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Universal Law and Our Conditional Freedom
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on July 10, 1983.)

A bubble that arises on the surface of the ocean has a shape of its own. Varieties of eddies and ripples have different shapes, but all of them are forms of the water of the ocean. The various shapes that they assume are due to certain pressures at different points in the waters of the ocean as well as the direction of the wind that blows on the surface.

Some such thing may serve as a good comparison or analogy to the life of people in this world. Our physical existence is like a bubble in many ways. It has assumed a shape as this physical body, and there are many visible bodies in this world because we see many people living here. Each person is different from the other, as different bubbles in the ocean are different from one another, and they have different shapes and contours, and also different lifespans. Some of these ripples or bubbles last for a few minutes, while some arise and subside in a few seconds.

So even their lifetime, the span of their existence on the surface of the ocean, is not uniform. People are not born on the same day and do not die on the same day because, to go back to the comparison of the bubbles in the ocean, there are various intensities of pressure exerted on the body of the ocean by various internal and external factors, and these pressures decide and determine not only the shape of the risen bubble on the surface but also the length of time for which it will last. The duration of the life of the bubble is decided by these internal pressures and, simultaneously, every bubble is different from the other in form, shape, and even activity due to these conditions of the intensive action of the body of the ocean at the base and the winds that blow on the surface.

Similarly, man on Earth is a bubble that has a shape as man or woman, as long or short, as stout or thin, as surviving for only a few days or living for many years. There is no bubble which can last eternally. It shall subside one day or the other. But why does this happen? These are questions that arise in our minds, and one bubble seeing another nearby considers it as its friend. “Here is my friend. How are you, my dear?” When he says that, the friend has already subsided and gone. Where has it gone? This little bubble cries, “My friend has gone.” Where has it gone? It has gone to the very same place from where this crying friend has come. It has not gone to any other place. And this weeping friend shall also go to the same place where the departed one has gone.

Why does this happen? Why this drama? Who is benefited by it? This drama of creation is not for the benefit of anybody. It is not for the happiness or the sorrow of anybody. A law, a principle and a methodology of operation in a universal organisation has no concern with these emotional interpretations of life we call joy and sorrow.

The envisionment of the values of life in terms of happiness and sorrow is an outlook of the emotion of man. It is not the reason that is speaking; rather, it is the feeling that reacts to outward occurrences. This body, this physical frame, this thing that has come when we are born into this world has come in a similar way as a bubble in the ocean has come to the surface. There is no end for the births that we have taken. This is not the first birth of ours, nor perhaps the last birth for most of us. Endless is the beginning and endless is the end. Millions of births we might have taken; a similar number we may have to take in the future. But what for? Why does this happen? We may put this question to our own selves. Why are we tortured in this manner? Why this suffering on our body, on our mind, on our soul? What mistake have we committed? What sin have we perpetrated to deserve the sorrow of the coming and going of these bodies and the involvement of our souls in these bodies?

Now, here is a great point which mankind raises in its emotional perceptions of the phenomena of life, but it cannot receive an answer. One bubble in the ocean may ask another bubble, “From where have you come?” But it cannot give an answer. It has come into being, no doubt, but it cannot know from where it has come because the coming into the surface of the ocean by a bubble or the coming into the surface of this phenomenal world by our own personalities is due to a tremendous force that is exerted from behind. It is something like a person pushing you from behind with such vehemence that he will not allow you to see who is there. You have no time even to see, to turn your head and look as to what is pushing you because the push is so forceful and so intense that you are compelled to rush onward. The moment you seek to turn, before you even think of turning back and seeing, you are already pushed forward. The intensity of your desire to look back and see what is happening is not as strong as the push that is exerted upon you. Thus, you are moving forward more and more, just as you are carried downstream by the tremendous current of the floodwater of the Ganga which will not permit you to move even one inch backward against the current. You are swept along with the current.

This pressure that causes the birth of this body, the birth of any body in this world – mine, yours or anybody's – is such a mystery that no physical eye can know what is behind it. No one can know from where one has come, and no one can know where one goes because the eyes that want to see or even the mind that wants to think in this way is pushed outwardly with the vehemence of this energy. The eyes cannot see what is behind, so you cannot know from where you came. The mind also is something like an internal eye, and it is pushed in a similar manner in the direction of outward cognition; therefore, even the mind cannot know from where it has come. Thus, neither our minds nor our senses can be of any avail in knowing from where we have come.

We have not really come from the womb of our mother. The so-called mother is only the passage of our exit, but the passage is not actually the source. The source is something different. What is this source, and why are we born? Why should we die? The situation raises two questions. Firstly, why should birth and death take place? The second question is, why are we tortured or at least seem to be put to the rack of this agony of coming into being and then dying? These two questions are poignant before everybody, and have not been answered. No one has received a satisfactory answer.

But what happens? The first question is, “Why is this coming into being, into this framework of the physical body, with the duration of survival in this body for a short period or a longer period, as the case may be?” Some live only for a few minutes or days, and some live for many years. Why should some live only for a few days and some live for 200 years? What is the reason? And why should they go after having come? Why should they not be here in this world for ever and ever? What is the harm? This is one set of questions. The other is regarding the sorrow that is involved in it, the unhappiness that goes with it, and the inexplicability of this enigma in which one is involved.

So the first question is a moot one. We have not deliberately come into this bodily existence because we have thought rationally and drawn a plan like an architect drawing a sketch of a building to be built. We did not think, “Let me have this kind of body for this number of years only.” In a way, we may say that we are responsible for the kind of body that we have assumed and also for the length of time for which we are living here. In a way we may be said to be responsible, but in another way perhaps we are not responsible. We are not responsible because if it had been in our hands entirely we would not have deliberately brought about circumstances to bring sorrow upon ourselves. This shows that things are not entirely in our hands. Nobody will dig a pit for one's own self voluntarily. But there is another aspect of this matter which seems to make us feel that we have contributed something to make ourselves what we are.

Law is not an unjust operation, though when it begins to operate we lose control over it. This is an instance on the point. You cannot say that a law that is necessary for the existence and the survival of people can be unjust in regard to people, because it exists only for the welfare of people. Therefore, it is certainly a just operation. That which is just cannot bring about sorrow because justice is not motivated by vengeance or vindictiveness. It is for the protection and the sustenance of the participants in its operation. But though it is so, though the law is very just and is certainly intended for the welfare of everybody, it can sometimes operate in such a way that one would not wish it to operate in that manner for reasons of one's own particular wishes or longings or circumstances involved. One would not wish that a high temperature may arise in one's body. Why should I have a fever of 105 Fahrenheit? Would anybody wish that? This peculiar biological law which creates the fever in the body is a law, no doubt, and inasmuch as a law which is operating in this manner is a part of our very psycho-biological existence, it cannot be said to be there for our ruin. It is there for our protection, and it is there as our guardian. But it raises our temperature, and we do not want that this should take place. When this happens, we seem to be losing control over the situation, and that is why we wish to see that it subsides.

Therefore, the positive factors behind a particular event or circumstance in life have a dual character. One is the character of being an intense friend of yours, as a law is. A law is a great friend of yours. Perhaps you cannot exist here if it is not there. You know how it protects you. You are safe and you can sleep securely because such a thing is there, but you know that it can act in a way which can make you lose your peace of mind and put you in a state of intense anxiety and insecurity. Why does it behave in a twofold way? Everyone knows why it operates in this manner, inasmuch as it is an obvious operation that everyone observes with one's own eyes in one's life, and everyone knows the reason for these dual operations of law. There is no need for any interpretation or commentary on it.

Similar is the way of the law of the universe. It is not our enemy. The greatest law is God's Being. In a way we may say God is a name that we give to the sustaining law of the universe. We say Mahavishnu is the ruler of the cosmos. Mahavishnu in Indian theology means the force that sustains the universe, the law that governs the whole creation and looks to the welfare of everyone in creation. It looks to the welfare of everybody; this is to be noted. This law, therefore, which is intended for the security and the welfare of everybody, is the cause behind everything that is happening, just as everything that is happening in a country may be said to be due to a peculiar operation of the law of the country in a variegated form. In a multipronged fashion it acts; therefore, there is diversity and not an obvious uniformity in the activities of even people in the world, notwithstanding the fact there is a uniform law at their back.

Notwithstanding that Mahavishnu is there as the supreme lawgiver or the ordainer of this universe, notwithstanding the universality and the uniformity of this law intended for the good and welfare of everybody, it acts variegatedly, even as a governmental law may act variegatedly in respect of different persons in the country, for reasons you all know very well.

So people who do not have an insight into this internal constitutional operation of the law of the universe, who are not acquainted with the law of their own country, may not know why anything is happening at all in this world. But it is said that ignorance of the law is no excuse. “I never knew,” you may say. But as a citizen of your country, you must know. How can you say you do not know? You must know the Constitution of your land; otherwise, you are likely to commit a mistake. We are untutored in this knowledge of the Constitution of Mahavishnu, the Supreme Governor of the universe. The Central Constitution of the universe is an intricate ordinance whose details are not known to people because they are not educated in this special schooling for the purpose of the acquisition of this solution.

So here we are, ignorant of the law of the universe. And when this law operates in variegated ways in respect of different persons and does not treat everyone in a uniform fashion, though it is uniformly operating at the back, we seem to be flabbergasted and find ourselves in a state of consternation. What is this peculiarity? What is this absence of uniformity? What is this apparent chaos that seems to be involved?

There is no chaos. It is a mathematically precise operation of the Constitution of the universe. You can have different sensations in your own body at different moments of time, and these differences in the sensations of a single body do not mean that there is no uniform law operating in the body. The longings of the different sense organs are not uniform, yet the uniform law is at the back of even this diversity of the longings of the senses. This is again to give you an analogy of how different fates apparently seem to be pursuing mankind, and why we are not permitted to know why such diversified fates should be allotted as the desserts to be meted out to different people.

This ordinance of the central constitution is the original pressure that causes the coming and going of everything in this universe, not merely of human beings. The evolution and involution of the universe in all the gradations of its coming and going are caused by the Central Will, the original intention of the cosmic ordinance, and any kind of diversity that you see in its operation is a part of its central operation, which I have tried to make a little clear by the analogy cited.

The types of bodies that people assume during their births are instruments which are provided to that particular form of the manifested force as ordained by the Central Will of the Constitution of the cosmos. We have different officials in a governmental system, for instance. Different officials perform different functions; therefore, they have different needs, and therefore they are furnished with different equipments. It is not that the same equipment is given to every official. It depends upon the necessity he feels on account of the position he occupies, and also the duration for which he occupies the position, and various other factors. Similarly, the type of body that we assume, the kind of personality that is ours, is allotted with a tremendous calculated procedure with a hundred percent justice behind it.

Now, why is this allotting done in this manner? Again I can give you an example. Why should the government equip one person with a gun, and another person with a fountain pen? It is because, to give a very crude example, a person has applied for a particular kind of office, and because he has applied deliberately and willed to occupy that office only, he was granted that wish. You want to occupy this office only. You do not want to become a policeman; you want to become a collector, a magistrate, or a judge. Well, you have applied for this particular post, and your deliberate will is behind it. Now, your deliberate asking for a particular thing is a kind of freedom that you exercise, but it is limited by conditions. Here is something important to remember: Whenever something has conditions, the freedom is limited. Nevertheless, you have a freedom because you have chosen this particular office. But this choosing of the particular office in your application to the government, which is the outcome of your deliberate exercise of free will and choice, is conditioned by the requirements of the government in respect of the cosmos. So there is determination and free will operating at the same time in one particular location.

Likewise, though the material of this body and the various appurtenances connected with this body, and even the duration of this body, is conditioned by the requirements and the ordinances of the Original Will of the cosmos, there is a freedom that we have exercised in choosing this. There was a desire behind this coming into the body. You applied to the government of Mahavishnu that you wish that this position may be given to you because you have a desire of this kind. The desire to fulfil a particular form of the mental impulse, the longing for a particular satisfaction, is granted by the great Lord, and when it is granted you are in that position, and every equipment necessary for the fulfilment of your wish is also furnished to you at the same time. If you applied for the post of a Superintendent of Police, you will be furnished with the apparatus of a policeman, and so on. You have asked for a particular body, and though you have not necessarily asked for a gun, you have asked for a position which requires the operation of a gun. Likewise, though you have not asked to be given this body, you have asked that a particular wish of yours be fulfilled; therefore, this body was given to you because that could be fulfilled only through the instrumentality of this kind of body.

Now, why do you live in this world for a short period only, or for a long period? It depends upon the duration of that office. All offices do not last the same length of time. The intensity of the desire determines the duration of the body, and so the body can last only so long as the desire persists. A new post is created by the government. They want a new Inspector General of Police for some circumstance, and you apply for that post. You are granted it, and every equipment is furnished to you. But when the tenure is over, the post is abolished and you withdraw yourself into your original condition. The appurtenance is cast off. You cannot operate with the facilities that were provided to you because they are not necessary. You may apply for another job, and you apply like this endlessly, which is the birth that you are taking.

The duration of your life, therefore, is conditioned by the intensity of your desires and the karmas that you performed in the previous birth. Short and long life are, therefore, various forms taken by the manner in which these operations of desire take place.

But there are many intricacies behind this. Gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ (BG 4.17): The way in which law works, nobody can understand. If it was so easy, you would not require a judiciary to interpret laws and anybody could read a book and understand what law is. It is so very intricate and involved and complicated that it requires a very subtle understanding and an analytical brain. So is the law of karma. It is not a stereotyped, linear action that is taking place. It is a widespread action operating simultaneously.

As I mentioned, we have taken many births. In one of the sutras of Patanjali and in the commentary thereon we are told that no one can say which particular karma is the cause of which particular birth. It is not necessarily true that the present body is caused by the karmas of the immediately preceding birth. It may be that, or it may not be that also. It can be the outcome of some work that you did some hundred births back, because the strength of the karma will decide which one has to operate first. The strongest ones come first; the weaker ones are given a chance afterwards. It is also said that sometimes the karmas can take effect in this birth itself, and they need not wait for the next birth. How? Though ordinarily speaking, karmas wait for the future for their manifestation, budding and maturity, and these actions we perform in this birth may materialise in the next birth or after a hundred births as the case may be, nevertheless, there are certain cases where karmas can be rewarded in this life itself. Under what conditions is this possible? It happens when the karma is very intense. Very good deeds and very bad deeds, intensely good things and intensely bad things are rewarded in this birth itself. Generally no one performs intensely good things or intensely bad things, though this is not ruled out. However, this is a proviso in the law of karma that extremely intense actions, whether they are positive or negative, will produce a result tomorrow. A boil or carbuncle can rise up or you can have a high temperature or stomach problems, as the case may be, if the action is intense. Otherwise, it will wait for many days.

The point is that karma is the cause of the birth of this body. Jati, ayu and bhoga, says a sutra of Patanjali, are determined by your past actions. You may be born into a particular species or genera. Why should you be born only to this genera or species? Why not into another? This is also decided. Secondly, the length of time for which you live in this world, and thirdly, the kind of experiences you will pass through in this world are decided while you are still in the womb of the mother. Indian theological beliefs tell us that Brahma writes on the forehead what is to take place. This may be the forehead of the psychic body. Brahma is the universal constitutional ordinance, and therefore, you come along with your destiny in your hand when you manifest yourself into the daylight of this world.

Thus, God is a hundred percent just, as the law is hundred percent just. Because the law has acted in a manner which has not been pleasant to you, it does not mean that it has ceased to be just. You know why it sometimes appears to operate in an unpleasant manner. Everyone knows why it operates in that way, and everyone knows the answer to this question. This is also the answer to the question of life. Why does God sometimes appear to be very unkind? He is never unkind, in the same way as law is not unkind, but He appears to be cruel as law may appear to be cruel when it operates in a particular manner under a given circumstance.

So is the justice of the cosmos, so is the position of God's will, and so is the freedom that He has given to us to manifest our desires. Longings of the psyche are the immediate causative factors of our coming into this body, and the dying of this body is nothing but the throwing off of the instrument with which we have been provided for the purpose of the fulfilment of a wish. When the present equipment is not necessary, it is cast off.

But desires are endless. Even retired people ask for new jobs. They never retire. Always you are in pursuit of some new occupation and new satisfactions, so merely because you have fulfilled one wish or set of wishes in one body it does not mean that all wishes have been exhausted. You apply for a fresh tenure of satisfaction, and a new birth is taken. You are appointed once again, and a new instrument is provided, a new body is taken, a new tenure is undergone, a new type of satisfaction is experienced, and that instrument is thrown off when that wish is fulfilled. But the wishes are endless, like the waters of the ocean. Therefore, you go on taking births and births, and pass through deaths and deaths, and nobody can complain that the thing has taken place in this way or in that way. No complaint is permissible in the supreme justice of the infinite compassion in the uniformity of the will of the Supreme Being who is your friend and well-wisher eternally and perennially. When you obey His laws, you are His permanent friend, and you may be absorbed into His cabinet and into His coterie. He may embrace you, and you may be embraced in such a way that He may absorb you into Himself. That is also possible.

This blessedness of getting absorbed by the Almighty which may be awaiting you every day is called moksha or liberation. Afterwards, there is no birth, no death, because you will not wish to do anything, and there is no transmigratory life, no coming, no going. It is a fusion of the eternal and the infinite called the Absolute – the final goal not merely of humankind, but of all creation. Such is the great glory that is awaiting us. May our humble prayer be to this great Lord.