Why do serious devotees sometimes die prematurely?
My mother who was a practicing devotee suddenly passed away due to an illness even before it could be diagnosed. My father is distraught and asked me – why did God allow one who was so devoted to him die like this?
Transcribed and edited by: Bhakta Ambuj Gupta and Keshavgopal Das
Question: My mother was a serious devotee, practicing devotional life very seriously but she got some disease and before it could be diagnosed she passed away and my father has become distort and he is specially questioning that why this thing happened to someone who is so devoted to God? How do I answer this question?
Answer: The purpose of spiritual life is to give us strength to face the challenges of life. It is not necessarily to escape the challenges of life. In life we all face unexpected obstacles and reversals at various times and sometimes we can find out the causes, sometimes we just can’t find out the causes. Important is not to get obsessed by the question why this but to focus on how now. Why this means why did this happened? When we ask this question we are confronted with our minuteness as compared with the hugeness of the universe. The reason this confrontation take place is because the vastness of both the universe and the complexity of the causal connections in it are not known to us and hence the question comes why this. Ultimately this question is something which we cannot answer actually. Of course the scriptures do explain that whatever happens to us is result of our own past karma.
If some accident or disease happens to someone, we understand that God is not unfair. God does not victimize anyone unnecessarily. If something like this happens it is a reaction to something that one has done in the past. This may raise a question that this person is so good, a serious devotee, nothing bad can be seen, how could that person had done something bad in the previous life? The point is that we have not gone through just one life, but we gone through many-many lives and in the many lives we have gone through we have done various kinds of activities.
In the Mahabharata, there is a story where Dhritarashtra asks Krishna- I had hundred sons and why all the hundred sons died. Krishna told Dhritarashtra that fifty life times ago you were a hunter and there you went to kill a he bird and she bird but you couldn’t catch them, you slaughtered their hundred birdlets. The he and she bird who escaped your clutches were forced to watch in helpless agony as you massacred their children. Just as you forced them to suffer the massacre of their children, similarly you had to suffer the massacre of your hundred children. Dhritarashtra thought and he asked again but why I had to wait for fifty life times? Krishna replied that actually to get hundred sons in one life time require lot of punya (pious activities). So you had to do punya for fifty life times, and only after that you got the reaction. What this mean is, sometimes we may have done good in previous life but there might be something wrong that we may have done even before that which actually causes the reaction. That’s why when we ask why this then there is no clear answer that you can get.
We understand that this world has cause and effect. If I put my hand in fire, it burns immediately. If I eat cold food on a winter, I get running nose within few hours. If a person eats too much then within a month the person’s weight will increase. In these three examples the point is that the distance between cause and effect varies. If it is fire the effect is immediate, with cold food eating it is after few hours, with overeating it is after few weeks or months. The point is although there is time lag between cause and effect, we see cause and effect everywhere in this world.
We understand based on shastra that there is cause and effect and even if we don’t know the specific cause we understand that God is not up there causing these sufferings to us. The suffering is the reaction as per the impartial law of karma. It is not God who causes a person’s hand to burn, it is fire which naturally burns and the person who puts the hand invites that burning. Similarly, we shouldn’t think that God is up there causing the suffering to us. God is in here helping us to endear the suffering, helping us to go through and grow through the suffering.
Once I had a series of diseases and lot of health complexities. In one of my prayers I wrote a poem in Hindi.
आया संकट तो हुआ साक्षात्कार,
बिना भक्ति मैं कैसे करता इन्हें पार ।
When miseries came I got the realization that without devotional remembrance of Krishna how could I have crossed these obstacles.
It is the remembrance of Krishna that sheltered me, gave me strength, gave me purpose to endure those sufferings and such an approach applies to all of us.
It’s certainly sad that your mother passed away when she was relatively young. Also at the same time we have to understand that because she was a devotee the magnitude of her suffering would have reduced substantially. That is within our perception. A person who is devotee when calls out to Krishna or even if a person does not call out to Krishna, internally there is a remembrance of Krishna which act as a shock absorber. If we consider the journey of life to be like moving on a road and consider we are going on a vehicle say a motor cycle, the shock absorbers in the motor cycle reduce the jolting substantially. The remembrance of Krishna doesn’t change the nature of the road. Similarly, the shock absorber doesn’t change the nature of the road but they change the nature of our experience. We will still be jolted when we go through journey of life but remembrance of Krishna as a shock absorber minimizes the jolts. Surely, the suffering that your mother went through would have been much lesser because she had cultivated the habit of remembering Krishna. Of course, beyond this, she would have attained an auspicious destination because of devotion to Krishna. In the same way, we too can get the shelter of remembrance of Krishna. We too can experience the shock absorbing effect, the solace, the shelter, the strength, that comes from Krishna bhakti. Rather than blaming God and thinking that He is up there causing the suffering to me we need to realize sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo (BG15.15). Krishna says I am present in the hearts of everyone. He is right there within our hearts with us. He is eager to help us to overcome, tolerate, and transcend the sufferings if we just turn towards Him and take shelter of Him. Rather than blaming God we can take shelter of God and we will be able to endure and grow through the suffering.
In this world we have two type of relationships- horizontal relationship and a vertical relationship. The horizontal relationship is with the people around us- family members, elders, youngers, equals. We have a vertical relationship with God, Krishna. These two relationships are meant to be symbiotic. Naturally, our horizontal relationship become deeper because these people are around us. We can see them, talk to them, interact with them. Naturally, those relationships are stronger but those relationships are not eternal. We are not going to live eternally. This does not mean that our natural inclination for relationships has to be frustrated. Nor does it means that we are not made to live without love. Rather our horizontal relationship in meant to stimulate our vertical relationship. Our need for love can be satisfied only when we love the eternal object of love i.e. Krishna. In fact, we should see that whatever love, affection, kindness we get from anyone, ultimately it is Krishna who is giving us through that person. It is Krishna who brings certain person in our lives, whether it is our mother, father, spouse, children etc. It is Krishna who is giving that love through them. It is Krishna’s love that we glimpse through their love for us. Of course those people love us. They are finite beings like us and their love is just finite but through that finite love we glimpse Krishna’s infinite love. The ideal family relationship is where the loving horizontal relationships stimulates the vertical relationship and we feel inspired to learn to love the eternal object of love, Krishna. You are fortunate that you had a family member, a mother, a wife, who had a strong vertical relationship and your affection for her can become the stimulus for your developing the vertical relationship. Now that she is gone what is the good you can do for her?
Naturally when some loved one passes away we often feel, there was more much that I could have done for this person. There is definitely something which you can do in two ways. One is, although she is not there physically for us to do anything right now but she as a soul is still alive. Wherever she is, if you practice bhakti because she is related with you that benefit of your practice will go to her also. Moreover, we can think what pleased her. She practiced bhakti because it helped, strengthened, and benefited her. She would be happy if you practice bhakti now. The shelter that she had if you take up that shelter, not only will you benefit her, but you will also please and satisfy her. In that way rather than feeling bereaved through this experience you can become strengthened. The grief will not go away immediately rather you will be able to grow through this grief by developing another relationship that will take you beyond grief. Krishna is not the cause of this. Krishna is not apathetic in this. Krishna is there with you right now to help you endure this and to grow through this. Just turn to Him and take shelter of Him, chant His holy names, study the Bhagavad Gita, pray to Krishna in the temple and you will find a great peace coming in your life. You will see that rather than feeling empty you’ll get a fullness that you never had in your life. Please take shelter of Krishna and you will find that you will be able to tolerate and transcend this misery.