As I was walking towards the temple to attend a special Diwali function, I noticed something unusual for this day. Diwali is known for being the festival of lights. Diwali is known to be the festival of meeting people; it is known to be the festival of joy. But, to my surprise, I realized there were no people on the road that night. It was all dark. Once in a while I noticed someone crossing by and once in a while vehicles passing by threw some random light on the road. As I continued walking, this light helped me know where I was landing my foot on that mystically sacred land of Sri Mayapur, a small holy village on the banks of the Ganges.
Out of all these, one aspect caught my attention; darkness. Diwali and darkness are antonyms. I don’t remember seeing a Diwali night with no light around, even for a moment. Yes, lights were there today also but they were at a distance and increased as I came closer to the temple. However, the quietness remained unfazed except the occasional howling of jackals from the nearby dense bushes and isolated sounds of crackers echoing from neighboring villages.
I kept walking happily with a great peace of mind meditating on the transcendental nature of Sri Mayapur. The cool and purifying breeze flowing from the eastern banks of the Ganges added to the joy experienced out of sheer serenity. Innumerable stars clearly visible on this last day of the dark fortnight had already decorated the cloudless sky. I knew once in the temple area, there will be literally thousands of lamps decorating the entire campus including the main temple, guest houses, streets and parks.
All of a sudden, a thought flashed in my mind like a lightening as if the vision of beautiful burning lamps of Diwali and the loud sounds of crackers reached my heart and made it feel the burn, albeit quietly. It felt the burn as I could reflect the surrounding darkness on the darkness in the life of those who continued suffering, even on the day of Diwali, known to be the festival of joy.
My heart rushed towards them. One question haunted me; why, despite the abundance of grace, given out freely by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, are these people still suffering?
Who are they and how many?
The list is sadly long starting from those ultra rich to the roadside beggars, from highly influential ones to the so-called nobodies, most powerful ones to the weakest, the learned ones and the illiterates, the elites and the ordinaries, the whites and the blacks. They are from all walks of life, from all faiths, and from all nations.
My heart went to those suffering ones, who, despite working hard many hours a day, do not have the required fund to ensure a stomach-full of food everyday. I also felt pain for those greedy ones who have no idea of how much money is stored in their multiple bank accounts but are still working hard for the same money.
My heart went to those who don’t have enough clothing to fight chilling winter and homes to survive scorching summer. I thought of those who spend days on the roadside crawling to beg a few cents or a piece of bread to feed their hungry baby.
My heart pained thinking of those wealthy people who have more than enough to live, wear and eat but have lost interest in staying at home, have developed fancy for wearing scanty or torn clothes, and cannot eat even a nice square meal due to ruined health caused by overeating.
I remembered those women carrying crying babies in crowded trains and buses looking for a seat where they can feed their child and breathe fresh air. I also remembered those moving about in luxury cars and SUVs but have no time to breathe clean, countryside air nor have peace of mind.
Indeed, pity sees no bound when harsh realities of life unfolds. How many people in the world deserve sympathy? The nature cruelly stares at those who run out of pious deeds.
My heart went out to those who suffer for want of basic education. On the other hand, I also felt pity for those who, misled by modern atheistic education, turned their face away from God, the giver of all that one possesses.
My heart went out to those who may have had big dreams in life but could not fulfill them, who anticipated a joyful family life but were deprived of it, and those who lost heart to someone but were betrayed. I also thought of those who made business of human relations and left sour memories in the lives of others.
I prayed for those brave soldiers who stand alert and stay awake, on top of the mountains, in caves, in jungles, during bone-chilling winters and scorching summer days, to protect the nation, and who sacrifice their lives for others’ cause. At the same time, I prayed for those opportunist politicians who, in the name of nation, make billions at the cost of others.
Someone may wonder why I felt sympathy for the rich and strong, and even for the greedy and crooked ones.
The fact is, my list is much longer and includes also those who continuously suffer but think they are happy and boast about it. I am not talking about those self-satisfied great souls who see happiness even in difficult times. I am referring to those who, out of illusion, think that they have got everything, not knowing that the situation they are proud of at present is like a drop of water on a lotus petal which can slip away at any moment.
Haven’t we seen sudden deaths and unexpected financial losses? How many happy families broke over trivial issues? How many parents lost their children unexpectedly and how many killed them, even before they were born? How many children sued their parents and how many brothers lost lives over property issues? How many so-called lovers killed their beloveds and how many friends became enemies overnight? How many dancing clubs and cinema houses caught fire killing hundreds, and how many marriage parties got looted? How many corporate tycoons and state ministers went to jail and how many wealthy brokers became beggars overnight? Didn’t they all hope to be happy forever?
The irony does not end here, but people still want to believe that the happiness they experience today will perpetually stay with them. They call it optimism. They call it self-confidence. They name it positivity. They don’t realize that as soon as the balance of their previous good karma is over, they will be forced to suffer just as one is compelled to work once his wealth is exhausted. Optimism, self-confidence and positive attitude are certainly good but they can deliver only so far one has pious deeds in balance. In absence of it, all mundane philosophies will simply remain plain theories. It is said that man builds his own future. This is true but the future mentioned is not necessarily this life. This is where most of us are baffled as we see good people suffering.
Almost all the people mentioned above are either going through the result of their past sinful deeds or are creating miserable future by new sinful activities. God has given us many opportunities and shortcuts, like Ekadashi days and Damodar month, to wipe out sins and increase piety but unfortunately people have difficulty accepting it. They want to believe that they will remain happy so far they are in control.
The truth of life is different. Neither they are in control nor can they be always happy for that is the nature of this world. The big bubble of temporary happiness bewilders them, until one day it bursts right in front of them leaving them utterly devastated.
How can we not feel sympathy for those living in such a dense illusion? How can our hearts not go out to these victims of greed, lust, anger, arrogance, attachment, and envy? Why cannot we inform them that they can be happy even without these vices. My heart went out to them in an attempt to let them know that lasting happiness does exist, even in this world, and that there are sure ways to achieve it.
Although according to Bhagavad Gita this world is full of miseries, one does not have to be miserable. Just like one can protect oneself from winter by using warm clothes, one can stay away from miseries while living in this world by practicing devotional service to God, to Lord Krishna.
The temporary darkness of that Diwali night said a lot more than just reminding me of those suffering souls. The very thought that people have chosen to be in illusion and are happy about it brings pain to heart. Knowing my own limitations, I take shelter of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and pray to Him for the spiritual welfare of all conditioned souls. I am aware that I am no exception but, as Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON and my grand spiritual master has taught, by praying for others we also receive mercy of the Lord.
Finally I entered the Temple. It was all about joy. Arati, kirtan, offering of lamps to Their Lordships and singing Their glories was, as usual, the way of life there. Darkness did not exist there. I was reassured that the Lord was being merciful to one and all, and that we simply needed to carry out His wishes under the direction of His pure devotees.
Diwali has gone and Diwali will return, but until then we have a choice; we can keep the message of Diwali in our hearts. It will keep our consciousness enlightened. It will keep us smiling. It will inspire us to wish well to others and motivate us to offer heartfelt prayers for them. Just as Lord Rama’s return brought the residents of Ayodhya back to life, let us pray that every new Diwali brings new spiritual inspiration in everyone’s heart.