3 - Issue 9
DOES GOD CONTROL US OR NOT?
This is an excerpt from the book "Message Of The Lord" by Prof. G Venkataraman.
One of the doubts that invariably arises in the mind of the reader of the Bhagavad Gita (The Song Celestial from Lord Krishna) is the following: "It is said that not a blade of grass moves without His will. And yet, Krishna who claims this on the one hand also disowns any responsibility for our actions. If we are puppets in His hands, as we are supposed to be, why then should we suffer for so-called sins? Are not all our actions ordained by Him? We are advised to improve, do better etc. Is not even that entirely in His hands? What is going on?"
We first collect the Slokas which tend to trigger such doubts and confusion.
The Lord determines not the doership nor the doings of men, nor does He link actions to their fruits; it is Nature alone that does all this... - (Gita 5. 14)
The Supreme Lord is not responsible for anyone's sins or,
By Me in My Unmanifested form, this whole world is pervaded;
..... actions do not bind Me, unattached as I am to actions,
With Me as the Presiding Witness,....... the wheel of the
...... I am TIME, inflamed now and engaged in destroying the worlds... -
(Gita 11. 32)
Without all beings and yet within; immovable and moving;
..... the Lord dwells in the heart of every being and by His
delusive mystery (Maya),
whirls them all around as though mounted on a machine.
After a quick perusal of the above, one must necessarily sympathise with the seeker who is confused. Interestingly, the resolution to the enigma posed earlier is available in the Gita itself. However, it might not quite satisfy the devotee because in characteristic Krishna style, it is a "Yes and no" kind of answer!
‘Yes’ And ‘No’ in Science Too.
To one with a scientific bent of mind, a "Yes and no" kind of answer might appear to be the height of imprecision and equivocation. It is appropriate therefore to begin with an example of a situation from science itself, where one has a "Yes" answer to two seemingly contradictory situations. This example is based on Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity.
In normal day-to-day experience and for that matter in non-relativistic physics in general, space and time are considered two separate, distinct and disjoint entities. This works fine, as long as objects do not move with speeds comparable to that of light. If they do, then subtle complications arise since space and time get intertwined, which Einstein's theory allows for. Let us consider one example of such a complication.
In science, an event is described in terms of two parameters - one its location, and two its time of occurrence. In more scientific language, one would say that an event is a point in space-time with a space component as well as a time component. Time separation between events is normally measured using a clock, as for example in a race, where the two events of importance are the starting of the race and the arrival by the participant at the finishing line.
The Theory of Relativity deals with the whole gamut of what happens to the description of events by two observers, one of whom is stationary while the other is moving. Let us say there are two events E(l) and E(2), and these are observed by two observers A and B, of whom A is stationary and B is moving. Both have stopwatches, very accurate and well synchronised in advance, etc.
If the speed of B is small compared to that of light, then both observers would record the same time difference between the two events E(l) and E(2) under consideration. However, if B moves with a speed close to that of light, then situations are conceivable when B regards the two events as being simultaneous, while A maintains that there is a finite time difference between them - incidentally this difference of opinion has nothing to do with the accuracy of measurement, which is assumed to be infinite. The differences in the observations are genuine and arise because the view points of the two observers are different - to use the language of physics, one is in a stationary frame of reference while the other is in a moving frame.
The question arises: "Who is right? Is it A or is it B?" Relativity says that with respect to themselves individually, both are right! Without going into the details of the argument or the underlying mathematics, one can see that one has here, in hard-core science, a situation where one is forced to say "Yes" to two seemingly contradictory observations! The point sought to be made is that each "Yes" is a valid answer in its own right, and applies to that particular point of view.
God At Various Levels
Let us get back now to spirituality. Krishna, it will be recalled, discusses God at various levels, from the Ultimate, the Unmanifest and the Formless One to the God with Form, in particular the human form, or the Personal God, as He is sometimes referred to. The various Slokas quoted above as well, as the so-called contradictions in them must all be understood against this background of God spanning a wide spectrum.
If God is considered at the highest level, and one must in the end, then the Supreme One may be compared to the titular head of a country - it could be a King or President in whose name the Government functions but who is not directly involved. (One important difference of course is that whereas the titular head has no powers, God has all the powers!)
God has all kinds of agencies and laws, and the governance of the Universe is done by these agencies strictly according to the laws ordained - God does not involve Himself with micromanagement. For example, if one throws a stone up, God in heaven does not pull the stone down. He has ordained a law of gravity and that machinery swings into action - one might say that the various agencies work "for and on behalf of God!" There is an action and there is a reaction which also is built into the framework.
In society too it is the same; if say a person commits a traffic offence, the Traffic Police go into action - the power to do so is ultimately derived from the Head of the State, but the Head may be totally unaware of the offence. (By contrast, God the Eternal Witness knows everything that is going on!)
Physical Laws and Moral Laws Too
One would readily concede that in both the examples cited, the physical and the social, there is a clear-cut evidence of a machinery that operates, i.e., there are laws which govern the entire process. But what about life, death, morality etc.? Here too there are laws, revealed to sages, saints and prophets, and recorded by them for posterity. These are the Moral Laws which govern the Universe, as Gandhi once described them. One may not want to believe in such laws but they operate nonetheless, just as the law of gravity has been operating right from the birth of the Universe, billions of years before Newton discovered it.
And so we draw the first important conclusion, which is that the Creator has ordained not only physical laws which govern the Universe but also Moral laws which govern the Universe too.
Law of Karma
The most important of these is the Law of Karma which is just like Newton 's Third law: To each action, there is a Karmic reaction! How exactly the business of "Reflection, Reaction and Resound" as Swami often calls it works out in practice, has been discussed earlier in this chapter, here we just note that having ordained the law, the Creator stays aloof. He does not get involved in micromanagement, just as He does not pull down a stone thrown up - He does not have to; there are forces established which would take care of that. Thus, God is not directly involved, but His power does operate through suitable agencies.
Skeptics pooh-pooh such arguments, and yet, in ordinary experience, there are inexplicable forces operating that are unquestionably the manifestations of the Hidden Hand. Take, for example, dice tossing.
Everyone knows that the six numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 have equal probability of showing up when the dice is thrown. But it is also shown that there can be freak situations with say 6 appearing repeatedly and consecutively, maybe as many as even ten times. Undoubtedly, this would be extremely rare but it can happen, as computer experiments show. Nevertheless, when one takes averages, one finds that over many, many trials, all numbers have equal probability.
Now how does the dice know that since it has occasionally favoured the number 6 to recur an unreasonable number of times, it has to correct the situation? Mathematicians would argue that it is all due to the Law of Random Numbers. One can write any number of formulae and equations but the question remains 'Who instructs the dice?' It cannot know by itself. Well, no one has the answer.
Again, with respect to birth, it is well known that Nature has designed human genetics such that there is equal chance for the birth of a boy as for a girl. At the end of the Second World War, the population of males in Europe became slightly less compared to that for females, since a large number of young men were killed in battle. This imbalance was soon set right automatically with the birth of more boys than girls. Who arranged it so? The answer would be it is all the Law of Averages. But how exactly does this Law operate? Which is the agency which keeps tab of the statistics of population and sends signals when conception and birth take place? Who presses the buttons? No one knows.
In a Nutshell..
The fact is, as Krishna says, God has assigned His work to the deities which do the job for Him, just as Government officials do the job for the Head of the State, from whom they derive their executive power. In a nutshell,
(ii) He has laws governing various processes, physical and subtle;
(iii) the laws are operated "for and on behalf of God" by these agencies in accordance with the procedure encoded into the laws, whether we believe or not;
(iv) from this perspective, God Himself is NOT directly involved on a minute to minute basis, though the entire framework has been designed and set up by Him - this is reiterated in Sloka 5. 14 - 'The Lord determines not the doership nor the doings of men, nor does He link actions to their fruits; it is Nature alone that does all this... and Sloka 9.10 - 'With Me as the Presiding Witness,....... the wheel of the
Universe keeps revolving.'
Do I Have a Role At All?
The question might now arise: "If everything is inexorably decided by a rigid framework of laws, then where is the question of praying to God? He does not seem to have my role to play at all, other than being a remote and unconcerned Witness?" Here, an example would help.
In many countries, the Head of the State has the power of granting pardon. For example, in India, a person sentenced to death may appeal to the President to reduce the sentence to one of life imprisonment, and the President has the full authority to do so. Similarly, irrespective of the sins one might commit, one can always pray to God for forgiveness; and God can and will shower His Grace if there is true repentance.
The Witness And a Personal God
So far, arguments have been advanced in support of Sloka 5. 15 - 'The Supreme Lord is not responsible for anyone's sins or,
for that matter, anyone's merit. They are both the result of actions performed by beings whose knowledge is submerged in illusion', which is one side of the story.
Let us now look at it from the other side, to be more specific, from the viewpoint of Sloka 18. 61 - ..... 'The Lord dwells in the heart of every being and by His delusive mystery (Maya), whirls them all around as though mounted on a machine', according to which one is merely a puppet in the hands of the Lord. Swami says that everything in the Universe (including all beings) is a limb of the Lord. From that point of view, the Lord does control and determine all actions! In his perspective, one sees God everywhere and does not recognise the minor deities; everything happens because God wills so; if it rains, it is not just because of the clouds brought rain but because God willed the clouds to do so, etc.
Perhaps an analogy might help at this juncture. We are aware that the weather phenomena are entirely due to the sun. Two views can be taken about what happens. One might say that the sun merely shines and does not care whether the Earth exists or not; the weather is controlled entirely by the oceans, the atmosphere etc., although the driving energy is derived from the sun.
Alternately, one might declare that the sun heats the oceans, causes the water to evaporate; it also heats the land and causes the air over it to rise producing thereby, low pressure and that this differential pressure causes the moisture derived from the oceans to be blown over the land where it condenses as rain. In the former viewpoint, the sun is merely a witness while in the latter viewpoint, the sun is directly involved.
We thus have the "Yes and no" situation, which depends largely on the perspective. For one who views God as the Abstract and the Formless, God functions merely as the witness; but for one who believes in a personal God, the view that God controls everything is not untenable.
Finally, from the point of view of one who does not see any diversity in the Universe but sees God as being everything and the only thing, i.e., for one immersed in non-duality, all is God, all is determined by God and all is done by God for there is none other than God. Thus, as in the example based on Relativity, each point of view is correct in its own frame of reference.
Why Do People Suffer?
Even if one reluctantly concedes the above argument, there will still linger the doubt: "Why do people suffer for their actions, especially if God pulls the strings as in the case of puppets?" Krishna has clearly explained this; He says that if an action is done with a doership feeling, then clearly the person doing the action is the doer and not God; and naturally, the doer has to face the consequences too.
One cannot willfully plot a murder, commit it for some personal reasons, and then sigh that it is all His Will and His doing. If one thinks one is acting then God is not; if one always thinks that it is God who is acting, then it is God who is acting - it all depends on the person. In the latter case, the person does not abandon the view even if something terrible happens to him; instead, he stoically says that it is all a blessing from the Lord. Incidentally, in the grand Master Plan, God knows fully well who are the ones afflicted with the doership virus and who are the ones free from it.
And He delicately arranges for some of the former to be His instruments - for example, the greedy are made to face sometime or the other, thugs who extort money; greed is thus suitably repaid. This way, the Divine Director provides a role for all!
Vol 3 Issue 9 - September 2005
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