Most people think that certain people are their friends and certain people their enemies and to succeed in this world one had better learn how to befriend one's friends and defeat one's enemies. That's practical worldly wisdom.
But devotees see things differently. Here is a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam that expresses Prahlada Maharaja's opinion: "My dear father, please give up your demoniac mentality. Do not discriminate in your heart between enemies and friends; make your mind equipoised toward everyone. Except for the uncontrolled and misguided mind, there is no enemy within this world. When one sees everyone on the platform of equality, one then comes to the position of worshiping the Lord perfectly."
This is the philosophy of a maha-bhagavata, the highest devotee of the Lord. This philosophy is just as wise and practical as that which discriminates between friends and enemies. Prahlada's philosophy tells us that since everyone is an eternal servant of God, there's oneness among all living beings and no point to seeing one group as friends and another as enemies.
We distinguish friends from enemies when trying to gratify our senses. If we meet someone who conflicts with our material desires, he becomes an enemy. When someone serves our desires, he becomes a friend. When our basic sense desires are met, we extend our friends and enemies to include those who either agree or disagree with our culture, religion, philosophy, skin color, or family identity. Then, going by all these distinctions, we strengthen ourselves with allies and stand against our enemies. In this way, we arbitrarily divide the world into two classes, friends and enemies. Then we're caught up in diplomacy.
But this all proceeds from dualities that don't really exist. Actually, we're all servants of God.
The Age of Kali brings on enmity, even among friends and within families. It brings out enmity even within religious movements in which devotees are striving to see one another as servants of God. Srila Prabhupada comments on how to conquer this enmity within a religious movement:
"Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another's service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking. There is no question of enmity between servants. Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others."
That's how to practically apply what Prahlada Maharaja is teaching. By looking at another's service with respect, and not imagining that because we have a particular service everyone else should also be doing that same service, we will avoid enmity among devotees.
Krsna enjoys varieties of service. Therefore, He inspires us to serve Him in different ways. The spiritual world is full of variety, and that variety is a source of happiness. Srila Prabhupada liked to quote the English saying "Variety is the mother of enjoyment."
Srila Prabhupada also mentions that not only should we respect the varieties of service that other devotees perform, but we should honor those devotees for serving according to their capacity, which may be different from our own. Can we say that someone is not serving as well as we because we have a greater capacity for physical or mental work? To avoid enmity among devotees, we have to set aside such dualities and become friendly toward all Krsna's servants. If we can't do that even within our own movement, how will we perform the more difficult task of seeing all others in the entire world as servants of God and feel no enmity toward them?
If devotees are our friends and everyone else in the world is a servant of God, then where are the enemies? Srila Prabhupada writes, "One who is in Krsna consciousness knows that there are no enemies but those within oneself the uncontrolled mind and senses."
These are the enemies lust, greed, envy, anger, illusion, and madness and they reside within us. These are the faults that prevent us from seeing everyone as an eternal servant of Krsna. The uncontrolled mind is our worst enemy. Therefore, conquering enemies begins with conquering our own mind, and then the senses.
Facing these enemies, devotees often become sorry they cannot progress in spiritual life. We all want to be ideal devotees, yet years go by and we are still hampered by our own mind and senses. Therefore, we should direct all our energy to conquering these enemies, which are stopping us from attaining Krsna consciousness, and not waste time and energy in the imaginary battle with others.
Prahlada's words make this clear. Even if someone is powerful enough to conquer all external opposition through politics, erudition, or military strength, unless one conquers the enemies within oneself one will still be defeated.
Still, there are people in this world who choose to act as our enemies. Doesn't that make them our enemies? No. Such people may see themselves as our enemies, but we don't look at them with enmity. Of course, if people are attacking temples or devotees, a devotee will defend Krsna and His servants. Arjuna and Hanuman are famous examples of devotees who, by the Lord's order, fought for the cause of God consciousness against those who were trying to stamp it out.
But a devotee doesn't hate anyone, because he sees everyone as Krsna's servant. He sees those who would attack him as misguided and deluded by bodily consciousness. How can anyone in that condition understand that Krsna consciousness is not inimical to them? Therefore, a devotee works to enlighten his enemies, not obliterate them. Prabhupada quoted the saying "Hate the sin, not the sinner." We are against sinful activities gambling, meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex but that doesn't mean we hate those who do these things. Otherwise, how could we preach? No, we hate the activity and the web of karma it weaves around otherwise innocent people. So by spreading Krsna consciousness, we undermine sinful activity.
One time Prabhupada was speaking against "rascals and demons," and a devotee said, "Yes, Prabhupada, we should defeat them." Prabhupada answered, "No, they are already defeated. You should show them mercy." The demons are already defeated by material nature. They may not know it, but the devotee knows it. Therefore, he tries to give them the mercy of Krsna consciousness.
Prahlada provides a perfect example of this kind of thinking. When his father tried to kill him, Prahlada remained sweet-tempered and peaceful and never stopped being Krsna conscious. Prahlada refused to submit to demonic principles, but he was so nice that he simply wanted everyone to become a devotee, including his father. Srila Prabhupada had that vision too. He saw Krsna consciousness as a universal principle, and he didn't see why everyone shouldn't have access to it.
Therefore, although we are not such dreamers that we fail to see those who work against the Hare Krsna movement, we should always remember Prahlada Maharaja's teachings: Conquer the enemy within yourself and preach with compassion for those still caught in the grip of their own internal enemies. Otherwise, we will descend to the level of sorting out our friends from our enemies and have no time left to think about Krsna.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.