An atheist is often seen to lead a peaceful life without many hurdles, whereas a God-loving and spiritually inclined person is not placed in a similar position. Why?
The case cited is largely
hypothetical, although we cannot deny that good fortune visits atheists and
misfortune overtakes believers from time to time. But it cannot be shown that
good fortune is the lifelong privilege of atheists and misfortune that of believers.
In fact, for everyone life is a mixture of success and failure, of smiles and
tears, of sunshine and dark clouds. To deny this is to deny the obvious for
over-stressing a- hypothetical situation.
If belief in God were a guarantee of a prosperous life,
everyone would have been a believer. Enjoyments and sufferings in life,
according to Hindu scriptures, occur according to one’s Karma. An atheist may
have much good Karma to his credit and he may therefore have a smooth sailing.
If atheism encourages him to do evil, he will have to reap the consequence of
it at a future date, whatever his belief may be. The devotee who is undergoing
sufferings brought about by his own Karma done at some time or other in his
transmigrations, need not feel aggrieved at the atheist’s present enjoyments.
To do so means only that the so-called believer’s faith is flimsy. To have
faith in God is also to have faith in the moral government of the world. A
spiritual world view implies that values are conserved and they fructify in due
time. A faith in God that eschews this is not worth the name. In a way atheism
is better than such flimsy, superficial and opportunist pseudo-faith.
If we look into the lives of great devotees, we find they
had to stand sufferings and trials of every description. Take for example the
classic example of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. There was perhaps no form
of suffering and humiliation that they had not to undergo. Sri Ramakrishna
quotes their example and narrates an incident in their life with telling
effect. After the great war of the Mahabharata, their grandfather, the wise and
saintly Bhishma, was about to die. When the Pandavas went to see him on his
death bed and stood round him, they saw tears flowing from the eyes of Bhishma.
At first they thought that this was because he was very sorry to die, in spite
of his wisdom. But Krishna asked them to enquire of Bhishma himself the reason
for his shedding tears; and on their doing so, Bhishma replied that he was
overcome with emotion at the mystery of God’s ways. The Pandavas were life-long
devotees, and they had Krishna, God incarnate, as their friend, ally and
protector always. And yet the tragic experiences of theirs were astoundingly
immense! But it has to be noted that all these bitter experiences only went to
strengthen their faith and devotion and not to induce them to emulate their
cousin Duryodhana who was all along having a happy time, in spite of his
practice of deceit, injustice and cruelty.
We have to understand from all this that the great ones who
have given us the gospel of devotion, have never assured us that the practice
of devotion is a guarantee against all sufferings in life. A devotee, no doubt,
can pray to the Lord when he is overwhelmed by sufferings, as a child would
look upto his father when he is in great trouble. One for whom God is
everything- where else than in God will he seek relief and succour when reduced
to the last extremity? One has to remember that if God is one’s father, He is
also one’s judge. If He is love, He is justice too. So we can pray but must
leave it to Him to grant us relief in the light of our merits and demerits
(Karma). Success or failure in this respect should not elate or depress us too
much and must in no way influence our faith and devotion.
If sufferings are faced in this way, they serve an ultimate
devotional purpose. Through them we develop greater and greater strength and
spirit of resignation. Sufferings in fact are the touchstone on which man’s
spiritual worth is tested and it is also the exercise through which his
spiritual strength is built up. So a devotee need not at all feel crestfallen
at the atheist’s taunt. He can quietly assure him that every man has his day
for enjoyment or suffering. The atheist too will get it when his time for it comes.
The only difference is that in the case of the atheist his gain from suffering
is only suffering, whereas a devotee, if his faith is built on true foundation,
develops spiritual strength through it.