Recently, while distributing Srila Prabhupada´s books in Gibraltar, I met one young gentleman, Mr. Gianni. We got into a talk and at the very beginning he told me "I'm not interested in Hare Krsna..." Naturally, I asked why. The answer was, that he was an atheist. Naturally, I asked why. He told me that things happened in his life and also in lives of others around him, which would not happen if there was a God, who is all-loving, just, all-powerful etc. He told me that he cannot see a reason for unfortunate and unfavourable happenings in his life as he is not aware of doing anything bad for which he would be eligible for punishment. Because he couldn't find any connection with his good and honest behavior (I must confirm that he looks like a straight man, very polite and educated) and reverse occurrences in his life, he lost his faith in which he was brought up and concluded that there is no higher justice, what to speak of a supreme just personality who rewards everyone according to his character and deeds.
We went deeper and I asked him what is his religious background. I shall not disclose his answer, but I feel you know what it is. Just the regular, nothing unexpected. I said "Oh, I see... the YOLO philosophy." He said "Yes".
YOLO is an acronym for "you only live once". Some people use this idea to justify their lifestyle of unbridled hedonism and aimless sense gratification."You only live once, so you better enjoy to the max, cuz after you're done, there is nothing." The Carvaka philosophy. Long ago there was a "philosopher" in India, his name was Carvaka Muni. He preached that "Beg, borrow or steal, someway or other, get ghi and enjoy life." In India, ghi - clarified butter - is the symbol of enjoyment and sense pleasure. If something is not fried in ghi but only boiled in water, it is not even considered to be cooked food. And how does Carvaka justify his good advice? "When you're dead, that's it. There is no debt, there is no punishment. You will not be held responsible. As soon as your body is burned to ashes after death, everything is finished." Many people nowadays follows this philosophy very devotedly, propelled by atheistic world-views.
Another group of rascals who like to use the YOLO concept are the power-hungry fear-mongers, the so called religionists of kali-yuga, the present age of hypocrisy and quarrel. We know that fear is one of the most powerful tools to control others. What is better for manipulating others than convincing them that they only have one chance to make it in life? "If you don't accept such and such as your lord and master, you will go to hell and burn there FOREVER!" Oh boy! Just by writing this my intestines shiver! You don't want to lose your chance for eternal salvation, right? No worries, just do as I tell you and most importantly, pay me.
In this case the idea is that you, the soul, are created, put into this world of pandemonium because someone, somewhere, sometime ate something which he was not supposed to eat. You are therefore sinful from the very beginning of your existence without actually doing anything wrong yet. Then you go on with your life and at one point get a chance to know the only one truth, the only way and if you misunderstand it, space out, neglect or reject it, then you go to the lake of fire to fry there for eternity.
We see around us that different people are born and exist in different conditions. Someone is born in a rich family in a prosperous nation. His bodily features are all beautiful, his health is strong, his mind is in place, his education is first class and all the success is laid down on his path. Another person´s position is completely different. There are children starving in obscure places ridden by war, which is fought by other children high on nasty drugs or brainwashed by religious, tribal or other propaganda. We see children somewhere else slaving it off in factories or mines, digging minerals for the above mentioned fortunate guy's smartphone. Children without hair, which fell off due to chemotherapy they take as cancer devours their marrow. There are people whose bodies are crooked, incomplete, malformed, whose minds are seriously disturbed, who have debilitated intelligence and resources meant to facilitate a life of higher quality are far beyond their reach. We see one group of people shamelessly dominating and exploiting another group. We see people killing helpless animals by billions. We see injustice, inequity and imbalance. We see rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. We see people suffering for apparently no reason while the bad guys are getting away with it. We saw the holocaust, we saw colonization of the Americas, we saw people being traded for tobacco and sugar. And you nonsense, you're telling me that there is God? Some supreme dude on a cloud who sees all this? And? Isn't he supposed to set things straight? The supreme judge, the caring father?
How do different people get in their respective positions in life? What is the cause of someone's being rich, beautiful, healthy, successful, famous, intelligent and another's being ugly, retarded, sick, poor, tortured and wholly unfortunate? Is it by chance? Voila! Let's all become atheists as there's no one in charge! Or is it God who puts people in these nasty situations by freaks of his own power without any other good reason? Well then that God must be a monster and a perv. There is no love in him, no compassion. How does he choose whom to put where? Why did He put someone in Vienna and someone else to Karachi? How does he put a guy into the jungle so he becomes a cannibal by his family tradition? Is it very nice to kill, chop up and eat your grandpa? When a missionary comes to tell him about the Truth, he also ends up served steaming hot on a banana leaf. Is the grandpa-missionary-eater going to heaven or what? How and why does the only true, compassionate and just God place someone in India so the unfortunate guy becomes, by his family tradition, a worshiper of an elephant-headed eight-armed rat-riding sweet-munching false god idol instead of the real Truth, never to be converted to the right path? An intelligent person will naturally inquire about these. I myself have asked these to those believers, who wanted to preach the YOLO idea to me in the street. Not that I am very intelligent. But I suppose I still have at least a half-brain. The answer often is: "God knows why he does that, we will never know. But you should accept, otherwise, you're going to a bad place." I'm sorry, this does not satisfy me.
If you go to something like Facebook and check out some atheist vs. religious people debate groups, this is very often the atheist's main argument against the existence of God: that He is either incapable of doing things properly or that He is a tyrant by giving you only one chance which is very easy to miss and then sends you to hell forever. A bogus guy, indeed.
But there is a different concept. One that actually makes sense. It's the Vedic concept of karma and reincarnation. The concept of one's own responsibility for his fortune and misfortune in this world which manifests in myriads of lifetimes and myriads of forms. In this concept God is aloof, He is not involved and He simply fulfils one's desires for a particular type of enjoyment. The living entity enjoys in a particular way, but also has to bear the consequences, good or bad. Let's start from the beginning.
First of all, the soul is eternal. It is not created, it exists eternally in past, it exists in the present moment and will eternally continue to exist in future. Every soul is originally and eternally existent in the spiritual world where he eternally enjoys with Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When we speak of God, Krsna, we speak of the supreme controller and the supreme enjoyer. The soul, according to the Vedas, is qualitatively identical with God. That quality is sat-cit-ananda-vigraha, which means that the soul and God are both eternal, full of consciousness, blissful and individual. The difference between them is quantitative. God, Krsna, is infinite, we, the living entities, souls, are infinitesimal, very minute. Krsna is the supreme controller, the supreme enjoyer and the supremely independent. That´s why we also have controlship, enjoyment and independence as our innate qualities. Our quality is identical with God's but our position is different. We are not controllers, but we are controlled. We are not enjoyers, but we are enjoyed. And our freedom is to decide what kind of mentality we shall manifest. In the spiritual world everyone agrees to be controlled and enjoyed by Krsna. That is the source of pleasure for the living entities. When the living entity, by his free will, decides to manifest a mentality of controlling and enjoying separately from Krsna, he is then sent to the material world to exercise this propensity and try to fulfill his false desire. Thus the living entity enters the material world, not because God put him there out of the blue, but because he decided to separate himself from his natural position as an ever blissful servant of Krsna, and to become the controller and enjoyer of material energy. That is the original "falldown".
Once in the material world, the jiva - spirit soul - takes upon himself a material body made of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego which serves him as a vehicle to enjoy the material senses of smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing. Different types of body facilitate different pleasures, for example: cats sleep up to 20 hours a day, pigs are able to eat any damn nonsense and mice can have sex 20 times a day and procreate profusely every couple of weeks. You want to enjoy nice sleeping and forget about the world? Here is a suitable body for you. You don't care what you eat? Here is one for you. You want to enjoy your genital without any limitation? One for you as well.
Once in a while, by process of gradual evolution of consciousness from lower to higher grades of body, the living entity enters the human form in which the jīva's quality of free will can actually manifest. Animals have no free will, they go on by instinct. They don't make moral decisions. The human form of life is the crossroad where the jīva decides his future destiny. That's where a man can elevate or degrade himself. That's where one can decide whether he will gratify his immediate whims and get immediate benefits without consideration of consequences, or whether he will work for the ultimate benefit, which may seem to be in the remote future. Animals have no such capacity of discrimination. It's easy to understand. The child wants to play the whole day, but the father knows that he also needs to go to school, so he can get a good job and comfortable life when he grows up.
To cut a long story short, the living entity in the human form has a chance to understand the laws of nature, specifically the law of cause and effect or action and reaction. In the Sanskrit language, this law is expressed by the familiar word "karma". You reap what you have sown. You plant a seed in the beginning and at the end, you get the fruit. The seed you plant determines the fruit you'll get - sweet or bitter. Similarly, the actions you perform, the mentality and desires you cultivate, the way you treat others, whether men, animals or even plants, this all determines your future state of existence.
Do you lament over a hungry child in Africa? It is definitely lamentable, but there is a cause of this suffering. And it's not God who put him there. Just go on Youtube and check out those "people" who "cook" for fun, to get hits and likes. If you are wasteful, then you'll have to suffer scarcity. It's as simple as that. In India, more specifically in the Vedic tradition, those who want to eat meat are obliged to sacrifice a goat in front of the goddess Kālī. While performing the ritual, the one who cuts the goat's throat, has to whisper a mantra into its ear, saying that "now I'm killing and eating you, next time you'll kill and eat me." For killing a cow, it is said, one has to take birth as a cow and be slaughtered as many times as there are hairs on the cow's body. One who aborts a child will have to be aborted himself in the womb of his next mother, who will have to go through abortion again. On the other hand, one who gives charity in a proper manner will be rewarded with a good income in the future. Bodily beauty, good education, aristocratic birth etc. are all signs of past piety. Anyone who performs acts beneficial to others will be elevated to positions of enjoyment. This is the very simple natural law of action and reaction, the cause and its effect which again becomes a cause to another effect in the chain. This goes on eternally, until...
Now, where is God in this whole picture? Well, He's not there, really. He's aloof. He has nothing to do with your actions and reactions apart from setting this whole machinery of karma up as the principle of universal justice which infallibly and precisely applies to everyone at all times. Our only difficulty is that we see it in action only partially because one lifetime is not enough to understand which action caused which reaction. Some reactions may take millions of years to manifest, some are instant. Everyone is karmically entangled with everyone else in this world. It is a very subtle law and the overall knot of actions and reactions is beyond our comprehension. Kṛṣṇa explains about the law of karma in His Bhagavad-gītā (4.17):
karmano hy api boddhavyam boddhavyam ca vikarmanah
akarmanas ca boddhavyam gahana karmano gatih
"The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is."
Karma in this sense is action sanctioned in the scriptures, in other words pious activity. That will bring one "good" reactions. Vikarma, or forbidden action is sinful act against the principle of the scripture which leads to harming others and ultimately one's own self by incurring "bad" reactions. The third type of action is called akarma and it is the non-reactionary work, action that doesn't produce reaction. This akarma is devotional service, when one acts simply for the pleasure of the Lord and thus exits the loop of cause and effect. Akarma is the way of liberation from the cycle of samsara - birth and death - and reestablishing oneself in his eternal position as transcendental servant of Krsna.
Everyone is responsible for his own state of existence in this world. Krsna, God, doesn't involve Himself in anyone's pleasure or pain. He says:
nadatte kasyacit papam na caiva sukrtam vibhuh
ajsanenavrtam jsanam tena muhyanti jantavah (Bg.5.15)
"Nor does the Supreme Lord assume anyone's sinful or pious activities. Embodied beings, however, are bewildered because of the ignorance which covers their real knowledge."
Srila Prabhupada explains in his purport:
The Sanskrit word vibhu means the Supreme Lord who is full of unlimited knowledge, riches, strength, fame, beauty and renunciation. He is always satisfied in Himself, undisturbed by sinful or pious activities. He does not create a particular situation for any living entity, but the living entity, bewildered by ignorance, desires to be put into certain conditions of life, and thereby his chain of action and reaction begins. A living entity is, by superior nature, full of knowledge. Nevertheless, he is prone to be influenced by ignorance due to his limited power. The Lord is omnipotent, but the living entity is not. The Lord is vibhu, or omniscient, but the living entity is anu, or atomic. Because he is a living soul, he has the capacity to desire by his free will. Such desire is fulfilled only by the omnipotent Lord. And so, when the living entity is bewildered in his desires, the Lord allows him to fulfill those desires, but the Lord is never responsible for the actions and reactions of the particular situation which may be desired. Being in a bewildered condition, therefore, the embodied soul identifies himself with the circumstantial material body and becomes subjected to the temporary misery and happiness of life. The Lord is the constant companion of the living entity as Paramatma, or the Supersoul, and therefore He can understand the desires of the individual soul, as one can smell the flavor of a flower by being near it. Desire is a subtle form of conditioning for the living entity. The Lord fulfills his desire as he deserves: Man proposes and God disposes. The individual is not, therefore, omnipotent in fulfilling his desires. The Lord, however, can fulfill all desires, and the Lord, being neutral to everyone, does not interfere with the desires of the minute independent living entities. However, when one desires Krsna, the Lord takes special care and encourages one to desire in such a way that one can attain to Him and be eternally happy. The Vedic hymns therefore declare, esa u hy eva sadhu karma karayati tam yam ebhyo lokebhya unninisate. esa u evasadhu karma karayati yam adho ninisate: "The Lord engages the living entity in pious activities so that he may be elevated. The Lord engages him in impious activities so that he may go to hell." (Kausitaki Upanisad 3.8) Similarly, the Mahabharata (Vana-parva 31.27) states:
ajso jantur aniso 'yam atmanah sukha-duhkhayoh
isvara-prerito gacchet svargam vasv abhram eva ca
"The living entity is completely dependent in his distress and happiness. By the will of the Supreme he can go to heaven or hell, as a cloud is driven by the air."
Therefore the embodied soul, by his immemorial desire to avoid Krsna consciousness, causes his own bewilderment. Consequently, although he is constitutionally eternal, blissful and cognizant, due to the littleness of his existence he forgets his constitutional position of service to the Lord and is thus entrapped by nescience. And, under the spell of ignorance, the living entity claims that the Lord is responsible for his conditional existence. The Vedanta-sūtras (2.1.34) also confirm this. Vaisamya-nairghrnye na sapeksatvat tatha hi darsayati: "The Lord neither hates nor likes anyone, though He appears to."
This is the answer to those who want to blame God for their misfortune or the misfortune of others. He has nothing to do with what goes on in our lives. Only if one again surrenders to the lotus feet of the Lord does He take charge and arrange the happenings in a devotee´s life. The conclusion of the Bhagavad-gita is that one should abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender to God, Krsna. He then promises to neutralize all the reactions, whether good or bad and liberate the soul from this perpetual chain of cause and effect. The path of surrender is devotional service and that is the purpose of human life.