I’m afraid this is the first symptom of liberation and it’s also the one that is very hard to deal with.
Are we supposed to be indifferent? No one would object to being indifferent to our own pain or pleasure but if we become indifferent to suffering of others there will be no kind words for us ever.
G.B. Show called it the essence of inhumanity:
The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity
Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel similarly called indifference evil:
Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
You get the drift.
Not all is lost, however, as French poet Anatole France said:
I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.
That’s a very helpful observation – linking indifference with wisdom. We want that kind exactly, not the kind that is born of self-absorption where you don’t care because you don’t notice that there’s a problem.
Indifference born of wisdom means you do know there’s a problem and you do know there are solutions but the solutions might not be very obvious to a casual observer who doesn’t know neither the root of the problem nor the correct medicine.
People who achieve preliminary stages of self-realization, where they are driven mostly by the mode of goodness and where they realize that they are bigger than their bodies, can’t help but feel for the world and try to do good in it. According to their level of realization they identify themselves not with their physical bodies but with their society or even humanity as a whole. Some would then try to convert the rest of the world to democracy or Christianity or Islam, others would concentrate on building wells and delivering medicine.
Their rationalization is very simple – I felt pain myself, then I grew up spiritually and overcame it, then I noticed that other people are still suffering, and now I feel bad for them and feel compelled to help.
It’s at this stage that they say “indifference is inhuman”, for they imagine themselves to be top human beings ever, as we all do from time to time.
It’s hard to argue with them about futility of their endeavors because that’s the maximum they can comprehend on their level of spiritual realization. They simply can’t take more until they accept that spirit and matter are fundamentally different and fixing material side of things does not address actual problems with humanity.
We shouldn’t be bedazzled by their dedication to the welfare of others. They might seem like great philanthropists now but in Vedic times it was a duty of all higher varnas without exception, nothing to be proud of, just doing your job.
Indifference that comes from progressing towards liberation is of a different nature altogether. Not just that it comes from wisdom but it also signify taking a different turn at the biggest fork on the path of every human life ever – becoming a servant of God instead of ourselves.
Philanthropists still view the world as the object of their enjoyment and their gift giving is nothing but sharing the spoils. They do not accept that everything in this world belongs to God and is meant for His pleasure, not ours. Despite being such exemplary human specimen they still live on the platform of animals – the world is mine, I’m the enjoyer, and the goal of life is to make me feel good.
Well, they feel good by feeding others, that’s all the difference.
As devotees we completely abandon their attitude and that’s what worries them – they need a validation that their path is the correct one but we ignore it wish such indifference it drives them nuts. They want us to confirm that enjoyment is still the most important goal ever. When they don’t get this from us they declare us dead to their world. It’s easier for them to ignore our existence than to let a suspicion that serving God is better than serving themselves creep into their little lives. It would completely ruin their illusion, wouldn’t it?
So I kind of agree with this other quote from Elie Wiesel:
Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.
So true, but not in the way Wiesel intended – we die to the world he wants to live in.
Even Paul of the Gospels said something similar:
The world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world
But what about suffering? Can’t we feel it? Doesn’t it make our hearts twist with pain, like ordinary people? Of course it does, only our reactions are different – we see the root of this suffering and we want to treat that instead. Shouldn’t we worry about immediate symptoms, too? We do but only to the degree it helps removing the underlying cause and doesn’t interfere with the main treatment.
We also understand the value of tolerance, often times people exaggerate their pain an we shouldn’t go alone with their hypocrisy.
Bottom line, though – we should have faith in Krishna, that He won’t let those who depend on Him down, that He would always come to help when pain becomes truly unbearable and detrimental to their spiritual progress.
That is the corner stone of our philosophy – that by surrendering to Krishna all problems will be resolved and people will become truly happy.
It might take a while to build faith in this statement for ourselves and that’s why the best preaching for us is to let people hear it from Srila Prabhupada through our books.
We can’t promise people that Krishna will take care of them ourselves, we aren’t qualified to make such promises and so we should always defer to our guru, no matter how advanced we might appear to be.
That leaves us in constant prayers to the Lord as the best way to alleviate others’ suffering.
Let the Lord, by the mercy of the guru, hear our pleas and wake those other living beings to His service and accept their efforts, and that would finally cure them of all their diseases.
We aren’t being indifferent, we are just going about sufferings the correct way – through guru and Krishna.