It is quite understandable that we want to treat prosperity and beneficial things as a reward, and adversity and suffering as a punishment; and it is true that we use this system in terms of training ourselves and our children in how to act in the world in an appropriate manner. Humans have developed numerous ethical and moral codes, as well as external laws and commandments which we take pleasure in enforcing on others, even in cases where we are not so scrupulous ourselves!
All of this is supposed to be part of a larger universal moral law of the Creator, or some universal action of karma, but in reality, it seems like these are constructs of the human mind, fueled by the vital nature’s demand for satisfaction and enjoyment, and that they do not actually represent the way the universe operates. It seems to be a case of “making god in man’s image” more than a case of understanding the functional processes of the soul’s evolution in the universe.
Sri Aurobindo describes the role of these “rewards” and “punishments” in terms of the soul’s evolutionary impetus: “These are experiences of the soul in its training, helps, props, means, disciplines, tests, ordeals,–and prosperity often a worse ordeal than suffering. Indeed, adversity, suffering may often be regarded rather as a reward to virtue than as a punishment for sin, since it turns out to be the greatest help and purifier of the soul struggling to unfold itself. To regard it merely as the stern award of a Judge, the anger of an irritated Ruler or even the mechanical recoil of result of evil upon cause of evil is to take the most superficial view possible of God’s dealings with the soul and the law of the world’s evolution.”
Sri Aurobindo points out that even in worldly matters, we should look upon the goals and benefits differently: “And what of worldly prosperity, wealth, progeny, the outward enjoyment of art, beauty, power? Good, if they be achieved without loss to the soul and enjoyed only as the outflowing of the divine Joy and Grace upon our material existence. But let us seek them first for others or rather for all, and for ourselves only as a part of the universal condition or as one means of bringing perfection nearer.”