Is Death Arbitrary? Is it Predestined?

Question

My father passed away due to covid. He himself wasn’t prepared for this. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not so early. I mean I have been reading may books on karma, how soul never dies,also started reading God talks with Arjuna written by Paramhansa Yoganandaji. I understand & want to believe that this is how life, karma philosophy & law of God or universe works. But sometimes I don’t want to believe. Like what if all this isn’t true? My question is what if death isn’t predestined?

—Anusha Kulkarni, India

Answer

Dear Anusha,

I am most sorry to hear of your father’s sudden death due to Covid. In this world of ours, seemingly so comfortable and stable, we forget just how precarious life is. An auto accident walking on the street, an infected wound, a virus — we truly never know. Naturally, part of us would like to feel that there is some order, some reason, even some justice in all that happens. The saints and rishis assure us that there is. Krishna in the Gita reassures us, as you referenced. So do all spiritual teachings. We see cause and effect in ordinary daily life, in science, and much else, so naturally we will assume that all life is governed by some laws and influences, even if we do not know or see them.

If we lose confidence in an ordered universe, we lose faith in life and in ourselves. What reason is there to live if life is entirely arbitrary? Fortunately for us, we have the assurance of the great souls down through the ages that our faith is well-placed.

It is not wrong to doubt or question. How can we help doing that when something like this happens? Be patient with yourself because in your grief, confusion and even despair, how can you possibly see a “big picture?”

I would encourage you to set your mind on sending loving and comforting thoughts to the soul of your father. Why not? If he cannot receive them, and the rishis’ testimony is untrue, what is the harm? You will certainly feel better! Nonetheless, prayers for the departed are encouraged in every faith tradition. It would not be unusual to receive psychic confirmation, perhaps in a dream for example, that your father is safe and well.

The intellect desires to understand, and this is natural and good. But to understand the mystery of death is beyond the intellect’s power. It is the intuition, the quiet and open heart, that knows what is true. Pray to God and the masters, or to whomever you feel devoted, for comfort and reassurance. Let your father’s absence be an encouragement to give love to all — and especially those close to you — because “you never know” when it is time for them, also, to leave. This is true for you, and me, and everyone.

As to the idea of death being predestined, please understand that the influences in one’s life that trigger karma can sometimes go beyond the individual’s own karma. With the pandemic, it is not possible that each and every death was predestined in the usual way of thinking about individual karma. Sometimes a soul succumbs to greater karma than their own personal karma.

Also keep in mind that “predestined” is the result of karma in general, not the will of God or any arbitrary force. The law of karma is precise, but it operates on subtle as well as material levels. Love for God generates karma, too, and love for God can therefore mitigate past bad karma, as do also other virtuous actions. It is generally therefore not useful to try to figure it all out until one becomes so highly advanced spiritually that one can “read” the soul of another person.

Be patient with yourself. Your sadness and even frustration is natural. But with prayer, meditation, service and devotion, the dark clouds will be burned off by the sunshine of your faith, your calmness, and the light of wisdom!

Blessings and joy to you!
Nayaswami Hriman