Every now and then I come across some prayers or writings extolling the virtue of compassion and sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.
I seem to have an issue with compassion as most people understand it.
I don’t have a problem with fully realized devotees who see Krishna inside the hearts of every living being, they have their special vision and I can only speculate about its real nature and what kind of compassion they exactly feel, but I tend to think it’s not what most people assume.
It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for other people’s suffering, I’m pretty normal in estimating how those people might feel, I just don’t go bananas over it and rush to fix the world. Maybe I should, a lot of what I read about compassion says that I should, but I have my own reasons.
By mid thirties practically all my hair had already turned gray, I assume I know a thing or two about hardships and suffering, there are few situations where I have absolutely no idea what it would feel like but the rest, the everyday problems, I got it, I think.
From what I know about suffering, there are no easy fixes, no magic, no “drop a hundred dollar bill in a hat and everything will become peachy” solutions.
When I see someone getting a wrong end of the deal I think I should help that person to live through his karma, not try to change it. We all get our hardships for a reason and we all have to patiently suffer all the way through until bad karma runs out, so I don’t want to be Santa Claus, I want the ability to convince people to fight on and keep their faith.
For people coming from Christian tradition compassion takes another flavor. They are particularly impressed by Jesus Christ sacrificing himself for the sake of all others and so they think they should try to emulate his heroic deed, it has become the standard approach to suffering – one should take as much as possible on his own shoulders so as to relieve others.
That’s where they lose me. If I wanted to relieve others I would relieve them of their pleasures, not their sufferings.
Suffering makes people turn to God, that’s spiritual ABC. I have never heard of anyone who turned to God because his pleasures were fulfilling.
Okay, some people get bored of enjoying themselves and turn to God for the higher taste but imagine an experiment. Two people take two different paths form the same place. One is being put through all kinds of troubles while the other is given unlimited access to any kind of sensual pleasures. Which one will start praying faster?
It’s fine if you meet someone already at the end of his sense gratification path but, generally speaking, there are very few fat cats like this in the world, ripe for the taking.
There’s a similar problem with suffering, mind you. Modern wisdom goes that suffering is proof of God’s non-existence. If you pray for a while and your problem does not go away it’s time to forget about God and take the matter in your own hands. That’s why if you see someone in trouble you don’t encourage them to turn to God, you blame God instead and show them your “compassion” by trying to help yourself.
I must admit this is a very persuasive argument, especially if these “helpers” manage to succeed.
This is not surprising, btw. Krishna helps people to achieve whatever they want. If they really really want to save others from suffering Krishna will strengthen their faith and provide the means.
But are you any better in the end? Any closer to God? Quite the opposite, I think. While they are celebrating the victory I would start mourning another lost chance, another lost soul.
Am I being compassionate in any other sense? I don’t think so. Not at the moment.
The reason is that my own troubles make my heart harder, not softer. I’m chanting too many rounds to feel all warm and soft inside. Everyday I’m engaged in a major battle with my mind and my body, everyday I’m doing this tapasya, forcing myself to listen to the Holy Names.
When I’m done with my rounds I can’t even allow myself a sigh of relief, that would be offensive to chanting.
So what happens if someone comes to me with his own gripes? “Welcome to the club”, I say.
I realize that this is a problem but I don’t know any way around it.
By its nature bhakti is supposed to make one’s heart soft, and by its nature tapasya makes one’s heart hard. That’s why austerities are not encouraged in our practice, we don’t fast just to make ourselves stronger, we don’t reject food, we don’t reject comforts, we practice yukta vairagya instead – never reject anything but utilize it in Krisna’s service.
Fine principle, perfect philosophy, but there are things that just fall outside it.
Take sex, for example. Restricting it only to procreation in this modern age is an unspeakable austerity, by modern standards. Don’t tell me that honestly trying to follow this regulative principle does not harden one’s heart.
My problem is different yet still a very legitimate case of necessary tapasya, I think. I’m trying to purify myself from committing nama aparadhas and the only way to achieve it is by conscientiously avoiding them, meaning forcefully restricting one’s mind.
Among the synonyms for the word conscientious there are scrupulous, meticulous, and painstaking. None of them is conducive to softening of one’s heart. I guess that’s the entrance fee, just like our regulative principles. It should get easier once I’m in.
So please pardon me for not going all soft and wobbly at the sight of someone’s sufferings. As much as I want to feel that way I just physically can’t, not until the real bhakti grows in my heart.
There’s another argument – yes, clearing up anarthas is a tough and painful process, and so is chanting a hundred rounds a day but we are not supposed to do it if it’s so hard. I agree, and I said many times that I’d be glad to be doing something else but there isn’t anything yet. Just hang around the house and chant.
To be honest, though, I’m scared of losing this opportunity, too. I’ve grown fond of my tapasya, but that is a concern for another day.
As for clearing anarthas, it’s supposed to be easier in association of inspiring devotees. I agree, but there are natural limits on that, too. Maybe devotees are not so inspiring, maybe there’s not enough association, but sooner or later one must confront his demons and try to develop pure chanting of the Holy Name, proper sankirtana. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. It might be easier after death but I’m not betting on it.
I have a chance now and I can’t miss it, that’s all there is to it.