Is it true that the Uttarkhand disaster is caused by the moving of the Deity of Dhari devi?
An article is being circulated by email making this claim. How should we respond to this?
Edited By: Ketan Mehta P
Question: Is the Uttarakhand catastrophe caused by a human action? There is an email going around saying that this whole catastrophe has occurred as a reaction to the event of the deity of Dhari Devi being moved from the temple to another location to facilitate the construction of a dam. Is this true?
Answer: Can’t say for sure:
We can’t know this for sure unless Dhari Devi or Krishna comes and tells us that this has actually been done because of this. So this is at best speculative.
We can look at some examples in the scriptures where the goddess acts in malevolent ways. In the Srimad Bhagvatam when Jada Bharata was about to be killed by some bandits who wanted to offer him as a human sacrifice to the goddess Kali, she being intolerant about this atrocity being perpetrated on a great devotee, bursts forth from her deity form and destroys all the bandits. So certainly the deity can act in extraordinary ways.
But we can’t know directly whether the deity has acted in this particular time; because there is no scriptural statement. Our reference is guru-sadhu-shastra. So we can only look at inference which we can draw from scriptures.
Can that be attributed as an act of God?
Generally speaking whenever a natural calamity occurs and if it is attributed as an act of God or some higher being then we have to ask ourselves three questions. I have given a full class on miracles in the first lecture in the OMG series in which the topic was “Are natural disasters an act of God?” In such situation, the first question is, “What did actually happen? Did the claimed event happen?” Let us take the example of Ganesha drinking milk. Did Ganesha actually drink milk? Did the deities actually sip in milk? Then the second question is “Can it be explained by natural factors?” And the third question is, “If it requires some supernatural explanation then is that an act of God?”
Now certainly the Uttarakhand disaster has happened. Can it be explained by natural factors? Yes it can be. There were flash floods that occurred and because of that it happened. Now some people may say that this is not a complete explanation. The flash floods were caused because a particular deity was angry. That means you go to the third factor. Can that action be attributed to some higher being? First of all it is speculative. Even if for the sake of further discussion and argumentation we assume that it is true, this is religion at the level of fear. And religion at the level of fear simply alienates people intellectually and emotionally.
If we see Srila Prabhupada’s presentation of Krishna consciousness, although the Fifth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam talks about the hellish sufferings, that was never the emphasis of Srila Prabhupada’s presentation. His presentation was based on philosophical understandings. We are not the body, we are the soul. Therefore bodily enjoyment itself is illusion. And the emphasis was not so much that there is sin and there is suffering that result from sin. Rather there is ignorance and there is misdirected action that causes suffering because of ignorance. So remove that ignorance by education and give people higher experience by the practice of devotional service. So this is ultimately our goal.
Religion of love:
The Bhagavatam teaches religion at the level of love. There are four levels of religion: fear, desire, duty and love. The Bhagvatam glorifies and inspires everyone to come to the level of love; and that is where we want to go. At least we want to be at the level of duty. As sadhana bhaktas we want to purify our hearts and eventually come to the level of love.
How do we practice religion at the level of duty and love? Duty means to understand: “I am a soul and a part of God and serving God is the way that I will truly become happy.” This appeal to the intellect. And beyond that, when one practices bhakti, one gets deeply enriching experiences which also appeal to the heart. So in this way we actually appeal to the head and heart and attract people to come towards Krishna.
Religion at the level of fear simply alienates people emotionally as well as intellectually.
The idea that some temple deity somewhere was moved, and because of that thousands of people are killed, thousands of lives are devastated and so much destruction happened, does paint the picture of God, or whatever higher being you are talking about, as having a very negative and malevolent way. This kind of picture of God doesn’t attract people to worship God.
Intellectually also there are serious questions that might be raised. Are we saying that there were some greedy builders who wanted to make money by building a dam? First of all, we can’t make a very strong case even for this; because other people can also argue that it is for the developmental purposes, to provide water for many people. Often development is also a get well scheme for many people. There is no doubt about that.
But the point is that the things are not in any way as black and white here as they were in the case of Srimad Bhagavatam story of the goddess coming to rescue Jada Bharata, who was an innocent person being murdered. In that story we see that the goddess comes and she directly punishes those who were the perpetrators of the crime.
In this case there are some government officials and some builders who have a great interest in building a dam, and for that they are going to displace innocent tribes. What is the result of that? Is it that God acts so indiscriminately that thousands of people are killed? And what about those government officials and builders? Have they been victimized? Or is it that the tribes who were going to be affected harmfully by the construction of the dam and the relocation of the temple have actually become the greatest victims? Where is the rationale, the logic for any sense of justice over here? Where is the intellectual depth and coherence that we expect, if we consider God to be the all intelligent being, who acts with justice and love?
So if there were some miraculous descriptions where the people who were victimized because of these particular events were the people who were responsible for the scheme of displacing the deity, then we could be slightly more on solid grounds to claim that this is the action of the deity. But in this case it is not in any sense justice, it is just a blind fury, if at all the whole thing is true. And who would actually want to worship anyone who is prone to such blind fury?
The doomsday prophecies which are typical of the religion that operates in fear make religious people into a laughing stock. For example, there are certain sects of Christianity, who have said that doomsday is going to happen on this particular day. But such doomsdays have come dozens and dozens of times till now and nothing has happened. And then that particular Christian group tried to save face by saying that Jesus is so merciful that he has given us some more time. Thus they just cut a sorry figure.
Suppose this whole dam construction is avoided and the deity is brought back. Can we give a guarantee that there will be no violent rainstorms happening afterwards? We can’t. When we can’t prove, when we can’t empirically demonstrate, nor can we scripturally precisely explain a correlation between the events and the consequences, then to send a mass email to make such claims is actually a great disservice to religion.
There are movies like ‘Oh My God!’ which basically depict how religion makes a business out of people by scaring people. “Unless you do this, this would happen; unless you do that, that will happen.” Those critics are partly correct and partly misinformed. But when we send around emails like this and write articles like these, then we are giving fuel to the fire that is burning away people’s faith, credibility and inclination towards religion. There are some reports of religious monks, religious people, religious sadhus and babas plundering the victims of Uttarakhand. At such times we have to be sensitive.
Fidelity and flexibility:
Whenever we are sharing a tradition and its wisdom with the world, we have to consider its two aspects i.e. fidelity and flexibility. Fidelity means faithfulness – that which keeps us connected with the tradition. Flexibility means that we present the tradition according to what is appealing to the audience. For example, when Srila Prabhupada, went to America, he presented chanting and dancing. That was very appealing to the hippies. But when he came to India, he realized that chanting and dancing in the public could make ISKCON seem just like many other kirtan mandalis. So he focused more on building temples and making people life members and giving them his books. So showing them his books and showing them temples brought respectability amongst Indians.
Now, in this kind of propagation there is neither fidelity nor flexibility. No fidelity because we do not know for sure that this particular moving of the Dhari Devi is actually the cause of this. And secondly there is no intellectual coherence to the idea that one particular action, which is apparently displeasing to a particular deity, causes wrath on everybody, not just those people who were causing that wrath. This doesn’t gel overall with the scriptural understanding and revelation of a God, who is ‘just’ and not just ‘just’, but also loving. Thus we surely don’t have any clear scriptural precedent for this kind of correlation. If at all it is true it is religion at the level of fear.
This brings us to the point of flexibility. We see that our acharya Srila Prabhupada and others have presented religion not at the level of fear but at the level of love. Religion at the level of fear is emotionally and intellectually alienating. So this is speculative. This is insensitive to the sufferings of the victim people and it is extremely negative in the conception that it paints of a higher being that is blindly furious. We want to especially reach out to intelligent people and present Krishna consciousness in a way that it attracts respectability that it deserves considering the profound intellectual depth present in the Vedic wisdom tradition. These kinds of presentations can do a lot of disservice.
Presenting our philosophy:
Within ISKCON also there may be different devotees and some devotees may take a position that this can be true. They may feel that this kind of presentation is okay. But my main point over here is that this is religion at the level of fear. Also it is speculative. It paints a negative conception of God. It is insensitive to the people who are suffering. It is also intellectually and emotionally alienating the people. Therefore it is best that we don’t contribute ourselves to this kind of presentation of religion. Actually we have so such a deep philosophy with so much rational, logical, scripturally based, sound philosophical points to present. When we present that there are so many people who will be actually attracted to the truth. When we have such things to present, why should we present things that are going to lead to an unnecessarily negative perception?
In the Srimad Bhagavatam it is said that king Ugrasena had so many millions and millions, an inconceivably large number of body guards. So one devotee asked Srila Prabhupada: “Prabhupada, when we tell this to the scholars, they start laughing. Where were so many body guards living, where were their washrooms and how would they fit in? And they start ridiculing us”. What was Prabhupada’s response? Prabhupada could have said, “Oh, they are all faithless; they don’t believe that Krishna can do anything. We should have faith”. But Prabhupada did not respond that way. Prabhupada simply replied: “Among all the thousands of verses of Srimad Bhagavatam, was that the only section that you found to present to the scholars?” So Srila Prabhupada wanted us to present Krishna consciousness intelligently.
Professor Thomas Hopkins once asked Srila Prabhupada, “What is the most important message that you want to give? If somebody wanted to study a very small sample of your teachings what would that be?” Prabhupada quoted the following two verses from the dharma section of the First Canto Second Chapter:
“All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification.” (SB. 1.2.9)
nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ
“Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.” (SB. 1.2.10)
Prabhupada basically remarked that these verses talk about how we cannot become happy by material means. We have to become spiritually realized and even religion should not be used just for material gains. Religion is also meant for spiritual realization and spiritual advancement. So Srila Prabhupada has set a standard of how we should present Krishna consciousness. At least within ISKCON we should present Krishna consciousness in a way that is intellectually and emotionally appealing and by that way we can attract the kind of people that Srila Prabhupada and the Vedic tradition deserves to have in their fold.