Sunday, February 17, 2008

Suffering as Mercy

From a letter written by Srila Prabhupada to his disciple, Guru das, on February 13, 1968: 

I have received also one letter from Upendra today, and I am so glad he is released within 10 days. That was my expectation when he came to see me, that he couldn't be incarcerated for more than a week. This instance of suffering by a devotee should be carefully noted. As Upendra was in the beginning incarcerated for 3 months, it was reduced to one week; similarly, when a devotee is seen in trouble, it should be accepted as God's Mercy.

Just like Upendra's suffering for 3 months was destined by the law, but by the Mercy of God the suffering is reduced to one week only. So a devotee always accepts his distress as minimized by God's Mercy, although he would have to suffer many more times the suffering. Any one who accepts this philosophy of God's Mercy in suffering conditions, and still makes progress in Krishna Consciousness, it is said that he is sure to go back to Home, Back to Godhead.


Billy said...

As you know I am a Christian proponent of a suffering God, so this theme is one that resonates. However I think there needs to be a distinction between spiritual laws and practice, and the Civil Laws aimed at ensuring Social Justice. Once God's people have established a sphere of Dominion they are responsible I believe, to ensure uniform and fair application of just laws for everyone. And to fail to do so is to profane the sacrifice of those upon whose spiritual shoulders we stand.

We build upon the foundation of suffering. Yes, we must inherit that historical foundation on a personal level through our own walk - but we cannot tolerate injustice in society in the name of anyone having need to "pay spiritual dues". And unfortunately at some point, believers may discover their religious institutions are not excluded from this either. Justice is not arbitrary nor capricious, and an enlightened people know what is right and what is wrong. And our children will judge us in this regard as well.

To fight for social justice from the position of a Spiritual person is a difficult challenge. Politics and law require getting your hands dirty and so Gandhi, Confucius, Martin Luther King, such politically active saints are few and far between. I'm not declaring anyone perfect either, but that we are not isn't a very good excuse not to try, in my view. As I tell my spiritual Godbrothers, sometimes we really need to stand up.

Of course life is, as it is often said, unfair. But if we are such spiritually developed individuals, is that not largely *our* fault?


jauvana said...

I think Prabhupada's point in this letter to one of his disciples is to explain the principle that mercy supercedes justice for a devotee. According to our karma, each of us receives the justice we deserve. This is not to excuse or justify murder, insanity or evil. But why do bad things happen to good people? Why does misfortune appear to be random? The laws of karma are scientific-- there are unseen reactions for previous misuse of freedom.

Social and criminal justice is another concept. No doubt we want to live in a society where justice prevails. But that is a relative concept. What is just? Is justice only for human beings? What about our animal brothers? Do they also deserve justice? Or can they be sent to the slaughterhouse while we talk about human rights? So justice is relative.

But this post is about a higher principle. It is about the role of divine mercy, or freedom from sinful reactions by surrendering to the will of God. This is the point in Prabhupada's letter. Someone who tolerates their suffering while taking shelter and remembering the Lord becomes a candidate for liberation from this material world, by the mercy of God. Mercy trumps justice in God's plan.

Billy said...

I understand Krishna is merciful, much more merciful than we are really. But slavery is not an expression of God's mercy, nor is the now defunct Indian caste system, nor are laws that give legitimacy to religious persecution, nor is it merciful to look the other way when criminals abuse children sexually. These are all the result of MAN'S actions, MAN'S creativity, and born of our portion of responsibility - or the failure thereof.

What is merciful to society and our children to lock such people up, and the incarceration is merciful for the criminal too in that he cannot worsen his situation by commiting more social damage. if your brother is drunk and shooting off a gun, punching him in the face could be a very merciful act indeed. Justice and Mercy are two expressions of the same thing. And religion that is unable to effectively address real world problems is destined to fail. That God might soften the heart of a judge sometimes doesn't make laws that offend God any less offensive, or bad laws written by men God's doing.

When asked if it was because of personal sin or that of a man's family lineage that a tower once fell upon a man, Jesus said for neither one, but that worse things would befall those asking the question if they continued to think that way. Because God sends down rain on the just and the unjust, and how is it compassionate to speculate on why a man experienced misfortune, or to assume he in any way deserved it?

In my case I don't require misfortune to have a bad attitude, but I do realize that it's not just the ability to carry pain, but to digest difficulties which deepens one heart and vertical relationship. But that has to balanced with the horizontal, being socially responsible, and I think we have to say something when we see or are victims of injustice - for the sake of our brothers and sisters. What we experience has implications for our children, our co-workers, our fellow citizens of the world.

Of course, I admit I could use a bit more humility when I do say something.