By Satyanarayana Dasa
The following article is part of Anuccheda 93 of Paramātma Sandarbha and my commentary (which will be posted next week). This anuccheda discusses the unbiased nature of Bhagavān. During the course of establishing this nature, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī also explains why there is suffering in the material world if God is very compassionate and omnipotent. He also shows that Bhagavān acts only for the pleasure of His devotees and remains aloof from non-devotees. Some of the citations in the original text have been deleted to keep the article concise.
With regard to the second objection [that Bhagavān is subject to favoritism], we say the following: One engages in giving delight to others for two possible reasons—to attain what one desires from the other, or sometimes just to fulfill the other’s desire. The first option is not relevant to the objection raised here, because when one acts for one’s own interest alone, there is no question of partiality whatsoever [toward others, since one’s concern would then be only with oneself].
In the second case, the desire to engage in acts favorable to another arises only after experiencing first hand their happiness and misery, not merely by some general awareness of it. This is because there is no possibility of the heart undergoing a transformation in the form of compassion without having been touched by another’s pain. As is said:
One whose foot has been pricked by a thorn would not desire others to suffer such agony, having understood the sameness of all living beings [in regard to the experience of pain] through external signs, but not a person who has never been so pricked. (SB 10.10.14)
Therefore, for Bhagavān, who has an eternal form of supreme bliss and is ever free from sin, there is no experience of the material misery called “pleasure” or of that which is commonly known as misery, just as there is a complete absence of darkness in light or of an owl’s capacity to see the sun.
Some, although desiring to deny the relation with misery in Bhagavān, speak in the following way: There is knowledge of the experience of misery in God, yet that knowledge is of the misery experienced by others and not His own misery. Such an explanation, however, is like finding oneself face to face with the toll man at the river crossing in the morning after taking a roundabout path throughout the night to avoid him [i.e., the very same problem still exists]. The experience of misery verily means that such misery touches the heart, whether such contact comes from one’s own misery or from that of another, because there is no distinction as to whether the heart’s relation with misery arises from one’s own suffering or that of another.
The flaw [posited by some] of Bhagavān not being omniscient [because of His absence of awareness of misery] is also negated by the very same example of the sun [indicating that Bhagavān’s non-awareness of misery in no way contradicts His omniscience, just as the absence of darkness in the sun does not obstruct the all-pervasiveness of its radiance]. On the contrary, Bhagavān’s non-awareness of misery has been shown to be an attribute.
Therefore, let it be admitted that there is some knowledge of misery in general in Bhagavān, though He certainly has no direct experience of misery. Consequently, even though the jīvas are suffering from material miseries even at present in spite of the rulership of Bhagavān—who is utterly capable of all action, all inaction, and all contrary action whatsoever, and who is the crest jewel among all those who are benevolently disposed to others to the supreme extent—the flaw of cruelty in Him is denied precisely for this reason [because of His not being directly in contact with their suffering].
The happiness of devotees, however, is indeed a form of Bhagavān’s devotion, and their misery too is simply a consequence of obstacles in attaining Him. By this, the melting of the heart for Bhagavān is greatly increased, and this is nothing other than bhakti. Sometimes, as in the case of Gajendra, where the misery experienced is purely of the material variety, bhakti becomes manifest in the same way, through the utterance of expressions such as, “He alone is my refuge.”
Sometimes, as in the case of the twin arjuna trees, the devotion of devotees like Śrī Nārada becomes manifest. Thus, it is exclusively the experience of a devotee’s devotion in the form of humility that impels Bhagavān to compassion, and not material misery, because it is wrong to assume an inappropriate cause when an appropriate one is available. Moreover, if the existence of misery were the sole cause behind His compassion, then the sufferings of worldly existence would have been completely uprooted.
If, however, one argues that material misery is undeniably an indirect cause, then let it be so; there is no harm. Therefore, it is established that in either case, it is only the experience of the devotee’s bhakti that impels Bhagavān to bestow delight upon the devotee.
Thereafter, this is to be pointed out: If in spite of directly experiencing the happiness and misery of others, Bhagavān were to abandon them and grant happiness to or redress the misery of others instead, then only would He be subject to the charge of being biased. But, Śrī Bhagavān, like a wish-fulfilling tree, is not liable to such accusation, because there is no experience of material happiness or misery in Him.
Śrī Prahlāda expressed the same sentiment:
How wonderful are Your acts, O Lord! You have created the worlds through the cosmic play of Your immeasurable Yogamāyā. You are omniscient, the Self of all beings, and of equal vision. So, although You are naturally without bias, You hold Your devotees dear simply because it is Your nature to respond in the manner of a wish-fulfilling tree [in perfect uniformity with the core disposition of the supplicant]. (SB 8.23.8)
The meaning is as follows: Since You hold Your devotees dear and moreover are of equal vision, so it is Your nature to be without bias (aviṣama); there is no favoritism [in Your character]. This idea is expressed by the adjectival compound kalpa-taru-svabhāvaḥ that implies the reason why He is to be understood as unbiased [in spite of the special dearness of His devotees]: “Because it is Your nature to respond [in perfect uniformity] in the manner of a wish-fulfilling tree.” Therefore, You do not have a biased nature though You appear to, and this is extraordinarily wonderful.
Alternatively, any entity at all, endowed with the characteristics of a wish-fulfilling tree, is equally approachable by everyone whosoever. [If, however, a person neglects to approach such an entity and so does not receive its favor, the equally disposed entity is not at fault. Bhagavān’s devotees, on the other hand, lovingly seek His favor.] Consequently, on seeing Bhagavān’s partiality in the form of favouring His devotees, it is understood that even such partiality is the nature of one who is indeed equal to all (samasya). From this it is to be concluded that this kind of partiality is simply inevitable. Thus [in accordance with this alternative explanation], the words aviṣama-svabhāva should be read and explained as viṣama-svabhāva, namely, that He is biased.
Similarly, in the verse previously quoted [where the example of a “tree from the heavenly realm” is given, SB 10.38.22], in the statement, “He loves and serves His devotees” (bhaktān bhajate), there is indeed bias applicable to Him. In reality, however, the transrational opulence in Śrī Bhagavān is the primary reason for there not being any contradiction in Him.
While commenting upon the following verse, “Obeisances to You again and again, who foster Your devotees” (SB 2.4.14), Śrīdhara Svāmī says, “[Śukadeva] now speaks of Bhagavān’s transrational majestic power to explain how His apparent favoritism is not a flaw.”
And Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa Himself says:
I am equally disposed to all living beings, and so there is no one whom I despise or favor. But those who worship Me with devotion are situated in Me, and I too am established in them. (Gītā 9.29)
In this way, Bhagavān is free from these blemishes, and it has been shown that favoring His devotees is an act of the essence of the intrinsic potency (svarūpa-śakti). So, Bhagavān personally performs all those līlās in various avatāras only through His intrinsic potency and only to give delight to His devotees, whereas the sustenance of the cosmos is thereby accomplished of its own accord. This being established, Vidura’s question [as to how Bhagavān can become involved with the guṇas and actions of prakṛti, even as a matter of cosmic play (līlā), SB 3.7.2] does not stand.
In this regard, the flaw of Bhagavān not being self-satisfied because He performs līlā with the devas, who are material beings, will be cleared later on [in Śrī Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, Anuccheda 43] by accepting that Bhagavān partially enters the devas with His potency.
[end of translation]
Suffering has a purpose. It is to wake you up. It is relentless. It will keep coming to you until you wake up.
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