Bhagavān, Grace and Material Suffering – Part 4

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Continuation from Paramātmā Sandarbha, Commentary on Anuccheda 93.5 by Satyanarayana Dasa —

Śrī Jīva now responds to the second objection regarding the accusation of Bhagavān’s being biased. Earlier he established that Bhagavān acts only to give delight to His devotees, which seemingly implicates Him in bias.

Continuation from Paramātmā Sandarbha, Commentary on Anuccheda 93.5
by Satyanarayana Dasa

Śrī Jīva now responds to the second objection regarding the accusation of Bhagavān’s being biased. Earlier he established that Bhagavān acts only to give delight to His devotees, which seemingly implicates Him in bias.

Śrī Jīva writes that a person acts to please others for two reasons only, either to satisfy his or her own selfish interest or just to bestow welfare without any motive. In the first case there is no question of partiality to others, since one’s interest is only in one’s own benefit. When a person acts solely with a motive for personal gain, he can be called selfish but not biased towards others. Since Jīva Gosvāmī’s whole point here is to disprove the charge that the Lord is biased, the first case shows itself to be irrelevant to the objection, since there is nothing to disprove. Where selfishness alone is the motive for one’s actions, partiality is necessarily an impossibility. If there is partiality on behalf of a selfish person it is not really partiality because the person only acts for selfish motive and not to benefit someone else. Moreover, selfishness cannot be the case with Bhagavān who is completely self-satisfied. He has nothing to gain, being ātmārāma and āpta-kāma.

This leads us to consideration of the second possibility, that in acting for the welfare of others the Lord does demonstrate partiality towards His devotees. Śrī Jīva begins his reply to this possibility by first examining the psychology of compassion. He explains that compassion is a transformation of the heart or the mental quantum (citta), which arises when the heart directly contacts the misery of another. Only when impelled by such compassion is a person moved to act for another’s welfare. This means that one feels empathy in relation to others’ misery. The feeling of empathy impels one to remove the misery of the person with whom one empathizes.

In the case of Bhagavān, however, such empathy is not possible because He is completely transcendental to any material experience. Feelings of pain and pleasure are modifications of the citta, which is an evolute of prakṛti. Bhagavān is beyond any tinge of māyā, as established earlier. Therefore, He cannot be touched by any material misery and so cannot feel the pain of others in His heart and be aroused to compassion. As such, there is no possibility of His being biased.

Someone will no doubt say that Bhagavān is omniscient and therefore must know the pains and pleasures of others. This is undeniably true, but Śrī Jīva emphasizes that in fact He does not feel them in His heart. He knows such suffering through the experience of others, not directly. This also means that He is not impelled by compassion because to be compassionate the pain of another has to touch one’s own heart.

If one then argues that Bhagavān must not be omniscient because of His absence of awareness of misery, Śrī Jīva says that this too is denied by the example of the sun. The fact that Bhagavān has no direct experience of the material suffering of the people of the world in no way impedes His all-knowingness, just as the absence of darkness in the sun does not contradict the all-pervasiveness of its radiance. On the contrary, His absence of awareness of misery should be taken as a positive attribute. We can accept that the Lord can have some knowledge of misery, but not the direct experience of it. If Bhagavān were able to experience material misery, then out of compassion He would have delivered everyone from the material world at the mere sight of their suffering. But this has not happened, which proves that He is immune to the experience of material misery. Śrī Jīva says that it is specifically for this reason that Bhagavān cannot be called cruel for not alleviating the suffering of humanity.

One may question that if Bhagavān is unable to feel the pain of the living beings, then how is it that He is able to feel the pleasure of His devotees? If He acts to give them pleasure, then He must feel it also. If not, how would He know that devotees are deriving pleasure from His actions? The process of experiencing pain and pleasure is the same. If pain is material, so must pleasure.

To this Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī replies that the pain and pleasure of a devotee are not material. Rather they are both manifestations of bhakti, the intrinsic potency of Bhagavān. A devotee feels happy only by giving pleasure to Bhagavān and His devotees and feels miserable if unable to do so. His pain and pleasure are not independent of Bhagavān. Therefore, Bhagavān experiences only His intrinsic potency while realizing the pain and pleasure of His devotee. Thus, the principle that He is unable to experience material pain and pleasure is not violated.

An objection is raised to this assertion. There is the story of Gajendra, the elephant king, whose leg was seized by a crocodile while he drank water from a lake. He struggled for a long time to release himself, but was unsuccessful. Finally he prayed to Bhagavān for help, who appeared immediately on the spot and severed the head of the crocodile with His chakra. The elephant was suffering from pain, and Bhagavān, being compassionate, released him. This means that Bhagavān was able to empathize with the pain of Gajendra.

Śrī Jīva replies that it is a fact that Gajendra was in material pain. But Bhagavān did not rescue him out of empathy for his pain, but rather because of his surrender in the form of, “You are my only shelter.” Such surrender is nothing but bhakti, and thus it is bhakti alone that impelled Bhagavān to rescue him.


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