A friend asked me to answer three “Big Questions” about the spiritual life:
- If God is bliss, why did He create suffering?
- To what degree is God involved in everything?
- If there is karma, how can there be free will?
I promised I would try to answer his questions. But I have to confess, I didn’t have much interest.
First, because I don’t know the answers. And further: even if I knew the answers, would he have a sufficiently expanded consciousness to understand them?
In my forty-plus years with Swami Kriyananda, I realized, time and time again, that “his ways were not my ways.”
Each time I thought he didn’t understand something, I discovered in the end that it was my understanding that was lacking.
It wasn’t that I was stupid. It was a question of my consciousness, which was far from the level on which he lived. When Swamiji was kind enough to explain himself, I realized that there were factors I hadn’t dreamed of.
How big is my cup of consciousness? If I want answers to the “big questions,” I must first make my consciousness big enough to receive them.
And this leads me to the second reason for my reluctance to answer my friend’s big questions: what difference would it make?
I used to think that if I could find the answer to every question that arose in my mind, the explanations would change my life. But I’ve learned that even if the explanations are interesting, and even useful, it’s far more important to have a change of heart.
In other words, the answer to “Why did God make creation?” is to love God, serve, live selflessly, and meditate.
I am not a fan of the “big questions.” My mind moves along more simple, practical lines. Knowing the big answers doesn’t change the problem facing me: How do I feel? And how can I feel better?
Whether God gave us free will, I know that my choices in the morning will affect how I feel in the afternoon. And the decisions I make this week will influence my life’s flavor next week.
I prefer the little questions – because the little questions bring little answers, that bring little changes, that lead in time to a big change in my consciousness. This I know from my experience.
Let’s look at some little answers to my friend’s Big Questions.
“If God is Bliss, why did He create suffering?” If you see a good movie or discover a fine restaurant, the first thing you want to do is tell a friend. We instinctively know that our happiness increases when we share it. Swami Kriyananda said, “It is the nature of bliss to want to share itself.”
Perhaps your friend doesn’t enjoy the movie or the restaurant. It doesn’t matter; it doesn’t change your happiness in trying to help him.
God made the world from His nature, which is satchidanandam – ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. Nothing exists in this world but Bliss. We suffer because of how we perceive the world. Then we blame God for our perception. We complain, “Why didn’t You make it easier for us to perceive Your Bliss?”
If you believe that a friend has betrayed you, and you feel hurt and angry, and later you learn that your friend behaved in an exemplary way, is it your friend’s fault that you suffered? Everything was fine. It was you who misunderstood.
The saints tell us that we make the same mistake with God. We blame God for our suffering, when it was our own misunderstanding that caused us to suffer. Once we realize how we have misunderstood Him, our lives become a feast of love in God.
“To what degree is God involved in everything?”
Let’s ask the question a different way. “How much is the mighty ocean involved in the little wave?”
Without the ocean, there would be no wave. God made us of His Bliss. If you live at the top of the wave, you may lose sight of where you came from, and what you are.
Finally, “If there is karma, how can there be free will?”
Every decision you make is influenced by your decisions of the past. Certainly, your experiences today are influenced by your karma. Then, is the illusion of free will just a joke of God’s?
Now, that’s a hard question. Yet once again I prefer to look at the little answers.
Who put us here, and why? At first it seems a big, important question. The trouble is that no matter how loudly we beat the bars of our prison cell, no one can answer the question “Who put us here, and why?” in a way that will make the slightest difference to the fact of our imprisonment.
People say, “But it is God’s fault. He created this prison!”
Ah, well, now we have someone to blame! We can be angry at God. But in time we realize that our anger has no effect. It simply makes our prison of consciousness more unpleasant.
So we begin to ask a different question: “How can I get out?” The question of why God put us here isn’t as important as our need to escape the prison.
The masters tell us that when we finally escape, there is nothing to understand, nothing to forgive. There is only Love.