The Epicurean Paradox or the Riddle of Epicurus goes something like this:

If God is willing to prevent evil but not able, then He is not omnipotent.

If He is able (to prevent evil) but not willing, then He is malevolent.

Is God both able and willing? Then where did evil come from?

If God is neither able nor willing, then why call Him God?

Some people also call this The Problem of Evil.

Have any Hindu philosophers attempted to solve this riddle? If yes, how?

  • Related or duplicate of hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/6855/… Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 20:58
  • Also, I edited out your question at the end. You can ask about why prayer is necessary in a separate question. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 21:02
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    All dualistic monotheistic religions have this problem. There is no problem of evil in the nondualistic advaita. Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 7:40
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    btw, in the Western tradition this is answered by Plotinus in the Third Ennead, Second Tractate in "The Six Enneads" the answer is similar to the answer of the Advaita Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 9:45
  • Define evil clearly and concisely for all things. Commented May 23, 2019 at 18:29

6 Answers 6


The cruelty and evil seen in the world are the results of Karmic factors of Jeevas and God can't be blamed for that. It is stated in Brahma Sutra 2.1.34 as:

Inequality (of dispensation) and cruelty (the Lord can) not (be reproached with), on account of his regarding (merit and demerit); for so (Scripture) declares.

While commenting on this sutra Adi Shankara first presents view of opponent as:

The Lord, it is said, cannot be the cause of the world, because, on that hypothesis, the reproach of inequality of dispensation and cruelty would attach to him. Some beings, viz. the gods and others, he renders eminently happy; others, as for instance the animals, eminently unhappy; to some again, as for instance men, he allots an intermediate position. To a Lord bringing about such an unequal condition of things, passion and malice would have to be ascribed, just as to any common person acting similarly; which attributes would be contrary to the essential goodness of the Lord affirmed by Sruti and Smriti. Moreover, as the infliction of pain and the final destruction of all creatures would form part of his dispensation, he would have to be taxed with great cruelty, a quality abhorred by low people even. For these two reasons Brahman cannot be the cause of the world.

Then Shankara refutes the opponent view as:

The Lord, we reply, cannot be reproached with inequality of dispensation and cruelty, "because he is bound by regards." If the Lord on his own account, without any extraneous regards, produced this unequal creation, he would expose himself to blame; but the fact is, that in creating he is bound by certain regards, i.e. he has to look to merit and demerit. Hence the circumstance of the creation being unequal is due to the merit and demerit of the living creatures created, and is not a fault for which the Lord is to blame. *&The position of the Lord is to be looked on as analogous to that of Parjanya, the Giver of rain. For as Parjanya is the common cause of the production of rice, barley, and other plants, while the difference between the various species is due to the various potentialities lying hidden in the respective seeds, so the Lord is the common cause of the creation of gods, men, &c., while the differences between these classes of beings are due to the different merit belonging to the individual souls.** Hence the Lord, being bound by regards, cannot be reproached with inequality of dispensation and cruelty.-- And if we are asked how we come to know that the Lord, in creating this world with its various conditions, is bound by regards, we reply that Scripture declares that; compare, for instance, the two following passages, 'For he (the Lord) makes him, whom he wishes to lead up from these worlds, do a good deed; and the same makes him, whom he wishes to lead down from these worlds, do a bad deed' (Kaush. Up. III, 8); and, 'A man becomes good by good work, bad by bad work' (Bri. Up. III, 2, 13). Smriti passages also declare the favour of the Lord and its opposite to depend on the different quality of the works of living beings; so, for instance, 'I serve men in the way in which they approach me' (Bha. Gî. IV, 11).

Similarly Ramanujacharya also comments on it as:

But the assumption of his having actually created the world would lay him open to the charge of partiality, in so far as the world contains beings of high, middle, and low station--gods, men, animals, immovable beings; and to that of cruelty, in so far as he would be instrumental in making his creatures experience pain of the most dreadful kind.--The reply to this is 'not so, on account of there being regard'; i.e. 'on account of the inequality of creation depending on the deeds of the intelligent beings, gods, and so on, about to be created.'--Sruti and Smriti alike declare that the connexion of the individual souls with bodies of different kinds--divine, human, animal, and so on--depends on the karman of those souls; compare 'He who performs good works becomes good, he who performs bad works becomes bad. He becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds' (Bri. Up. IV, 4, 5). In the same way the reverend Parâsara declares that what causes the difference in nature and status between gods, men, and so on, is the power of the former deeds of the souls about to enter into a new creation--'He (the Lord) is the operative cause only in the creation of new beings; the material cause is constituted by the potentialities of the beings to be created. The being to be embodied requires nothing but an operative cause; it is its own potentiality which leads its being into that condition of being (which it is to occupy in the new creation).' Potentiality here means karman.

As a sidenote, there are various branches of Hinduism (like Samkhya, Mimamsa etc..) where there is not omniscient, omnipotent God at all. So, the problem of evil doesn't exist in them at all.

For eg. In SlokaVartika Kumarila Bhatta argues that omniscient being can't exist:

  1. An omniscient person is not seen by us at the present moment; nor, is it possible to -prove (by means of Inference) that such a one ever existed before as is done in the case of the negation of such a person.

Kasika (sub commentary) on it states further:

Neither Sense-Perception, nor Inference can prove the existence of an omniscient person. In Inference we require a middle Term, which we cannot here in the case of omniscience. On the contrary, in support of the refutation of the existence of an omniscient person, we have the following inferential argument :
"The past was without an omniscient person, because it was a point of Time, like the Present.
" or again, 'Buddha was not omniscient, because he was a man like ourselves."

Kumarila Bhatta also argues that scripture also can't prove existence of omniscient person. For it is circular argument ie. Omniscient of that person depends on scripture and authority of scripture depends on omniscience of that person:

  1. Nor can the existence of the omniscient one be proved by Scriptures ; for in that case there would be mutual interdependence. And how can one ever believe the authenticity of a Scripture composed by another man.

  2. Nor can we get at any other Scripture (save the Veda) which is eternal. If the eulogies (occurring in the Veda in praise of an Omniscient Person) were eternal, then, non-eternality would belong to the Scripture itself.

  3. The eternality of the Scripture (Veda) having been established, all other assumptions (of an Omniscient Author and the like) become needless. For men could prove the existence of Duty by means of the same (Scripture), whereby (you seek) to prove the existence of an omniscient person.
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    Good answer. This is the only answer that gives the Vedanta school's answer to the problem of evil. By the way, it should be noted that not only does Kumarila Bhatta believe that the supreme being is not omnisicient, he also believes that the supreme being had no rule in creating the Universe. That's because Mimamsakas didn't believe in creation at all; they thought the Earth was eternal and humans were eternal on the Earth. Mimamsakas were weird. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 14:14
  • This doesn't solve the riddle. Instead it accepts God is not Omnipotent. He is bound by regards. He cannot do anything and everything. He can do great things but not everything.
    – user13262
    Commented May 23, 2019 at 15:31
  • @VARUN.NRAO read the whole section in the Brahma Sutras till 2.1.37 Commented May 23, 2019 at 18:05
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    @PrasannaR with all due respect you have very badly misunderstood Advaitha and I think you are misquoting Advaitha. Brahman is the only reality, correct. Brahman is not split into Jeevas, that is a very bad misunderstanding of Advaitha. And the next sentences are totally irrelevant and of course absurd.
    – user13262
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 16:54
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    @Tejaswee so you say evil is created to ensure souls can get rid of bad karma?
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 15:00

Swami Vivekananda says in his Complete Works, V1, section Karma Yoga:

This world is neither good nor evil; each man manufactures a world for himself. If a blind man begins to think of the world, it is either as soft or hard, or as cold or hot...Life is good or evil according to the state of mind in which we look at it, it is neither by itself. Fire, by itself, is neither good nor evil. When it keeps us warm we say, "How beautiful is fire!" When it burns our fingers, we blame it. Still, in itself it is neither good nor bad. According as we use it, it produces in us the feeling of good or bad; so also is this world. It is perfect. By perfection is meant that it is perfectly fitted to meet its ends.

And further is Volume 3 pp 10- 14:

...He is Jivanmukta who can live in this world without being attached. He is like the lotus leaves in water, which are never wetted by the water. He is the highest of human beings, nay, the highest of all beings, for he has realised his identity with the Absolute, he has realised that he is one with God. So long as you think you have the least difference from God, fear will seize you, but when you have known that you are He, that there is no difference, entirely no difference, that you are He, all of Him, and the whole of Him, all fear ceases. "There, who sees whom? Who worships whom? Who talks to whom? Who hears whom? Where one sees another, where one talks to another, where one hears another, that is little. Where none sees none, where none speaks to none, that is the highest, that is the great, that is the Brahman." Being That, you are always That. What will become of the world then? What good shall we do to the world? Such questions do not arise "What becomes of my gingerbread if I become old?" says the baby! "What becomes of my marbles if I grow? So I will not grow," says the boy! "What will become of my dolls if I grow old?" says the little child! It is the same question in connection with this world, it has no existence in the past, present, or future. If we have known the Âtman as It is, if we have known that there is nothing else but this Atman, that everything else is but a dream, with no existence in reality, then this world with its poverties, its miseries, its wickedness, and its goodness will cease to disturb us. If they do not exist, for whom and for what shall we take trouble? This is what the Jnana-Yogis teach. Therefore, dare to be free, dare to go as far as your thought leads, and dare to carry that out in your life. It is very hard to come to Jnâna. It is for the bravest and most daring, who dare to smash all idols, not only intellectual, but in the senses. This body is not I; it must go. All sorts of curious things may come out of this. A man stands up and says, "I am not the body, therefore my headache must be cured"; but where is the headache if not in his body? Let a thousand headaches and a thousand bodies come and go. What is that to me? I have neither birth nor death; father or mother I never had; friends and foes I have none, because they are all I. I am my own friend, and I am my own enemy. I am Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. I am He, I am He. If in a thousand bodies I am suffering from fever and other ills, in millions of bodies I am healthy. If in a thousand bodies I am starving, in other thousand bodies I am feasting. If in thousands of bodies I am suffering misery, in thousands of bodies I am happy. Who shall blame whom, who praise whom? Whom to seek, whom to avoid? I seek none, nor avoid any, for I am all the universe. I praise myself, I blame myself, I suffer for myself, I am happy at my own will, I am free. This is the Jnâni, the brave and daring. Let the whole universe tumble down; he smiles and says it never existed, it was all a hallucination. He sees the universe tumble down. Where was it! Where has it gone!

Before going into the practical part, we will take up one more intellectual question. So far the logic is tremendously rigorous. If man reasons, there is no place for him to stand until he comes to this, that there is but One Existence, that everything else is nothing. There is no other way left for rational mankind but to take this view. But how is it that what is infinite, ever perfect, ever blessed, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, has come under these delusions? It is the same question that has been asked all the world over. In the vulgar form the question becomes, "How did sin come into this world?" This is the most vulgar and sensuous form of the question, and the other is the most philosophic form, but the answer is the same. The same question has been asked in various grades and fashions, but in its lower forms it finds no solution, because the stories of apples and serpents and women do not give the explanation. In that state, the question is childish, and so is the answer. But the question has assumed very high proportions now: "How did this illusion come?" And the answer is as fine. The answer is that we cannot expect any answer to an impossible question. The very question is impossible in terms. You have no right to ask that question. Why? What is perfection? That which is beyond time, space, and causation — that is perfect. Then you ask how the perfect became imperfect. In logical language the question may be put in this form: "How did that which is beyond causation become caused?" You contradict yourself. You first admit it is beyond causation, and then ask what causes it. This question can only be asked within the limits of causation. As far as time and space and causation extend, so far can this question be asked. But beyond that it will be nonsense to ask it, because the question is illogical. Within time, space, and causation it can never be answered, and what answer may lie beyond these limits can only be known when we have transcended them; therefore the wise will let this question rest. When a man is ill, he devotes himself to curing his disease without insisting that he must first learn how he came to have it.

There is another form of this question, a little lower, but more practical and illustrative: What produced this delusion? Can any reality produce delusion? Certainly not. We see that one delusion produces another, and so on. It is delusion always that produces delusion. It is disease that produces disease, and not health that produces disease. The wave is the same thing as the water, the effect is the cause in another form. The effect is delusion, and therefore the cause must be delusion. What produced this delusion? Another delusion. And so on without beginning. The only question that remains for you to ask is: Does not this break your monism, because you get two existences in the universe, one yourself and the other the delusion? The answer is: Delusion cannot be called an existence. Thousands of dreams come into your life, but do not form any part of your life. Dreams come and go; they have no existence. To call delusion existence will be sophistry. Therefore there is only one individual existence in the universe, ever free, and ever blessed; and that is what you are. This is the last conclusion reached by the Advaitists.

And Krishna says in the Gita 5.14 (Swami Nikhilananda translator):

Neither agency nor objects does the Supreme Spirit create for this world, nor does It bring about union with the fruit of action. It is Nature [Prakriti] that does all this.

So as both Swami Vivekananda and Krishna say, illusion arises from illusion. Illusion does not arise from Brahman. The illusions of good and evil are under the veil of Maya in Advaita.

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    Could you add a TLDR section at the top of your answer since the second blockquote is rather long? Also, to make it a bit comprehensive, do you mind adding your comment from under this question to this answer and also add some details as to why for the dvaita philosophies TPE is a problem? Thanks. Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 16:54
  • @sv. what is TLDR? Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 11:08
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    TLDR stands for too long, don't/didn't read, e.g., see usage here. From Wikipedia - 'The tl;dr label is often used to point out excessive verbosity or to signify the presence of and location of a short summation in case the reader doesn't want to take the time to read the entire detail' Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 14:52
  • "The illusions of good and evil..." - if good & evil are illusions, how can one decide what is good or evil? What is the point of dharma shastras then? Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:03
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    @sv. ChandrasekharaBharati Swami once gave an eg.If you are lost and stop a person on the road for directions, do you not take the person's advice at face value? Do you expect them to prove their antecedents and knowledge before accepting the directions they provide? If you keep questioning everyone's intentions, then will you ever find someone who can take you to your destination?
    – user1195
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 3:50

The answer to the riddle has been given in the Gita. Brahman is unattached and it's primordial nature, the shakti of Brahman, which brings forth the creation. Brahman does not interfere in the creation.

Resorting to Prakrti, Nature, which is My own Power, I send forth again and again this multitude of beings that are without any freedom, owing to Nature's sway over them.

Gita 9.8

These activities do not in any way bind Me, because I remain detached like one unconcerned in their midst.

Gita 9.9

There is, however, one exception.

Whoever, being devoted to me solely, engage themselves always in contemplation and worship of Me - to such ever-steadfast devotees I ensure the procurement of all their wants (Moksha) and the preservation of their assets (worldly interests).

Gita 9.22

God helps only His devotees.


From the lenses of Prakruti, certain attribute is seen as "good" or "evil". They are aspects of enjoyment or consumption by the consciousness (purusha):

BG 13.22 - Purusha being situated in Prakruti, experiences the [sattva, rajas, tamas] modes born of Prakruti. Contact with the these modes, is the cause of its births in good and evil wombs.

For the supreme being all are treated as same, whether it's good or evil. There is no partiality:

BG 9.29 — I am impartial towards all beings; to Me there is none detested or none loved. But those who worship Me with devotion, they exist in Me, and I too exist in them.

Since the supreme God is considered beyond Prakruti, good & evil are filtered out.
Because there is No "evil", there is No "problem of evil" either. :-)

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    I don't think this answers the question. This is just telling there is no suffering. Ok what is the purpose of life? Moksha? Why Moksha? To understand there is no suffering and we are purusha? Ok then why doesn't God give everyone Moksha?
    – user13262
    Commented May 23, 2019 at 15:47
  • @Varun.nrao moksha is free for all according all school of taughts except dvaita vedanta. your question is applicable only dvaita, for advaita there is no such thing as evil even evilest evil will utlimately attain moksha.. dvaita only classifies and condemns the evil doer to andhamas.. and matchs krishnas statement in BG 16.19 and other vedic scripture, basically you essentially ignore the bitter part of vedanta by negating it and saying exact opposite of what God stated.. is world non tattvavadis
    – Prasanna R
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 10:06
  • @PrasannaR I don't think you have understood Advaitha. I remember your comments on Advaitha from about question. I don't think your analysis of Advaitha is correct.
    – user13262
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 15:13

Why do you call it the problem of Evil? Why not call it the blessing of Good?

If God is willing to prevent good, but not able, then He is not Omnipotent.

If God is able to prevent good, but not willing, then He is Benevolent.

Is God both able and willing? Then where did good come from?

If God is neither able nor willing, then why call Him God?

Once you do this, you realize Good & Evil can be subjective, and the same act might seem evil to one party and good to another party. A man walking on the road might seem evil to the ants that get crushed under his boots, but if he is on the way to a temple to pray or to donate to the poor, it seems good to him and to the poor. If God prevents an evil, he also prevents a good. So, he has written rules, as to what is a smaller evil, and what is a bigger good.

Brahma sutra 1.34 clearly mention that God does not play favorites, nor is he merciless:

वैषम्यनैर्घृण्ये न सापेक्षत्वात् तथा हि दर्शयति |

vaiṣamyanairghṛṇye na sāpekṣatvāt tathā hi darśayati |

The very act of creating the universe might seem like evil to jivas who are forced to experience their bad karma. But it might seem like good to jivas who are forced to experience their good karma. Similarly, the very act of destruction seems evil to some and good to others.

So you would say, God shouldn't do anything. Who are we to decide what God should and should not do? Our opinions have no effect. All he does is create a playground. He does not force anyone to play, nor does he force anyone to do good nor bad. If God did everything himself, where is the fun in that? This samsara is called Lila-vibhuthi (playground).

He is witness to your actions, but he is also enforcer of results - faithfully and correctly gives out the results of your actions, without bias and with mercy. A just king doesn't force any citizens to fight or to desert, but will reward the fighters and punish the deserters when a war occurs.

You alone force yourself to play and get the good/bad results. You can decide to stop playing and be in salvation (Nitya-vihbuthi).

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    Answers on this site should be backed up with details and sources (preferably scripture), so I'm deleting your answer for the time being. I finally you want to add sources to your answer, edit it and flag me to undelete it. Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 21:16
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    @ram you have trivialised the question. And your answer doesn't answer anything. Were the Jeevis free to commit karma in the first place? But why should God obey the law of Karma ? Why wouldn't he give mukthi to everyone.
    – user13262
    Commented May 23, 2019 at 15:42
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    " If God prevents an evil, he also prevents a good." If I walk on this earth not killing any creature (e.g. ants) there is no evil and no good deed so this statement is false. Moreover, why create evil in the first place.
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 5:09
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    "He doesn't force people" well he did create evil and I still do not know ehy he did that. "Why wouldn't he give mukthi to everyone?" What is your answer to this question?
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 5:51
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    @Prasanna R that would mean that your body consists of billions of souls but that isn't what Krishna says to Arjuna. Going by what Krishna says a human body has only 1 soul.
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 12:45

All the humans are dominated by one or more than one of the 3 Gunas, ie., Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

Whatever evil or good that one encounters or perceives is the result of one's deeds propelled by the Gunas. Again, what an evil/good to one, may not be perceived by the other as such. It is a relative concept.

Sri Krishna says, one who transcends all gunas attains Brahman.

नान्यं गुणेभ्यः कर्तारं यदा द्रष्टानुपश्यति।

गुणेभ्यश्च परं वेत्ति मद्भावं सोऽधिगच्छति।।14.19।।

When the witness sees none other than the alities as the agent, and knows that which is superior [i.e. different from.] to the alities, he attains My nature.

समदुःखसुखः स्वस्थः समलोष्टाश्मकाञ्चनः।

तुल्यप्रियाप्रियो धीरस्तुल्यनिन्दात्मसंस्तुतिः।।14.24।।

He to whom sorrow and happiness are alike, who is established in his own Self, to whom a lump of earth, iron and gold are the same, to whom the agreeable and the disagreeable are the same, who is wise, to whom censure and his own praise are the same;

मां च योऽव्यभिचारेण भक्ितयोगेन सेवते।

स गुणान्समतीत्यैतान् ब्रह्मभूयाय कल्पते।।14.26।।

Whosoever serves Me alone with an unfailing devotion-Yoga, he, transcending these Strands, turns to be the Brahman.

The God/Brahman, is called trigunatita, ie., beyond all the 3 Gunas. The God is stated to be in all 3 Gunas, but beyond all the 3 Gunas.

ये चैव सात्त्विका भावा राजसास्तामसाश्च ये।

मत्त एवेति तान्विद्धि नत्वहं तेषु ते मयि।।7.12।।

Whatever beings are there [in the universe]-whether they are of the Sattva or of Rajas or of Tamas (Strands)- be sure that they are from Me; I am not in them, but they are in Me.

In my view, The Epicurean Paradox or the Riddle of Epicurus is an immatured concept.

  • "Again, what an evil/good to one, may not be perceived by the other as such. It is a relative concept" - a pregnant woman dying in child labor, an earthquake occurring in the middle of night wiping out millions of people - no one in their right mind will say 'it's relative; these events can be good or bad depending on how you look at it!' Commented May 24, 2019 at 20:16
  • @VARUN.NRAO: Human mind is such a peculiar thing such that it will create many a riddle and try to solve them. If they are not solved, human blames the riddle itself but not the cause of the riddle. It is the human mind that created the riddle. Did the God ask the humans to create riddles? The concept of the God is ABSTRACT! ! The meaning of the word Love is Abstract. Many Abstract things are there.Meaning of Abstract things differs from person to person. There can't be a single answer to an Abstract thing. Do you think the Sages remained silent on the God without pondering over it? Commented May 24, 2019 at 21:27
  • @sv.: You are mixing up occurrence of events around you and the concepts of Good and Evil. Occurrence of events are beyond the human beings reach. Can you or any developed country stop a devastation caused by the Nature, the known face of the God? With the available technology a government can at best minimise damage to lives! Once you understand as to how to react less to occurrence of events around you the more you will be happier. I repeat what an evil/good to one, may not be perceived by the other as such. It is a relative concept. Perception matters! Commented May 24, 2019 at 21:40
  • 'You are mixing up occurrence of events around you and the concepts of Good and Evil' - of course I am. If there are no people, there is no concept of good and bad, no dharma and no dharma shastras are needed for people. Do you consider rape (or any other worse thing a human should never do) as evil or you think rape is 'good/valid/dharma' in certain conditions? 'Can you or any developed country stop a devastation caused by the Nature, the known face of the God?' - so you agree God is behind the evil side of nature? @srimannarayanakv Commented May 24, 2019 at 21:54
  • @sv.: The God is behind everything but the occurrences of natural events are according to a plan. We cannot change the plan of the God. We are only a part of it. Instead of trying to question and analyse that plan, a minuscule part of which is known to us, it is better to remain silent. As far as individual issues are concerned, they will occur as per individual's prarabdha. Commented May 25, 2019 at 2:22

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