By Sri Nandanandana dasa (Stephen Knapp)
As we look around the world, or watch and read the news, practically everywhere is affected by some kind of natural disaster. Floods are displacing millions of people, forest fires are destroying thousands of acres and burning out of control, earthquakes continue to force people to live in fear, and tornadoes and hurricanes have become more fierce and numerous than ever. And if that is not enough, droughts are causing massive crop damage and water shortages.
The fact is that nobody likes a loss, no matter how great or small it may be. And a disaster can take years to recover from, which can only increase our struggle to exist in this world. So what are we to make of all this? Is this just our own bad luck? Is this some kind of karmic reaction we are suffering? Is this merely the way life goes on in this material world? Or is this what God is doing to us? In fact, where is God in all of this? Or how many times have your heard someone ask, how can God be so cruel?
From a spiritual perspective, when we ask “Where is God in all of this?” we must understand that to blame God for the way the world works is our own ignorance. And this ignorance is only the misguided perception of the absence of God, just as darkness is only the absence of light. From the very beginning, the world and everything in it is temporary. Or did you forget that? Our existence in this material world is also temporary. But we get so accustomed to the idea that things are going to go on the way we expect them to, that we are thrown completely out of whack when they don’t, and especially when the world throws reversals into our life. I have an old saying: Show me a world with security, and I will show you an illusion. The point is that change is the only constant in this world, which also implies that change means a lack of security due to not knowing what we can really expect in the future. And it is a challenge to remain balanced in all of this. And the only way you can do that is by attaining a spiritual consciousness. Let me explain:
Natural disasters go on in varying degrees on a daily basis, whether we notice them or not. Nature also means neutral, and it acts in whatsoever way it does to provide balance, even if it may seem cruel, as in the way stronger animals feed off the weak. That is a law of nature, and however cruel it may seem to be. In this world, that is how balance is maintained in many cases so that certain species do not overpopulate. In this and so many other ways, nature acts in a way to help maintain balance in this world.
So when natural disasters hit humanity, as in events mentioned in the first paragraph, it forces us to become more clear regarding the temporary nature of this world, and more cooperative with that principle, whether we like it or not. Natural disasters can also provide a way to discern what is really important and what is not. We may have lost so many of our possessions, but we may still have our life. And if we lose our possessions or someone we know, we again have to realize the importance of how to live with whatever time we may have, fully knowing that tomorrow is promised to no one. Then we have to shed those things that, in the end, we are bound to lose anyway. Loss is no easy thing in one’s life, but better to go through stages of preparation than to be tested only at the very end of our lives at the time of death when it may be more difficult than ever to lose everything you hold dear. We need to be ready to go forward into the next realm rather than being held back by all the longings we have for the attachments we have accrued in this life. This is the lesson we should learn by experiencing various natural disasters on a personal level, or by observing those that go on around us. In this way, disasters of any kind can act as lessons that pull away the layers of illusion that hold us to the false impression of who or what we think we are in this material realm.
This is how there is some good in any situation, regardless of how awful it may seem. God does many things in one move, or one act. And in one major event, so many things may have been put into motion for many positive things to take place in the long run. Sometimes you can see that in the change of the psyche of innumerable people in the world that may have been affected by whatever event has happened, especially when they deal with the event by pulling together to sort out the new challenges they have to face. In this way, there is hope for a new vision, a new awareness, a new spirit of cooperation and view of each other.
For example, when a tornado destroys a neighborhood or town, everyone has to drop their ego and their differences in order to work together to make things operate smoothly again. So many trees may have been blown over, downing electrical lines and stopping the flow of power or communication. Then people must work together to help clean up, get things working again, or check on the elderly to see if they are all right. And the more we work together, the easier it becomes for everyone. But is that not the case with life in general? Sometimes we forget this, until a natural disaster again forces us to take a second look at who we are, who are our neighbors, and possibly with less judgmentalism than before. So sometimes we must get conked on the head, so to speak, to force ourselves to look at who we are and where our life is taking us. It is strange that sometimes this will not happen unless some major turning point or challenge takes place in our lives. These things show how well the world can move when we cooperate, when we acknowledge our need for each other and also our joy at being needed or giving to a higher cause by helping others.
With this new vision of ourselves and who we are and how we fit into the world, we may then see how God is found in all the acts of care and concern in each person around us. When the world comes together to help each other or those who have been affected by the disaster, all the kindness, consideration, the prayers, the donations, the heart-felt love that is now more prevalent than ever, is all part of our spiritual nature. When we consider all of this, we can see that each act of kindness is like the light of God everywhere. We simply have to be more willing to keep this spiritual renewal and vision in our heart and minds in our everyday lives.
In this way, the tragedy itself, whatever it may be, will have made us more humble, more cooperative, and a kinder person. It makes us realize our vulnerability, both individually and collectively. It makes us realize how fragile life can be, and how we should also appreciate whatever blessings we have. It forces a reassessment of who we are and, if we learn the lesson properly, gives an opportunity for a voluntary renewal in our spirituality. It also helps separate the superficial from what is really important. That is why we must always cling to our spiritual identity and the grace of God and be ready for anything.
Regarding those who may have died, what do we do for them? We have to remember that the soul, our real identity, never dies. It is eternal, so it merely moves on to another realm. Death is a soul’s change of focus from one plane of existence to another. The legacy of those who have departed is the renewed unity found in us survivors, and the reason to work together more closely than ever. It shows the reason why we must shed our dislike or unfamiliarity with each other. Their legacy is that this has brought us together in a mood of solidarity. It reawakens us to our dependency on God and His protection. This is the legacy of those we have lost in such situations. This is their gift to us. Let us keep this gift precious so it does not take another tragedy or loss to again reawaken ourselves to how special we all are.
We also must understand that in these sorts of tragedies, no one is sacrificed or dies in vain. The Lord of all casts aside no sincere soul, regardless of caste or creed, for all paths ultimately point toward the same God. They have not left us but only gone on before us. There is always a purpose behind everything, whether we understand it or not. So let us give them our blessings and pray for their safe journey to higher realms. Let God bless and guide all those who have departed from us.
However, when such disasters are related to man-made problems, like the failure of nuclear reactors, or oil spills and the like, this is simply because things are becoming too complex and out of control, or too far away from the way we need to cooperate with nature. It is a sign that we need to change and simplify our lives and actions. It is like nature shaking the tree to drop the unnecessary fruits. Then we merely have to change our vision and the values that we have to again begin to move in the right direction.
Disasters or tragedies created by fanatical religious terrorism is in a category by itself, apart from natural disasters. Such events are not a display of one’s allegiance to God, but a show of hatred for one’s fellow man, only because a section of society seems different, or that they follow a different spiritual path. This is spiritual blindness. Let us not follow in their ways of being oblivious to the unity and Divinity with all of us. But let us drop the superficialities and cooperate together, knowing full well that such is the way to make life easier for all of us. The desire to conquer or convert is the most divisive path there can be, and we have seen for many centuries that it has been the most cruel and destructive as well. And has the world gotten better because of it? No, in fact, it has only increased the fear and chaos in the world instead.
Let us also remember as we face such predicaments or tragedies, our greatest strengths and developments are often revealed through our most difficult challenges. Therefore, through such tests and by working together to improve things because of such difficulties, we will come ever closer to see the real potential and character of ourselves and the people involved. It will show the world the exceptional possibilities of real cooperation and understanding that can exist. It can show everyone the unity that can come from a spiritual renewal and reawakening.
Therefore, in such situations we should pray for the dead that they can be escorted to higher realms by God’s guiding light. We also pray for the well-being of the injured, the survivors, and the families who have lost loved ones, that they be soothed by God’s grace. We pray for us to become free from the shock and sadness that this sudden change has caused. But let us learn the lesson in the proper way so we can move forward with progress.
Let us also pray for the help from the volunteers and rescuers, those who donate much needed money to rebuild, and all who give their time and prayers to get us through this tragedy. Let the light of love, hope and upliftment shine forth and fill the world with God’s grace, beauty and power. Let everyone see the sense of living in peace and cooperation. Before we attack or criticize others, let us see our own faults which we must route out. Let us work on cleansing our own minds and purifying our own hearts, and then extend that encouragement to others.
Let us turn hate to love, enmity to friendship, strangeness to familiarity, greed to generosity, war to peace, and fear into hope. Let us pray for the good of all, and grow with the challenges, finding strength in the Supreme. May God protect us in all directions and guide us through whatever difficulties that appear in our lives.
In conclusion, let us offer our respects to God, and let Him kindly vanquish our demon-like desires for selfish or fruitive activities in this material world. Please dear Lord, appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this temporary realm. May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living beings become calm by practicing devotion to You, for by accepting such service they will realize Your Divinity in each and every person, and thus think of each other’s welfare. Therefore, let us all engage in the service of the Supreme Being, Lord Sri Krishna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him. (Bhagavata Purana 5.18.8-9)