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The Essence of Compassion

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from Back To Godhead Magazine #30-04, 1996

According to The Nectar of Devotion, “A person who is unable to bear another’s distress is called compassionate.” Whereas generally people are too focused on their own interests to concern themselves with the distress of others, the devotee is focused on Krishna’s interests. Because Krishna desires that the conditioned souls be delivered, the devotee dedicates his life to fulfilling that desire. The devotee, therefore, is naturally compassionate.

Srila Prabhupada expressed his compassion through preaching, which is the essence of compassion. And the driving force of preaching is purity. Preaching exists on the strength of the purity of the hearts and minds of the devotees.

And what is purity? Purity means that the devotee has no desire other than to please Krishna. A pure devotee, therefore, preaches to fulfill the desire of Krishna.

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.43-44), the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja expresses his spirit of compassion. Addressing Lord Nrisimha, Prahlada prays:

O best of the great personalities, I am not at all afraid of material existence, for wherever I stay I am fully absorbed in thoughts of Your glories and activities. My concern is only for the fools and rascals who are making elaborate plans for material happiness and maintaining their families, societies and countries. I am simply concerned with love for them. …
I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others.
As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krishna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet.

Srila Prabhupada honored the mood that Prahlada Maharaja expressed in his prayer: Although devotees are satisfied wherever they are because they always chant the holy name, they still feel a deep concern for the suffering nondevotees. The nondevotees are suffering because they are attached to the illusory world. They think happiness lies in a godless life. Actually, true happiness comes only when we engage in Krishna’s service. A compassionate devotee understands this. Tasting his own spiritual happiness, he desires to share that happiness with others.

Prahlada Maharaja’s prayer reminds us of Srila Prabhupada’s own situation. Before Prabhupada came to America, he was living the life of a saintly person in the holiest place in the universe, Vrindavana, India. He spent his time chanting, praying, translating the Srimad- Bhagavatam, speaking about Krishna, and associating with other devotees. Materialists are rarely interested in Vrindavana—it is a poor town—so the devotees are free to spend their time peacefully bathing in the Yamuna and Radha-kunda, worshiping the many Deities of Krishna, walking around Govardhana Hill, and relishing the special atmosphere of intimacy with Radha and Krishna.

Out of compassion, however, Srila Prabhupada left his peaceful life and came to America. Certainly he was acting on his spiritual master’s expression of compassion, which was a reflection of Lord Chaitanya’s desire that the holy name be spread to every town and village in the world. Still, it was Srila Prabhupada’s own great compassion that made him so wonderfully successful.

On his arrival at Commonwealth Pier in Boston on September 17, 1965, Prabhupada wrote a prayer to Krishna.

My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me.
But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?
Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vasudeva [Krishna]. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.
But I know your causeless mercy can make everything possible, because You are the most expert mystic.
How will they understand the mellows of devotional service? O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.
All living entities have come under the control of the illusory energy by Your will. Therefore, if You like, by Your will they can also be released from the clutches of illusion.
I wish that You may deliver them. …

Lord Chaitanya’s benediction on us in this age is that we can awaken our dormant love of God simply by chanting the holy name of Krishna. Other forms of spiritual practice require much gradual and painstaking purification, which people in this age don’t have time for. People today are short- lived, unfortunate, and always distracted and disturbed. Srila Prabhupada at once saw this on his arrival in the West.

Still, Prabhupada was determined and compassionate. He had met many obstacles—Indian bureaucracy, two heart attacks at sea, no money, no friends—but he had remained dependent on guru and Krishna. He wrote in his poem:

“Therefore, if You desire their deliverance, then only will they be able to understand Your message. …

“O Lord, I am just a puppet in Your hands, so if You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, O Lord, make me dance as You like.”