Vanity thought #1188. Another take on compassion

I vaguely remember writing about compassion what seems like a long time ago. There’s a blog search for situations like this but I’m not sure I want to see my old ramblings, I would probably be ashamed of them myself.

These days most of the time we hear about compassion in a dictionary sense of the word. Stupid people suffer the results of their karma and our hearts bleed for them. Well, my doesn’t, and maybe I should be certified as a sociopath for that. Or maybe I just became numb to pain – you read enough news and eventually sob stories stop bothering you anymore, you just skip past them, sometimes consciously because you just don’t want to feel their pain. It always comes with string attached, too.

A while ago there was a spate of insurance ads on our local TV, they were all tear jerking and so, unlike real sociopaths, I KNOW how they feel, but they are also just business, nothing personal.

Most of other sad stories are also used as a pretext for call to action, that we as a society or as each citizen individually are ought to do something about it. Maybe enjoy a Band-Aid concert or something.

People are tired of being responsible citizens everywhere, it’s not just me. If someone asks for donations for some orphanage or something many would reply they donate regularly already, it’s part of their budgeting, so they don’t want to hear about any new causes. Others feel they do their part by drinking Starbucks coffee – the shop just have to inform them that part of the profits goes to some worthy cause and presto – you’ve donated and your consciousness is clear!

So, I have two arguments against being forced to feel compassion – first is that it hurts for no good reason, and second is that people want you to do something to alleviate the pain they just caused as if they are blackmailing you. A mature individual should decide to do something based on better considerations than temporary emotional distress. If the cause is worthy then it should be clear on its own, no pain should be necessary.

Some devotees insist on compassion being our primary quality, that we should be naturally compassionate and in pure state should act solely out of compassion towards all the living entities. I don’t buy it. If an abusive drunk gets a liver disease and still drinks himself towards death – why should I feel compassion for his self-inflicted suffering? Why should I take interest in his life beyond what is obvious? If you ask him he’d tell you a long story of being a victim and, basically, how his gross sense gratification gets thwarted again and again. Why should we listen to this and contaminate our consciousness by forcing ourselves to think that not getting enough booze on Friday is somehow important?

Our next step is then to say that we should feel compassion not for people’s pain so much but for their lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This is better and, I think, it’s the only legitimate reason. Poor guy thinks it’s his landlord or his wife who are torturing him but we know better. He expects us to fix his material troubles but we think that he should just start chanting and not worry so much about the lost cause of his material life. It probably won’t get better but at least his soul will be definitely saved.

Devotees who promote this line of reasoning often quote Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura who said that the only thing lacking in this world is Kṛṣṇa consciousness and so we have to give people that regardless of what they think they need. Or maybe somebody else said that, the point still stands.

The idea here is that people don’t realize that their real suffering is their disconnect from Kṛṣṇa. It’s the cause of all their other problems and, when they are advanced enough, it would pain them much more than anything that happens to their material bodies. This seems legitimate, it’s what we learn from Prabhupāda’s books, it’s what pained Prahlāda Mahārāja who prayed for the deliverance of all the suffering living entities, not for his own liberation (SB 7.9.43). Btw, when in the beginning of this post I called them stupid I was simply paraphrasing Prahlāda’s and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words – vimūḍha, first class fools and rascals.

Okay, these are text book ideas, so far I haven’t said anything new. There’s, however, another take on compassion that I heard in one of Aindra Prabhu’s room conversations (mp3 download). There he turns it all around and makes into the most beautiful exposition on love of Kṛṣṇa.

He says that real devotees feel for Kṛṣṇa, not for stupid jīvas who fully deserved their fate. He claims it’s how Lord Caitanya felt, too, but I’ve never seen this interpretation anywhere so I’m not sure.

When we turn away from Kṛṣṇa and go try our luck in the material world we give Him a lot of pain. We deprive Him of our service and our love despite everything He does for His devotees. A real Kṛṣṇa’s servant, therefore, would work his socks off to alleviate Kṛṣṇa’s pain. Whatever Kṛṣṇa wants, we should oblige. Why should we worry about anyone else but Kṛṣṇa and His devotees? Why should we divert out attention to studying these rascals misfortunes? Whose servants are we anyway? Kṛṣṇa’s or humanity’s?

Preaching, therefore, should be first and foremost about making Kṛṣṇa happy. We bring people back to Him because He wants their service. How THEY feel about it is irrelevant. Their only value is in their connection with Kṛṣṇa, either existing or potential, otherwise they can do whatever the hell they want, and they’ll probably end up in hell anyway.

We are all spirit souls, all different, some are probably “better” than others even by spiritual standards, but we shouldn’t seek connections to these people on their own merits, only through Kṛṣṇa. Maybe it sounds impersonal but it also makes a lot of sense. The Vṛndāvana rasas we hear about are not meant for our interpersonal enjoyment, they are only for Kṛṣṇa. He is the only enjoyer, we should not seek them in relationships with anyone else. This is what probably brought us down here in the first place.

It’s like discovering that there’s a spy among your friends – he looks just like before, you can have conversations with him just like before, but now that you know he is a traitor to your country it doesn’t feel right anymore. That’s what seeking compassion towards traitors of Kṛṣṇa’s love is – not right, very disturbing indeed. It’s probably offensive to Kṛṣṇa, too, even if it might not be on the list of the ten offenses.

Of course there’s always a neophyte stage where one doesn’t appreciate Kṛṣṇa’s devotees as much as he should but I’m not talking about neophytes here. Even if we are still on that level we should know at least theoretically the difference between devotees and non-devotees, which means between Kṛṣṇa’s flock and the rest of the local vimuḍhas.

They think they are in pain but it takes a pure devotee to see that actually it’s Kṛṣṇa who is in pain without their association, and so it’s only Kṛṣṇa who we should be concerned about, forget the rest, the world is too big and lives are too short for anything else.

2 comments on “Vanity thought #1188. Another take on compassion

  1. Dear Prabhu,

    I’m a regular reader of your blog and have very high regards for your level of meditation and maturity.
    There’s a dilemma I’m faced with and hope you can help me out. It goes like this:
    I’ve been initiated by a senior sannyasi. In the decade since, I’ve never met him or spoken to him as a management “policy”. All this while I have done book distribution and active preaching but not received my thread initiation (I dont know how important it actually is) due to management issues. The situation is getting complicated as my guru maharaj is now being accused of self aggrandizement, impersonal leanings and intimate relations with unsavory people too! (worse, the detractors have proof for it all). I’ve reconciled myself to all this chaos by going deeper into Srila Prabhupada’s books, preaching more philosophy, and meditating deeply on Holy Name. I have no intention of committing offences to guru and vaisnavas and no ritvik inclinations but just a desire for simple spiritual life. Any suggestion or guidance from your side would be most welcome.


    • Wait a minute, you’ve been doing book distribution and active preaching for ten years and you are asking for a simple spiritual life? It can’t get any simpler than that. I wish I had your problems. You’ve got this amazing gift of service and you worry what other people think of your guru? He obviously helped getting you where you are now so in that sense his job is done, everything else is extraneous, just a foam on the surface of the Ganges, don’t pay attention to it. We all are just trying to serve – all of us, even the worst of the worst.

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