Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?

After a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, religiously inclined personalities tend to attribute the disaster to Divine retribution.  In 1934, when an earthquake hit the state of Bihar in India killing thousands of people, Mahatma Gandhi called it God’s punishment for the sin of untouchability in India [1].   More recently, we have Pat Robertson claiming that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s punishment [2].   This absurd pattern of thinking can be found across all religions. This post outlines Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa’s observations on the cause of natural disasters.

Image: God hitting the Smite button by Gary Larson creator of The Far Side comic strip.  Click on the image to go to the Far Side.

There are three reasons why we tend to mistakenly attribute natural diasters to Divine retribution.

  1. The first error originates in our belief that God is some kind of magnified Man who punishes and rewards the same way we would.  It seems the technical term is Anthropotheism. (Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu. If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.  – Voltaire [3])
  2. Secondly, faced with a great disaster, our mind becomes overwhelmed by the disproportionate loss and jumps to all kinds of premature and immature conclusions.
  3. The third error lies in our primitive fixation with morality and ethics, which is natural because these issues have always been front-and-center in our initial half-baked inclinations to lead a pure life.  We assume that the Universe must operate according to the moral laws of society.

All these factors together makes us surmise that world must be regulated by moral laws, and that natural disasters must be the result of our own failings, real or imagined.   But as Sri Aurobindo points out, natural disasters have occurred before man was on Earth and would continue to occur if man disappeared from the earth.  It is not moral laws but natural laws which dictate the ruptures in the earth’s fabric.  But that is not the end of the story – the full conclusion.  The Mother also points out that there are a number of independent occult entities (i.e. Forces or Beings or in ancient parlance – Spirits – see Cosmology) which exist apart from human beings in this Universe.  These entities, invisible to the physical world, act according to their predilections exerting their influence behind the forces of Nature.   However, their actions are not in any way determined by man’s moral sins.

In the next two passages drawn from conversations with disciples, Sri Aurobindo points out that the Universe is far greater than our minds can imagine and has its own laws, which cannot be based on morality.

Sri Aurobindo (countering the moral reasons which someone had offered for recent earthquakes): No, prior to man there was no moral law. In the material or vital world, moral law doesn’t exist. It comes in with man, and at a certain stage of his development it is useful. Even then, it is a social necessity, because without some kind of moral law society can’t exist. But to say that the world is regulated by moral law is to deny the facts of existence. That is absurd. There are two ways: one can either go beyond moral law as we seek to do by spirituality or one can uphold moral law as an ideal to be realised. This is understandable. If there is a moral legislator of the world, why does he give the same punishment for different sins? [4]

Why should earthquakes occur by some wrong movement of man? When man was not there, did not earthquakes occur? If he were blotted out by poison gas or otherwise, would they cease? Earthquakes are a perturbation in Nature due to some pressure of forces; frequency of earthquakes may coincide with a violence of upheavals in human life but the upheavals of earth and human life are both results of a general clash or pressure of forces, one is not the cause of the other. [5]

In this passage, the Mother elucidates that those who are spiritually well-developed (i.e. have an individualised psychic) are kept away from disasters and do not perish in them.  For the rest of mankind, survival depends on chance and Karma.

Question: “The time and the way of death, are these not always chosen by the soul? In the great destructions of mankind by bombing, flood, earthquake, have all the souls chosen to die together at that moment?”

Mother: The immense majority of men have a collective destiny. For them the question does not arise at all. One who has an individualised psychic being can survive even in the midst of collective catastrophes, if that is his soul’s choice. [The Mother, Notes on the Way: 7 March 1967]

Here, she discusses the occult entities which work behind Nature.

Question: I didn’t understand this: “The so-called forces of Nature are but the exterior activities of beings out of proportion with man by their size and the powers at their disposal.”

Mother: For instance, take the wind which blows; now scientists will tell you: “These are manifestations of forces of Nature, and it is the result of such and such a phenomenon”, they will speak about heat and cold, high and low, etc., and they will tell you: “That’s the cause of the wind’s blowing, these are currents of air produced in the atmosphere.” But it is not this.  There are entities behind, only they are so huge that their form eludes us. It would be like your asking an ant to describe the form of a man — it couldn’t, could it? It sees at the most the tiny end of the little finger and it takes a walk on the foot — it is a great journey, and it would not know what a man’s form would be like. Well, it is almost the same thing. These forces which bring about wind, rain, earthquakes, etc. are manifestations of — call them gestures, if you like — of movements of certain beings so formidably huge that we hardly see the end of their foot and don’t realise their size. [The Mother, Questions and Answers (1953): 9 December 1953]

References

  1. Why is Pat Robertson blaming Haiti?  http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1953379_1953494_1953674,00.html (accessed 21st Jan 2010)
  2. Mahatma Gandhi on natural and moral causation.  http://www.mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org/articles/g_moral.htm (accessed 21st Jan 2010)
  3. François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire) quotes http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Voltaire (accessed 21st Jan 2010)
  4. Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Vol 2, p 524
  5. Dilip Kumar Roy.  Sri Aurobindo to Dilip.  p 48

25 thoughts on “Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?

  1. Pingback: The Aurobindonian model of Karma « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. Sandeep Post author

    Here is another religious personality attributing earthquakes to human errors

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/04/20/iran.promiscuity.earthquakes/index.html

    Women who dress provocatively and tempt people into promiscuity are to blame for earthquakes, a leading Iranian hard-line cleric has apparently said.

    The prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Kazim Sadeghi, says women and girls who “don’t dress appropriately” spread “promiscuity in society.”

    “When promiscuity spreads, earthquakes increase,” he says in a video posted Monday on YouTube, apparently of him leading Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, last week.

    “There is no way other than taking refuge in religion and adapting ourselves to Islamic behavior,” he adds in the video.

    Reply
  3. Sandeep Post author

    Now the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, blames the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on our moral failings.

    From the Japan Times http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110315x7.html

    Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara apologized Tuesday for his remark that the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck eastern and northeastern Japan represented “divine punishment” of the Japanese people who have been tainted with egoism.

    “I will take back (the remark) and offer a deep apology,” Ishihara told a news conference, adding he should have thought about the feelings of victims.

    Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai showed displeasure with Ishihara, who will seek his fourth term in the upcoming election, telling reporters that he hopes the Tokyo governor will pay consideration to disaster victims.

    On Monday, Ishihara told reporters, “Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism. We need to use tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time.”

    “I think (the disaster) is tembatsu (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims,” he said.

    Reply
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  8. mike

    Yes, Sandeep we are certainly entering Looney Territory with some of these religious clerics LOL. Hard line muslims are way out there with the cuckoos.
    Being speculative, we could also say the Tsunami was the result of the dolphin bloodbath perpetrated by japanese fishermen. Any number of cruelties could be blamed. lt’s all out of proportion, though.
    l suppose Mother is referring to cosmic beings [the huge one’s] in that description. l believe She has mentioned smaller beings, though [possibly nature-spirits, elementals etc spoken of by Theosophists and such]. ln one story, She was on a boat [heading for india, l think] when a storm arose and She had to leave her body to go up and convince them to calm down, for the safety of the passengers.
    Also, l remember reading [in agenda, l believe] that She said in all disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes etc… – we could be sure that Kali was behind them.

    Reply
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  10. Sandeep Post author

    Another case of a religious personality claiming God’s hand is behind earthquakes:

    WASHINGTON: Dr Farhat Hashmi, who now runs a thriving Islamic and Quranic “education” school in Toronto, has said that the devastating October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir was God’s punishment for sinners.

    She told the newspaper Globe and Mail in an interview, “The people in the area where the earthquake hit were involved in immoral activities and God has said that he will punish those who do not follow his path.” The newspaper noted, while reporting Dr Hashmi’s obiter dicta that “thousands of children were buried alive in their schools in the earthquake”. She told her class in the presence of the Globe and Mail reporter, in Urdu, that it was God’s punishment for transgressors. While she spoke, her class of women, overwhelmingly Pakistani-Canadians, mostly young, nodded and murmured in agreement. “We must understand why such calamities take place,” Dr Hashmi said.

    She teaches women to stay at home and raise families, not go to work. She also wants them to go into purdah, preferably the niqab. She has no objection to polygamy and says that it is better for men to marry another time rather than be involved in illicit affairs. She also wants women to be submissive to their husbands. …

    from Daily times of Pakistan
    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006\11\10\story_10-11-2006_pg7_19

    Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        MT: I sometimes wonder if you personally subscribe to these views.

        No, I don’t.

        There is more on the original page but I didn’t want to copy the whole article, so I ended it on this paragraph.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        MT: I sometimes wonder if you personally subscribe to these views.

        I just want to add that the purpose of the blog is not to project my personality but to organize and disseminate the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Any personal opinions of mine which (unavoidably) come into play during the process can be challenged or should be ignored if found disagreeable. It is best to consult the original sources as much as possible as I told someone in an earlier comment

  11. Kai

    With certain old astrological systems it will be able to predict details of the rainfall with greater accuracy and I think the same can be done for the natural disasters also.I remember watching a documentary about a scientist who correlates earthquakes with the position of Moon and he was able to predict accurately.But I am not sure how the heavenly bodies and the occult beings are related in the Geological activities.

    Reply
  12. nizken

    re: “With certain old astrological systems it will be able to predict details of the rainfall with greater accuracy and I think the same can be done for the natural disasters also.”

    I’d like to see which one of these old astrological systems are capable of predicting ‘rainfall details’ and natural disasters accurately. I haven’t come across such astrological or astronomical systems yet.
    Also there are 1000’s of earthquakes and tectonic shifts/geological activity happening all the time all across the earth’s crust everyday (as the earth is not a dead planet yet), it just so happens that only the major ones which cause human damage are shown in the media.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Nizken: Also there are 1000′s of earthquakes and tectonic shifts/geological activity happening all the time

      True. See the compilation @ http://earthquake-report.com/

      Here are a couple of interesting papers on the subject

      Joelle Steele. “Astrological Prediction of Earthquakes and Seismic data collection“.

      This is a survey paper examining whether there is any basis for astrological claims in the light of the numerous unreported earthquakes that occur every day. On page 21, he writes “most earthquake predictions are made by authors looking backwards in time and explaining why a particular earthquake occurred from their astrological perspective. Any competent astrologer can forecast backwards“.

      But here is a paper on predictions not based on astrology.

      N.Venkatanathan, N.Rajeshwara Rao, K.K.Sharma and P.Periakali. “Planetary Configuration: Implications for Earthquake Prediction and Occurrence in Southern Peninsular IndiaJ. Ind. Geophys. Union ( October 2005 ) Vol.9, No.4, pp.263-276

      It says in the conclusion:
      “The Earth is often caught in a huge gravitational web due to the alignment of major planets and other celestial bodies such as Sun and Moon. These planetary configurations exert gravitational stresses that lead to variations in the earth’s rotational speed, affecting tectonic plate motion and triggering the release of accumulated stresses at plate boundaries/intraplate faults. Comprehensive analysis of the past 100 years of earthquakes reveals that earthquakes can be predicted using planetary configurations with fair accuracy with regard to time, location and magnitude. There are, however, specific conditions that control the release of these stresses such as the net planetary force, its direction with respect to the nature of the fault, and the triggering distances. Using these parameters, prediction of several earthquakes has been achieved with a time window of just ± 3 days and a spatial window of a minimum of 2.2 km (difference in distance between predicted epicenter and actual epicenter). It is inferred that the magnitude of the tremor is related to the direction of planetary forces acting at any particular point”

      Reply
  13. nizken

    Hello Sandeep,

    I still find it hard to see the correlation b/w gravitational stresses from other planets and earthquakes in the crust. 71.11% of the earth is covered with liquid water which would surely show massive tidal effects and tidal locking if the other planets’s alignment were effecting the earth and it’s magnetosphere/gravitation etc. To the best of my knowledge, no such tidal effects have been recorded in the earth’s oceans so far. The crust is solid igneous rock and the mantle is semi-liquid.
    Besides the gas giant planets like Jupiter/Saturn are really far away and the Solar System as a whole is in a sort of equilibrium per se. The only major gravitational force can be the Moon (which is a pretty big moon for this planet!)

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Talk to the authors! I was just drawing attention to an unusual paper and not endorsing it.
      The paper does not cite any similar work on planetary configurations and it hasn’t been cited later either. Its really strange that it got published. Maybe the journal has a low rank

      Reply
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  15. Sandeep Post author

    God Admits He Rarely Forgives

    THE HEAVENS—Calling into question centuries of religious dogma and commonly held beliefs, the Lord Our God, Creator and Supreme Ruler of the Universe, admitted Tuesday that in actuality it is “extremely rare” for Him to ever forgive an individual.

    Speaking to reporters, God, who admitted that He is “generally motivated more by anger and spite than forgiveness,” reiterated that being forgiving is “not in [His] nature,” and on the whole constitutes a small part of what the Lord does every day and what He feels He should do every day.

    “I do not particularly enjoy absolving humans of their earthly transgressions—I prefer to punish the wicked, hold grudges for thousands of years, curse entire regions and ethnicities for the sins of a few, and so forth,” said God, Our Father. “I typically ignore the words and deeds of the repentant and make a concerted effort to restrict any such individual from ever taking my side in the Kingdom of Heaven. I also take particular satisfaction, even glee, in repeatedly punishing those who have sinned at any point in their lives and are endeavoring to gain my forgiveness through prayer and good works.”

    Read more @
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/god-admits-he-rarely-forgives,34970/

    Reply
  16. mwb6119

    For Sandeep: “excerpt from Rebirth and Karma by Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental Manifestation: The Terrestrial Law:

    “Physical nature gives impartially her results and rewards and demands from man observance not of the moral but the physical law: she asks for a just knowledge and a scrupulous practice of her physical lines and nothing else. There is no karmic retort from her on the many cruelties of science, revolt against an unethical use of her facilities, much punishment of ignorance but none of wickedness. If there is something in the lower rounds of Nature which reacts against certain transgressions of the moral law, it begins obscurely on a higher scale, with life.”

    [*Left to wonder, the line “…demand from man observance” is this a typo in the text-at least in mine? I think it would better read “…from man’s observance…”]

    And coming from the Golden State, California, where earthquakes are regular, I have never any intimation that any of our continental-shifting was “an act of God.” Although once there was an incident in which a minor tremor appeared to correspond within the very moment I had received an epiphany (that of which I was never able to affirm, nor am I now attempting to affirm now :)).

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mark,

      You have slightly misread the passage. Sri Aurobindo clearly states “observance not of moral but physical law”. He is saying that the material plane has its own physical laws which we must observe. That would mean not venturing out in a hurricane, for instance. No moral meaning is being deduced.

      Reply

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