[You can ask your own question here.]
Two much-respected Ananda leaders recently hit a karmic bump in the road (literally). Sudarshan has ridden a motor scooter around Ananda Village for 15 years without incident, until a few months ago when he crashed going over a speed bump and seriously fractured his leg. For weeks he was virtually confined to bed, in intense pain and dependent upon Savitri, his wife of 31 years, for nearly “everything in the material world,” as she described it.
My friend S. wrote saying, “I guess I’m surprised they would have to go through something like this. It doesn’t truck with my tidy ideas about karma. I think of karma as being about bad things we did in the past, not about our future good. Maybe they are suffering in order to teach the rest of us to keep on keeping on? This is a tough one for me.”
About twelve times in twenty years, David and I, with Durga and Vidura, led pilgrimage tours to India to many of the holy places described in Autobiography of a Yogi. We took about thirty people each time, mostly devotees, mostly Americans who had never before been to India or any other “developing nation.”
Because of poverty and overpopulation, you see things in India you don’t see in America. Families living on the sidewalk, beggars, some sick or deformed, surrounding you on street corners, impoverished trinket sellers who follow you for blocks and won’t take “No!” for an answer.
(In defense of India, I have to say that in the twenty years between our first and last pilgrimage, the country has transformed. Prosperity is on the rise.)
Some people choose not travel to countries like India because they feel they couldn’t cope with sights like these. Many of our pilgrims, too, were concerned, but that didn’t keep them from coming.
Their reactions varied. Some moved comfortably through these new environments, others were always ill at ease.
After a while, a certain pattern emerged which I think is relevant to your question.
Whether or not a person could be at peace with the conditions he met in India was usually a reflection of how calmly he could accept in his own life the fact that suffering is often a necessary, in fact, an inevitable stage on the journey to bliss.
In other words, as Master put it, an easy life is not necessarily a victorious one. And what are we looking for: ease or victory?
From the ego’s point of view, the purpose of life is ease and comfort. America is particularly dedicated to this “ideal.”
This is not, however, God’s perspective. What He wants for us is Eternal Bliss. The comfort of the moment means nothing Him compared to Eternity.
Do you understand that? Just to be sure, let me put it another way, in terms of questions you might ask yourself.
Do you rebel against the conditions of your life, or do you see, even in hard times, the hidden hand of God leading you from delusion to bliss? In the midst of difficulties can you find calmness and courage by remembering other hard experiences that in the end taught you important lessons and brought you even greater joy?
In other words, are you reconciled in your own life to the fact that suffering is a part of growth?
Compared to the saints we are all children in the way we operate because our perspective is so limited.
An Ananda mother told me that from the time her daughter was an infant the she and her husband were careful always to say grace before eating, ending the prayer with the words, “AUM, Peace, Amen.”
When her daughter was about three years old, she finally organized her thoughts enough to ask a question that had been bothering her for a long time. “Mommy,” she said, “why do we only bless the Peas and the Almonds?” For all those years, that’s what she understood of “Peace, Amen.”
Here’s another story of the “Gospel According to Children.”
A young child came home from Sunday School and announced happily to her mother, “Don’t worry anymore, Mommy, the quilt is coming.” The mother accepted this bewildering news graciously, not wanting to show her ignorance in front of her child, but after the daughter, went to bed, she called the Sunday School teacher.
Turned out the lesson had been, “Be of Good Cheer, the Lord will send you the Comforter.”
The point of these stories, besides being delightful, is to say: It is all in your point of view.
Karma is neither bad nor good. It simply is. It is energy in motion that has to be resolved. Everything in the end resolves back to zero. Quite an astonishing thought. Every upward moving wave has to be balanced by a trough. No matter how high the waves nor how deep the troughs the overall level of the ocean remains unchanged.
Karma is the waves. Truth is the ocean. We call karma “bad” if it makes us uncomfortable and “good” if it feels pleasurable. This, however, is childish.
The only “good” karma, in the final sense, is having no karma at all. Finishing the game. Coming to rest in the Spirit. Dissolving the ego and becoming jivan-mukta -- freed while living.
Yes, our friends were made very uncomfortable by the motor scooter accident -- he in the physical pain and disability of a broken leg, she by having to give up everything else to take care of him. She called her blog post about the experience, “Never Say: I Need a Break.”
And yet, if through meeting this challenge with “calm acceptance and joy,” as we say every week in the Festival of Light, this apparent “suffering” becomes the means through which the ego is further dissolved, is it “bad” or is it “good” karma?
You see it is all in your perspective.
[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]