Tag Archives: suffering

Does Bhagavan Feel the Suffering of the Jivas?

Question: In Paramātma Sandarbha 93.5, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains in detail how Bhagavān has no experience of material misery. I still have some doubts on this concept, based on the following passages from the Bhāgavata.

When Duryodhana was lying on the battlefield, Kṛṣṇa was not happy to see that scene. This is explained in SB 3.3.13. Does it mean that Kṛṣṇa empathized with the material misery of Duryodhana?

When Hiraṇyākṣa spoke harsh words, it is described in SB 3.18.6 that Varāhadeva was pained at heart. Does it mean that Lord Varāha’s heart was pained by the materially abusive words of Hiraṇyākṣa?

In the prayers of Gajendra from the Eighth Canto, Srila Prabhupada seemed to say in his purport to SB 8.3.17 that even before a jīva offers prayers to the Lord, the Lord tries to deliver him. Does it mean that Bhagavān empathizes with the material misery of the jīva even before the jīva performs bhakti?

In the prayers of the Pracetās, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in his purport to SB 4.30.24 that the Lord is affected by the material miseries of conditioned souls and that He makes plans to deliver them.

Is it possible to explain the siddhānta presented by Jīva Gosvāmī in Paramātma Sandarbha 93.5 in light of the above verses?

Answer: Very good observation. The main contradiction to the principle described by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, as I understand from the verses and commentary cited by you, is that Bhagavān feels empathy by seeing a jīva suffering. Moreover, He is always making an effort to liberate the jīvas. Therefore, He must feel the pain and suffering of the jīvas; otherwise, He would not be concerned.

My reply is that knowledge is acquired in different ways. Primarily, it can happen by direct experience (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), or by śabda pramāṇa. Your doubt is based on the assumption that we know only through our sensory experience, pratyakṣa. In the case of knowledge coming through anumāna or śabda, there is no direct experience.

Your first question is about Kṛṣṇa empathizing with the suffering of Duryodhana. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” From this definition, one can conclude that when Krṣṇa empathized with Duryodhana, he felt some pain in His mind. Accepting such an understanding still does not prove that Kṛṣṇa felt material misery. He felt suffering in His mind but that suffering was not material. It was trans-material suffering because His mind, senses, and body are all trans-material. When Jiva Gosvāmī writes that Bhagavān does not experience material misery, it does not mean that He does not have feelings or emotions. He has a transcendental mind and senses and feels transcendental emotions.

Moreover, empathy is of three types: cognitive, emotional, and empathic or compassionate. Cognitive means “simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking.” Emotional means “when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.” Compassionate means “with this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them but are spontaneously moved to help if needed.” Only in the last two types of empathies does the empathizer feel the feelings of the sufferer. In cognitive empathy, one understands that the other person is in pain but does not feel it oneself. So Bhagavān empathized cognitively with Duryodhana’s suffering but did not feel it Himself.

A good example is a doctor in the emergency ward of a hospital. Such a doctor has to deal with extreme cases, such as patients who have suffered horrible accidents. He knows that the patients are in pain, and he does his best to comfort them but he does not suffer himself. If the doctor becomes emotional or empathic, then he will not be able to do his job properly. He will not last more than one day in this job.

The second point to be considered is that Bhagavan does feel the pain of His devotees because He is linked to them through bhakti. But that is not material pain. That pain is a transformation of His antaraṅgā-śakti. Therefore, while commenting on verse 3.18.6, which seemingly states that Varāhadeva was troubled by the abusive words of Hiraṇyākṣa, Śrī Viṣvanātha Cakravartī writes that Varāhadeva was troubled because devotees like Brahmā felt pained by hearing Hiraṇyākaṣa’s harsh words. Varāhadeva felt compassionate on them—harir durukti-tomarair eva nimitta bhūtais tudyamānaḥ yathā śrutārtha-grāhiṇāṁ brahmādināṁ vyathāṁ dṛṣṭvā anukampayā pīḍyamāna ityarthaḥ.

Regarding the comments by Śrila Prabhupāda on verses 8.3.17 and 4.30.24, I assume that by jīva, he does not mean any jīva but a devotee jīva. This is certainly true in the case of Gajendra, referred to in SB 8.3.17, who was a devotee, as is known from his past life as king Indradyumna as well as the prayers of Gajendra. Verse 4.30.24 is part of the Pracetas’ prayers. So I would think that Prabhupāda refers to a devotee jīva. Otherwise, the simple question arises that why Bhagavān, who is omnipotent, does not liberate every conditioned jīva, because every conditioned jīva is suffering. In Bhagavad Gītā (12.7), Kṛṣṇa clearly says that He delivers His devotees from material conditioning.  Therefore, I do not see any contradiction.

How to Avoid the Miseries of Bad Karma

Every human being suffers from three types of misery: ādhyātmika, ādhibhautika, and ādhidaivika roga. The word ādhyātmika means that which is related to the ātmā. The word ātmā in Sanskrit has various meanings such as body, mind, senses, essence, nature, God, vitality, courage, character, self, intellect, and so on. However, in relation to ādhyātmika suffering, the word ātmā refers to the body, mind, and intellect. Thus, ādhyātmika miseries are those that come from one’s own body, mind, or intellect. Similarly, ādhibhautika miseries are those that come from other bhūtas or living beings. These living beings can be humans, animals, birds, reptiles, or aquatics. The ādhidaivika miseries are those that come from the devas. Devas here means the divine beings who are in charge of managing of the universe. Ādhidaivika miseries include suffering that may come from natural calamities such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, drought, storms, hurricanes, extreme heat or cold, wildfires, pandemics, and so on. Now the question may be raised as to why the devas give us suffering? Devas are supposed to be benevolent beings who are compassionate by nature. Why would they want us to suffer? What is the benefit in giving us suffering?

To understand the answer to these questions, we need to know how the universe functions. Modern science informs us that the universe was born from a big bang. Science as such does not believe that there is a creator of the universe. This implies that the universe has no intrinsic purpose. It just happened accidentally, and there is no one in control. This further implies that our life has no purpose. But if we accept this, then there is no need to follow any rules. Then is no need to achieve anything in life since it is meaningless. Therefore, the modern concept of YOLO, “You Only Live Once,” has become popular. People try to enjoy as much as they can—sex, liquor, drugs, money, possessions—because they have no purpose in life other than to enjoy. One may say, what is wrong with that? The answer is that this mentality simply brings degradation in human society. In such a concept of life, there is no basis for human values and morals.

However, the scriptures of India inform us that universe was created by Īśvara, God, who has established certain laws that keep the universe running. The managers of the universe are called devas. Just as every country has a management system, so does the universe. One of the most important laws of the universe is the law of karma. Everyone is under the influence of this law. Just as we are under the influence of the law of gravity, so are we under the law of karma. Just as we do not see gravitational force, similarly we do not see karma. Whether we believe in gravitational force or not, it influences us. Similarly, whether we believe in the law of karma or not, it acts upon us.

Whatever action we perform gives some result. This is not very hard to understand. Some of the results come immediately whereas others take some time. If you put your hand in fire, the result is immediate. If you drink wine, the result may take a little time. Other results may take many months to fructify. A child is born nine or ten months after conception. There are also some actions which may not give a result in this lifetime but may manifest in a future life. Karma, or action, is like a seed. A seed fructifies within a specific environment. It needs certain moisture, heat, and air to sprout and then to grow. Different seeds produce their fruits in different seasons. Similarly, karma needs a suitable situation to manifest its result. If a suitable situation is not available in one lifetime, then it will give its result in another life.

As we have individual karma, there is also collective karma. People of a family, village, or country have some karma that is common to all of them. Therefore, it is seen that sometimes a particular situation, good or bad, may be faced by an entire family, village, or country. Pandemics are an example of collective karma.

According to Ayurveda, we get sick either because of wrong action in our present life or because of past karma. The diseases that arise because of past karma cannot be cured by normal treatment, which is called yukti-vyapāśraya. They need to be treated by daiva-vyapāśraya. There is a saying in Sanskrit, yādṛśo yakṣa tādṛśo baliḥ—the solution should be in accordance with the problem. If the problem is coming from past karma, which is also called daiva, then its treatment should also be daivika. The daivika treatments include activities such as performing a yajña (sacrifice), the chanting of specific mantras, giving in charity, and engaging in a religious activity such as fasting.

Which daivika activity is needed for a particular sickness must be known from śāstra. Similarly, we can’t take just any Ayurvedic medicine for our asthmatic condition. It is only a specific Ayurvedic medicine that will treat a specific problem. At present, people do not have much faith in daivika treatments but that does not mean they are not efficacious. Of course, if we do not have faith in daivika treatments, then we will not use them and thus not get the benefit. The choice is ours. People enjoy new experiences, so this would be good experiment to try. According to modern research, it has been observed that people who believe in some supernatural power such as Īśvara have a better chance of recovery even while using modern medicine. Thus, faith also has its role to play in the curing of disease. Along with faith, if one uses daivika treatments, they will surely have an effect. For centuries, these methods have been used successfully in India. We should not neglect such time-tested gems of Vedic culture.

The chanting of specific mantras is one solution to ādhidaivika sufferings. But to root out the problem, we should live in harmony with the principles of nature and not create bad karma in the first place. Actions which bring fleeting pleasure but result in suffering should be avoided. This is proper use of the wisdom.


Satyanarayana Dasa


Why Do Good People Suffer?

Often people ask this questionwhy do good people suffer and bad people enjoy? This seems to be an age-old question. Such a doubt arose even in the mind of Draupadī. When King Yudhiṣṭhira lost his kingdom in a gambling match, he along with his brothers and queen Draupadī had to go into exile for twelve years. Certainly, it was not a pleasant life to live in the forest, especially after enjoying all of the comforts of palace life. Just one day before the gambling match, the Pāṇḍava brothers and Queen Draupadī had lived in an opulent palace with all amenities and comforts. And now suddenly, they had to renounce their royal dress and royal life and wander in the forest without any arrangement for even basic amenities such as food and a place to sleep. It must have been quite shocking, especially for Draupadī. At least the Pāṇḍava brothers were used to going to the forest for hunting. But Draupadī was a delicate queen and had no experience of living in the forest. Moreover, before coming to the forest, she was terribly insulted by Duryodhana and his brother, Duḥśāsana. Duḥśāsana dragged her by the hair into the assembly of kings and princes and tried to strip her naked in front of the assembled royalties. It must have been even more humiliating for her that her five heroic husbands, including Bhīma and Arjuna, were silent witnesses to the entire episode. Remembering all of this, Draupadī was very furious but helpless. She could not believe that this was happening. She was no ordinary woman but was known as ayonijā, or “not born from the womb.”

Yet, there she was, sitting on the earth without even a piece of cloth spread underneath. She expressed her anger, distress, and frustration to King Yudhiṣṭhira: “I have heard that dharma protects those who follow dharma. I know that you are a very dharmic person. You may abandon me, along with your brothers, but you will never give up dharma. I have never seen you engage in any adharmic act. You are humble, simple, compassionate, and charitable. Yet, now I see that dharma has not protected you. Seeing you like this, sitting under a tree, I feel bewildered. Where is dharma? And where is Īśvara? It is said that everyone is under the control of Īśvara, just like a bull is controlled by a rope passed through his nostrils. It is only Īśvara who arranges for one to go to heaven or hell. All happiness and distress are commissioned by Īśvara. He plays with everyone, just as a child plays with toys. O King, I understand that Īśvara is the caretaker of everyone and is very merciful. But now I see that He is not behaving graciously toward us. We, who adhere to dharma, are suffering, while Duryodhana, who is a cheater, is enjoying royal life. I do not appreciate the unjust behavior of Īśvara. What is the benefit of Īśvara giving wealth to Duryodhana, who is cruel, greedy, haughty, and adharmic? If everyone has to face his own karma, then certainly Īśvara will also be implicated in this sinful act. But if you say that Īśvara is all-powerful, and that no sin can touch Him, then I feel very distressed.” After speaking like this, Draupadi began crying.

Hearing these distressing words of Draupadī, King Yudhiṣṭhira, who was very calm and peaceful, spoke the following sagacious words: “O, my dear Queen, what you have said appears to be very appealing and logical. But it is steeped in ignorance, and is the opinion of atheistic people. I do not follow dharma with the intention to obtain some fruit, but I follow it as my duty. I do not give charity or perform yajña, thinking that this will uplift me to heaven. Regardless of good or bad outcomes, I perform my duty. I am not greedy for the results of dharmic acts; it is my very nature to follow dharma. Those who perform dharma with an intention to get some benefit are not truly dharmic. For them, dharma is a business. Just as a businessman sells or buys products to gain some profit, such people perform dharmic acts with the same intention. Sinful people, being influenced by atheistic ideas, engage in dharma and yet have doubts about it.

Therefore, on the authority of śāstra, I advise you not to doubt dharma. A person who doubts dharma, or the authority of śāstra, will be born in a subhuman species. Such a person is the lowest of human beings. Such a person thinks that dharmic people are foolish, and gives importance to his own intelligence and logic. Such a person will never achieve anything auspicious. We should never doubt dharma, which has been established by Īśvara and is followed by great sages, who have a deeper vision of life. If following dharma brings suffering, then the great sages like Vyāsa, Vaśiṣṭha, Maitreya, Nārada, Śukadeva, etc, would not follow dharma. Dharma is never fruitless and neither is adharma. Both give their respective results. Just remember your own birth, which was the outcome of a dharmic act. The results of karma are not easy to understand. Only the great sages and devas can understand how and when karma gives its result. Just because you do not see the result of dharma immediately, you should not doubt dharma, the devas, śāstra or Iśvara. The result of dharma will come in the due course of time. In the same way, those who are engaged in adharmic activity will get the result sooner or later. Those who cheat others may seem to enjoy and prosper, but their adharmic act will drag them down to hell. It is just a matter of time. Knowing this, you should not feel distressed and have faith in dharma and Iśvara.”

This beautiful dialogue can be found in the Vana-parva, chapter 30 and 31 of Mahābhārata. We should never doubt śāstra just because we are facing some difficulty in our lives. Dharma and adharma both give their results. Our difficulties may be an outcome of past karma. They can also be seen as the grace of Kṛṣṇa to make us more fixed in bhakti. Even great devotees like the Pāṇdavas faced immense difficulties but did not deter from the path of dharma. Bhakti is called param dharma. So even more so, there should be no thought of deviating from the supreme path of bhakti.

Satyanarayana Dasa