“One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me-he is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.13-14)
One should not be eager to cause misery or pain to others. As living entities, we are all in the same boat, regardless of material wealth or poverty. Each one of us is hankering after things that we want and lamenting over the things we don’t have. Even though one may be very successful in material endeavors, it doesn’t mean that desires become eliminated. In many instances, our desires only increase with the more wealth we possess. In the same manner, if we live a meager lifestyle, we should be satisfied with what we have.
Since every living entity is the same at the core, people should have the utmost respect for one another. Imposing ourselves on others and causing them pain are generally viewed as unkind behavior, but we still see that many people behave in this manner. They have no problem whatsoever with annoying others, and sometimes they derive great pleasure from such activity. The German word “Schadenfreude” describes the feeling of bliss derived from the pain of others. We all have met people like this at some point in our lives. They love to see others in misery, for it boosts their self-esteem knowing that others are equally as miserable as they are. If they see someone else who is overly successful or prosperous in their eyes, their innate jealousy takes over and they become obsessed with hatred.
In reality, such feelings represent a lack of intelligence. Someone else’s success or failure has no bearing on our lives, so why waste our time thinking about them? This is very easy to understand yet we see that feelings of schadenfreude are very common. The only way to break free of this jealousy is through the acquisition of knowledge, which then leads to intelligence. Empathy is a virtue and a quality possessed by the wise. A high class person has empathy for all living entities, regardless of their disposition.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.18)
Maharishi Valmiki, the great poet and devotee of God, once gave a description of the qualities of a devotee of God, and he made sure to include this idea of viewing every living entity equally. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended to earth in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. A pious prince and an excellent warrior, Lord Rama was loved and adored by all the citizens of Ayodhya, the town where He lived as the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha. As part of the Lord’s pastimes, He spent fourteen years as an exile from the kingdom, roaming the forest with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. Early on in their journey, the trio stopped at the hermitage of Valmiki. Lord Rama asked the sage if he knew of a good place where they could set up camp. Valmiki, the author of the original Ramayana (historical account of Lord Rama’s life), cleverly answered the Lord by describing the qualities of a devotee, and thereby telling the group to remain in the hearts of such devotees, for that would be their very home. This conversation is detailed in the Ramayana of Tulsidas, known as the Ramacharitamanasa.
“(Those) who rejoice to see another’s prosperity and are sore distressed at their misfortune; to whom, O Rama, You are dear as their own lives, in their hearts be Your blessed abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa)
From this description we see that a devotee automatically possesses the quality of empathy that is sorely needed in today’s society.
How does one become a devotee? In the depths of our hearts, we are all devotees of Krishna, but we have forgotten Him due to our contact with material nature. As soon as we take birth from the womb of our mother, the illusory energy known as maya clouds our judgment and causes us to forget the experiences of our previous lives. As spirit souls, we all originally had a loving relationship with the Supreme Lord Krishna, but due to our desire for fruitive activity, we have fallen into this material world. Here we are clouded by the concepts of “I” and “mine”, leading us to think that we are the doers responsible for the fruits of our labor. Thinking ourselves to be God, we have forgotten about Krishna, which has caused us to develop bad traits. Instead of engaging in pious activities, we have become attached to the sinful ways of intoxication and gambling. Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending are the activities of animals, and we humans have started to imitate them by our overindulgence in eating and our excessive drinking. This type of sinful activity is just an artificial way of escaping our senses. It is a sign that we are not happy in our present condition, otherwise we would have no need to take up things that we know aren’t good for us. Instead of trying to escape our senses, we need to purify them.
Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is the process by which one can rekindle one’s relationship with God. In previous ages, other processes of self-realization were recommended such as sacrifice, deity worship, and the performance of rigid austerities. However, in this age, the recommended method is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God has many different names depending on His activities, as well as time and circumstance, but Krishna is the original name. Anyone can chant it at anytime, to themselves, or with others, for there are no hard and fast rules to chanting. There is no difference between God and His name, so when we are chanting, we are remembering and loving God at the same time. By fixing our minds on Him, we gradually lose our taste for sinful activity. We slowly develop the qualities of a devotee, which means we automatically become first class citizens.
“You shall not witness anything disagreeable there. For me, you shall not experience any sorrow, nor shall I be a burden to you. Do take me with you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)
When Lord Rama was given the order to leave the kingdom and live in the forest as an exile, He first informed Sita of the news. He requested her to remain in the kingdom, for He didn’t want her to be subjected to the dangers and hardships associated with forest life. Sita, however, had her mind set on going. She argued vigorously with her husband to allow her to come along. The above referenced quote was part of her plea. A wife is to be given protection at all times by the husband, so declare the Vedas. Lord Rama thought she would be better protected if she stayed at home where she would be amongst family and friends. Sita knew her husband felt this way, so she made it a point to let Him know that she would not be a burden to Him. In some marriages, wives can be very demanding of their husbands, always asking them for things and complaining about how they are treated. Sita was just the opposite. Being the pure devotee of God, she was always looking after His welfare. She never for a second wanted to be an imposition on Rama. She wanted to accompany Him in order that she may serve the Lord and make His exile more pleasant.
The lesson to be learned here is that we too shouldn’t be a burden on God. Krishna can accommodate any and all requests, but it is more beneficial to us to avoid bothering Him with unnecessary things. Instead of asking for things, we should give to Him by offering our food, prayers, and love. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Lord Narayana, Krishna’s four-handed form, is often pictured lying down on the Causal Ocean where He is being served by Goddess Lakshmi. It is often noted that devotees of Lord Narayana, or Vishnu, usually live a meager lifestyle and are poor, whereas the Lord Himself is depicted as being very opulent. This is the case due to the wish of the devotees. Instead of taking credit themselves, devotees prefer God to have all the glory, fame, and opulence. Devotees only ask for one thing…that they may always think of the Lord. This was also stated by Valmiki in the Ramacharitamanasa.
“He who never asks for anything but is devoted to you with a simple, spontaneous devotion – in his heart abide forever, for that is your very home.” (Maharishi Valmiki, Ramacharitamanasa)
One of Krishna’s names is Madhava, meaning the “husband of the goddess of fortune.” Rama is Sita’s husband in the material and spiritual worlds. As Goddess Lakshmi, Sita is known for providing wealth to those with whom she is pleased. If we are fortunate enough to be blessed with wealth and good fortune, we should follow Sita’s lead and use it for the right purpose…service to Krishna. Money is not a bad thing if we use it to construct temples for the Lord, for buying nice flowers that can be offered to Him, or other similar things. The possibilities are endless. “Worshipping and serving My devotee is as good as worshipping Me” is the declaration made by Krishna. By using our wealth in this way, we will please Sita Devi, which means that God will simultaneously be pleased.
As events would play out, the group would fall on hard times. While ranging the forest, Sita would be kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. This caused Rama great grief, but we shouldn’t mistakenly blame Sita for this. These events were all preordained, for the Lord needed an excuse to kill Ravana and return the world to a peaceful condition. God never views the needs of devotees as an imposition. He takes it upon Himself to rescue them from any and all precarious conditions, as He did with Sita when she was taken captive by Ravana. Knowing that God is so nice, instead of falling prey to the base feelings of envy, let us elevate ourselves to the platform of love of Godhead.