If Krishna is all merciful, why is there so much suffering?

Each one of us in our lives has felt pain and sorrow. This could have been due to any of the reasons including - disease and illness, financial crisis, marital discord, professional and career-related tension and anxiety, relationship turmoil etc. When we are faced with such problems in life we often think - why me? When we see the intense suffering of our close relative or friend, the thought which crosses our mind is - if God is merciful, how can He be so harsh? If Krishna is "Karuna Sindhu" and "Deena Bandhu", why is there so much suffering? Besides this we also see in our daily lives, bad things happening to good people - why is God so unkind and unfair? Do our scriptures have answers to these questions – let’s see.


A. The root cause of suffering is Ignorance (avidya).

We are ignorant of the fact that we are not the enjoyers or proprietors; rather we are Krishna’s eternal servants. The Lord is the supreme controller, proprietor and enjoyer. He is supreme, we are His subordinate; He is the master we are His servants. Problems arise because we want to be the enjoyer. We have a pleasure-seeking attitude and are always searching for honor, power, prestige and wealth. This is because we are conditioned souls. Conditioned by the three modes of material nature (the three gunas – sattva, raja, tama) and bewildered by ahankar or the false ego, we have endless desires (lust). In the scriptures, it is stated that the Lord is the enjoyer and we are his eternal servants. However, under the influence of the false ego and driven by lust, we strive to satisfy our senses and fulfill our desires.

Our scriptures explain:

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate

The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.
[Bhagavad Gita - 3.27]

bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁ
suhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ
jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati

A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.
[Bhagavad Gita - 5.29]

In "The Nectar of Devotion", which is a summary study of Srila Rupa Goswami's "Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu", Srila Prabhupada writes - As long as one is ignorant about his identity, he is sure to act wrongly and thereby become entangled in material contamination.
[The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 1]

jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’

“It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa because he is the marginal energy of Kṛṣṇa and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord
[Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya-Lila 20.108]

Hence because of ignorance we are overcome by lust, we desire to enjoy and then we commit sins. If we realize our true identity and accept the fact that the Lord is the ultimate enjoyer, we could avoid miseries and suffering.


B. Sense gratification ultimately leads to misery.

In the Bhagawad Gita Lord Krishna says that sense gratification ultimately leads to misery. As living entities we all possess ahankar. As stated in the Bhagavad Gita, it is the ahankar which gives us the feeling of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Arising from the ahankar we have six vices or enemies also called shad-ripu. Subject to these weaknesses and driven by kama (lust) and lobha (greed), we continually seek sense gratification and are slaves to our senses. Sense pleasures are always temporary and soon after satisfying one desire, another desire is awaiting to be fulfilled.

ye hi saṁsparśa-jā bhogā
duḥkha-yonaya eva te
ādy-antavantaḥ kaunteya
na teṣu ramate budhaḥ

An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kuntī, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.
[Bhagavad Gita - 5.22]

In order to fulfill our desires, we are often compelled to commit sinful actions and then suffer.

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa
mahāśano mahā-pāpmā
viddhy enam iha vairiṇam

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.
[Bhagavad Gita - 3.37]

indriyāṇi mano buddhir
asyādhiṣṭhānam ucyate
etair vimohayaty eṣa
jñānam āvṛtya dehinam

The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust. Through them lust covers the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him.
[Bhagavad Gita - 3.40]

Hence the senses, mind and intelligence are the seats of lust. After sense gratification and transient pleasures, ultimately we face miseries.


C. Suffering - A Reaction To Our Sinful Action.

Suffering is due to sinful activities (papam) which are committed out of ignorance. Although sinful activities are committed out of ignorance, they are not free from reactions. It is stated in the Padma Purāṇa that there are four kinds of effects of sinful activities:

(1) the effect that is not yet fructified

(2) the effect that is lying as seed

(3) the effect that is already mature and

(4) the effect that is almost mature.

Srila Prabhupad describes the effects of papam in the first chapter of Nectar of Devotion (a summary study of Srila Rupa Goswami's 'Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu): Sinful actions or papam result in a chain reaction: aprarabdha or non-manifest suffering, kutam or sinful disposition, bijam or sinful desires and prarabdha or manifest suffering. When our sinful activities are mature, we suffer in our present lives (prarabdha); when sinful activities are immature, they are stored within us (kutam), awaiting distresses in the future. Sinful disposition (kutam) leads to sinful desires (bijam), and more sinful actions in a self-perpetuating cycle; i.e. the more we satisfy our desires the stronger they become. HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj a revered Bhakti yoga spiritual teacher writes in his book - Soul-wise "As you sow, so shall you reap". The law of Karma, i.e. the law of action and reaction takes into account every action we are doing, and that determines our fate. Consequent to this chain reaction arising from the sins we commit, we suffer distresses life afterlife.


D. Why Good People Suffer.

As has been mentioned above; sinful actions produce two types of reactions- Prarabdha - manifest and Aprarabha – when the reaction is completely unmanifest and imperceptible. Hence for some sinful activities, there is distress at the present moment; while for others it is in waiting and will happen in the future. The suffering may not coincide with the sinful activity and since we are unaware of the person’s karma it would be inappropriate for us to judge. The person will suffer when the reactions to the sinful activities mature with time. The sinful reactions if immature, are stored as kutam, awaiting suffering in the future.


E. The Wise and Saintly View of Sufferings

Queen Kunti, mother of the Pandavas was a saintly person with very high moral values. At the end of the brutal Kurukshetra war, when Lord Krishna was departing for Dwarka, she recites prayers in the glorification of the Lord. In these prayers, (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.8.18-43) she refers to the sufferings she had endured. Due to Duryodhana’s jealousy, Queen Kunti had encountered a lot of suffering. There were several assassination attempts on her family, their house (lakshagriha) was set on fire and her sons were forced to spend thirteen years in the forest in exile. However, Queen Kunti courageously endured these calamities, as she knew they were under the Lord’s protection and so they miraculously escaped each time.

Despite such calamities, in her prayers she does not beg for relief; rather she pleads for more suffering, knowing that her suffering will increase her devotion for the Lord. Queen Kunti’s prayed to Lord Krishna:

I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.25]

It is very lucky to suffer if in that suffering one turns to God, and it is unlucky to be healthy, happy and successful if one does not turn to God.’’
[HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj on – ‘Lord Chaitanya the most munificent and merciful incarnation’.]

Hence misfortunes and troubles are an opportunity for us to turn to God.


F. Minimizing our Suffering

Sufferings are due to our sinful actions committed due to strong desires or lust. In order to abstain from sinful actions, one should conquer lust. It is said that lust can be conquered by using spiritual intelligence to control the senses and mind. Spiritual intelligence can be sharpened by guidance from guru, sadhu and shastras. Our scriptures explain:

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa
mahāśano mahā-pāpmā
viddhy enam iha vairiṇam

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.
[Bhagavad Gita - 3.37]

This lust is what instigates one to commit sin.

tasmāt tvam indriyāṇy ādau
niyamya bharatarṣabha
pāpmānaṁ prajahi hy enaṁ

Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bhāratas, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin [lust] by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization.
[Bhagavad Gita - 3.41]

Reactions to sinful actions can be minimized by devotional service. Charity and austerity, can free us only temporarily from the reactions of sinful activities but devotional service, eradicates aprarabdha, kutam, bijam and prarabdha reactions.

... as the blazing fire can burn any amount of fuel to ashes, so devotional service to the Lord in Kṛṣṇa consciousness can burn up all the fuel of sinful activities.
[The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 1]

Similarly, Lord Krishna instructs Uddhava -

yathagnih su-samriddharcih
karoty edhamsi bhasmasat
tatha mad-vishaya bhaktir
uddhavainamsi kritsnasah

My dear Uddhava, just as a blazing fire turns firewood into ashes, similarly, devotion unto Me completely burns to ashes sins committed by My devotees.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.19]


Our scriptures also state that this material world is full of miseries. Even when great incarnations descend into this material world, they suffer, eg. Lord Rama had to undergo severe hardships and sufferings. Lord Krishna states in the Bhagawad Gita that this world is ‘dukhalayam asasvatam’ and that one who attains the Lord's abode never returns to this temporary world. The same is also reiterated in the Srimad Bhagavatam, where Sukadev Goswami says - this material world is not actually a place of residence for an intelligent person or a devotee because here there is danger at every step. Vaikuṇṭha (place without anxiety) is the real home for the devotee, for there is no anxiety and no danger.

mām upetya punar janma
duḥkhālayam aśāśvatam
nāpnuvanti mahātmānaḥ
saṁsiddhiṁ paramāṁ gatāḥ

After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogīs in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.
[Bhagavad Gita - 8.15]

In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.58) it is said: padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadāṁ na teṣām.

ā-brahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ
punar āvartino ’rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate

From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kuntī, never takes birth again.
[Bhagavad Gita - 8.16]

All the scriptures and religions of the world give a common message - the material world is a place of suffering. The soul is eternal, it can find no happiness in the temporary enjoyments of this world and those who are intelligent make their goal the spiritual world and do not find happiness in this material world.
[HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj:: Material world – a place of suffering at every step.]


Sufferings are due to sinful actions committed out of ignorance due to lust.

Sinful actions generate reactions with suffering in the present or subsequent life.

All material pleasures are transient; sense enjoyment ultimately ends in misery.

To prevent sinful actions we must conquer lust, and lust can be conquered by controlling our senses and mind using spiritual intelligence.

Sufferings can be reduced by devotional service which can consume limitless amounts of un-manifested sinful reactions.

We should consider ourselves fortunate to suffer if in that suffering we turn to God. It is in difficult, troubled times that our dependence on the Lord’s mercy is awakened within us; we pray sincerely, and prayer unites us with God.


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One thought on “If Krishna is all merciful, why is there so much suffering?

  1. Hare Krishna
    Dandavat Pranam

    This is a age old argument for people to disbelieve in the existence of God. Situations at times get really dramatic and it shakes the faith of many.

    Thankyou for picking up this topic and beautifully explaining the concept.


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