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.

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Comments ( 8 )
  1. Akhilesh

    Pranams

    But below purport of verse of pracetas can only be action of compassion..how to understand

    “hari-medhase means that the Lord is always planning ways to deliver the conditioned soul from the clutches of māyā. “

    • Babaji Post author

      Can you please give the reference for this translation?
      Even if this translation is acceptable, where does it say that Bhagavan feels the suffering of the jivas?
      Is it necessary that to be compassionate, one must feel the suffering of the receiver of compassion?
      Can one not be compassionate without that?

  2. Sri Charan

    “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. ”

    In the above example there is an action of compassion i.e “he does his best to comfort them” and even if Lord is feeling cognitive empathy for jiva, Does not that evoke compassion in him as in the case of doctor and deliver every jiva from samsara, but still we see jivas are in samsara ,how to understand?
    Hare Krishna

    • Babaji Post author

      Bhagawan is compassionate. There is no doubt. But he also has established the principles of dharma.
      If one does not follow them, then he gets the punishment.
      Just as in a state, there is the constitution, and a citizen is expected to follow it.
      But if one does not follow, then the citizen is prosecuted.
      This is not cruelty on the part of the state.

      If your proposal is accepted, then it will amount to the complete non-existence of the material creation.
      That means, there should only be the spiritual world.
      So now what you are suggesting is that Bhagavan should not have bahiranga-sakti.

      Bhagavan feels empathy and therefore, he takes avatara to establish dharma and show us the path to freedom.
      If one does not follow his teachings, He is not to be blamed.

    • Sricharan

      Pranams
      But this is what I understood from this article

      https://www.jiva.org/manifestation-of-knowledge-the-lords-mercy/

      “Therefore He does not give His kripa to the abhaktas because He cannot feel their pain of suffering”

      Therefore compassion can’t be aroused without feeling the pain of suffering

    • Babaji Post author

      No, that is not true. His grace is causeless. Grace by feeling pain is to answer an often-asked question – why does Bhagavan not do anything when people are suffering?

  3. Svayambhu Das

    A side comment to this quote: “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. ”

    There is one peculiar exception in the material world whereby someone has a condition known as synesthesia. In this “strange” condition one literally feels the physical and emotional pain of another person.

    For example in this article from https://www.foxnews.com/health/a-doctor-who-can-feel-his-patients-pain . The doctor who has this condition says, “What I see someone else feel physically and emotionally, my brain makes me literally feel [that] too, so if you’re slapped on your right wrist, I feel like I’m slapped on my left wrist,” Salinas told Fox News.”

    “Because of mirror-touch, my brain categorizes you and me as the same person and tries to recreate your experience based on the situation and my own past experiences,” Salinas said.”

  4. Akhilesh

    The reference for hari medhase is the Bhakti Vedanta purport on 4.3.24

    “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.”

    Therefore to be compassionate,one must feel the suffering

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