bad karma” and “deserved it.” For example Aurangzeb was using his free will to kill people- he chose to do that and he will be farther away from God for those actions. The person who has died will be in the spiritual “level” of closeness to God (based on their actions in their life) and will be re-born accordingly. It would be wrong to say that it’s all His Hukam so we do nothing about the murderers and rapists in this world. Our Sikh history shows us that it is necessary to stand up for those suffering from injustice when we have the opportunity to do that. This is what we have been given our minds for under His Hukam. God is the truth, and if our purpose is to be one with Him, then we must defend that. God’s Will means that he has given free will to us, free will to choose your actions and reactions to what you are presented with. Guru Arjan Dev Ji had the choice to cave into oppression and live, or fight oppression and not give up on his beliefs, but die. He chose death because he believed the human body is borrowed by our soul for a fixed amount of time, and the body is going to die one day but the soul will be one step closer to God by doing the right thing. When Guru Ji was martyred, sitting on a hot plate with hot sand pouring over his body, he stated “Your actions seem so sweet to me. Nanak begs for the treasure of the Naam, the Name of the Lord” (394). The Guru did not want to undermine God and start doing something opposite of God’s Will- he wanted to fight oppression, protect the feeble and show the emperor that he could not change his decision by killing his body. Guru Ji’s words show us that in his higher state of consciousness he was so filled with the love of God that he was able to transcend the physical suffering inflicted on his body. From Guru Ji’s sacrifice, we also realize that we are also responsible for our responses to other people’s actions. It is necessary to do what is required of us with the situations that present themselves.

The Babar Vani (360, 417-18, 722-23, 1288) is written by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who witnessed firsthand the atrocities committed by Babar during his invasions. Guru Ji and Bhai Mardana were imprisoned by Babar in Saidpur. While Guru Ji sang, the grinding mill he was given to grind corn was working by itself and word was sent to Babar who came to witness this himself and asked for forgiveness, promising to be a just ruler. Guru Ji describes the state of the people and their pain but reminds us not to blame God: “The Creator Himself does not take the blame, but has sent the Mughal as the messenger of death” (360). “The Creator Himself acts, and causes others to act. Unto whom should we complain? Pleasure and pain come by Your Will; unto whom should we go and cry? The Commander issues His Command, and is pleased. O Nanak, we receive what is written in our destiny.” (417-18).

Ultimately, only God is all-knowing and all-seeing. We are limited by what we can understand by our own lens. “Tell me, who should I call good or bad, since all beings are Yours?” (383). So it’s less about sitting down to assign blame and more about what actions we can take in the situations presented: “O Siblings of Destiny, let none think that they have any power. Old age, death, fever, poisons and snakes. Everything is in the hands of the Lord. Nothing can touch anyone without the Lord’s order. Within your conscious mind, O servant Nanak, meditate forever on the Name of the Lord, who shall deliver” (168).  

What can we do about our suffering?
“Suffering is the medicine, and pleasure the disease, because where there is pleasure, there is no desire for God” (469). At the beginning of Japji sahib, it says God is “nirvair,” without enmity. God loves all of us, and is forgiving of our mistakes. We went through 8.4 million reincarnations to get to human life so we could achieve jivan mukhti (liberation while you are still in this life). In that state you give up your will and accept the Will of God, allowing you to move beyond the pains and pleasures of the world: "Remembering Him in meditation, a profound peace is obtained. Pain and suffering will not touch you at all" (44). In your other life forms you were not able to meditate on the Lord to get to this higher state, or make choices to do sewa and simran instead of falling into kaam, krodh, lob, moh and hankaar. Human beings are the only beings on this planet with such and advanced stage of thinking and decision making power. The ultimate destiny of all of our souls is be one with God and is achieved through many reincarnations. “In the month of Katak, do good deeds. Do not try to blame anyone else. Forgetting the Transcendent Lord, all sorts of illnesses are contracted. Those who turn their backs on the Lord shall be separated from Him and consigned to reincarnation, over and over again”(135). Our life is similar to journey of a drop of water that left the ocean and longing to join with its creator one day. For some the journey is easy, and for others, which have become ice, the journey is very long. It is same for human beings. The pain and suffering is only to this body which our soul is borrowing, like the drop of water that borrowed the wind for a short period of time and traveled to different land. The karma is what we are doing in present and immediate past- it’s feeding who you are right now, and the person you’ll be before you die. God gave us a mind to exercise our free will, whether it’s choices to feed our ego, or the choice to rid ourselves of it. “Where does the ego come from? How can it be removed? This ego exists on the Lord’s Order; people wander according to their past actions. Ego is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well. If the Lord grants His Grace, one acts according to the Teachings of the Guru’s shabad. Nanak says, listen, people: in this way, troubles depart” (466). You can’t change the past and who knows whether you have one more breath- all of life is really lived in this one breath right now. In this moment, you have a choice to remember the God that created you and serve Him with love, and do whatever is required of you.

by Manpreet Kaur

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