So I’ve argued that whatever happened in Māyāpura – no one is to blame, it’s just Kali Yuga forcing us to act according to our material nature. Before we talk about blame, however, I want to consider whether blame and guilt are the same.
Typically if we blame someone then that person is guilty and needs to be punished, and, conversely, if one is not to blame then he isn’t guilty and there should be no punishment. The law of karma, however, might work differently.
Karma assigns appropriate reactions regardless of whether we think one is responsible or not. From karma’s perspective something is always responsible because nothing ever happens without a reason. We, on the other hand, rely on our imperfect understanding of how the world works when assigning blame. Plenty of times we get it wrong, sometimes we get it right, but our biggest mistake is taking ownership of both these actions and reactions.
We deliberate guilt or blame depending on this ownership – if this person doesn’t own the actions he should be free from reactions. Simple and ultimately correct but only if we get the ownership right, which we never do because as spirit souls we are not responsible for anything, no one is, it’s only the material nature moving according to Lord’s plan.
We miss the part that someone or something is always responsible, we are only concerned with responsibility of the entities we assume the ownership of. Say we had a car accident. If we determine that it’s not our fault and the police and insurance company agree then we feel we are not guilty and forget about it. Sometimes someone else is at fault and we might want punishment for that person but if he is also absolved by the authorities we do not hold any grudge. In this case we write it off as an accident, hold no one responsible, and move on.
From karma’s point of view, however, someone IS still responsible. Maybe a truck that stopped in this place an hour ago and left an oil spill after itself. Maybe a road construction crew that left the surface uneven so that there was a puddle of water there long after the rain. Maybe it’s the rain that is responsible. Maybe it’s some other driver that caused a distraction, someone who is long gone and we might not even know he was there.
We do not take ownership over any of these entities so we do not assign blame and we do not consider them guilty, and yet they are. What if it was Sun’s reflection in another puddle far ahead that temporarily blinded us? We are not going to blame neither the Sun nor the water, and yet they are responsible for the accident to at least some degree. Karma will take care of this but our man made laws won’t.
Will the Sun suffer? Good question, but still a wrong one. Suffering, just like the ownership, does not really exist. It exists only in as much as we are attached to the body we think we own. We don’t feel suffering if we can’t identify with its subject, the body, so the correct question should be “Will we be able to FEEL Sun’s suffering?” Most probably not, but it doesn’t mean the Sun God itself won’t suffer.
Of course by Sun’s standards one little accident on another planet is nothing, less than us accidentally killing bacteria in our guts by taking medicine. The same karma being assigned to a fellow human, however, would be very very heavy, possibly a jail time. If we ourselves have been found guilty then it’s the worse possible outcome from our perspective but for the law of karma it makes no difference at all – Sun, rain, other people, cats running across the road. It’s very impersonal this way.
So, in case of troubles in the dhāma we talk about blame and responsibility from our own, limited perspective, and we weigh the responsibility according to our capacity to empathize with the perpetrator. That’s how we decide whether the karma is too heavy or too light – we make it all very personal.
We want lesser punishment for people close to us and we feel nothing for those who we never met or who we exclude from our social circle. Same reaction but we feel differently according to our conditioning. Once we realize this materially imposed bias we should drop this blame business altogether. Someone will always get a reaction, the law of karma will make sure it’s the appropriate one, but words like “guilt” and “blame” only tell OUR side of the story, they are subjective and they reflect OUR desire to be heard, it has nothing to do with fairness and justice per se.
Should we become coldblooded and as impersonal as the law of karma? Yes and no. As far as bodies are concerned – yes, just like Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna not to mourn something not worthy of grief (BG 2.11). If, for example, as a reaction to that car accident a person breaks his arm or a branch snaps off of a tree we’d definitely feel differently about it but only because we value human health higher than that of a tree – it’s all about us, once again.
If we consider that these bodies are inhabited by spirit souls who are all potential Kṛṣṇa’s servants then we can’t remain impersonal, certainly not to the souls’ plight. From this perspective it’s not the broken arm that should concern us but the person’s ability to engage in Kṛṣṇa’s service. If he falls into a coma then it’s definitely a “bad” karma, if he commits grave offenses against vaiṣṇavas it might actually be worse but since he is physically okay we might consider it a “good” karma when, in fact, it isn’t.
When we think about it this way the question of blame and punishment looks differently, too – we are never ever going to punish anyone by restricting their service to the Lord. No matter what they do everyone must always be given a chance and encouraged to serve by all possible means. We do not take Kṛṣṇa away from people. In each and every case our only concern should be “how to help this person serve more”, not less.
That should be our attitude in each and every situation, we should not be materially vindictive at all. Having said that, managing other people’s service requires a significant skill. If someone is offensive then it’s our responsibility (if we are in the appropriate position ourselves) to limit that person’s potential for committing further aparādhas. Externally it might appear that we are restricting that person’s service but factually we are making it purer by reducing the number of offenses. It’s the whole other topic, however, and I don’t want to go into it today.