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I have a few questions that I have been pondering and seeking answers to and am hoping and praying you will articulate answers for me. I realize they are big questions but I REALLY do want to know!
1. If God, the Creator is really Bliss creating itself, then why would bliss create suffering and a place of duality?
2. To what degree is God involved in everyone and everything’s life? Does the Creator simply create and then free will and karma take over? Or is the Creator involved in every little detail every second of everyone’s lives?
3. If there is karma, how can there be free-will? Did we really only have free-will when the soul was first created? Why did we screw it up for ourselves in our first incarnation and then spend the rest of eternity trying to get back to purity to be with God 100% of the time? Why did the creator create the ability for us to create pain for ourselves?
I promised you I would answer these questions, so I’m going to try. But I have to say in advance I don’t have a lot of interest in answering them.
First because I don’t know why God does what He does.
I can and will tell you some of what I have heard Swami Kriyananda say on the subject. I would suggest also that you go to the index of any books by Swami Kriyananda or Paramhansa Yogananda and look up the subjects of creation, karma, and free will. They have the state of consciousness needed to answer with authority the questions you ask.
A further problem though is this: Do you have the state of consciousness needed to understand the answer? To understand why God acts in a certain way we have to be able to perceive reality as He perceives it.
In my life with Swami Kriyananda I have certainly learned that “his ways are not my ways.” Every time over these forty-some years when I have thought he didn’t understand something properly, it always turned out that it was I who didn’t understand. Not that I am ignorant or unintelligent. It is about my state of consciousness. More expanded, yes, than it was when I started, but not at all the level on which Swamiji lives.
Always I found, when Swamiji was kind enough to explain himself to me, there were factors that I didn’t even know were there. It has been a training ground for dealing with all questions of a divine nature that arise in my mind.
How big is my cup of consciousness? That is the limit of my understanding. If I want the answer to a question like the ones you have asked that are infinite in scope, first I have to expand my consciousness to hold the magnitude of the answer.
Which brings me to my second reason for being reluctant to answer these questions. What difference would it make? I used to think that if I could just get a good answer to whatever question my mind threw in front of me, the explanation itself would change both my consciousness and my behavior.
Over these forty-some years I have learned that explanations are interesting, and, to be fair, can be helpful, but change of consciousness comes from much more than just intellectual knowing. There must also be a change of heart, a change of awareness, a change of perspective.
In other words, the answer to “Why did God make creation the way He did?” is to live selflessly, love God, meditate, and serve. When your consciousness changes you experience the answer to these questions. Above all what you experience when you live in this way is an increase of inner happiness. That itself is an answer. God’s ways do not seem inscrutable when you are sharing in His bliss.
I know many people ponder long and hard on the questions you have asked but I am not one of them. My mind tends to flow along practical lines. How do I feel right now? What can I do to make myself feel better?
Knowing or not knowing the answer to the big metaphysical issues does not change the problem right in front of me: my own inner well being. Whether or not I have free will in some ultimate sense, I know from direct experience that the choices I make in the morning will affect the way I feel in the afternoon. The decisions I make this week will bring consequences next week.
Even if I can’t see far into past lives or future ones, the little bit of evidence I do have tells me that right action brings right result, that right attitude brings greater happiness than wrong ways of thinking, and that love conquers all. Further speculation may be interesting, but in the end, as Swamiji once said in response to these same questions, “What difference would it make?”
Maybe you think if you don’t have free will and life is all predetermined you’ll take a rain check on personal effort and sleep all day waking only to eat chocolate. Try it. See if it brings you the happiness you are seeking.
I like little questions rather than big ones. Maybe my sense of “free will” is only an illusion but it is an illusion that works for me. Little questions bring little answers that bring little changes that lead eventually to a total change of consciousness. This I do know. Not from books, or from being told by those wiser than myself. This I know from persevering over many years and finding out the truth for myself from actual experience.
Now to your questions.
Swamiji says it is the nature of Bliss to want to share Itself. He gives us the simplest example. If you see a movie you love or discover a restaurant with really good food, what is the first thing you do? Call a friend and tell him about it! Happiness is a lower octave of bliss, but happiness increases when it is shared.
Perhaps, however, your friend doesn’t like the movie at all, and finds the restaurant noisy and the service terrible. The fact that your effort to share your happiness did not succeed in making your friend happy doesn’t change your experience of the movie and the restaurant, nor your expanded happiness in sharing your happiness with others.
It is your friend’s particular state of consciousness that drew to him an experience different from your own, or caused him to perceive what you found favorable in an unfavorable light. It may have nothing at all to do with the reality of the movie or restaurant. It is only about what he experienced.
So it is with this world. Sometimes we experience this world as a place of suffering. Is it in reality suffering? Or is it only the way we perceive it?
The difficulty with answering this question is that what you declare as real -- “...why would bliss create suffering and a place of duality?” -- is not reality but just your perception of reality.
God made the world from His own nature, which is Bliss. Nothing exists in this world but Bliss. The mistake is in our perception, not in God’s creation.
Ah, but now we come to the reason why I didn’t want to answer this question at all. Suffering is how we perceive it. And the tendency is to blame God for our perception. Why didn’t He make it easier for us to see the Bliss?
I don’t know. But He didn’t. And all the saints and masters who rise to the level of God consciousness tell us that there is really no problem here. It is -- here we go again! -- our perception that is the problem.
If you mistakenly believe that someone has betrayed you and react with anger and despair, then later learn that it was you who misunderstood the situation, that your friend behaved in an exemplary way, that, in fact, there was never any betrayal at all, is it still your friend’s fault that you suffered? Did you even suffer if there was never anything to suffer about, i.e., no betrayal? Everything was always fine. It was you who misunderstood.
The saints tell us that we make the same mistake in our relationship to God and creation. We blame God for something we believe He did when in fact it was only our misunderstanding. Once we realize that we have misunderstood, it is a pure love fest between us and God.
As for how much is God involved in our lives, let’s ask the question in a slightly different way. How much is the ocean involved in the wave? Obviously, without the ocean there would be no wave. God made us of His Bliss. Even if we don’t know it, that doesn’t change the facts.
If your only perspective is from the top of the wave, you may lose sight of what you are and where you came from. Perspective, however, is only that.
Putting aside for a moment even the question of God, can you separate any aspect of your life from every other aspect? Even the minutest part, for example the clothes you are wearing today, are they entirely separate from the rest of your life?
When did you buy that particular outfit? Where did you get the money to buy it? What size clothes did you buy? Has your body always been that size? Did you gain weight from wrong diet or lack of exercise? Did you shop in a department store that only carries current styles? Is your fashion sense molded by the magazines you have seen or the taste of your friends or your mother?
Take any aspect of your life and try to define its existence without reference to what has come before. Can’t be done. We live in an integrated reality. Everything is tied to everything else.
In this context, what is free will? To act without reference to any reality except... what? Your own preferences? Your own desires? And where did those come from?
Every decision you make now is influenced by all the decisions you made in the past including past lives in circumstances you no longer remember. So yes, everything is determined by karma. Karma is just cause and effect. The cause being your own actions, the effect being an inclination to act in a certain way because of the understanding -- or lack of understanding -- you have within yourself.
Is this all a horrible trick from God?
Now that is a hard question to answer. And once again I am back where I live in relation to this question.
We are imprisoned by our own limited consciousness. Who put us here and why? At first this seems like a really important question, so we beat on the bars of our prison cell demanding an answer. The problem is, no matter how much we scream, no one ever answers the question in a way that makes any difference to our imprisonment.
Then someone says, “God did it. It is His fault. He created this mess in the first place.”
Now we have someone to blame! And we get really, really angry at God! But after a while we notice that all that anger has no effect on our imprisonment. In fact, it makes our little cell of consciousness quite unpleasant.
So, after a time, as long a time as we choose to make it, we begin to ask a different question. “How can I get out of here?” The question of who put us here and why isn’t as interesting as how to get out.
It sounds sort of sensible to say we were free in God and then got trapped in creation and why did He do that to us? But that is a question very similar to “Why did my friend betray me?” when, in fact, he never did. You just mistakenly thought he did.
God has always been the same with us and we just don’t know it.
But we will. And when we do, all the saints and masters tell us, that there is nothing to understand and nothing to forgive. There is just Love.
Hope this is helpful to you.
In divine friendship,
[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]