A devotee sees all as God’s dear children and wants to relieve their misery.
By Vishakha Devi Dasi
As eternal parts of Krishna, we naturally possess some of His quality of being concerned for the welfare of all living beings.
Krishna, the seed-giving father of all living beings (Gita 14.4), is also the well-wisher of all living beings (Gita 5.29). As a father wants the best for his children, Krishna wants the best for every one of us. And as a father provides for his children, so Krishna provides for all of us – eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman (Katha Upanishad 2.2.13): “The One fulfills the desires of the many.” Through His different expansions, the almighty Supreme Lord, Krishna, maintains all living beings, in their conditioned and liberated states.
As part of Him, we living entities have Krishna’s qualities to a minute degree, just as a drop of ocean water has the qualities of the ocean to a minute degree. By our nature we want to help others and we want the best for them. Even in lower species, parents care for their offspring, groups of the same species assist each other, and sometimes, in symbiotic inter-species relationships, different species help each other.
We humans naturally care not only for ourselves and our own family, but also for our community, our society, our nation, our kindred spirits, humankind, and other living entities. Many people are trying to save endangered species, rain forests, and coral reefs, trying to reduce pollution and eliminate exploitation, and so on.
The great moralist Canakya Pandita said that one of the characteristics of learned persons is that they see the suffering of others as their own. In other words, a learned person is not callous, but caring. Srila Prabhupada concurs: “A pure devotee is always aggrieved to see others suffering.” (Bhagavatam 7.9, Summary) A number of the twenty-six qualities of a devotee listed in the Chaitanya-charitamrita relate to caring, such as being kind to everyone, being equal to everyone, and being charitable, benevolent, friendly, and compassionate. A devotee, knowing that all beings are God’s children and dear to Him, sees them equally and wants to relieve their misery.
Krishna is pleased with those who care about others and try to help them, and evidence of His pleasure may be in the measurable growth and happiness such kind-hearted people experience. A recent Time magazine article declares: “Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.” (https://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4070299/secret-to-happiness/) Philanthropists and others who live more selfless lives are more fulfilled and happier than those who confine their focus to self-centered concerns.
In former ages, leaders felt responsible for the well-being of all the citizens: “King Gaya gave full protection and security to the citizens so that their personal property would not be disturbed by undesirable elements. He also saw that there was sufficient food to feed all the citizens.” (Bhagavatam 5.15.7)
“Citizens” included all beings under the leaders’ jurisdiction: “The king is meant to protect all living beings, namely the aquatics, plants, trees, reptiles, birds, animals and man. Every one of them is a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord (Bg. 14.4), and the king, being the representative of the Supreme Lord, is duty-bound to give proper protection to every one of them.” (Bhagavatam 1.12.4, Purport)
Protection and care are not limited to bodily protection and fulfilling bodily needs. Each one of us is an individual soul – an atma – incarcerated in a material body and mind. Spiritual care is to help free the atma from its awkward circumstance. Because of our spiritual identity as atma and our material predicament – our body and mind are mortal and subject to all sorts of suffering – we are kindred spirits with all beings. Krishna says, “One is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to one’s own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress.” (Gita 6.32) Care and protection that ignore the atma and concern themselves only with the body and mind are incomplete and not approved by Krishna.
In a world full of “self-help” and “self-improvement” concerns, we can easily become self-engrossed and squelch our innate inclination to extend ourselves for others’ good – to desire that they benefit physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If I suffer from a lack of caring, a callousness toward the spiritual and material suffering of others, that fault is my responsibility alone. I cannot command this unnatural, hard-hearted attitude to change, but I can control how I act and what I say. Even if I don’t feel like it, I can choose to act and speak as if I cared. This isn’t artificial or forced, but a reflection of who I really am – an atma, an integral part of God, who cares for and about all beings. It’s a lack of caring that’s artificial. Rather than act according to the dictates of callousness, I can try to care for and about others even when my emotions disagree. By tolerating whatever happens and by depending on my innate desire to care, which comes from the care Krishna has for all beings, I unfold a new dimension in myself.
Care isn’t stereotyped; it can even extend to negative relationships. Care directed toward someone who exploits or abuses others can include anger expressed without grudge or bias, and it can include punishment meted out to rectify the offense. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The Battle of Kurukshetra was fought according to the plan of God. Arjuna was refusing to fight, but he was told that he should fight in accordance with the desire of the Supreme Lord.” (Gita 11.33, Purport) Arjuna showed his care not by nonviolence, but by fighting aggressors.
How to best show care is not always easy or clear but is always necessary. Care can encompass sternness and softness, gravity and lightheartedness, chastisement and clemency. It can mean graciously accepting unpleasant, unlikely-to-change aspects of someone, or it can mean disassociating from someone. Care based on love and girded by spiritual knowledge and detachment withstands the onslaught of our fluctuating moods, phases, and vulnerabilities.
With the dignity worthy of spiritual beings, devotees remember their goal – to please Krishna with their service and love – and relate to others on the basis of achieving it. They do not allow heartlessness to strangle their mood of caring and constrict their vision, but they figure out how to extend themselves for others’ good.
In Sanskrit, care and protection is called poshana, which includes nourishing, cherishing, fostering, keeping, supporting, and maintaining. Poshana also refers to the Lord’s special care and protection of His devotees.
Krishna Takes Special Care of His Devotees
Krishna declares (Gita 9.29), “I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all,” which may cause one to question how He can take special care and protection of His devotees. Yet He does. He continues, “Whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” Isn’t that partiality? Is God playing favorites? Srila Prabhupada explains,
This is not discrimination; it is natural. Any man in this material world may be very charitably disposed, yet he has a special interest in his own children. The Lord claims that every living entity – in whatever form – is His son, and so He provides everyone with a generous supply of the necessities of life. He is just like a cloud which pours rain all over, regardless of whether it falls on rock or land or water. But for His devotees, He gives specific attention. (Gita 9.29, Purport)
Prabhupada further explains, “As a king maintains his kingdom and subjects but nevertheless gives special attention to the members of his family, so the Personality of Godhead gives special care to His devotees who are souls completely surrendered to Him.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 2.91–92, Purport)
This so-called favoritism is actually impartiality and makes complete sense when we consider Krishna’s famous statement “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” (Gita 4.11) Since Krishna’s devotees are souls surrendered to Him, they are eligible to receive His special reward in the form of poshana: they are especially cared for by Him. How God reciprocates with each one of us is determined by what we give to our relationship with Him.
“Those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Pritha – for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Gita 12.6–7) Srila Prabhupada explains: “It is explicitly stated here that the devotees are very fortunate to be delivered very soon from material existence by the Lord. . . . The Supreme Lord herein promises that without delay He will deliver a pure devotee thus engaged from the ocean of material existence.”
Even in the face of life’s inevitable reverses, a devotee feels the Lord’s care.
[A devotee] regards any reverses in life as blessings of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore, instead of being agitated by such reverses, he continues his activities of devotional service, and Krishna takes care of him and enables him to be promoted to the spiritual world, back to Godhead. If a devotee has to suffer the reactions of his past misdeeds, the Supreme Lord arranges for him to be given only a token of these reactions, and very soon he is freed from all the reactions of material contamination. One should therefore adhere to devotional service, and the Lord Himself will very soon see to one’s promotion to the spiritual world. A devotee should not be disturbed by unfortunate circumstances, but must continue his regular program, depending on the Lord for everything. (Bhagavatam 8.4.11–12, Purport)
As Krishna takes special care of His devotees, so devotees, naturally, want to do the same – to take special care of Krishna’s devotees.
Devotees Care for Devotees
In our relationships, we usually get back what we give out. Generally, when we express our concern for others, they are also concerned about us; when we’re attentive to them, they reciprocate similarly. These exchanges are due to love, and what is love but to want what’s best for the other, to care about and care for the other?
Devotee care encompasses helping devotees who are in any way in need, and it is much more. Care is part of devotees’ lifestyle, for devotees are aware of the spiritual identity and value of every living being, as well as the goal of selfless love they and each living entity are meant to achieve. This dimension of care can create realizations as multifaceted as the atma is beautiful. Through Krishna’s unparalleled ingenuity, care between devotees can initiate ecstatic insights that reveal harmony amidst diversity, unity within differences.
Because devotees care about other devotees, they respect their personalities and are therefore gentle and polite and allow each other to be perfectly themselves. Caring for and about another devotee evokes that devotee’s innate acceptance, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and friendliness, and that can solve seemingly insoluble relationship problems.
Care expressed by both persons can help resolve relationship problems with freshness and vigor because it lets each person grasp the other’s feelings and opinions and, based on merit and mutual gain, find mutually agreeable resolutions to disagreements. And care allows us to be happy even if we don’t solve all our problems or overcome all adversity.
Care is vulnerable to pain and yet continues. It lessens the expectations we have of others, enlarges what we expect from ourselves, and nurtures affinity. It lets us appreciate our companions’ qualities and know the satisfaction of using ourselves well to benefit another. An uncaring person criticizes the fault within the person; a caring one speaks to the person behind the fault. An attitude of deeply caring about others, an attitude that originates in the atma, allows me to laugh at and become detached from my whimsical mind and its foibles. Besides humor, a remarkable sense of equality accompanies caring, for it can shrink our own conceit and make us aware that we are simply a friend among friends. We move closer to the importance, the uniqueness, and the sameness of all life.
A devotee’s care for other devotees is not ordinary, for it offers the supreme benediction. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Living entities under a devotee’s care get the opportunity for God realization by the management of a devotee-master.” (Bhagavatam 2.4.2, Purport) Why is this? Because Krishna cares for and reciprocates with those who do likewise. In his Krishna-lila-stava (112), Sanatana Goswami, a great Vaishnava disciple of Sri Chaitanya, writes, “You [Krishna] take special care for Your devotee’s devotee.”
To care is an expression of our free will; it radiates from the atma and wants to expand to encompass each atma we contact. Genuine care for others, Krishna’s gift to the grateful atma, is a powerful victory over the force of illusion that prevents us from coming closer to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.