Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sharing my thoughts - Kedarnath tragedy

1 Kindly throw some light on the spiritual and karmic reasons behind such an occurrence.

Nature’s angry is just a personification. Nature is neutral, and does not get angry. Nor is Ishwara punishing people. Ishwara does not hold grudges nor demands allegiance. Ishwara merely presides over the laws of karma and bestows the results of actions as is due.

We do not know all the karmas that have accumulated over past lifetimes. All we know is that there was a past and there must have been some accumulated karma that is bearing fruit now. Nothing comes from nothing, so there must have been something in the past to bring about present tragedy.
This is what is called as Prarabdha (reaping the fruits of past karma). One can call it destiny, but only in a limited sense, since destiny is not absolute but relative. Prarabdha can be modified, diverted, postponed, or overcome by free will, initiative, and wisdom. The manifestation of Prarabdha can also be minimized by the attitude of acceptance and readiness to deal with the tragedy.

 2.What has mankind done to receive such a reaction from nature?

In times of national tragedy, there is a shared Prarabdha, indicating that we were mutually connected in the past, and/or that we were participants of similar actions that deserved similar results. In the process of evolution from one living form to another over infinite lifetimes, we have collected every variety of karma possible.... good, bad, and ugly. Rather than blaming ourselves for our past actions, it behoves us to accept our past gracefully and do what we can to move towards a better future.

The Puranas are full of stories of floods and wars over the period of centuries. These stories indicate that tragedy has always been part of the human experience. As Kabir puts it, the universe is like a grinding wheel that breaks us down constantly, and the only relief is when we stick to God represented by the hub of the wheel. Tragedies are a reminder that our destiny is not to stay in this world but to seek out another world that is perfect and joyful. We are only visitors in this world and we go through different learning experiences before we depart for our ultimate destination.

3.Why do such things happen more at famous shrines or religious places?

I do not think this is true. The ten biggest tragedies of the world, involving numbers ranging from lakhs to millions of human beings, have been mostly in non religious places. Tragedies involving communities and religions only highlight the human vulnerability that brings people together in empathy and compassion.... we are all part of the community and it touches us all.

4.Will mankind learn any lessons from it? If yes..then what are they?

Mankind learns..... but sometimes not fast enough. We are so busy with our own lives that we do not look beyond the urgent issues. The important issues are generally too long term for us to take action immediately.

We deliberate endlessly about global warming and ecological measures, but are more motivated more  by national and corporate interests. However every setback is an opportunity and a wakeup alarm for us to sit up and take note. Most tragedies are avoidable and happen due to human interference or negligence. More people are speaking out today than any era before about the capacity of the earth to handle abuse. The earth is a self regulating organism represented by Gaia, the earth goddess. However there is a limit to its capacity and we need to make changes in our life styles and work practices to make living sustainable over the long term. Spirituality gives us the promise that we can make our lives sublime and departing leave behind us footprints in the sands of time.


Spiritual Perspective
Spirituality is a perspective about life and goes against the common man’s thinking. One perspective does not negate another.... it only adds a new element into the picture. Spirituality does not aim to prove that it has the only correct perspective. Rather, it is a healing paradigm that helps us to move beyond tragedy and move towards meaning in life.

Spiritual Mode
Spirituality has two modes of operation.... the first being positive thinking and visualization for enhancing the quality of life; the second being facing ground realities and recognizing our human limitations. While the first mode tells us that the sky is the limit for charting our goals and fulfilling our dreams, the second mode gently reminds us that we may be godlike but we cannot play God.

The scriptures tell us that playing our roles in life and conforming to Dharma is our worship (puja) unto the Universal Self; and gracefully accepting what comes our way in life as Its blessing (prasad) constitutes Karma Yoga. The Universal Self is not capricious and givecs us only our rightful dues in accordance to the laws of Karma.

God – Infallible?
In the book – Why Bad Things Happen To Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner reaches the conclusion that God cannot be absolute in all his aspects – Almighty, All-justice and All-merciful.  If God were absolute in all three ways, there would be no suffering and unhappiness in this world. Kushner concludes that God is almost mighty and is still engaged in perfecting the world that he created from chaos over a six day period. The perfect world is yet to come, and we have to acknowledge that God is doing is very best to complete his perfect picture of the universe.

Psychotherapy Model
Kushner adopts the psychotherapy model of counselling in which God is the fallible parent and we are hurt children. The therapist validates our feelings of anger and grief and attributes them to the helplessness of the parent who is loving but fallible. According to Kushner, God is both just and merciful and does not punish people for their sins but guides them like a loving father or shepherd, leading them towards light.  This is in contrast with the view of an unmerciful God who punishes people for their wrong deeds. Though he is extremely powerful, his power is not absolute. Thus God is fallible, hence is unable to always prevent bad things happening. Rather than blaming God, we need to understand that he is dealing with chaos and is constantly working towards bringing order and justice into the universe.

Ishwara and Universal Laws
The Vedic tradition presents God as the manifest and un-manifest universe. God is both the cause as well as the effect. God is everywhere, is in everything and is as everything. (“God is in me, as me” – a quote from the movie Eat Pray Love).  God is manifest as the creation as well as the laws of creation. In this paradigm, God does not control the laws of creation..... rather the laws of creation are God. Gods grace is part of the creation that is invoked through prayer and visualization.

Infallible is God
In Vedic tradition, the laws of creation are universal and infallible. There is a physical order in the universe that includes gravitation and motion, physiological order (respiration, food cycles), chemical order ( oxidation, reduction), nuclear laws (atomic energy, semi conductors) psychological order (interpersonal relations, motivation), and dharmic order that include the laws of Karma. These laws of nature are fixed and given. They are not man-made but natural laws  - infallible. For us God is not fallible... rather, the infallible is God. Spirituality tells us that we need to be in harmony with these laws in order to have a better experience of life.

Karma and Past Life
The apparent contradiction of bad things happening to good people is a short term contradiction when seen in the perspective of one life time. Vedic tradition propounds the theory of many lifetimes, in which the unreconciled accounts of past lives are carried over to the present lifetime (prarabdha karma). This is the case in cash accounts too.... some entries from the previous year are carried forward to the next accounting year. While we have no idea or our past life account of karmas, spirituality tells us to assume that there was a past and there were unreconciled accounts that are settled in present lifetimes (or carried into future lifetimes if required –sanchita karma).

Learning from Experiences
Tragedies are explained as not the wishes of a whimsical God sitting above in the heavens, but the results of past karmas that fructify now. Instead of blaming ourselves and condemning past karmas, spirituality helps us take responsibility for the past by accepting the results as a learning experience.  Errors of the past are not for feeling bad but for avoiding mistakes in future. Spirituality tells us to accept such tragic events as a logical result of past actions in accordance with the laws of karma. While it does not lessen the impact of the tragedy, spirituality tells us that there is meaning to the apparent madness.

Being Human

Spirituality tells us that we are not omnipotent and have to recognize a power that is beyond us. We can only take charge of our actions, but we have no control over the results. The results come from the lawgiver who is manifest as the laws of creation. As such all results come from the Lord who is just and compassionate. Whatever comes to us from the Lord, we gracefully accept.  Whatever comes to us is part of the universal order, hence everything is in order. Joy and sorrow are both part of the order that we gracefully accept as Prasad.

Living with Limitations
What do we learn from such events? We learn that most tragedies are predictable and avoidable. We can foresee tragedies and prevent them from happening. We can be ready for unavoidable tragedies and bring out our best selves in terms of courage, endurance, empathy, and magnanimity. Instead of blaming others, we can work to avert such tragedies in future by doing root cause analysis.  We can learn that there are no ultimate solutions to the problem of sorrow.... we can only manage them to the best of our ability. We learn that none of us are perfect. All of us are fallible. What is infallible are the laws of creation that is non separate from the creator. The Lord is not infallible..... rather, the infallible is the Lord.

Absolute is All
Vedanta teaches us that the infallible is in and through us. It is as us.  As individuals we are fallible, but as the Self that is in and thru, we are the infallible. The infallible is both the cause and the effect. It is also beyond cause-effect. The infallible is all. It is the one and the many, the change and the changeless, the relative and the absolute. 

Knowledge is Freedom
Freedom lies in recognizing this absolute in and through the relative. The relative is not opposite of the absolute, but a shadow part of the absolute. Bondage consists in mistaking the shadow as us. Liberation is the recognition that the shadow is nothing but a part of the absolute reality which is us. This is what the Upanishads declare – Prajnaanam Brahma, Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma, Ayam Aatma Brahma, Tattvamasi, and Aham Brahmaasmi.


  1. Dear Acharya Uday-ji
    Thank you for posting such useful -reading, and listening and viewing information for mumukshus like us. Can you please tell me how to download your books like bhaja Govindam, Atma bodha etc for purpose of sharing with others? Does one need to sign up somewhere ? Kindly let me know.