By Nayaswami Dharmadevi
November 26, 2019

One of the first and most disturbing stories in the Mahabharata is about Shantanu and Ganga. Ganga is a gorgeous goddess that Shantanu, the king, falls in love with instantaneously. She agrees to marry him on one condition – that he never question her about anything. He agrees. 

They are incredibly happy together, except for one major problem. Every year, Ganga gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, and immediately after birthing the baby, she proceeds to drown it in the nearby river! By the eighth year, and the birth of the eighth potential heir to the throne, Shantanu can hold back his rage and disgust with Ganga no longer. As she makes her way to the river with their baby in her arms, Shantanu stops her and screams, “How can a mother do such a thing!?” 

She lovingly explains to her husband that she made a promise to eight highly evolved heavenly rishis who were forced to be born on earth because of a mistake they made in their previous lives. They would be born to her and she would put them out of their misery without having to experience all the difficulties of earthly life. But this last child, the eighth, whom Shantanu saved was the one who led them in their fall from grace, so he would indeed have to live out a full life on earth. That being said, she left poor Shantanu because he had broken his promise and took his son with her. 

This story is of course allegorical, but I was thinking about it today, probably for the first time, as a literal story. How many tragic events happen in our lives or lives of loved ones and the thought pops into our heads, “How could such a thing happen to such a good person?” Or “What a terrible thing to happen to an innocent child.” We instantly want to put the blame on someone else and more often than not, we end up blaming God. 

Paramhansa Yogananda said, “Man, in his soul, is not predestined to be either good or bad. While vice or virtue may seem inborn, every human tendency is self-acquired either in this life or in former lives. It is the result of individual choice.”

How can we imagine that a child was ever anything before what it is right now? And how could a loving, merciful God create such a horrible place where children are abused, and good people lose everything they have?

He continues, “Somewhere, they hope, hidden in the vast, crowded warehouse of their past experiences, there must exist some good excuse: some long-forgotten sin committed not by them, but against them, some influence before the power of which they were but victims.”

The law of karma doesn’t make sense without the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation is how we understand why we (and everyone everywhere) are experiencing every test and trial in our lives. Every challenge and disturbance is an opportunity to clear away the karma of the past, to live rightly in the present moment, and become completely free in the bliss of God.

It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past. It doesn’t matter what others have done to us. Nor does it matter how much karma we have to work through on our journey to freedom. 

“Blame no one for the evils that beset you. Accept responsibility for your own life, and for whatever misfortunes you encounter. Do your best, with firm resolution, to eliminate the harmful tendencies in your own nature. Above all, go back to God.

–Paramhansa Yogananda, Karma & Reincarnation