“Why Did This Have To Happen To Me?”
from Back To Godhead Magazine #29-06, 1995
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells the story of Bali Maharaja and Vamanadeva. Vamanadeva is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appearing in the form of a small brahmana boy. He goes to Bali Maharaja and begs three paces of land, “as paced by My own steps.” As the story progresses, Vamanadeva reveals His universal form. His first two steps claim the whole universe, and Bali is then unable to fulfill his promise of three. Thus he is put into difficulty. Vamanadeva arrests him with the ropes of Varuna, and his wife and guru reject him.
The Bhagavatam tells us, however, that Bali Maharaja is neither ashamed nor aggrieved at his arrest. Instead, he addresses Vamanadeva as follows: “Many demons who were continuously inimical toward You finally achieved the perfection of great mystic yogis. Your Lordship can perform one work to serve many purposes, and consequently, although You have punished me in many ways, I do not feel ashamed of having been arrested by the ropes of Varuna, nor do I feel aggrieved.” (Bhag. 8.22.6)
Srila Prabhupada explains in his purport to this section that Bali Maharaja appreciated the Lord’s mercy and the fact that the Lord distributes His mercy liberally. “Bali Maharaja was indeed a fully surrendered devotee, but even some demons who are not at all devotees but merely enemies of the Lord attained the same exalted position achieved by many mystic yogis. Thus Bali Maharaja could understand that the Lord had some hidden purpose in punishing him. Consequently he was neither unhappy nor ashamed because of the awkward position in which he had been put by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
Why would someone feel ashamed to be put in such an awkward position? Because one likes to appear victorious, especially in front of friends and relatives. Also, one might be ashamed to be degraded in front of the greatest personality, the Supreme Lord.
Bali had lost all his material possessions—everything from home and kingdom to the respect of his family members. Bali at that time was ruling the whole universe. He had a lot to lose. But instead of being ashamed or aggrieved, Bali was jubilant. He accepted everything that happened to him as Krishna’s plan, and he had faith that even this awkward situation was created by Krishna for his own good.
Although we like to learn from the people in the Bhagavatam, we cannot pretend to be on the same platform as they. Bali was arrested by Krishna personally. We may not have the fortune to be punished directly by Krishna. Instead, we are punished indirectly by Him, through His material energy. We can understand that our suffering or awkward situations are created by our past karma.
Srila Prabhupada tells us, however, that we are receiving only a token of what is due to us, like a murderer whose retribution is only a pinprick. The state has the right to take the murder’s life, so a token reaction to his crime is like a devotee’s token reaction to his past sinful life.
A devotee who recognizes this lives by this verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam: “My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances, with his heart, words, and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” This verse depicts Bali Maharaja’s attitude.
In another section of the Bhagavatam, we read of Maharaja Yudhishthira lamenting that so many people were killed to set him on the throne. Yudhishthira wanted to mitigate his suffering by understanding things had to happen that way. Bhishmadeva then began describing how the Pandavas had already suffered so much, although they did not deserve to suffer. Since the Pandavas were all pure devotees of Krishna, they could not be suffering from sinful reactions. They were destined to suffer by providence, the influence of time. When we are suffering, therefore, we can only be tolerant.
Bhishma then turned to Yudhishthira and said: “In my opinion, this is all due to inevitable time, under whose control every person in every planet is carried, just as the clouds are carried by the wind.”
Even pious people have to suffer the miseries of the material nature. Still, we want to know more. What is this time, under whose influence everyone has to suffer? Prabhupada explains that kala, time, is identical with Krishna Himself and therefore the influence of time indicates His inexplicable wishes. There is nothing to be lamented, because it is completely beyond our control. It is simply to be accepted. Time and death are inevitable.
It is often easier to accept how time influences others than how it influences ourselves. People ask, “Why did this have to happen to me?” But no one can know the Lord’s plan. “Even though great philosophers inquire exhaustively, they are bewildered. … It is useless to inquire about it. The best policy is simply to abide by the orders of the Lord without argument.” In this way, a devotee can be at peace about life’s reverses.
A further point is that Krishna can carry out many purposes with one act. He can pull down two trees like a naughty boy, and at the same time liberate the two souls embodied in them. In offering those souls liberation, He also fulfilled Narada Muni’s promise to Kuvera’s two sons, whom Narada had cursed to stand as trees.
When Krishna directly or indirectly punishes us, we must have faith that He is acting to bring us closer to His lotus feet. We should pray to have this realization in times of difficulty or confusion, and to understand that the real purpose of life is to satisfy the Supreme Lord, not to satisfy ourselves. Satisfying Krishna is not difficult. We simply have to take whatever situation in which we find ourselves and transform it into an opportunity for devotional service.
Therefore, Narada Muni told Srila Vyasadeva: “O brahmana Vyasadeva, it is decided by the learned that the best remedial measure for removing all troubles and miseries is to dedicate one’s activities to the service of the Supreme Lord Personality of Godhead [Sri Krishna]. O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease caused by that very same thing?” (Bhag. 1.5.32-3). Srila Prabhupada adds, “Milk preparations sometimes cause disorder of the bowels, but the very same milk converted into curd and mixed with some other remedial ingredients cures such disorders.”
It is our attachments to material objects that make us suffer. If we can take those same material objects and use them in Krishna’s service, that will help us go back to Godhead.