Among other attributes, the Lord’s mercy is unparalleled because it reveals our relationship with Him.
By Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi
Mercifulness is a most important quality of the Lord, and His pure devotees embody it.
When we read about the glories of Lord Krishna, nothing seems more appealing or reassuring than descriptions of Krishna’s mercy. The Vedas offer descriptions of the kindness and compassion of God for the living beings. As a matter of fact, the Vedas personified – liberated sages who embody the teachings of the Vedas, or shrutis – explain that it is their imperative as servants of Krishna to help the conditioned souls get Krishna’s mercy.
Krishna’s mercy comes to us through the association of His devotees. Just making the acquaintance of a soft-hearted, thoughtful Vaishnava devotee can be a revelation in itself. Advanced devotees are like a faceted crystal jewel that reflects Krishna’s love in all directions. Such devotees include the spiritual master and Lord Chaitanya, who is Krishna in the role of His own devotee. Also known as guru and Gauranga, the spiritual master and Lord Chaitanya are special agents of the mercy of the Lord.
The Mission of the Vedas
In Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Ten, chapter eighty-seven, entitled “The Prayers of the Personified Vedas,” King Parikshit asks Shukadeva Goswami how the glories of Krishna, the Supreme Personality, can be communicated effectively by mere words – that is, by the Vedas. How can literary works, as creations of the mundane world, be used to glorify the Supreme, who is ultimately not of this world at all? Shukadeva Goswami quotes the personified Vedic literatures, who explain that as personal servants of the Lord, they are always committed to informing embodied souls, hopelessly conditioned by mundane experience, how to realize the transcendental glories of Krishna. They plead for Krishna’s mercy upon them.
The shrutis said: Victory, victory to You, O unconquerable one! By Your very nature You are perfectly full in all opulences; therefore please defeat the eternal power of illusion, who assumes control over the modes of nature to create difficulties for conditioned souls. (Bhagavatam 10.87.14)
We conditioned souls are struggling very hard to escape the bondage of life in this world, always looking for remedies to compensate for what is lacking. We want education to compensate for our ignorance, a good position to get status or wealth, and insurance plans to protect it all. We struggle to be beautiful, respected, or loved. Life is all too often bent around correcting lack or loss.
The Vedas explain, however, that Krishna alone awakens the energies of the embodied living beings. The verse quoted above continues, “O You who awaken all the energies of the moving and nonmoving embodied beings, sometimes the Vedas can recognize You as You sport with Your material and spiritual potencies.” Pious activities can be executed only when inspired by Krishna’s mercy, and without taking shelter of Him one may never surpass suffering. Therefore the Vedas explain that their mission as personified Vedic knowledge is to help the conditioned souls understand who Krishna is. They want those people who suffer due to separation from the Lord to hear of His pastimes. Their prayers reveal that they are not simply high-browed intellectuals with no practical mission. Srila Prabhupada writes,
All the shrutis, or personified Vedas, offered glories to the Lord again and again, singing, “Jaya, Jaya!” This indicates that the Lord is the most glorious. Of all His glories, the most important is His causeless mercy upon the conditioned souls in reclaiming them from the clutches of maya. (Krishna, chapter 87)
All-Pervasive and Unparalleled
The Lord empowers material nature to act upon us, and sometimes even cataclysmic miseries inflict us because of our karma. The cause of the misery can be so mind-boggling that people will call it “an act of God” for lack of any better definition. Suddenly a life-changing event may compel a population of otherwise neglectful people to beg and pray for God’s help. Like the sweep of a wide broom, a shift takes place in the collective human psyche; faith in materialism loosens, and people are humbled and become pious. Historical records of art and literature reflect divine influence following a war or a plague. Even in the material conditions of this world there is potential for realizing Krishna’s mercy. The greatness of such mercy is compared to Brahman, the all-pervasive power of Krishna Himself.
Devotees too experience surrender to God through miseries. For pure devotees, however, there is only the broadest, fullest experience of mercy, personally delivered by the Lord. This is shown by the example of the life of King Yudhishthira, who was repeatedly persecuted by his own family members and made to live in a dangerous forest and then fight in a treacherous war.
Srila Prabhupada writes, “Lord Krishna said to King Yudhishthira: ‘My devotee is not deterred by any adverse condition of life; he always remains firm and steady. Therefore I give Myself to him, and I favor him so he can achieve the highest success in life.’” (Krishna, chapter 88) This broad plan for reclaiming the relationship with His dear servant shows that Krishna’s mercy, although not always predictable or acceptable in the mundane sense, is incomparable to any other kindness or love.
Lord Krishna says, “A person who has thus become sober fully realizes the Absolute as the highest truth [parama], the most subtle [sukshma] and perfect manifestation of spirit [chin-matram], the transcendental existence without end [anantakam]. In this way realizing that the Supreme Truth is the foundation of his own existence, he is freed from the cycle of material life.” (Bhagavatam, 10.88.10)
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the example of the distribution of such all-pervasive mercy. Sometimes His mercy is compared to a great, unlimited flood of love of God in which some people drown while others only float. He inaugurates the mass distribution of the holy names of Krishna – nama-sankirtana – by loud singing and dancing, whether by outside public performance or inside temples. His movement has grown so far-flung that it has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people the world over, often even without their complete awareness of it. The sacrifice for this age, the continual practice of nama-sankirtana, is the incomparable method for distribution of love of God.
Which brings us to parama (from Bhagavatam 10.88.10, quoted above), or “unparalleled,” an adjective that describes perhaps the most sublime ornament of Krishna’s mercy. Krishna’s mercy is parama because it gives realization of our original relationship with Krishna. Out of compassion, philosophers, sociologists, and other well-intentioned people discuss a great variety of problems – disease, famine, racism, etc. However, as sincerely as they try to alleviate the problems of the people, material problems seem to expand. It is only absolute knowledge of the eternal soul that permanently solves all problems. Only by the mercy of Krishna can we understand parama karuna, the topmost compassion, experienced in the realm of the highest degrees of prema, the most exalted ecstatic pure love of Godhead exhibited by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Very Fine, Absolute, and Unlimited
Mercy described as sukshma, “very fine,” is particularly intriguing. Refined by the practice of bhakti, devotees experience from moment to moment the perception of God in everything they come in contact with; therefore their conscious awareness, freed from material association, becomes as fine as Krishna Himself.
The devotee can perceive what is imperceptible to the mundane mind. For example, the sukshma quality of Srila Prabhupada’s perception in relationship to Krishna was evident. He said that one can experience Krishna in the taste of water. Upon seeing the sky, he said the color came from Krishna’s body. A blossoming flower was Krishna’s smile. While walking by the sea he remarked that the sound of the waves endlessly rising and crashing upon the sand was like the sound of the gopis yearning for Krishna. Sastra says that the words from a pure devotee’s mouth are sukshma. They are saffron particles that carry the dust of the Lord’s lotus feet. Upon hearing the pure devotee speak, living entities remember their relationship with the Lord.
Another feature of Krishna’s mercy is cin-matram, “completely spiritual.” Cin-matram means that there never is and never will be a substitute for the absolute, natural relationship between Krishna’s mercy and our lives. As Prahlada Maharaja told his schoolmates (Bhagavatam 7.6.19):
My dear sons of demons, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, is the original Supersoul, the father of all living entities. Consequently there are no impediments to pleasing Him or worshiping Him under any conditions, whether one be a child or an old man. The relationship between the living entities and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is always a fact, and therefore there is no difficulty in pleasing the Lord.
[From Srila Prabhupada’s Purport:] As there is no difficulty in establishing the intimate relationship between a father and son, there is no difficulty in reestablishing the natural, intimate relationship between Narayana and the living entities. . . . Therefore, pleasing Narayana does not require as much endeavor as pleasing one’s family, community and nation. We have seen important political leaders killed for a slight discrepancy in their behavior. Therefore pleasing one’s society, family, community and nation is extremely difficult. Pleasing Narayana, however, is not at all difficult; it is very easy.
One more adjective used to describe the Lord’s mercy is anantakam, “unlimited.” While it is true that greatly elevated personalities such as Shiva or Brahma can bestow wealth, longevity, education, or beauty, their benedictions are associated with the material atmosphere, composed of goodness, passion, and ignorance. The mood of the demigods is conditional, dependent on their relationship with their petitioner. Moreover, if there is a miscalculation, the petitioners and their benefactors sometimes suffer materially, such as when Brahma awarded benedictions to Hiranyakashipu or when Shiva awarded Vrika and Bhaumasura.
But Lord Vishnu acts differently in response to His devotees. When a devotee wants something from the Lord, by His absolute omniscience He considers whether such a benediction will ultimately prove beneficial for the devotee. He is always bent on reestablishing our perfect relationship with Him. Never the loser in any exchange, He remains our ultimate support and most benevolent well-wisher.
Qualification for the Mercy
Previously mentioned was the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement and its worldwide flood, inundating all people with the chanting and hearing of the holy names of Krishna. Souls not directly participating are benefited by the mercy of the sankirtana movement even if they simply smile in response or hear the chanting from a distance.
But what of those who choose to participate in the chanting and seek the mercy of the Lord in their lives? They will eventually identify Krishna’s mercy as their utmost hope. For starters, devotees seek Krishna’s blessings even by eating. Nourishment can be understood as the kind gift of Krishna. Food cooked for Krishna and offered to Him with love is called maha-prasada, or the great mercy of Krishna. Exclusively relishing prasada, the devotee wants only to experience how the Lord enjoyed His meal, to taste what Krishna tasted.
Just as a devotee of Krishna does not want to taste ordinary food, a devotee is not keen to engage in ordinary association but looks for people who will guide him in spiritual life. The medieval mendicant preacher and songwriter Narottama Dasa Takura repeatedly prays to obtain the mercy of Lord Chaitanya and His movement of chanting and dancing. In his Lalasamayi Prarthana he sings of his hankering for Lord Chaitanya and His ecstatic ocean of love of Godhead. And he recommends that to access the full experience of Gauranga Mahaprabhu we must first approach Him through the backing of Lord Nityananda, Lord Chaitanya’s chief colleague in the distribution of love of God.
Nityananda is the avatar of Balarama, the first expansion of Krishna and thus the original spiritual master. He is an ambassador of the Lord’s mercy to this material world. Unconditional mercy for fallen souls was Nityananda Prabhu’s most extraordinary quality. In this age the fallen souls are so badly misguided that they have no interest in Krishna or Gauranga; nevertheless Nityananda searches them out and begs them to take to Gauranga’s service. His transcendental form is so wonderful and ecstatic that many people who even just saw Him became converted to Krishna consciousness. It is through Lord Nityananda that Gauranga may be known and understood. Srila Prabhupada writes,
What is the symptom of a person who has achieved the causeless mercy of Lord Nityananda? Narottama Dasa Thakura says that the symptom of one who has actually received the causeless mercy of Lord Nityananda is that he will have no more material desire. Samsara-basana means desire for material enjoyment, and Narottama Dasa wonders when it will become insignificant. (Commentary on Lalasamayi Prathana)
To give up material plans, habits, and desires, as suggested here, is often a lifelong struggle, so we need to get the mercy of a Vaishnava spiritual master following in the line of Nityananda who will help us chart a customized spiritual course. A Vaishnava spiritual master is the direct representative of the mercy of Krishna. By the guru’s merciful association and guidance, we can become less distracted from our spiritual purpose. Material things will pale and seem insignificant in the light of the guru’s knowledge and experience.
Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura describes the spiritual master as that great devotee who has been given special access to the ocean of Krishna’s mercy. Just as a cloud may rain on a blazing wild forest fire, the Vaishnava spiritual master can pour water from the ocean of mercy on the burning heart of the conditioned soul. Only by the mercy of Krishna does one become a disciple in the line of authentic representatives of the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.68–69) Lord Krishna expresses His appreciation for His representatives: “For one who explains this supreme secret [of Krishna consciousness] to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.”
If Krishna’s mercifulness is His most important quality, the value of the representative of His mercy cannot be fathomed. The grand, fine, complete, unlimited, and incomparable wonder called Krishna’s mercy is awarded by pure devotees who constantly offer us the Lord’s instructions and descriptions of Him. In his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.88.10) Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura writes,
The mercy is equivalent to the Lord. Because of its greatness it is invisible to the material eye. Therefore it is equated with Brahman. It is supreme (paramam), being the most excellent among all. It is subtle (sukshmam), not being understood even by the devotee who is the object of mercy. It is purely spiritual (cin-matram) because of its ability to give experience of prema rasa, devoid of any material happiness. It is eternal (sat), existing in all time. It is without fear of death (anantakam).
The sankirtana movement of Lord Chaitanya is the activity of offering the flood of love of Godhead to the conditioned souls of this age, no matter their position. To receive the mercy of Lord Chaitanya and Krishna it is essential to seek out the mercy of the original spiritual master, Lord Nityananda, and a bona fide spiritual master in His succession of perfect bhakti-yogis. His pure devotees are the embodiment of Krishna’s most important quality.