“Vaisnava Compassion” a lecture by His Holiness Niranjana Swami

Vaisnava Compassion
A Talk by Niranjana Swami
September 5, 2010
Sri Vrindavan Dham, Kazakhstan

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

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

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

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.

Hare Krsna.


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