Tuesday, January 09, 2007

God is neither Partial nor Cruel

Hare Krishna Friends,

Following is the transcription of a lecture given by Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami on selected sutras from the “Brahma Sutra” of Badarayana.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
There is tremendous inequality in the cosmos. The Devas are said to enjoy great felicity in heaven and are endowed with powers of the kind men are not. Humans constitute a middling class while animals lie lower than man in creation. The capacity of a worm, for instance is less than that of even a fool. Apart from the fact of inequality, there is great suffering too. All animals and humans are subject to death and the inhabitants of heaven have to return to the world of mortals on the exhaustion of the stock of virtue that enabled them to enter heaven in the first place. Even young, innocent babies are, sometimes, seen to be in great suffering. Disease, infirmity etc., are sources of misery to people.

The Vedantic conclusion is that Brahman is the material and efficient cause of the universe. Thus, God ought to be the one who creates this cosmos with its great inequality and its sufferings. Would not such a God be partial by virtue of his ordaining inequality? Further, would not God be cruel by being the ordainer of great misery? Surely, a partial and cruel God is no true God at all. This conclusion follows from the assumption that God is the efficient cause of the universe. As it is thoroughly unacceptable, God could not have been the ordainer of the universe. This is one of the objections considered and rebutted in the Brahma Sutras by Badarayana (Veda Vyasa).
Badarayana aphorizes, "Partiality and cruelty are not there in God owing to his consideration of other factors, for the Vedas so show". If God had created this world arbitrarily, without taking any factor into consideration, he would have been open to the charge of partiality and cruelty. However, God is blameless since this unequal creation is brought about by him in conformity with the virtues and vices of various beings. God is like rain. Rainfall is the common cause for the growth of a variety of crops such as paddy and barley. However, the differences between crops stem from the disparity in the seeds. It is not rain that makes a barley seed sprout into a crop different from paddy. Like rain, God is the common cause for the birth of the Devas, humans etc. But it is the great merit acquired by the Deva in an earlier birth that results in his being born a Deva; a man is so born because of his having earlier earned merit as well as demerit.

How is it known that God creates in accordance with the virtues and vices of beings? The aphorist points out, "for the Vedas so show". For instance, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad teaches, "One becomes virtuous through good deeds and vile through evil acts" In the Bhagavad Gita the Lord tells Arjuna, "In whatever way people worship me, in the same way do I consummate their desire.”

The aphorist next presents another objection and answers it. "If it be contended that this is impossible for want of any distinction in work prior to creation, we reply ‘No’, because of the world being beginning-less". Prior to the origin of the cosmos, there could have been no Karma, virtuous or vile, in accordance with which God could have created a world of inequality and suffering. The Chandogya Upanisad says, "In the beginning, O good looking one, all this was but the Truth, one alone without a second" and thereby rules out differences. So, if God were the ordainer of the Universe, he must be the one responsible for the inequalities at the start of creation. At best, he can rely thereafter on the good and bad acts of persons to reward or punish them in their subsequent lives. Thus, God must be guilty of partiality and cruelty by virtue of his having introduced inequality and suffering at the very start of creation.The Vedantin answers this objection by saying that the problem mentioned does not arise for the transmigratory state is beginning-less. There is nothing like the absolute starting point. Every cycle of creation is preceded by another cycle which produces the requisite disparity in the merit and demerit of creatures.How is it known that the transmigratory state has no beginning? Vyasa answers, "This is logical and it is met with in the scriptures". Suppose the cosmos with its unequal inhabitants had an absolute starting point. Then, its emergence must have been capricious. God could not have been responsible for the inequality. This is because he operates, as seen earlier, on the basis of the past Karma of creatures and there could have been no Karma prior to the origin of the universe with beings. Avidya too could not have been the cause of inequality as, without involvement of past Karma, it is, per se, homogeneous. Hence, a universe with an absolute starting point could have come into being only by chance.If events can occur capriciously then it should be quite possible for beings to have happiness or misery for no rhyme or reason. A man’s good and bad deeds could go unrewarded and unpunished respectively. Further, if chance occurrences are possible, there is nothing to preclude the accidental rebirth of liberated souls. All this is unacceptable and absurd. On the other hand, everything would fall into place if the transmigratory state were beginning-less. The relationship between the condition prior to and after the start of each cycle of creation could then be on par with a seed and a sprout.The scriptures too declare transmigratory existence to be devoid of a starting point. For instance, the Rig Veda teaches, "The Lord devised the sun and moon as before". In the Gita we read, "Its form is not perceived here as such, neither its end, nor its origin, nor its continuance". The teaching of the Puranas also is that the past and future cycles of creation are without number.To conclude, God is not guilty of partiality or cruelty because he creates in accordance with the past merit and demerit of each creature. There is no first creation prior to which there was no merit or demerit for God to consider. There is thus no flaw in the Vedantic conclusion that Brahman is the material and efficient cause of everything.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hari Om,