What is the cause of earthquakes?
Unfortunate events like earthquakes are karmic reactions to our own past misdeeds; God merely sanctions the law of karma to deliver the appropriate reactions for our actions. He has nothing against anyone, as the Bhagavad-gita (9.29) states. He is neutral, as was mentioned in the previously quoted Gita verse (9.9) and allows nature to take its own course, just as an impartial judge allows the law to take its own course.
When a person touches a live wire and gets a shock, we can’t hold the electricity board responsible, even though it supplied the electricity that led to the shock. That person was responsible for touching the live wire.
Similarly, when we do misdeeds and get reactions, we can’t hold the universal government responsible, though it supplied the energy that led to the earthquake. We are responsible for engaging in misdeeds.
The principle underlying the shock and the quake is the same: we sow, we reap. The difference is in the time lag between the sowing and the reaping: instantaneous in the shock, delayed in the quake. That difference is because different actions bring reactions after different time durations, just as different seeds fructify after different time durations. For example, grains harvest after two or three months, some fruit seeds produce fruits after twenty years and some seeds after hundred years.
Similarly, we can observe that actions produce reactions after different time durations. A person who eats several ice creams at night may wake with a running nose – the reaction comes after several hours. A child who eats too many chocolates may find her teeth spoilt by teenage – the reaction comes after several years. A person who starts smoking in teenage may get lung cancer by late middle-age – the reaction comes after several decades.
Just as the action-reaction time lag may range from near-zero to several decades, it can extend to before this life and even beyond this life, because it is the same person – the same soul – continuing from one life to the next.
Why may a reaction be so delayed as to come in the next life? Because some reactions may require certain circumstances for fructification. To understand this, here’s an incident associated with the Mahabharata.
AfterthebloodyKurukshetrawar,DhritarashtraaskedKrishna,“Ihadhundredsonsandallofthemwerekilledinthewar.Why?Krishnareplied,“Fiftylifetimesago,youwereahunter.Whilehunting,youtriedtoshootamalebird,butitflewaway.Inanger,youruthlesslyslaughtered the hundred baby birds that were there in the nest. The father-birdhadtowatchinhelplessagony.Becauseyoucausedthatfather-birdthepainofseeingthedeathofhishundredssons,youtoohadtobearthepainofyourhundredsonsdying.
Dhritarashtra thought about it and then asked, “But why did I have to waitforfiftylifetimes?”Krishnaanswered,“Youwereaccumulatingpunya(piouscredits)duringthelastfiftylifetimestogetahundredsonsbecausethatrequiresalotofpunya.Thenyougotthereactionforthepapa(sin)thatyouhavedonefiftylifetimesago.”
The Bhagavad-gita (4.17) informs us gahana karmano gatih, that the way in which action and reaction works is very complex. Taxing our brain to find the specific karmic seed that caused the present reversal is futile. The Bhagavad-gita (4.17) emphasizes that the intricate workings of karma are too complex for the human mind to comprehend. This incomprehensibility can arise from several reasons like several karmic seeds fructifying together as one event or one karmic seed fructifying as a series of events.
Therefore, some reaction may come in this lifetime, some in the next and some in a distant future lifetime.