“They are serving as the food for the Rakshasas, who are fiendish creatures that subsist on human flesh. While being eaten away, the sages residing in Dandaka-aranya, those best among the brahmanas, said to Me, 'Please rescue us'.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.6)Download this episode (right click and save)
Bad things happen to good people. That is simply the way of the world. Happiness and sadness come and go, almost on schedule. The wise person learns to tolerate them, like the coming and going of the winter and summer seasons.
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
People who are serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead should be protected, no? They are no longer interested in karma. Their work does not involve fruits related to the development of a temporary body. Still, the time factor is at play, and it can be deceptive. There are many examples from the past where it looked like life was extremely unfair to really good people. The unfairness served a vital purpose, and soon enough time would reverse the situation in a dramatic way.
1. The Pandavas on the run
These five brothers, along with their mother, are the main characters of the work of epic length known as the Mahabharata. The events are from so long ago and some of the descriptions beyond amazing that the less intelligent relegate the book to fiction status, a work of mythology. In fact, the soul is truly amazing. It has potency beyond belief. When freed from the inhibiting influence of the material body, the soul can do things more amazing than even described in ancient texts.
“Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29)
Kunti Devi was the mother of the Pandava brothers and she was related to Krishna as paternal aunt. There was more to the relationship than just bloodline. She was devoted to Krishna, who is God in His original and all-attractive form. He is not a competitor God from a different religion. He is simply the full detail behind what others know only in abstract.
The Mahabharata follows the heartbreaking plight of the family, as they lose their father, Pandu, at a young age. The mother is left to care for the children by herself. They should be okay, as the great kingdom of Hastinapura should descend to them. Ah, but the rival cousins, the Kauravas, usurp the kingdom. Not only do they steal what is not theirs, they try to kill the Pandavas in so many ways.
The brothers and their mother are constantly on the run. Life looks to be extremely unfair to them. Is this the reward they get for being pious, upstanding citizens? Where is Krishna to protect them?
2. Devaki and her dead children
It was a happy day. Devaki just got married to Vasudeva. Her brother Kamsa was kind enough to escort her to her new home. Then things changed dramatically. A voice from the sky informed Kamsa that his sister’s eighth child would be his end. Kamsa was ready to kill Devaki right then and there, but Vasudeva stepped in with some words of persuasion.
“You are awaiting some danger because you have heard a prophetic voice in the sky. But the danger is to come from the sons of your sister, who are not present now. And who knows? There may or may not be sons in the future. Considering all this, you are safe for the present. Nor is there cause of fear from your sister.” (Vasudeva speaking to Kamsa, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 1)
The agreement was made that Vasudeva would simply hand over the children as soon as they were born. Kamsa agreed to let the couple go, but only for a while. He eventually reversed course and imprisoned them both. He had the authority since he was the king of Mathura. Devaki and her husband were devotees of Narayana, who is also known as Vishnu. This is the version of God the person in all-opulence, worshiped in a mood of awe and reverence.
The reward for that devotion? Devaki surrendered each of her first seven children as soon as they were born. Then she stood by helpless as Kamsa threw each one against a stone slab. This is one of the more gruesome examples of life’s unfairness. How was Devaki ever to get over the grief? How could something like this happen to her?
3. The forest sages being eaten
Brahmanas are the topmost members of society based on the system of varnas, or societal divisions. As Shri Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, these are based on guna and karma respectively. Guna is material quality and karma fruitive activity. Krishna does not mention janma, or birth, as a determining factor.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
A long time back many brahmanas populated an area known as Dandaka. It had become a tapo-vana, or secluded place conducive to austerity. Austerity is the power of the ascetic. Without it, they are an ascetic in name only. Indeed, Krishna mentions how He is the tapa of the ascetic, meaning that He is the very life of that status.
“I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.9)
Pious credits result from that austerity. There is the obvious progression in the purification of consciousness as well. These brahmanas had a big problem, though. Nishacharas were coming to kill them. These are night-rangers in a body-type something like an ogre. They would attack right as the yajnas, or sacrifices, were about to complete. Then they would eat the flesh of the dead sages.
Brahmanas have the ability to curse, but doing so depletes their store of pious credits. The situation was something like terrorists going into a church and blowing up the place as a sermon was being delivered. The brahmanas were harmless, and they left civilized society, meaning they weren’t bothering anyone in the forest. The reward they got for that decision hardly seemed fair.
4. Sita suffering in the Ashoka grove
We know of the plight of the brahmanas based on the testimony of Shri Rama. He later arrived on the scene in the Dandaka forest and heard from them what was going on. There was soon to be His own problem. Sita was with Him, His beautiful and chaste wife. She is the epitome of virtue. She never does anything for herself. Her behavior is in line with dharma, and more importantly, in the best interests of her husband.
Sita shifted to the Ashoka grove in Lanka. This place was beautiful on the outside, but the change in residence was not her choice; it was forced upon her by Ravana, the leader of the ogres, who lived in Lanka. She suffered so much there. Solitary confinement would have been one thing, but Ravana ordered his female attendants to harass Sita day and night. The beautiful princess was separated from her beloved husband. She was the kindest person receiving the harshest treatment.
5. Hanuman tied up
Rama, who is God Himself in an incarnation form, later sent Hanuman to search for Sita. He found her, but on the way out of Lanka, he got tied up by a weapon originating from Lord Brahma. Ravana’s son had released the weapon, and he victoriously brought the bound Hanuman in front of Ravana. To add insult to injury, Ravana decided to set fire to Hanuman’s tail. Hanuman was just a messenger. He bravely soared across the ocean and clandestinely searched within Lanka for Sita. He should have gotten a better reward than this.
Key to the analysis is that each situation represents merely a snapshot in time. Things would change, and for the better. In the process, the strength of devotion in these characters became prominent. Moreover, the truth of God’s guiding hand over the devotees became crystal clear. He gives the appropriate punishment to the impious, delivered at just the right time. For the devotees, He is always there with them in consciousness, which means that whether in heaven or hell they are always in the bliss of devotion.
From situation not easy to tell,
That devotees in bliss whether heaven or hell.
From past history seeing things unfair,
Like Sita of future rescue unaware.
And Pandavas like homeless to roam,
And Devaki’s children thrown against stone.
Not to be fooled, merely snapshot in time,
From Divine Himself fiends justice to find.