By Niranjana Swami
(To read the related talk given by Giriraja Swami please click here)
Much can be said about compassion, and although we’ve covered many of its different facets, there is still much more that can be said, specifically in terms of our relationships with each other as practitioners of Krsna consciousness.
This whole theme expands from one line in The Nectar of Devotion—that one should not give unnecessary trouble to any living entity. This is a principle of Krsna consciousness that every Vaisnava should aspire to achieve because, as we say every day, vancha-kalpatarubhyas ca, krpa-sindhubhya eva ca/ patitanam pavanebhyo, vaisnavebhyo namo namah. “We offer obeisances to the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord, who are full of compassion for the fallen, conditioned souls.” It is a very important quality of a Vaisnava to be compassionate with others. And one of the symptoms of this compassion is that a devotee cannot tolerate seeing others suffer.
It is extremely important to not criticize others. Criticizing causes unnecessary disturbance, not only to those whom we are criticizing, but also to others who have to hear it. Of course, there may be some who are not disturbed—who actually relish hearing others criticized. In a letter, Srila Prabhupada compares such persons to flies, who like to go into sores. So, some may not be disturbed, but inevitably criticism of other will cause some disturbance.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in Sri Bhaktyaloka, talks about the necessity of controlling the tongue. He says that if a person cannot control his tongue, he will speak unnecessarily about others, and by doing so, he will cause disturbance and create enmity. That—prajalpa—is a whole topic in itself. One time I gave five lectures on prajalpa, all from Bhaktyaloka. Bhaktivinoda Thakura gives a lot of good instruction about the necessity of controlling the tongue when speaking about others, because speaking about others is actually a natural proclivity of the soul, but usually the topic is Krsna, at least for those who understand the primary purpose for utilizing the tongue.
So naturally, Vaisnavas and the residents of the spiritual world are always filled with topics about somebody else, but they are usually speaking about a dark blue boy who plays the flute. The gopis all get together in little groups and are also talking about this dark blue boy, giving various descriptions about His behavior and especially about the different activities He’s done.
So it is natural to speak about somebody else, but unfortunately, if the tongue is not controlled, then immediately when we get in the association of others, we will begin speaking about somebody else and will be looking for something to say about them. And if we are not careful, or if we do not control our propensity to speak about others, eventually we may say something that may be disturbing either to the person about whom we are speaking or to somebody who has a relationship with that person, and before we know it, we are causing harm to others.
Actually, causing harm to others is equally distributed—it comes back to us. There are many sastric references about how we suffer by causing suffering to others.
Those who are not on a platform on which they can always speak about Krsna but have a desire to always speak about Krsna may restrict themselves from speaking about others out of fear of suffering. And generally that’s good. At least they are not speaking unnecessarily about others and causing disturbance to others, but the motivation of not wanting to suffer is not completely pure. When a devotee actually has awakened his spontaneous attraction to always speak about Krsna, he doesn’t have to worry about speaking critically or unnecessarily about others.
In the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.13.2), in a discussion with Pariksit Maharaja, Sukadeva Gosvami says that paramahamsas are those who have accepted the Supreme Personality of Godhead within the core of their hearts and that they are naturally inclined to always speak about Krsna in the same way as materialists are always inclined to speak about women and sex. In other words, paramahamsas—those who have accepted Krsna within the core of their heart—have a spontaneous attraction to speak about Krsna. Why? Because their minds are always absorbed in thoughts of Him. And because their minds are always absorbed in thoughts of Him, everything they see reminds them of Him. That is their vision. Therefore they are always speaking about Krsna. What are materialists always absorbed in thoughts of? It doesn’t take much to trigger some discussion about mundane subjects for people whose minds are always absorbed in mundane thoughts.
When I was working in construction, the people I worked with were generally attracted to these topics. Not only would they speak about them quite often, but any object that would pass by would immediately be a topic for discussion. Spontaneous. People like this don’t have to practice; it is spontaneous. Why? Because their minds were always absorbed in these thoughts. As soon as they see a catalyst, immediately it comes out—spontaneous discussion about these topics.
So Sukadeva Gosvami uses this analogy. It is something we can relate to, though we understand that the paramahamsas’ spontaneous inclination to always speak about Krsna is borne from their deep love for Krsna within the core of their hearts. Prabhupada used the example of a parent who loves his or her child: Whenever the parent sees the toy of the child, immediately the parent sees the child; whenever the parent hears the voice of the child, he or she sees the child. If the parent sees the shoes of the child, he or she sees the child. And so on. The parent immediately makes these connections because anything that is connected to the child immediately elicits thoughts of the child.
So, we are speaking about the necessity of controlling the tongue, to not cause disturbance to others or, simultaneously, to ourselves. This is also connected with the topic of compassion. We should always overlook the shortcomings of others and simply see the desire that is there in their hearts to do something for Krsna. And we should be willing to accept whatever offering somebody makes, no matter how small—just like Krsna, who considers whatever benedictions He gives to be very insignificant in comparison with even a very small offering from the hand of His devotee. The Lord magnifies, increases, the size of whatever may appear to be a very small offering. He magnifies it to make it very, very great.
Since that is the Lord’s nature, the Vaisnavas, who are representatives of the Lord, are also meant to embody that compassionate nature of the Lord. Ultimately, the highest embodiment of the Lord’s compassionate nature is none other than Srimati Radharani, because She pleases Krsna the most. Therefore She is very compassionate. Although doing something that could please Krsna is otherwise very difficult for us, Krsna makes Himself accessible to be pleased when we offer something to Radharani. Not only is Radharani the embodiment of this compassion, but the spiritual master, who is also in that same line, is an embodiment of compassion as well. In fact, all Vaisnavas should be compassionate by being willing to accept whatever little bit someone may offer and to utilize it for the service of Krsna.
In a letter dated February 4, 1972, Srila Prabhupada, covering the same theme, wrote:
“It is not so much that because there may be some faults in our godbrothers and godsisters, or because there may be some mismanagement or lack of cooperation, that this is due to being impersonalists—no. It is the nature of the living condition to always have some fault. Even in the spiritual world there is some fault and envy.”
Prabhupada appears to have been addressing a devotee who wrote to him complaining about mismanagement or lack of cooperation. He is going to explain that actually, people who think that everything is going to be utopia are the impersonalists. He says:
“In the spiritual world there is some fault and envy—sometimes the gopis will quarrel over Krsna’s favor, and once Krsna was so much attracted to Radharani that by mistake he tried to milk the bull instead of the cow, and sometimes when the gopis used to put on their dress and makeup for seeing Krsna, they would be too hasty and smear kumkum and mascara in the wrong places and their ornaments and dresses would appear as if small children had been trying to dress themselves and they were not very expert—like that. There are so many examples. But it is not the same as material fault or material envy. It is transcendental because it is all based on Krsna. Sometimes when one gopi would serve Krsna very nicely, the others would say, ‘Oh, she has done so nicely; now let me do better for pleasing Krsna.’ That is envy, but it is transcendental, without malice.”
Prabhupada is saying here that there are faults and there is envy. Krsna is milking a bull instead of a cow, the gopis are not dressing themselves properly, and some of the gopis are competing with each other. They say, “Oh, this gopi is doing well. I want to do better than her.” Ordinarily we would think that there’s envy, but Prabhupada is explaining that, yes, there is envy in the spiritual world, but no malice.
Still, we should not confuse the envy in the spiritual world with our envy in the material word. Srila Narottama dasa Thakura describes lust, anger, greed, bewilderment, madness, and envy and discusses how these can be dovetailed for the service of the Lord. He says, “Lust I will dovetail by offering the fruits of my work for Krsna’s satisfaction; anger I will dovetail with the service of the Lord by becoming angry at those who are envious of Vaisnavas; greed I will dovetail by becoming greedy to hear topics of Krsna, in the association of Vaisnavas; bewilderment will be there because I will feel bewildered without achieving my worshipable Lord.” And he will be mad—with ecstasy—while singing the glories of Krsna.
But he explains that envy cannot be dovetailed. We cannot be envious of somebody and use it for Krsna’s service. But still, as Prabhupada is explaining here, completely purified envy exists in the spiritual world. What is the symptom of purified envy? That it is always to increase Krsna’s service—without ever any malice. In contrast, when we are envious in the material world, we want to put others down. We want to either do better than others or achieve something better than them, and the way we do it is by diminishing what they are doing.
For instance, we might be envious of a devotee who gets a lot of respect; we might think, “I want that respect too.” Sitting in the middle of a group of devotees who are speaking respectfully about the devotee, about a particular service he did and how he got mercy, we might think, “He didn’t do so much; I did better than that, I did more than that. How can they be speaking about what he did when look at how much I did?” When there is envy, the mind immediately diminishes—makes insignificant, insubstantial—what the person has done. It begins with a thought. Then it may progress to a few statements, especially if we become intolerant—“He is getting too much glorification. Wait a minute—look.” You may say something, examine what he has actually done. That is malice. We want to diminish somebody else’s service, and by diminishing their service we try to raise ourselves up.
In the material world people make progress, move up, by pushing everyone else down. If I push everyone down and criticize them, then, “Here I am! I haven’t spoken about any of my faults, because they don’t exist. Now you recognize who I am.” That’s envy, and it becomes very dangerous in a society of devotees because, as we explained, the devotee’s mentality should be to always want to push others forward but him- or herself stay back. Gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah—to become the servant of the servant of the servant.
Generally, the gopis don’t want to be in Krsna’s personal association; they don’t want to enjoy with Krsna. They get higher pleasure, millions of times higher, from taking the position of service—service to the Divine Couple—and staying in the background. But Srimati Radharani makes all sorts of different arrangements to bring the gopis forward in their connection with Krsna, and when She does that, She experiences a pleasure that is ten million times greater. She is not doing that because She is thinking, “I want that bliss.” No, actually She makes all these arrangements to bring others forward in their relationship with Krsna because She is so compassionate, so merciful. And in doing so, She experiences a bliss ten million times greater than being with Krsna, because Her only desire is to please Him. How could She experience so much bliss unless Krsna was pleased? It is not possible to experience so much bliss unless Krsna is pleased by that service.
So that is the mentality. The Vaisnava is not thinking of how to push others down and obstruct service to Krsna—because pushing others down, diminishing them, means that we are actually obstructing, getting in the way of, others’ service to Krsna. Then we think, “My service is the most important. And because my service is most important, everybody should simply assist me in my service and then everybody will be rightly situated.” Such envy—thinking that “I am the source of all service to Krsna. Everything is emanating from me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in my service and worship me with all their hearts.” That is envy. We have to be very careful; the Vaisnava mentality means “How can I increase Krsna’s service?”
So, in the spiritual world there is envy, but there is never any malice. No gopi is ever thinking of obstructing another gopi’s service or causing harm to another gopi. That is what Prabhupada is saying here. He just presents the Absolute Truth—there is envy, but it is transcendental, without malice.
“So we shall not expect that anywhere there is any utopia. That is impersonalism. People should not expect that even in the Krishna Consciousness Society there will be utopia. Because devotees are persons, there will always be some lacking—but the difference is that their lacking, because they have given up everything to serve Krsna—money, jobs, reputation, wealth, big educations, everything—their lackings have become transcendental because despite everything they may do, their topmost intention is to serve Krsna. ‘One who is engaged in devotional service, despite the most abominable action, is to be considered saintly because he is rightly situated.’ The devotees of Krsna are the most exalted persons on this planet—better than kings, all of them—so we should always remember that and, like the bumblebee, always look for the nectar, or the best qualities, of a person. Not like the utopians, who are like flies, who always go to the open sores, or find the faults in a person, and because they cannot find any utopia, or because they cannot find anyone without faults, they want to become void, merge, nothing. They think that is utopia—to become void of personality.”
Prabhupada is saying here that actually utopians are impersonalists, because they think utopia means that there are no faults. Prabhupada is explaining that everywhere in creation you are going to find some fault—even in the spiritual world. Utopians think that there should be no faults (though what are they always thinking about? Other people’s faults!). But Prabhupada said no, faults exist everywhere. But what is a devotee, what is a Vaisnava? A Vaisnava is one who always overlooks these faults and just simply sees the good qualities. A Vaisnava is called adosa-darsi—“he sees no faults.” These words are used in Caitanya-caritamrta in relation to a Vaisnava named Haridasa Pandita. He could not see others’ faults. He just couldn’t see them, because all he could see was the good qualities in everyone, and he would always glorify the good qualities he would see. Although faults would be there, he wasn’t interested in looking at them.
We have to see the spark, the potential for devotional service in every living being. Everyone has it. If they don’t display that potential, then as Vaisnavas, as preachers of Krsna consciousness, we should be compassionate upon them and be thinking that if they are not displaying their potential for devotional service, maybe it is because some Vaisnava hasn’t been merciful to them and hasn’t touched their heart. Instead of looking at their faults or looking at their material qualification, we should see their spiritual qualification. Visnujana Swami gave the example of a person who comes to the temple and has the desire to sweep the floor for Krsna. All the rest of his life may be totally abominable, but he has some desire, he wants to do something for Krsna.
So, a Vaisnava should always try to bring that out in others, that desire to do something for Krsna. He is not always trying to push them down by saying, “No, everything has to be done my way.”
Now, of course, we know that sometimes in management there are certain decisions that must be made, and that everyone has to work in a single direction to cooperate with the authorities. But in another letter, Prabhupada talks about the duty of leaders to bring out the voluntary spirit in others:
“So, the future of this Krsna consciousness movement is very bright, so long as the managers remain vigilant that sixteen rounds are being chanted by everyone without fail, that they are all rising before four every morning, attending mangala-arati. Our leaders must be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try always to generate some atmosphere of fresh challenge for the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. That is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krsna. But where are so many expert managers?” (SP letter dated December 22, 1972)
The point, as Prabhupada is saying, is that the Vaisnava, by preaching, should awaken people’s spontaneous, voluntary desire to do something for Krsna. Everybody should be encouraged to do something for Krsna. Of course, we cannot whimsically do something and say that it is in Krsna’s name. But a Vaisnava is always very merciful in how he engages others and accepts whatever small offering they present, and utilizes it for Krsna’s service.
Inspiration comes from hearing. It comes from Vaisnava relationships that are free from envy, free from pride, and filled with compassion. Compassion means wanting to see others advance even if they have to step on your head to go forward. That is compassion; that is Vaisnava mentality. Then inspiration is there and everybody volunteers—“Can I do this? Can I do that?”—because it is based on the proper platform: Vaisnava principles, freedom from envy, and a desire to see everybody engaged in Krsna’s service. This is the Vaisnava way. Prabhupada talks about this in so many places. In the Seventh Canto, Fifth Chapter of the Bhagavatam there is a wonderful purport about Vaikuntha mentality.
We will let Prabhupada’s letter conclude this discussion:
“So if there are sometimes slight disagreements between devotees, it is not due to impersonalism, but it is because they are persons, and such disagreements should not be taken very seriously. The devotee is always pessimistic about the material world, but he is very optimistic about the spiritual life; so in this way, you should consider that anyone engaged in Krsna’s service is always the best person.
“I am very pleased that you are assisting your godbrothers so nicely. Yes, this is our real position, to be servants of the servants of the servants. And by your quiet and humble attitude, you shall set the example of Vaisnava so that all may learn from you, and very soon their puffed-up attitude will disappear and they will come to you and seek your advice in matters.” (SP letter to Atreya Rsi, Bombay, February 4, 1972)
Thank you very much. Are there any questions?
Devotee: In Srimad-Bhagavatam class today a devotee said that when a person glorifies you to your face, you should consider him your enemy and that when someone criticizes you, you should consider him to be your very good friend. But now you are saying that a devotee doesn’t see the mistakes of others. So what is the correct understanding?
Niranjana Swami: Sometimes a person may have the responsibility to find fault. Prabhupada said, “It is my duty to find some fault.” If somebody actually has a position that requires him to educate, train, or discipline others, he may have to point out some fault. But if the devotee who is the recipient of that criticism is sufficiently inspired in devotional service, he will want to know what his faults are—he will relish the opportunity to hear them—so he can make progress in Krsna consciousness. But if everybody thinks it is his or her duty to find fault in the same person, it can be a little hard to swallow. Of course, that person may be so humble that he is ready to accept criticism from everybody. And it is certainly to his (or her) advantage to be so genuinely humble that he see everybody as his superior and is ready to take instruction from anyone.
But the questions are whether it is the proper time and place to find fault in someone and whether you are the proper person to do so—in a compassionate way. If you can’t do it in a compassionate way, better to hold your tongue and to look inside and ask yourself, “Am I seeing this fault in this person because I have the same fault but don’t want to recognize it in myself?” It is very easy to find fault in those around us. What is difficult is to find it in ourselves. Generally, what disturbs us most is the same fault that we have but don’t want to confront in ourselves. It is a lot easier to point it out in someone else. So, if I can’t be compassionate, better to hold my tongue. If it is really something that is detrimental for that Vaisnava, I can tell it to someone who can be compassionate, and go back and look into my own heart.