Nurturing our faith helps ease the inevitable suffering of life in the material world.
I'm groggy. It's early. I'm way too tired to go to work today. After nearly shattering my alarm clock, I slowly drag myself out of bed. I shower, worship my deities, chant my rounds, and head downstairs for breakfast. I glance at the newspaper that sits untouched on the kitchen table.
"Father Convicted of Killing Two Children"
"Young Couple Victim of Hit and Run"
"Infant Dies of Malnutrition After Abandonment"
And I thought my problems were bad.
True to my morning ritual, I glance at Radha-Krsna, who guard the kitchen through the antique picture frame that hangs above the table. I flash Them my best "good-morning-have-a-great-day" smile and touch Their feet. Usually, I'd now head out to face the cut-throat corporate world. But today I pause, turn around, and pull up a chair in front of Radha-Krsna.
"I don't get it," I say aloud.
I scan the vicinity to ensure that no one is within earshot.
When I'm sure the coast is clear, I say, "This world is filled with suffering. Even the people who try to serve You go through so much misery. Why?"
The only thing I know for sure is that I'm not the only one who doesn't quite understand the apparent inequality and unfairness of the material world, characterized by birth, death, old age, and disease. The current age of Kali is further characterized by greed, drought, famine, envy, irreligion, and, well, the kinds of stories you read about in the newspaper every morning. In fact, the entire history of the material world is filled with sadness and tragedy, even during Lord Krsna's time here. Lord Krsna Himself went through seemingly troubled times, such as His separation from His beloved gopis, the cowherd girls. His paternal aunt and dedicated servant Kunti lost five grandsons to murder in one night. His sister, Subhadra, lost her son Abhimanyu in the battle of Kuruksetra. His friend Arjuna was faced with a dilemma most of us never even dreamed of: whether or not to kill some of his own family. The Lord's great devotee Prahlada Maharaja was tormented by his own father and survived several of his father's plots to kill him. Why must the Lord's own servants suffer so much in this world?
People can tell us until they're blue in the face to have unflinching faith in the Lord and devotion to Him, amidst all of our pain and suffering. People can tell us to trust that the Lord has a specific plan for us and it's fruitless for us to try to comprehend this plan. But that doesn't stop us from hurting, or from dwelling on our misfortunes. But here's the thing: Those people are right. If Lord Krsna can put His own family and intimate associates in such severe "misery," what makes us so special?
Krsna and the Gopis
Probably the most touching of Krsna's pastimes involve His association with His most dedicated and sincere servants, the gopis. They were absorbed in thoughts of Him twenty-four hours a day. They cringed at the thought of grass hurting the soles of His lotus feet as He traversed the forests of Vrndavana. His happiness was their happiness.
One day, the gopis were enjoying spending time with their beloved when they began to feel proud of being with Him. Sensing their pride, the Lord disappeared from their sight. The pure, simple-hearted gopis could not endure even one moment without Krsna's company. Their pain was immeasurable; the only thing they could think about was where He was, why He'd left them, and if He was all right. Their tears were plentiful, their grief unbearable. They sought advice from animate and inanimate objects alike: Had anyone seen their beloved? Where had He gone? In their desperate attempts to find Him, they became even more immersed in thoughts of Him. When He finally reunited with them, they couldn't have been happier or more relieved. But they were still confused; they could not understand why He'd left them to begin with. When they asked Him, He responded as follows (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.32.20-22):
The reason I do not immediately reciprocate the affection of living beings even when they worship Me, O gopis, is that I want to intensify their loving devotion. They then become like a poor man who has gained some wealth and then lost it, and who thus becomes so anxious about it that he can think of nothing else. My dear girls, understanding that simply for My sake you had rejected the authority of worldly opinion, of the Vedas, and of your relatives, I acted as I did only to increase your attachment to Me. Even when I removed Myself from your sight by suddenly disappearing, I never stopped loving you. Therefore, My beloved gopis, please do not harbor any bad feelings toward Me, your beloved. I am not able to repay My debt for your spotless service, even within a lifetime of Brahma. Your connection with Me is beyond reproach. You have worshiped Me, cutting off all domestic ties, which are difficult to break. Therefore please let your own glorious deeds be your compensation.
Krsna Is Listening
It is clear: More than anything else, we should understand that so-called misfortune and disaster truly are a form of Krsna's mercy. They are a sign that Krsna is trying to deepen our love for Him, intensify our devotion.
It is true what people say: Unflinching faith is really the answer to all our problems and uncertainties. There are times when it appears that Krsna is neglecting us or not listening to our prayers. But as the Supersoul, He's always listening. He's not our order-carrier. His will is what ensues. The better and more sincerely we serve Him, the more He reciprocates and answers our prayers.
Pure devotees want nothing from Krsna but more opportunities to serve Him and His devotees. Our goal should be to aim to attain even the smallest fraction of the mood of the gopis. Krsna was so overwhelmed and appreciative of the gopis' loving service that He told them, "I have nothing left to give you. Please be content with your own actions." He becomes indebted to them. The creator, the proprietor of everything, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had nothing left to give those dear sweetgopis. In fact, He was so overwhelmed by their pure love for Him that He became their servant.
He did all He could to satisfy them. If they asked Him to dance, He danced. If they asked Him to play the flute, He played. That is the beauty of the relationship between the Lord and His devotees. So simple, so pure, so honest, so real unlike anything we can find among ourselves in the material world.
Another example of unfaltering faith is Kunti, who after the death of her grandsons approached Lord Krsna and asked Him to please continue to put her through distress and hardship, because it was in those times that she thought of Him the most. That is the sign of a pure devotee.
A pure devotee looks at misfortune as bad karma being exhausted. A devotee thinks that Krsna is lessening his sinful reactions. A devotee realizes that during the most difficult times, Krsna within is guiding and protecting him. He realizes that his hardships are simply the Lord trying to keep His child close to Him, trying to encourage him to remember Him.
I understand that suffering comes because of karma, or things we've done in the past. And I understand that karma exists because we have free will, which Krsna has given us so we can freely choose to love Him. Still, I can't explain exactly why a particular thing happens. I don't know why that man killed his children. I don't know why that driver fled the scene after striking that couple. I don't know why that poor baby's mother left him to die.
But I do know that Krsna has a plan for all of us. I do know that He loves all of us equally; He is impartial, like a father who doesn't favor any one child. Still, Krsna reciprocates loving transactions with us proportionately to what we offer. Chanting Hare Krsna will burn all of our good and bad karma, the causes of bondage to the material world.
A devotee once suggested to me that because the world is filled with exploitation and deceit, for maximum protection one should try to chant sixteen rounds every morning before leaving home. He said that if I did that, I'd develop an aura, almost a shield, that would bar people from hurting me. Minimum sixteen rounds each day for maximum protection.
The maha-mantra is so powerful. It is Krsna Himself incarnating as His name, and we directly associate with the Lord while chanting. We are awakening our dormant love for Him beneath the dust of the mirror of our hearts. It's simple: Unfortunate circumstances will ensue, we won't always understand what Krsna's plan is, but chanting, reading, and associating with devotees will virtually, if not completely, remove our pain. These practices will cause us to view our suffering in a different light, just as thegopis did, just as Kunti did, as Prahlada Maharaja did, and as Srimati Subhadra did.
Raise your hands and rejoice in the power and beauty of the Lord's sweet names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare!
And that's what I do as I look at the photo Radha-Krsna this morning.
That's my mum. She has just rounded the corner and is peering at me, clearly wondering what exactly I'm doing, and if I'll be in need of medication.
"Were you just talking to yourself?"
"Oh. Hi mum. I . . . uh . . . well, emmm . . . Stop talking to me I'm late! Bye!"
And with that, I once again venture into the cut-throat corporate world. But I feel safer. I feel protected. I feel the warmth of Krsna in my heart. I can deal with anything today.
Rashi Singh graduated with an honors degree in marketing from the Schulich School of Business at York University. She lives in Toronto, Canada.