Does Bad Karma cause Disease?

'Why me? My family and I have done so much good for so many people. Is it my bad karma?' a lot of people ask me.

When oneself or a loved one of the family is confronted with severe illness, this question often comes up. Disease has its own persuasive way of creeping into the psyche of even the most positive citizens and cause doubt, fear and much negativity.

In contemporary times, a sense of entitlement often cocoons our mind and seemingly offers an assured bubble of protection. Insulated in this mental framework we continue living, until reality hits us when a major or life threatening illness walks right into our lives. Be it to ourselves, our partner, a close family member or friend.

The turmoil of the illness in itself, as well as the unsettling of our misconstrued safety net, brings forth these questions. Some people even go to the opposite extreme and embrace the blanket of guilt, as yet another insulation. 'Oh! I must have done something terribly wrong for this calamity to happen to my family,' they proclaim.

While all of these reactions should be acknowledged as a genuine subjective reality, the gift of human intelligence must not be shunned.

The theory of Karma is not as simple as we understand it today. The Vedic scriptures talk about three kinds of Karma that can influence us - a) Sancita Karma, the karma from the past (which could include past lives or the karma of our ancestors); b) Prarabdha Karma, the karma initiated in the present moment; c) Agami Karma, the karma from the future (which could include our own future or those of our successors). When we get a grasp of this and understand that we are subject to the past, present and even our future actions, we can easily understand that there are too many variables that are unknown. Hence a trivial conclusion that we must have done something wrong to incur the wrath of illness does not hold sound judgement.

Further, when we consider the extraordinary contributions of people such as Nathamuni, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, Krishnamacharya, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and many others, it certainly would not occur to us that they were steeped in bad karma. Yet each of them had to battle a severe illness at some point of their lives.

Nathamuni, a ninth century Yogi who revived and revitalised Vaisnavism & Yoga, suffered from Dementia towards the end of his life. Svami Vivekananda, who took the jewels of wisdom from Indian philosophy to the entire world, suffered from Asthma, Diabetes and Chronic Insomnia. The great advaitin Ramana Maharishi suffered from severe cancer, which eventually made him greet the god of death. Krishnamacharya the legendary Yoga master of the twentieth century had a hip dislocation in his nineties, that restricted much of his mobility up until his last breath. It is well known that the amicable Pope John Paul II battled with Parkinson's even as his devotion to his Lord Jesus never wavered. Mother Teresa suffered with coronary problems, including two heart attacks even as she touched the hearts of millions of poor people.

The list is endless. Even extraordinary people who have contributed to this world with much benevolence have suffered from severe forms of illnesses at one time or another. In our quest for perfection, we tend to idolise those giants and hope that they would have none of the illnesses of our own kind.

If the shock of our own illness brings forth a lot of negativity, the shock of disease in such giants overwhelms us and rattles our stability and hope. 

'Why should I practice this philosophy when its proponent has suffered from this illness? Will I be safe? Do you think this teaching is still valid?'

These and many further questions manifest in us.

Disease is a normal phenomenon in all human beings, whether we like it or not. This is mainly because the material construct that we are born with is neither perfect, nor will it ever become perfect. In this manner we are indeed vulnerable to the intimacy of illness, and its repercussions.

It is in understanding, embracing and learning from it that we will find peace. This is what the learned ones who walked on this earth demonstrated to us. They did not let their 'ease' be disturbed. No matter how challenging their illness was, they connected to their source of strength and stayed positive in their determination to fulfil their duty and move along in their path. Their motivation had far greater resilience than their suffering.

When we can understand this concept, we can begin to realise that disease can provide us with an opportunity to bring forth our best. Whether it is in battling our own illness or in aiding another overcome theirs.