“As antaryami, Shri Rama knows everyone’s maladies. Raising the bow, in curiosity He is drawing the string to His ear.” (Janaki Mangala, 103)
antarajāmī rāma marama saba jāneu |
dhanu caḍhāi kautukahiṃ kāna lagi tāneu ||
“In the Vedas it is said that the Supreme Lord is antaryami. This means that He is the all-pervading witness. At any time, at any place, whatever I am doing He can see me. He knows if I’ve been naughty or nice for not only the present year, but my whole life. The same holds true for every other person, existing past, present and future. As He is the greatest witness, He knows exactly what is bugging me. Therefore shouldn’t He come to fix the situation? Why does anyone succumb to the effects of disease if the antaryami Supreme Lord knows their condition? How could He let them suffer like that?”
Indeed, such concerns are understandable once one learns that God resides within them as the Supersoul. The individual soul is what identifies us, but that soul is only locally residing. My soul is in my body but not in yours. My soul does not change, while my body constantly does. At the time of death, a new body is given to me to replace the one I just left behind.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
Though my soul travels to different bodies, it is still only locally conscious. I do not know what you’re thinking. I may witness your activities right now while you are in front of me, but I have no idea what you did before this. I can only find out through hearing, and in that I have to trust that what I hear is true. God, on the other hand, is everywhere. The Supersoul is our link to Him that is within close proximity, should we choose to take advantage of the situation.
This last point is what answers the question of why God doesn’t stamp out bad conditions altogether. He certainly does know all of our maladies. If you think about it, He must be all-pervading. If He cannot witness every activity, it means that He has a defect. If He is deficient in any possible way, if He is not supreme in every single category, He is not God. Since He is the Supreme Lord, He knows all and has seen all.
If we don’t want to connect with Him, He is not obliged to get rid of our ailments. To help us understand how and why, let’s say that I have a small child. They don’t know very much since they have only been on earth for a short while. Though the soul is eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss, in the conditioned state, where the soul accepts a temporary body, knowledge is covered and requires action in educational disciplines to become uncovered.
The young child’s inherent knowledge is covered up and doesn’t start to reveal until they mature. This means that I have to guide my young child in all of their activities. Let’s say that they want to place their tiny hand into a blazing fire. I tell them not to. I know what the result will be. Their hand will get burned, and that is not good. When they are in my presence, I give a stern warning: “Don’t place your hand in the fire! Get away from there! I don’t want to see you anywhere near that fire.” If they disobey me, I get in the way and use force to prevent them from getting injured.
Though the child is a dependent, they are raised to eventually become independent. At some point in time they will have to make their own decisions. This is true even while they are in the childhood years. Despite the best protection, I cannot control my child’s every move. They will make many decisions on their own. If during a moment of alone time they decide to place their hand in the fire, an action which is prohibited, they will get hurt. Is it my fault then that they got the pain? Am I responsible for the burn on their hand?
Perhaps you can blame me as the parent when the child is young, but if they make the same mistake in adult life, it is solely the child’s responsibility. I know what their potential action is and I also know the result of that action. And I did whatever I could to prevent the injury as well, but it came nevertheless because of the independence afforded the child. That same independence is granted to all of us to some degree.
If we do things the wrong way, and thereby neglect our inherent occupational duty of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, then we’ll surely fall into unpleasant situations. If I am offered soup to eat and someone gives me only a fork to use, obviously I will have a difficult time eating the soup. I need a spoon for the soup, not a fork. The fork is intended for something else. In a similar manner, the material nature can be used for endless activities, but as a spirit soul I am constitutionally fit to serve the Supreme Lord. This service doesn’t have to be based on blind faith towards a particular personality. In fact, it is said in the Bhagavad-gita that the person who approaches the Supreme Lord with some knowledge of the Absolute is actually the most dear to Him.
“Of these [four kinds of people who approach to render devotional service], the wise one who is in full knowledge in union with Me through pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.17)
There are various spiritual traditions and different grades of practice, but if the purpose is the same, that of loving God, then the recommended actions are valid. When operating under any other kind of consciousness, I will be misusing the material energy around me and the Supersoul’s influence will be ignored. As such, I will be responsible for the misfortune that befalls me.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas reminds us that God is antaryami. He is the all-pervading witness. In this instance, God is seen as Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha who roamed this land many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. God is one, but He has many incarnations and expansions. There are too many to count, but the most prominent ones are enumerated in the Vedas.
Rama knows everyone’s maladies, including Sita’s. Here Sita is worried over the outcome to a contest that will determine her future husband. She wants Rama to win. She has eyes for Him and He for her. But rules are rules. King Janaka, Sita’s father, vowed to give Sita away to whichever prince could first lift the bow. This meant that Rama had to lift this amazingly heavy bow originally belonging to Lord Shiva. Sita was worried because Rama was a youthful prince and the bow was ghastly in weight. The odds were very much in favor of the bow.
Knowing her worries, Rama lifted the bow with ease, like a curious child playing with a new toy. And then He drew the bowstring to His ear. That was it. He did it. He removed Sita’s worry, which was the ailment causing her the most pain. Her worry was entirely related to serving Rama, who is God. She was afraid that she wouldn’t get to serve Him as His wife. Rama made sure that she had nothing to worry about. And in a similar manner, if we are eager to serve God and wish to derive all the endless benefits that come with that service, Shri Rama will remove all obstacles in our way.
After giving it a quick look,
Bow in His hands He took.
Like curious child drew string to the ear,
Lifted bow thus to remove Sita’s fear.
To serve God or nature we all have a choice,
Can find repeated misery or in divine felicity rejoice.
If towards Him the path is taken,
Through Shri Rama all worries forsaken.