In the context of the recent Delhi gang rape case, a woman from India wrote to me asking “what take spirituality has on crimes such as these. Does the victim suffer because of sanchit (past accumulated) karma? Should one regard whatever happens as good?” A few weeks before this horrific Delhi incident, another woman had asked on a mailing list: “There are lots of places where Sri Aurobindo says that God is in evil too. I cannot see this when I think of someone being raped or tortured or molested. Can someone explain how this can be?”. Today, Huffington Post published a short piece by Dr. Deepak Sarma, professor of South Asian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, questioning what answer Karma can offer in response to such tragedies. In light of all this discussion, these are some answers based on the model of Karma proposed by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I am not sure if I have satisfactory answers to these profound questions but I am going to try!
Before we get to the question, it is important to understand that the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not subscribe to the commonly held notion of Karma as some rigid, mechanical law which operates across incarnations punishing us for our bad deeds and rewarding us for our good deeds. They saw Karma as a multi-layered and multi-agent mechanism which facilitates the growth of our consciousness, albeit with gratuitous doses of pain. See earlier articles “Aurobindonian model of Karma” and “Karma can be changed“
Question: Do rape victims suffer because of past karma ? Does everything happen for “good”? Sri Aurobindo says that God is in evil too. How can we see God when someone is being raped or tortured or molested.
All our suffering cannot be attributed to erroneous actions done in some past life. An indirect result of Karma is that we are not fully conscious, and a large part of our suffering is due to this lack of consciousness. We are not fully conscious of the latent Divinity within us and lack the intuition (dristi or spiritual sight) that is needed to survive in an often-hostile environment. As a result, we make poor choices in terms of the people we trust or the situations we get trapped into. This is true not just regarding victims of rape but also with respect to everyday situations. We may suffer because we are born in a family or culture which is not conducive to a healthy childhood, we may work in a job which doesn’t meet our development goals, or we may get married to a spouse who turns out to be incompatible, and so on and so forth. It is only those who are advanced in spiritual evolution who are able to creatively shape the circumstances of their birth and life. For the rest of us, life on earth is a hit-or-miss game. We survive and evolve through a toxic brew of pleasure and pain before we finally begin the journey to uncover our latent divinity.
Every time we experience pain and betrayal from our fellow human beings, it sets in motion a new phase of our conscious development. Our first response to a tragedy is often despair and helplessness at the humiliation that we have endured; when we gather courage, we become revengeful and seek to bring the perpetrator to justice; when we see that the tormenter is also a human being like us, inescapably trapped in his flaws, we begin to feel a flicker of compassion and forgiveness; when we discover that the tormenter is the product of a wide-ranging cultural problem, we turn into social reformers or psychologists who raise public awareness to prevent other people from falling into the traps that we inadvertently fell into; finally, we discover that the true solution is to turn to the Divine for it is only That which can heal the subconscious wounds which resurface in the periodic nightmares that we continue to experience after the trauma.
Many such rounds of suffering are needed to turn us into mature souls who are fully engaged in society and fully conscious within. It is through this clumsy process that we evolve into full Divinity.
Question: Should the guilty be pardoned and given another change to reform or should they be punished?
The criminal justice system is imperfect and operates largely based on external criteria. It cannot eavesdrop on the whisperings of the perpetrators’ souls and it also cannot irreversibly heal them of their flaws. Nevertheless, it is the best model possible to protect the weak from the violent and create a fair and equal society.
As for capital punishment, Sri Aurobindo was clearly against it as seen in a previous article. Harsh forms of justice and institutionalized methods of cruelty tend to degrade the consciousness of society as a whole because they amplify the revengeful and bloodthirsty qualities in mankind. Once people become indifferent and start enjoying the sight of blood and torture, it increases the danger of an irreversible cultural decline with bloodthirsty leaders at the helm. It is Love and not Justice which is the highest attribute in the human consciousness. Consequently, it is compassion that needs to be strengthened even while the perpetrators are prevented from doing further damage.
Direct remarks of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
While Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were never asked questions regarding rape victims, they did have to answer similar questions regarding Karma. I am adding their responses here to provide more context on their thought process so readers can ascertain for themselves how they might have responded to this difficult question. The section titled Related Posts at the bottom links to other articles which are relevant to this topic.
Disciple: Is there no justice for the misdeeds of people like S, V and N? Surely they will have to bear the consequences of their actions? And yet how is it these people succeed in life?
Sri Aurobindo: Justice in this life? May not be. Most probably not. But justice is not what most people believe it to be. It is said that virtuous people will have happiness, prosperity etc. in another life while in this life they have the opposite effects. In that case, the people you speak of must have been virtuous in their previous life. There is justice in the sense that the virtuous and pious people advance towards Sattwic nature while the contrary one goes down the scale of humanity and become more and more Asuric. That is what I have said in the “Arya.”
(At this moment Mother came in and asked what was the subject of talk.)
Sri Aurobindo replied that X was asking about justice, –whether it exists. After some moments’ pause, Mother said: “Of course, there is justice; these people suffer, they are tormented and not happy within. But that unhappiness does not seem to change them. They go from worse to worse; yes; but in some cases as the divine pressure goes on acting, at some time, especially during some impending catastrophe, suddenly some change takes place in these people. We saw a number of people like that. e.g. those who were trying to persecute Sri Aurobindo.
Disciple: You have said in your Prayers that justice exists. One cannot avoid the law of Karma except by Divine Grace.
Sri Aurobindo: N. may be a scoundrel but he has capacity and cleverness and so he will surely succeed. It is that capacity and cleverness that succeeds in life not virtues etc.
Disciple: To cheat people and get money? Is it cleverness?
Sri Aurobindo: Of course, it is cleverness or you may say, misuse of cleverness. But I don’t say that cleverness will not have its consequences, but at the same time it is these qualities that succeed in life .
(A.B. Purani, Evening Talks, 11 December, 1938)
Question: Mother, why do these (bad) people receive the force, since the Divine knows that they are not sincere?
Mother: Listen, my child, the Divine never goes by human notions in His ways of acting. You must get that well into your head, once and for all. He probably does things without what we call reasons. But anyway, if He has reasons they are not the same as human reasons, and certainly He does not have the sense of justice as it is understood by men.
For example, you imagine very easily that a man who is craving for wealth and tries to deceive people in order to get money… According to your idea of justice, this man ought to be deprived of all his wealth and reduced to poverty. We find that usually just the opposite happens. But that, of course, is only a matter of appearances. Behind the appearances, there is something else…. He exchanges this for other possibilities. He may have money, but he no longer has a conscience. And, in fact, what almost always happens is that when he has the money he desired, he is not happy…. And the more he has, usually the less happy he is! He is tormented, you see, by the wealth he has gained.
You must not judge things from an outer success or a semblance of defeat.We may say—and generally this is what almost always happens—we could say that the Divine gives what one desires, and of all lessons this is the best! For, if your desire is inconscient, obscure, egoistic, you increase the unconsciousness, the darkness and egoism within yourself; that is to say, this takes you farther and farther away from the truth, from consciousness and happiness. It takes you far away from the Divine. And for the Divine, naturally, only one thing is true—the divine Consciousness, the divine Union. And each time you put material things in front, you become more and more materialistic and go farther and farther away from full success.
But for the Truth that other success is a terrible defeat…. You have exchanged truth for falsehood!
To judge from appearances and apparent success is precisely an act of complete ignorance. Even for the most hardened man, for whom everything has apparently been successful, even for him there is always a counterpart. And this kind of hardening of the being which is produced, this veil which is formed, a thicker and thicker veil, between the outer consciousness and the inner truth, becomes, one day or another, altogether intolerable. It is usually paid for very dearly—outer success.
(Mother’s voice becomes extremely deep.) One must be very great, very pure, have a very high and very disinterested spiritual consciousness in order to be successful without being affected by it. Nothing is more difficult than being successful. This, indeed, is the true test of life!
When you do not succeed, quite naturally you turn back on yourself and within yourself, and you seek within yourself the consolation for your outer failure. And to those who have a flame within them—if the Divine really wants to help them, if they are mature enough to be helped, if they are ready to follow the path—blows will come one after another, because this helps! It is the most powerful, the most direct, most effective help. If you succeed, be on your guard, ask yourself: “At what price, what cost have I bought success? I hope it is not a step towards…”
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 238-239)
Question: … when the body has been deformed by illness?
Mother: That may be an accident, you know. Accidents are due to many things; in fact they are the result of a conflict of the forces in Nature, a conflict between the forces of growth and progress and the forces of destruction. When there is an accident, an accident that has lasting results, it is always the result of a more or less partial victory of the adverse forces, that is, of the forces of disintegration, disorganisation. It depends.
There are teachings, like that of theosophy for instance, which take Karma in an altogether superficial and human sense and tell you: “Oh! You have met with this accident because in a former life you did something bad, so that comes back upon you in the form of an accident.” This is not true, not at all true. This is but human justice, it is neither the justice of Nature nor the justice of the Divine.
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 1-2)
Question: Why do some people always attract bad luck and disasters ?
Mother: ..how it was that people (who consciously, outwardly, would rather have pleasant things and favorable events) are constantly attracting and attracting unpleasant things, even terrible catastrophes. That’s what Sri Aurobindo explained so well: all those parts of the being are terribly tamasic (i.e. stupefied and slothful) and it is the violence of the shock that awakens something in them; and that is why they attract those things as though instinctively
(Mother’s Agenda, 24 July 1965.)
- Why bad things happen to good people
- The Aurobindonian model of Karma
- Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
- Should women dress modestly?
- Why do we feel afraid and how to overcome it
- Why one should not hate the sinner?
- How to act in an unstable world
- How to make the right choice when faced with a serious decision
- Spirituality : between morality and immorality
- Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga
- Gender differences between men and women
- Why does depression last longer than pleasure?
- Gender differences and physical training for women
- How do movies affect yoga practice?
- What is wrong with promiscuity?
- How to increase will-power
- How to know the Divine Will?
- Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?
- The foundation of spiritual relationships
- How to distinguish between right and wrong