We all feel pain and we also feel compassion to other suffering living beings. The more enlightened we become, the more we empathize with others, recognizing their rights to happiness. We admire leaders who give a lot to charity, leaders who extend help to those less fortunate, who inspire others to help those in need.
Spiritual paths also lead people to the same realization. Even impersonalists, having tasted the fruit of liberation, come back to the society with altruistic intentions. Actually, for them it’s a failure of their model because they can’t maintain their detachment from the world but once they realize the inevitability of engagement they choose the most “enlightened” option – serving others.
People who rise above the modes of passion and ignorance also want to spread sattva around and improve lives of those suffering under the lower gunas.
Compassion is also one of the qualities that naturally develops in devotees and of late it has become a catch word in certain ISKCON circles.
Our role models, Srila Prabhupada and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, are considered the most compassionate souls, saviors of the entire world, glorified as parivrajaka acharyas. On the scale of spiritual advancement they are at the very top, as we recognize goshthi-anandis to be superior to bhajananandis. What makes the difference is the compassion towards all living entities, while bhajananandis “only” interested in their own spiritual well-being.
Let’s not focus on the fact that compassion of a pure devotee and compassion of a mundane philanthropist are two totally different things and that they lament totally different misfortunes. Let’s leave it out, for the moment. Compassion is where we are at.
Well, squeezed between goshthi-anandis and mundane philanthropists are ordinary, unremarkable paramahamsas. They don’t seem to have any compassion at all, totally oblivious to the sufferings of the world. They don’t see anything in need of fixing, they see everyone perfectly engaged in Krishna’s service as it is. How come? And where does this vision go when they decide to preach?
The question of how come is more difficult to comprehend. Preaching requires a conscious step down from their elevated platform in order to please the Lord, but how do they get to that platform in the first place, and why does compassion disappear?
How do they not see people suffering? How do they see everyone perfectly situated when the entire world is in agony?
I don’t think we, as non-paramahamsas, will even be able to understand it but we can theoretize and we can catch glimpses of their attitude in our clearest moments.
Explanation for suffering appears to be easy – they see people as they are, as spirit souls, and they see that suffering exists only as interaction of material senses with material objects. They are beyond duality of pain and pleasure, they are indifferent to it. They simply don’t notice it.
Okay, pain might be imaginary, or rather illusory, but deep unhappiness that comes from it is experienced by souls themselves. We might be made of stuff that is eternal, full of knowledge, and super-blissful but in our present condition we are objectively NOT full of knowledge and bliss.
It’s highly unlikely that paramahamsas see us in our original spiritual forms having our original, spiritual fun and this is what makes them so happy about our condition. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. We are not here and there at the same time, our consciousness is not split, at this very moment we don’t have our original spiritual relations with Krishna going on somewhere in the spiritual world.
Paramahamsas see us as perfect servants right where we see ourselves now – in the material world. Our suffering is of this world, too, how come paramahamsas don’t notice or don’t care about it?
How come they see us as perfectly engaged in service when we are most certainly not?
I think I got an idea.
We are engaged in the service to maya, who is Krishna’s most trusted servant in this world herself. We see her as illusion but they don’t see her as separate from the Lord. For them service to maya is the same as service to Krishna, she is just Lord’s agent to accept this service on His behalf. He created her to interact with us. Since we can’t or don’t want to reach Him in the spiritual world He sets up a nice show for us and engages with us even when we refuse to see Him.
Okay, but what about suffering then?
Suffering is just a result of our service, a karmic reaction. People suffer in relationships with Krishna in Vrindavana, too. Of course that suffering is full of spiritual bliss, as taught by Lord Chaitanya, but it’s suffering nevertheless.
In both cases, here and there, it only increases our devotion. Separation from Krishna increases love of His devotees, and suffering caused by karma only increase our faith in power of maya, especially for non-devotees.
Atheists trying to improve their conditions as the result of their suffering only strengthen their bonds with material nature. Their answer is to have more illusion, seek deeper surrender, build more trust in science, and develop strongest faith that maya will solve all their problems.
So, the key to observing people suffering is not the suffering itself but their stronger commitment to their relationship with the Absolute Truth (which of them comes in the form of illusion).
If you really want to empathize with people – look at the world through their eyes and notice how they never ever want to be … evil, for the lack of a better world. Even in their darkest moments they can find justification for their actions. Everybody always strives to make the world a better place, even if only for themselves.
Most of the time it results in unpleasant karma but it’s not the results, it’s the drive to serve the Absolute Truth that impresses paramahamsas. When they see such deep, spontaneous, ever increasing devotion, when they see their unshakable faith, they realize their own imperfection and feel truly humbled. That’s why they can’t preach to anybody.
Of course their imperfection lies in not serving Krishna Himself rather than His agent, maya, but imperfection in service is imperfection, period, because they don’t see the difference between serving Krishna directly and serving His energy.
Now it all makes sense, I hope.
There’s a lot left to speculate here, of course, but let’s take it one speculation at a time.