Does the Bhagavad-gita teach that everything that happens is good?
How can we consider adversities such as diseases or death of loved ones as good?
Brief answer: Nowhere does the Gita say that everything happens is good. Its teaching is that everything that happens can be for good – provided we make good choices in responding to it.
Detailed answer: When terrible things happen, the Gita doesn’t ask us to somehow imagine those things to be good. Consider the Gita’s repeated call to stay equipoised amidst good and bad (02.38, 05.21 and 06.07, for example). Through this call, it implicitly acknowledges the difference of good and bad. Its call for equanimity doesn’t ask us to deny the goodness or badness of happenings, but to deny such happenings excessive power over our emotions. Indeed, Gita wisdom shows the way not to emotionlessness, but to emotional empowerment – to choosing the emotional response that is the most practically helpful.
In the human response to adversity, feeling shattered, ranting at fate and grieving are natural phases. But just as life doesn’t stop because of any adversity, we too can’t stop at these phases in our emotional coping and healing. To help us move forward, the Gita offers several uplifting insights:
- Knowing that we are eternal souls means that we are bigger than any reversal that life may send our way; it means that we have weathered many storms in our past, in this life and in previous lives; and it means that we have a destiny far brighter than the worst darkness of this world.
- Knowing that Krishna is an omni-benevolent God means that he is not somewhere up there, causing the problem; he is in here, next to us in our own hearts, wanting to help us deal with it. The Gita (13.23) indicates that he is the overseer and sanctioner. He is not the reason for the problem; he is the refuge from it – the source of our strength to live with it and the source of our intelligence to find a solution to it.
- In the Mahabharata (of which the Gita is a part), after Draupadi is dishonored during the gambling match, Krishna meets her later in the forest. While consoling her, he doesn’t say whatever happened was good; he doesn’t blame her for questioning why he didn’t stop the calamity; he doesn’t make her emotional reaction a barometer of the depth of her faith. Gently and lovingly, he encourages her to persevere in her dharma. Krishna’s expertise is that he can bring good out of the bad, just as a good musician can produce good music even with a poor instrument. But unlike instruments that are insentient, we human beings have consciousness and free will. So, to bring good out of a bad situation, he needs our cooperation, our service attitude, our determination to stick to our dharma.
- To get such determination, we need to change the question we ask ourselves. The question “Why this?” is often a most disempowering question – answers that resort to past karma offer little solace when the karma is unknown and the problem seems unbearable. A far more empowering question is, “How now? How can I best respond to this reversal?” By asking, “How can I best serve in this situation?” we find a release for our emotional energy that has been choked by feelings of resentment, lamentation and helplessness. We see avenues for action opening where earlier we had seen only the doors closing on our plans. Of course, some avenues may take time to open; during that time, we need to stop glaring at the closed doors and take one step forward at a time, whatever is possible for us. The step we can always take is to seek shelter of Krishna by absorbing ourselves in his prayerful remembrance. Such absorption helps us gain the calmness and clarity to shift our vision from the doors that block our way to the steps that beckon us.
Pertinently, Vyasadeva tells a disconsolate Yudhisthira shattered by Abhimanyu’s death: “The inscrutable will of the Lord is surely for the good of all living beings. If you do his will, you will in due course of time understand how it is for good.”