Can I Know the Exact Karmic Cause of Suffering?


Is it possible for a normal man who is undergoing suffering in this life to gain knowledge of his past lives and find out exactly what karma of his past lives is causing the suffering ?

—Jehangir Nariman, India


Dear Jehangir (“Normal Man!”),

Your question reveals in part, the specific answer: the hidden psychic mysteries of karma are usually veiled to the “normal man,” meaning one who does not possess such subtle powers of perception. Sometimes “normal” people go to astrologers or psychics in search of such answers. Patanjali in his famous Yoga Sutras describes the powers that arise in human consciousness as a result of deep and steady concentration on the energy and consciousness of the “inner” man, or soul and God.

I cannot, however, say never are such things revealed to one who seeks them (and who is not an advanced yogi), but I can offer some thoughts that are perhaps more practical. Consider that we cannot change the past. Thus, it makes little difference what happened in the past while it makes a big difference how I respond here and now!

There are many reasons why past lives are veiled to us in the present life. It is best to consider this fact to be a gift rather than a liability. It is a gift because we start fresh. In the famous Book of Job in the Judaeo-Christian Old Testament of the Bible, the man Job suffers not because he has done wrong but because his love for God is being tested. Consider therefore your suffering (or is it someone else’s?) as a test of faith, even-mindedness, acceptance, courage, and positive energy and thought.

It must needs be that in this world of samsara, of duality, that the three-fold suffering comes to everyone: illness, old age, and death. We are not this body, but we are the soul temporarily encased in human form. We are here to realize who am I! Suffering has for its spiritual purpose the awakening of our search for this truth. The saints, masters, and God in various beloved forms stand ready to guide and help us when we turn our thoughts, love, and willpower to seek their company and counsel.

So, you see, it is less important to know how suffering came about — but that it has — and now how will I respond? Anger, denial, self-pity, depression, fear…none of these will help us. In America, we have a somewhat new expression: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” (Perhaps you hear it in India, too.) We are tested to build the muscles of our faith and strength.

Be of good cheer. Krishna reminds Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that the soul is eternal. It cannot be killed, cut, burned, or harmed. We are the Eternal Atman, and Satchidananda. This is the lesson of suffering. Its causes and roots may be hidden in time and space but the lesson is always the same. Through prayer, meditation, seva, and satsang and the company of saints the Soul emerges like the rising sun, victorious!

Tat twam asi!

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman