Why does God allow pain and suffering?

The question of why does God allow pain and suffering is one that has been asked for centuries. The answer to this question is not a simple one, but it can be answered by looking at the different religions and cultures that exist in the world. In Eastern religions, there is a belief in karma. This means that people are rewarded or punished based on their actions in this or past life. If someone does something good, they will be rewarded with good things happening to them. If someone does something bad, they will be punished with bad things happening to them. The concept of rebirth and karma is fundamental to all the Eastern religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism, all of which were born in India.

This idea of karma is by far the best and most convincing answer to why does God allow pain and suffering. That’s because it teaches people how to live their lives so that they don’t have to experience pain or suffering themselves, in their future births. It also enables people to start looking at miseries as a way to purify themselves of past sins and progress in their pursuit towards self-realization.

Why does God allow pain and suffering? This idea of karma is by far the best and most convincing answer to why does God allow pain and suffering.
Why does God allow pain and suffering?

Considering all the scriptural wisdom behind karma and rebirth, we are putting together a 5 point answer to why does God allow pain and suffering:

  1. Pain and Suffering in this birth are a result of your past actions. No body can escape one’s own karma.
  2. Trying to escape pain and suffering in this birth will only cause more future births, thus delaying one’s ultimate liberation.
  3. As long as life is happy and fine, nobody would turn inward. Pain and suffering are the best tools to help turn one’s mind inward, to probe one’s actual identity and eventually realize that we’re neither the body nor the mind, but the self or atman.
  4. Pain and suffering push one to the path of devotion and spirituality. If we keep enjoying material successes in the world, we’ll continue to be stuck in the cobweb of material existence. Hence, pain and suffering are a blessing in disguise. Numerous saints who realized their true self were initially drawn to God because of personal miseries like diseases and departure of loved ones only.
  5. Pain and suffering only exist when you are in the wakeful state. When you’re in deep sleep, it doesn’t affect you. Hence it is neither permanent nor real. It’s an illusion just like this universe. The only way to come out of this is to realize one’s true self.

This blog has the following sections:

  1. Concept of Rebirth
  2. What is Karma?
  3. Three kinds of karma
  4. Pain and Suffering
  5. What is Moksha?

Concept of Rebirth

The concept of rebirth is a central tenet in all Eastern religions. It is the belief that after death, one will be reborn into a new life. This cycle continues until one achieves enlightenment and becomes free from suffering. The soul goes through many cycles of birth and death before it reaches moksha or liberation from the cycle of rebirths.

Saṃsāra (Dévanagari: संसार) is a Pali/Sanskrit word meaning “world”. It is also the concept of rebirth and the “cyclicality of all life, matter, existence”, a core belief of most Indian religions. Saṃsāra is sometimes referred to by terms or phrases such as transmigration, karmic cycle, reincarnation or Punarjanma and “the cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or worldly existence”.

A full exposition of the saṃsāra doctrine is found in śramanic religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, as well as in various schools of Hindu philosophy. The saṃsāra doctrine is tied to the karmic theory of Hinduism, and liberation from saṃsāra has been at the heart of the spiritual quest of Indian traditions, as well as their internal disagreements. Liberation from saṃsāra is called Moksha, Nirvāṇa, Mukti or Kaivalya.


What is Karma?

Karma is the idea that what you do in your life will come back to you, either in this life or the next. This means that if you are good and kind, then good things will happen to you and if you are bad and cruel, then bad things will happen to you, perhaps not now but in your future births. This idea can be applied to the question of why God allows pain and suffering because it means that when people suffer, they have done something wrong in their past lives which has led them to their current state.

Why does God allow pain and suffering? This idea of karma is by far the best and most convincing answer to why does God allow pain and suffering. This picture shows the cycle of Karma.
Why does God allow pain and suffering? – Cycle of Karma

Karma can be good or bad. It can be created by our thoughts, words, and actions. Karma can also be created by other people’s thoughts, words, and actions. Karma can affect our next life in many ways such as what we are born as (human, animal), where we are born (heaven or hell), how long we live for (longer or shorter), what kind of body we have (beautiful or ugly).


Three kinds of karma

The Sanskrit word “karma”, literally translated, means action. It comes from the root “kri” which means to act. Karma refers to actions or deeds in the past, present and future. Karma includes both physical and mental or psychological actions.

There are three kinds of karma in the world of yoga.

  • Sanchita Karma
    These are accumulated actions that you have completed in the past. You can’t change them, but you can only wait for them to happen. This is a vast accumulation of karma that includes our countless past lives. This includes every action you have ever taken in your past and present lives. Once can perform austerities and get absolved of Sanchita karma completely.
  • Prarabdha Karma
    Prarabdha is that part of past karma which is responsible for the present. These are mature and fruitful actions and reactions. The things you did in the past make you who you are today. It cannot be avoided or changed, but only exhausted by experiencing it. Nothing can be done to save one from Prarabdha Karma as it is like the arrow already shot from the bow. Even self-realized persons have to suffer Prarabdha Karma, but the benefit of self realization would be that such people would not identify themselves with their body and therefore would be able to stay unaffected.
  • Agami Karma
    Agami Karma is the karma we create for ourselves right here in the current moment. It is the activity we create and the choices we make right now as we live this present life. If we live our present lives righteously, then we can avoid accruing more Karma for the future.

All these three aspects of karma are intertwined. “As you think, so shall you be” – our choices and actions in the present moment become our karma in the future.

The benefits of understanding karma are that it discourages doing unwholesome actions because it brings suffering. Instead, it encourages doing good and kindness to bring happiness as fruit. By taking full responsibility for our thoughts and actions, we create our reality. Everything we think or do right now creates a future that is related to those thoughts and actions.


Pain and Suffering

The idea of pain and suffering is a complex one. It is not just physical pain, but also emotional and mental pain. The idea of suffering has been around for centuries, and it has been a part of many religions. In the past, people have tried to find meaning in their suffering by believing that it was a test from God or that they were being punished for something they did wrong. Today, people are more likely to believe that their suffering is just an unfortunate event in life that they cannot control.

Hinduism teaches that the soul (atman) is eternal and indestructible, but it can be reincarnated into another body if it has not reached moksha.

The theory of “karma and rebirth” raises numerous questions—such as how, when, and why the cycle began in the first place, what is the relative karmic merit of one karma versus another, and why and what evidence is there that rebirth actually occurs, among other things. Schools of Buddhism consider the cycle of karmic rebirth as an integral part of their theories of soteriology.

Sins done in past lives with body, mind (thoughts) and speech (words) have to be experienced as pain and suffering by our current body, mind and speech (as words).

Life forms not only receive and reap the consequences of their past karma, but together they are the means of initiating, evaluating, judging, giving and passing on the consequences of karma to others.


What is Moksha?

Moksha is a concept associated with saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and rebirth). This slavery of repeated rebirth and life, each life subject to injury, disease and aging, was seen as a cycle of suffering. Release from this cycle also ended the suffering that is a part of this cycle. This release has been called moksha, nirvana, kaivalya, mukti, and other terms in various Indian religious traditions. The desire for freedom from pain and suffering seems to lie at the root of the pursuit of moksha, and it is generally believed that moksha is, in other words, a reality attainable only at the end of life, not during it. However, there is also the notion that moksha can be achieved during life in the form of a state of enlightenment known as jivan-mukti, although this still depends on the personal and spiritual effort attributed to attaining moksha.

There are several methods to attaining liberation. The Cowherd has covered the three paths mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita in separate blogs namely, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

Swami Sarvapriyananda explaining why there is suffering

Why do good people suffer?


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