Does God Punish Us?


In AY, Yogananda speaks of "astral slums." I understand that our own actions determine our karma, however, it seems like people are being punished in this perspective of the afterworld. In other books, Y speaks of evil tramp souls and possession, and this seems frightening and odd to me, and almost verging on puritanical ideals. Could you please elaborate on this aspect of his teachings to clear up some confusion for me?

—dwaparayogi, USA


Dear D:

If you are responsible for raising a child, you must help the child understand that actions have consequences. From the child’s perspective, of course, this is not always obvious. Merely telling the child is not usually enough. Experience is the best teacher.

It is a delicate balance between protecting the child from harm and allowing him to have the experiences he needs to grow. Sometimes a mother has to let the child put his hand on the hot stove.

Our Divine Mother has the responsibility of raising us from ego-delusion into perfect Bliss. A human parent guides a child for one incarnation. Divine Mother guides us for eternity. Whether in the physical or in the astral worlds, She watches over us.

The consequences of our actions do not evaporate merely because our body dies. Our consciousness continues at whatever level of realization we have achieved. In each incarnation we go back and forth from the astral to the physical as one continuous process.

In this discussion, the best word to identify that continuing individual consciousness is jiva, defined by Swamiji in his Gita commentaries as “the infinite limited to, and identified with, a body.” The jiva identifies with the physical and the astral body, so the consciousness is consistent in both worlds. The context is different, but the karma registered in our chakras stays with us.

Here is another point to consider. Yogananda says that in the course of our long journey back to Bliss, we experience every possible form of delusion. If you are no longer drawn to being a murderer, for example, Yogananda says that is because in previous lifetimes you have tried murder and found out for yourself that it does not give you Bliss. Your own experience has taught you not to follow that path.

Just same way that the little child after putting his hand on the hot stove, does not have to be told, “Don’t do that!” He knows.

If a vicious murderer is incarcerated in prison for life, indeed, that is a tough sentence. Is it inappropriate, however, given what he has done and the threat he poses to society? How else will he learn that actions have consequences and murder is not going to bring him the happiness he seeks?

If a jiva behaves in a selfish, hurtful way, without compassion or concern for others, then finds himself after death residing in an “astral slum”, it may seem harsh, but is it inappropriate? If a child does something profoundly hurtful to others, should his mother just say, “Bad boy,” and mete out no other punishment? How will the child ever learn?

But if because of the suffering the jiva endures in the “astral slum” he sees the error of his ways and resolves to live on a higher vibration, is living there a “punishment” or is it Divine Mother’s love?

An evil tramp soul is a jiva so identified with his physical body and the power and pleasure he imagines it gives him, that he fights against the most fundamental fact of physical life itself: that it ends in death. Rather than moving on to the astral world, he clings to the physical life that has been taken away from him.

Without a body, however, he can’t have the same experiences, so he hovers between the worlds, looking for ways to get control of bodies that don’t belong to him. Those who have the ability to see beyond the physical, say that places where people drink, take drugs, or in other ways overindulge in sensual experiences that diminish one’s control over one’s own mind and body, are literally haunted by these dark, disincarnate beings. Evil tramp souls know that in such places they can gain possession of a physical body because the jiva who inhabits it has lost control.

Often violent crimes are committed when a person is drunk or high on drugs. Afterwards the person may have no idea why he did it. He may not even remember committing the crime. Sometimes that is because he didn’t do it. Another jiva – an evil tramp spirit – had possession of his body during that time. Only after the drugs or the alcohol wore off did the rightful jiva gain control again.

To take possession of another’s body is profoundly confusing and detrimental to both jivas. It is spiritually wrong, especially if you take the body for the purpose of committing evil deeds.

Yes, this is odd and confusing. But it does happen. And it doesn’t serve us to shy away from truth merely because it is unpleasant or scary to contemplate.

The good news is you don’t have to fear that evil or participate in it. God’s power is greater than that of any “tramp soul.” Still, don’t allow yourself to become passive in your own life, blank-minded, or intoxicated. In other words, don’t invite trouble!

In The New Path, Chapter 30, “A Divine Test,” Swamiji describes an encounter he had with a disincarnate entity trying to take over his consciousness. When Swamiji felt that encroaching presence, he called out, “Master!” and instantly the dark force disappeared.

Bliss is our true nature. All we have to do is realize that Bliss. We don’t have to create it. We don’t have to earn it. We just have to stop ignoring it.

Divine Mother loves us too much to leave us wandering in delusion forever. Even tramp souls, no matter how badly behave, are still Her children. She will do whatever is necessary to awaken them – and us – to our Bliss nature, including letting us experience the consequences of our own wrong actions.

If that looks like punishment to you it is only because your perspective – like a child’s – is too small. And if it seems puritanical, well, sometimes a loving mother has to be stern. But a true mother is not cruel or arbitrary. Her wisdom transcends at times our understanding, but through Her wisdom, our own will grow in time to equal Hers.

Nayaswami Asha