When Bad is Good

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Scripture and the examples of pure souls help devotees see the merciful hand of God in all of life's reverses.


On the way to the Kolkata airport from ISKCON's temple complex in Mayapur, West Bengal, Braja Sevaki Dasi and her husband, Jahnudvipa Dasa, were in a near-fatal car accident. They were rushed to the hospital and placed in the intensive care unit. The first days after the accident, reports of their life-threatening condition spilled into devotees' inboxes worldwide with urgent requests for prayers.

After the couple was stabilized, a devotee requested Braja Sevaki to write about the experience from the perspective of a devotee undergoing great suffering—how it affects our spiritual lives and how we can accept something so bad or unfortunate happening to us.

She replied that prior to the accident, she and her husband had both felt spiritually hindered by the weight of their faults and conditioning. They prayed a long time to Krishna to help them remove whatever was impeding their progress towards Him.

In a letter to devotees, she elaborated: "We can say with utmost sincerity, this situation was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to us. Krishna took, in one swoop, all the many, many things that we longed to lay down at His feet and have Him remove. We had prayed for the removal of these things, but waited for His mercy. Even in the taxi on the way to the airport, two hours before the accident, I had wondered how He would take these things from me, how His mercy would manifest. But it did. It came. In the strongest, most assured, most final way."

In my work as a psychotherapist, people generally contact me in the midst of a crisis or a very difficult time in their life. Over the past twenty years of helping spiritual practitioners navigate through stormy times, I have developed a much deeper appreciation for how Krishna expertly uses material circumstances to help disentangle us from the material conception of life.

Recently a devotee needed help accepting the loss of her infant child to sudden infant death. I helped her through the grieving process, and I helped her embrace the situation as part of her spiritual journey. The key to her healing came from accepting the event as part the Lord's greater plan for her life. How we respond to the events in our life, both by our attitude and by our subsequent behavior, will create our future.

Srila Prabhupada, in an exchange with a young man who later became his disciple, illustrated how we are not simply passive recipients of predestined life events. The young man was advocating using LSD for self-realization. After a lengthy discussion, Srila Prabhupada defeated his ideas and told him, "Man is the architect of his own fortune. So make your fortune now. Whatever is done, is done. Now start a new chapter in your life, and next life go back home, back to Godhead."

As a psychotherapist with a spiritual orientation on life, I believe that our current circumstances resulted from our past actions and attitudes. I also believe that because Krishna is in control, ultimately everything that happens in our life is for our highest good. [See the sidebar "Karma or Krishna?"] In this way I have walked with devotees in their darkest times—chronic pain, spousal abuse or infidelity, the death of a loved one, the permanent loss of mobility after an accident, and a host of other situations that from a material point of view are terribly bad. Together, with the help of the Lord, we have worked on finding the gems in the misfortunes—the spiritual lessons ever present in Krishna's divine interventions.

Our Gaudiya Vaishnava literature is full of stories about material reverses, seemingly negative events intruding into the life of an aspiring devotee or a pure devotee executing the mission of the lord. Reading the description of a devotee's calamity might make us think that God is heartless and cruel, and we might decide to abandon the book. We might even decide to denounce the theistic path, refusing to place our faith in such a being. But if we did so, our premature judgment of the Lord's character would cheat us out of witnessing how expertly the Lord uses material reverses and difficulties to bring about a glorious conclusion for the benefit of his faithful servants.

A Good Outcome to a Seemingly Bad Situation

Consider the example of Srinivasa Acharya, who was still a boy when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left this world about five hundred years ago. Srinivasa was born to continue the distribution of love of God after Lord Chaitanya's departure. As a young man, he spent time in Vrindavan, where some of Lord Chaitanya's leading disciples had written books elaborating His teachings. Srinivasa and two other devotees (Narottama and Syamananda) were deputed to transport copies of the books from Vrindavan to Lord Chaitanya's followers in Bengal and Orissa.

Accepting the service, they took several guards to protect the ox-cart carrying trunks filled with the valuable books. The journey unfolded without mishap until they reached the province of Vishnupura, ruled by the sinful king Virhambira. His spies spotted the well-guarded cart and assumed that the trunks contained valuable gems. After waiting until the guards had fallen asleep, they ambushed the cart and stole the trunks.

When the king greedily broke into the trunks to inspect his booty, his impassioned enthusiasm quickly turned into disheartened disbelief as he beheld trunks filled with books. Disappointed, he ordered his men to put the books into his storage room.

While the king lamented the loss of his illusory fortune, Srinivasa and the other devotees were devastated at the loss of the real treasure. Unable to immediately comprehend the greater plan of the Lord, they plunged into temporary despair.

While the rest of his party traveled onward, Srinivasa stayed in Vishnupura, hoping to receive some clue to the whereabouts of the confiscated books. He eventually found them, and he took the opportunity to instruct King Virhambira in the teachings of the Bhagavatam. When the king heard this scripture from the great liberated soul, his heart became purified, and he surrendered his life and kingdom to Srinivasa. Thus by an intricate arrangement of the Lord, the king became a Vaishnava, and with his wealth and resources helped Srinivasa deliver Lord Chaitanya's teachings. What initially seemed calamitous became a most welcome and happy event.

Seeing Krishna's Help

By following the process of devotional service, we align ourselves with the supreme mystic, Lord Krishna. The more we take steps toward trusting Krishna to be our maintainer and guardian, the more we will see how everything that happens in our life is designed to transform our consciousness from material to spiritual. Krishna expertly arranges events in devotees' lives to help them give up their attachments to ephemeral matter and attach themselves to eternal spirit. He helps us correct our perceptual distortions and distinguish the eternal self from the temporary body.

The devotee who lost her infant was able to contemplate the possibility that her child had practiced Krishna consciousness in his previous life and needed to spend only a little more time in this life before going to Krishna. She also extracted many important lessons about her own spiritual life. Being in so much distress over the loss, she took more and more shelter of her spiritual practices and felt that Krishna intensified her desire to become more serious about making spiritual progress in this lifetime. The more intense her chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra became, the more she was convinced that Krishna was her only true shelter and source of happiness.

In an amazing panorama of events going on simultaneously, Krishna is purifying the hearts of all those who endeavor to reunite with Him. Those of us pursuing our spiritual lives under Prabhupada's guidance, in a society of likeminded Vaishnavas, should always strive to remind one another of Krishna's unwavering eternal love for each of us. In this way we will know that for our unique circumstance, Krishna perfectly orchestrates whatever situation we find ourselves in. Life can be compared to a big classroom, replete with lessons and exams. Our freedom in the human form of life lies in how we use our time. A syllabus alerts students to exam dates and projects, but it is up to them to use their free time to study. Similarly, we have to use our free time to practice our spiritual life so that we will be prepared for the exams that come—the final test being the time of death.

Strong spiritual practices, such as chanting japa and hearing from spiritually advanced devotees, will help us embrace each situation with the attitude that everything the Lord does is for my highest good. This will help us make rapid spiritual advancement. Under Krishna's care, there is no bad, only good.

Archana Siddhi Devi Dasi and her husband, Karnamrita Dasa, are working on a book, with the same title as this article, about devotees' experiences of how difficulties and reverses turned out to be spiritually helpful. Scheduled for publication in the spring of 2012.

About the Author: 

Archana Siddhi Devi Dasi

Archana Siddhi Devi Dasi is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada. She has a B.S. in psychology and a master's in clinical social work. She joined the Hare Krishna movement in 1976 while in graduate school. She lived and served at the Potomac, Maryland, temple for twelve years. Her main service was book distribution.