Srimad Bhagavatam 10.88.08 - Why Krishna does what he Does to his Devotees (download mp3)
by Radhadyuti Prabhu at ISKCON Chowpatty
harisye tad-dhanam sanaih
tato ’dhanam tyajanty asya
The Personality of Godhead said: If I especially favor someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man abandon him. In this way he suffers one distress after another.
Devotees of the Supreme Lord experience both happiness and distress — not as consequences of material work but as incidental effects of their loving reciprocation with the Lord. Srila Rupa Gosvami, in Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, his definitive treatise on the process of devotional service, explains how a Vaisnava is relieved of all karmic reactions, including those that have not yet begun to manifest (aprarabdha), those that are just about to manifest (kuta), those that are barely manifesting (bija) and those that have manifested fully (prarabdha). As a lotus gradually loses its many petals, so a person who takes shelter of devotional service has all his karmic reactions destroyed.
That devotional service to Lord Krsna eradicates all karmic reactions is confirmed in this passage of the Gopala-tapani sruti (Purva 15): bhaktir asya bhajanam tad ihamutropadhi-nairasyenamusmin manah-kalpanam etad eva naiskarmyam. “Devotional service is the process of worshiping the Supreme Lord. It consists of fixing the mind upon Him by becoming disinterested in all material designations, both in this life and the next. It results in the dissolution of all karma.” While it is certainly true that those who practice devotional service remain in material bodies and apparently material situations for some time, this is simply an expression of the inconceivable mercy of the Lord, who bestows the fruits of devotion only when it has become pure. In every stage of devotion, however, the Lord watches over His devotee and sees to the gradual elimination of his karma. Thus despite the fact that the happiness and distress devotees experience resemble ordinary karmic reactions, they are in fact given by the Lord Himself. As the Bhagavatam (10.87.40) states, bhavad-uttha-subhasubhayoh: A mature devotee recognizes the superficially good and bad conditions he encounters as signs of the direct guidance of his ever well-wishing Lord.
But if the Lord is so compassionate to His devotees, why does He expose them to special suffering? This is answered by an analogy: A very affectionate father takes the responsibility of restricting his children’s play and making them go to school. He knows that this is a genuine expression of his love for them, even if the children fail to understand. Similarly, the Supreme Lord Visnu is mercifully strict with all His dependents, not only with immature devotees struggling to become qualified. Even perfect saints like Prahlada, Dhruva and Yudhisthira were subjected to great tribulations, all for their glorification. After the Battle of Kuruksetra, Sri Bhismadeva described to King Yudhisthira his wonder at this:
yatra dharma-suto raja
krsno ’stri gandivam capam
suhrt krsnas tato vipat
na hy asya karhicid rajan
puman vetti vidhitsitam
muhyanti kavayo ’pi hi
“Oh, how wonderful is the influence of inevitable time! It is irreversible — otherwise, how can there be reverses in the presence of King Yudhisthira, the son of the demigod controlling religion; Bhima, the great fighter with a club; the great bowman Arjuna with his mighty weapon Gandiva; and above all, the Lord, the direct well-wisher of the Pandavas? O King, no one can know the plan of the Lord [Sri Krsna]. Even though great philosophers inquire exhaustively, they are bewildered.” (Bhag. 1.9.15-16)
Although a Vaisnava’s happiness and distress are felt as pleasure and pain, just like ordinary karmic reactions, they are different in a significant sense. Material happiness and distress, arising from karma, leave a subtle residue — the seed of future entanglement. Such enjoyment and suffering tend toward degradation and increase the danger of falling into hellish oblivion. Happiness and distress generated from the Supreme Lord’s desires, however, leave no trace after their immediate purpose has been served. Moreover, the Vaisnava who enjoys such reciprocation with the Lord is in no danger of falling down into nescience. As Yamaraja, the lord of death and the judge of all departed souls, declares:
jihva na vakti bhagavad-guna-namadheyam
cetas ca na smarati tac-caranaravindam
krsnaya no namati yac-chira ekadapi
tan anayadhvam asato ’krta-visnu-krtyan
“My dear servants, please bring to me only those sinful persons who do not use their tongues to chant the holy name and qualities of Krsna, whose hearts do not remember the lotus feet of Krsna even once, and whose heads do not bow down even once before Lord Krsna. Send me those who do not perform their duties toward Visnu, which are the only duties in human life. Please bring me all such fools and rascals.” (Bhag. 6.3.29)
The beloved devotees of the Lord do not regard as very troublesome the suffering He imposes on them. Indeed, they find that in the end it gives rise to unlimited pleasure, just as a stinging ointment applied by a physician cures his patient’s infected eye. In addition, suffering helps protect the confidentiality of devotional service by discouraging intrusions by the faithless, and it also increases the eagerness with which the devotees call upon the Lord to appear. If the devotees of Lord Visnu were complacently happy all the time, He would never have a reason to appear in this world as Krsna, Ramacandra, Nrsimha and so on. As Krsna Himself says in Bhagavad-gita (4.8):
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge
“To deliver the pious and annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” And without the Lord’s showing Himself on earth in His original form of Krsna and in the forms of various incarnations, His faithful servants in this world would have no opportunity to enjoy His rasa-lila and other pastimes.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti here counters a possible objection: “What fault would there be in God’s incarnating for some other reason than to deliver saintly persons from suffering?” The learned acarya responds, “Yes, my dear brother, this makes good sense, but you are not expert in understanding spiritual moods. Please listen: It is at night that the sunrise becomes attractive, during the hot summer that cold water gives comfort, and during the cold winter months that warm water is pleasing. Lamplight appears attractive in darkness, not in the glaring light of day, and when one is distressed by hunger, food tastes especially good.” In other words, to strengthen his devotees’ mood of dependence on Him and longing for Him, the Lord arranges for His devotees to go through some suffering, and when He appears in order to deliver them, their gratitude and transcendental pleasure are boundless.