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The example of Ravana comes to mind, because he was a Bhakta of Prabhu Shiva.

It seems like an awful lot of terrible people, like Ajamila, are forgiven just due to their devotions, and their sins are forgiven.

However, at the same time, good people, who might be atheists, suffer a lot, simply because they are atheists.

At the end of the day, is it just devotion that counts, and not individual actions (be they good or bad)?

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  • A true bhakta can never be evil. As for example of Ravana it was only later he became evil while Ajamila later reformed himself.
    – RishX
    Apr 15 at 6:14
  • 1
    See God is Kripalu, grants refuge to those who seek it in him, etc. The definition of good and bad as per your question is related to earthly things (eg. Talking nicely to people on the road, helping an old lady cross the road). Now let’s take an example. God is Sacchidananda, a storehouse/ source of unlimited happiness! Think of it as a subscription for a newspaper. There are many people in the world who want the newspaper but the newspaper guy doesn’t force himself on everyone. It’s for us to subscribe to the newspaper guy who’ll then deliver it equally to your house. Similarly God. (1/2)
    – Archit
    Apr 15 at 6:23
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    (2/2) There is both happiness (news) and misery (no news) in the world. If we want happiness (news) we connect with the person (newspaper guy) who gives us the happiness (news). So those however bad they’re, news will be delivered to them too. If someone is good but he doesn’t subscribe to God, he will face both misery and happiness. The subscription is for us to make. Why ultimately Ravana face the fruits of his action didn’t he?. Ajamila was bad in personal life. He just made one call to God And God being Kripalu washed away his karma and took him. We all just have to subscribe.
    – Archit
    Apr 15 at 6:27
  • 2
    See Gita 4.36 and 9.30 Apr 15 at 10:46
  • 1
    @Archit Thanks for the lovely explanation, as always.
    – learner
    Apr 15 at 13:41
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This is a good question often asked by people. This question is asked because people think that good karma automatically should lead to moksha, bliss and relief from suffering. I will try to establish that this simplistic idea is not right.

Does Ishvara distinguish between a devotee and an atheist?

The answer is no.

I am the same towards all beings. None is hateful, and none dear to Me. But those who worship Me with devotion dwell in Me, and I too dwell in them.

Gita 9.29

Ishvara is neutral and does not take any position for or against any person.

So what really happens? Why should a sinner be forgiven if he turns to devotion towards God? Why should an atheist suffer even if he is a good person?

To answer these questions one should first find out the requirement to attain moksha and relief from suffering.

Among thousands of men, there will just be one here or there striving for spiritual perfection. From among the aspirants so striving, one perchance knows Me in truth.

Gita 7.3

One attains release from suffering by practicing spiritual techniques leading to spiritual perfection. A person might have a bad karmic history but through the practice of spiritual disciplines attain moksha and freedom from suffering. An atheist might be a good person but due to not striving for spiritual perfection remains bound to suffering.

Even a confirmed sinner, if he worships Me with unwavering faith and devotion, must verily be considered as righteous; for he has indeed taken the right resolve.

Gita 9.30

Soon will he become righteous and attain to lasting peace. No devotee of Mine will ever perish; you may swear to this effect, O Arjuna.

Gita 9.31

An Analogy

Let me explain the whole situation by an analogy. Imagine Samsara as a very large ocean. Jivas are on little sail boats in this ocean and are suffering from a variety of ills. Let us now think of 2 jivas, one a bad person and another a good atheist.

The bad person's boat is taking in water and his sail has holes in it due to past bad karma. He has been told by a kind hearted person that he will get relief if he sails his boat to a distant shore which is free from storms and tribulations. He listens to this advice and unfurls his sail and gets his boat moving towards that distant shore. He has numerous problems due to the condition of his boat and the sail but through persistence he succeeds to reach that distant shore and is free from all troubles.

The good atheist's boat and sail are in excellent condition due to his good karmic history. He is also told that he will be free from the storms and tribulations of Samsara if he reaches that distant shore. However, unlike the bad person, the atheist does not believe in that distant shore. He tells himself that all he can see is an infinite ocean and there is no evidence that there is any shore reaching which all troubles disappear. So he does nothing and his boat keeps getting flung by the numerous storms of Samsara.

The moral of this little story is that both the bad Jiva and the good atheist are responsible for their lives. The bad jiva strives for spiritual perfection and solves his problem. The good atheist does nothing and attains nothing.

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The question can be answered to an extent by the following Manu verses:


श्रोत्रियस्य कदर्यस्य वदान्यस्य च वार्धुषेः ।
मीमांसित्वोभयं देवाः सममन्नमकल्पयन् ॥ २२४ ॥

śrotriyasya kadaryasya vadānyasya ca vārdhuṣeḥ |
mīmāṃsitvobhayaṃ devāḥ samamannamakalpayan || 224 ||

The gods having compared the food of the miserly Vedic Scholar and that of the liberal usurer, ordained the food of both to be equal.—(224)

तान् प्रजापतिराहैत्य मा कृध्वं विषमं समम् ।
श्रद्धापूतं वदान्यस्य हतमश्रद्धयेतरत् ॥ २२५ ॥

tān prajāpatirāhaitya mā kṛdhvaṃ viṣamaṃ samam |
śraddhāpūtaṃ vadānyasya hatamaśraddhayetarat || 225 ||

Thereupon Prajāpati came to them and said—“Do not make the unequal equal: what belongs to the liberal man is purified by faith, while the other is defiled by want of faith.—(225)


Here the Stotriya can be regarded as a person following scriptures and devoted to deities but in want of good habits like liberality. In contrast, the usurer can be regarded as an evil person (because his occupation is objectionable and sinful) but endowed with good qualities like faith, liberality and broad mindedness.

The Gods initially concluded that both are equal but Lord Brahma said no, overall, the (sinful) usurer is the better person and more acceptable to Gods.

This shows that an otherwise evil person but of a broad mind and having good qualities like liberality is more liked by Gods compared to persons, who are devoid of such qualities but are fulfilling all other formal religious duties in the best possible manner.

I believe that, although this is not the most direct answer to your question, it helps to an extent in clearing your confusion.

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  • But the evil usurer still continues to acquire Paapa karma anyway just due to his evil actions, right? Whereas, the stotriya doesn't acquire paapa karma, even if he is not being as successful in faith and devotion as the usurer.
    – learner
    Apr 16 at 14:10
  • Determining what is bad Karma and what is good is a complicated thing. As you can see, knowing all the circumstances fully well, Prajapati declared that the (otherwise sinner) usurer is the better person than the religion abiding Stotriya. @learner
    – Rickross
    Apr 17 at 5:36
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I would like to reply your answer 2 ways, one in practical manner and second factual,

First PRACTICAL MANNER

Think of yourself, one day you are invited in a party by your friend, it was the birthday party, after enjoying a lot, dancing, singing, and after all the performances it was time for dinner. Your friend doesn't asks you to have the food but seeing others' eating you also start eating, but his food had everything you need, from chinese to Mexican. At the end of the party you were sad because he didn't gave you much attention, so with a sad heart you gave him his birthday gift, and in return as a ritual he too returned you a gift.

So conclusion :- His party was well organized and was performed in a manner as everything should be but one thing was missing from his party was love, love for a friend or so called respect.

Whereas put yourself in another case, you were invited in your poor enemy friend's party, he didn't had enough funds to do a previous party like your friend and neither he knew how to do such great so called "rituals" of an organized party but he called you again and again, sometime to dance, sometime to join him in the photos and at the end forces you again and again to eat food stuffs like a person does to a person whom he loves.

In this situation let it be your enemy or the enemy of the dharma and so called sinful person, but since he offered food with love and devotion, you forget his all bad actions he did to you (for which he may be your enemy), and start loving him more than your friend.

That's the same case that your were asking for.

Second FACTUAL MANNER

And secondly let me now tell you some fact of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta in which God says

CHAPTER 18, VERSE 66

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज | अहं त्वां सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुच: ||

Meaning :- Abandon all varieties of dharmas and simply surrender unto me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.

God himself says that he will forget all your sinful acts if you love him with heart and live in devotion for him.

So tell me if you got your answer, and

Hare Krishna! :)

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Consider this simple thought. What exactly is a believer? People today assume that belief means to acknowledge the existence of a Being, but even the most evil Beings in the creation know that God exists. Would you call an evil demon a believer? Of course not.

Contrary to modern opinion, to believe in something does not simply mean to believe it exists. Do you believe terrorism exists? Would you ever dare to say you "believe in terrorism"? Of course not. Only a terrorist would say that.

People make logically contradictory claim about themselves all the time. An evil person may believe that a deity exists but that does not mean they are a believer in that deity. Someone who has dedicated their life to evil by definition cannot logically believe in a deity whose values are opposite of their own. When people "believe in" something, it means they believe in what it stands for, not merely that they believe it exists. To worship does not mean to simply bow down - to worship implies devotion, dedication, and modeling ones ideals after the object/Being of worship. In a similar sense to how modern parents often accuse their children of "worshiping" celebrities or musicians, in instances where the child might start dressing, acting, or talking like the celebrity they idolize. An evil person cannot be said to worship a benevolent loving Being - that idea is a logical contradiction.

The distortion of this definition is an obvious symptom of the Kali Yuga - where people who consider themselves the most righteous, will often end up being the most corrupted and arrogant, ignorant to their own corruption. We can see this corruption everyday: where people often accuse others of being bad/evil because they do not believe in their particular version of some deity, even if the people might have identical moral values - it is the epitome of shallow vanity and false piety. Do you think the evil Beings whom Krishna slayed believed in his existence? Of course, they obvious knew he existed, but they were certainly not "devotees" in the sense of the word, otherwise they would be evil and he would not have slayed them.

This concept is not as foreign as it might seem. For example - even in the bible Jesus declares that he will reject many people who come to him as Lord due to the iniquities/evils they dedicated their life to, regardless of how much time they spent praising his name. Likewise, there are parables that Jesus taught where he indicates that the false believers he rejects will have their spots taken by good strangers who never knew him.

While this obviously isn't a Christian forum, this notion of what it means to believe is inherently obvious when closely looked at. Someone who is a morally good Atheist can certainly be considered a believer in a manner of speaking, with respect to the fact that they have dedicated their lives to values that a benevolent deity requested of people.

Basically in the most general sense, when it comes to labels like this, we are defined by the actions and desires of our hearts. Most notably - people today forget that words in Sanskrit are only ever valid when they accurately describe the properties that an object has. If a word in Sanskrit is describing some moral quality, and a Being does not possess that quality, then that word can not logically apply to them. However that word would automatically apply to everyone who does possess that property.

During time periods when supernatural phenomena is obvious, this distinction about the nature of belief would never be required, because all Beings would inherently understand that supernatural phenomena exists in their world. Yet today we are in a time when very few people have ever known anything genuinely supernatural. People today often barely believe in things they witness with their own eyes. The definition of "belief" has become dramatically weakened.

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