From Lust to Love–With Krsna’s Mercy
By Giriraj Swami
We read from Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Chapter Three: “Karma-yoga.”
tasmat tvam indriyany adau
papmanam prajahi hy enam
Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin [lust] by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
The Lord advised Arjuna to regulate the senses from the very beginning so that he could curb the greatest sinful enemy, lust, which destroys the urge for self-realization and specific knowledge of the self. Jnana refers to knowledge of self as distinguished from non-self, or in other words, knowledge that the spirit soul is not the body. Vijnana refers to specific knowledge of the spirit soul’s constitutional position and his relationship to the Supreme Soul. It is explained thus in Srimad–Bhagavatam (2.9.31):
jnanam parama-guhyam me
sa-rahasyam tad-angam ca
grhana gaditam maya
“The knowledge of the self and Supreme Self is very confidential and mysterious, but such knowledge and specific realization can be understood if explained with their various aspects by the Lord Himself.” The Bhagavad-gita gives us that general and specific knowledge of the self. The living entities are parts and parcels of the Lord, and therefore they are simply meant to serve the Lord. This consciousness is called Krsna consciousness. So, from the very beginning of life one has to learn this Krsna consciousness, and thereby one may become fully Krsna conscious and act accordingly.
Lust is only the perverted reflection of the love of God which is natural for every living entity. But if one is educated in Krsna consciousness from the very beginning, that natural love of God cannot deteriorate into lust. When love of God deteriorates into lust, it is very difficult to return to the normal condition. Nonetheless, Krsna consciousness is so powerful that even a late beginner can become a lover of God by following the regulative principles of devotional service. So, from any stage of life, or from the time of understanding its urgency, one can begin regulating the senses in Krsna consciousness, devotional service of the Lord, and turn the lust into love of Godhead—the highest perfectional stage of human life.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
In the beginning of the movement in America, one of the first young men to come forward to serve Srila Prabhupada was Bruce Scharf, who was later initiated as Brahmananda dasa. Brahmananda had taken a class in English literature, and the professor had asked the students to give an interpretation of the motives of a character in a story. Brahmananda told Srila Prabhupada that he had interpreted the motivations of the character in a cosmic, or spiritual, way and that the professor had explained the motives in terms of lust, or sex desire. Srila Prabhupada replied, “Your professor was right: In the material world everything is impelled by lust.”
Because of lust, we remain encaged in the physical body, which is full of misery. Both the gross body and the subtle body, which includes the mind, suffer pain and anguish. We want to become free from the bondage of the material body. As long as we are imprisoned in the material body, we have to suffer greatly. And we never know what may come next. Things may go well for a while—for years even—but then all of a sudden something we never expected goes wrong. And the result is that we suffer great pain—physical, mental, or both.
A sober, intelligent person will think, “As long as I am in this material body, I am subject to so many miseries, but my nature as a spiritual soul, is joyful.” The soul is by nature eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss (sac-cid-ananda). But the body is the opposite: asat, acid, and nirananda—temporary, full of ignorance, and full of misery. The eternal soul imprisoned in a temporary body is in an awkward position, an incompatible situation. Therefore an intelligent, wise, sober person will endeavor to become free from the bondage of material existence, from the cycle of birth and death in the material world. And as long as we identify with the body and act on the impulses of the body to enjoy the senses, we will have to take birth again.
Contemporary society has made much propaganda in favor of enjoying the senses without restriction. They say that there is no problem with sensual gratification; the problem is that we feel guilty about it, and if we can get rid of the sense of guilt, we can really enjoy the senses. This theory may sound attractive to materialistic persons who want to enjoy the senses, and we also don’t insist that you should avoid sense gratification because it is “bad” or “evil.” There is sense gratification even in the spiritual world—spiritual sense gratification. But the problem with material sense gratification is that it increases our material attachment and bondage, which extends our duration of suffering, our prison sentence, in this material world. And it is not true that the sense of guilt or shame in relation to sense gratification or sex is just a false imposition by society.
Every culture has restrictions on sex indulgence, and the general rule is that if one wants to have sex he or she should get married; the husband should be responsible for the wife, and the wife should be faithful to the husband. There is restriction, regulation, as indicated in the verse (niyama). But even such regulation does not qualify a person to be liberated from the repetition of birth and death. The only qualification for that is Krishna consciousness.
So, regulating the senses means not only that a man limits himself to his wife and a woman limits herself to her husband; it means that they engage their senses in devotional service in Krishna consciousness. That is what it means to regulate the senses. Yes, there is restriction, but the ultimate regulation is to always engage the senses and mind in the service of Krishna. Krishna consciousness will purify the mind and ultimately liberate the soul from material bondage.
And we should engage in Krishna consciousness from the very beginning (adau). As Srila Prabhupada explains in the purport, the living entity is naturally endowed with pure love for Krishna (nitya-siddha krsna-prema), but when the living entity comes in contact with matter, that pure love for Krishna becomes perverted into lust, selfish desire; and when lust is frustrated, it turns into anger, and there is a whole cycle. But that lust is just an inverted reflection of the living entity’s original, pure love for Krsna. And just as pure love can be transformed into lust by contact with material nature, so too lust can be purified by engagement in devotional service. Thus kama—“lust,” or “desire”—can be transformed by desiring Krishna’s happiness. We cannot stop desire. But we can transform selfish desires for sense gratification into desires for Krishna’s happiness. Basically, kama means the desire for my own happiness, and pure love (prema) means the desire for Krishna’s happiness.
atmendriya-priti-vancha-tare bali ‘kama’
krsnendriya-priti-iccha dhare ‘prema’ nama
“The desire to gratify one’s own senses is kama [lust], but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krsna is prema [love].” (Cc Adi 4.165)
So, we do not try to eradicate desire—we cannot kill it—but we do attempt to change the quality of the desire. Instead of desiring personal happiness in the bodily conception, we desire Krishna’s happiness. Instead of working to gratify our senses, we act to please Krishna’s senses. And thus, lust becomes purified and transformed into love. And when we have pure love for Krishna, we are always happy, always eager to sing His glories, hear His pastimes, serve His devotees, and worship His Deity. We are always eager to think of Him and engage in devotional service.
It is natural that when you are in love with someone you think of the person all the time. It comes naturally; it is not an effort. Sometimes lovers have a quarrel or one partner leaves the other, and the partners suffer terribly. One partner may want to forget the other but can’t—because of attachment. In the same way, when we become attached to Krishna, when we fall in love with Krishna, we will think of Him constantly; we won’t be able to forget Him.
On a very high level of love of God in Vrindavan, the devotee, out of intense affection, forgets that Krishna is God and simply loves Him as a friend loves a friend or a parent loves a child. And on the highest level, the devotees—the young gopis, led by Srimati Radharani—love Krishna as their dearmost beloved. When Krishna left Vrindavan to go to Mathura, all the residents of Vrindavan were plunged into an ocean of separation. Of course, that ocean of separation was really an ocean of bliss, because on the absolute platform separation also means meeting. Still, within the variegatedness of spiritual emotion, they felt separation.
One day, when a bumblebee began to hover around Srimati Radharani, the greatest lover of Krishna—She was like a lotus flower, and the bumblebee wanted to taste that flower’s nectar—Radharani, in Her ecstasy, took the bumblebee to be a messenger from Krishna. And in Her intense love for Him in separation, She apparently criticized Him:
sapadi grha-kutumbam dinam utsrjya dina
bahava iha vihanga bhiksu-caryam caranti
“To hear about the pastimes that Krsna regularly performs is nectar for the ears. For those who relish just a single drop of that nectar, even once, their dedication to material duality is ruined. Many such persons have suddenly given up their wretched homes and families and, themselves becoming wretched, traveled here to Vrndavana to wander about like birds, begging for their living.” (SB 10.47.18)
She said that people gave up their families, their hearths and homes, which ordinarily were very difficult to leave, to come to Vraja to search for Krishna, but that in Vrindavan too they were miserable, because Krishna didn’t give Himself to them. They were aggrieved. They had left everything to find Krishna, but they didn’t get Krishna either. Or if they did get Him, He left them. Thus they wandered about Vrindavan like homeless birds searching for food.
But learned scholars have revealed the inner meaning of Srimati Radharani’s words. These birds—who are they? They are paramahamsas, the topmost, liberated souls, who have gone beyond the dualities of material existence and given up fleeting material attachments. And they are always filled with transcendental ecstasy in separation from Krishna.
In Her ecstatic mood of love, Srimati Radharani criticized Krishna—for His pleasure. Everything the Vraja-vasis—especially the gopis—do is for Krishna’s pleasure. And some authorities say that Krishna Himself came as the honeybee to drink the sweetness of Srimati Radharani’s speech.
In another verse, Radharani says that Krishna had been cruel even in His past lives, as Rama and Vamana:
mrgayur iva kapindram vivyadhe lubdha-dharma
striyam akrta virupam stri-jitah kama-yanam
balim api balim attvavestayad dhvanksa-vad yas
tad alam asita-sakhyair dustyajas tat-katharthah
“Like a hunter, He cruelly shot the king of the monkeys with arrows. Because He was conquered by a woman, He disfigured another woman who came to Him with lusty desires. And even after consuming the gifts of Bali Maharaja, He bound him up with ropes as if he were a crow. So let us give up all friendship with this dark-complexioned boy, even if we can’t give up talking about Him.” (SB 10.47.17)
She criticized Krishna, saying, in effect, “If Krishna can live without us, we can live without Him.” The messenger may have responded, “If Krishna is so bad, why don’t You just forget Him? Why do You always talk about Him?” And She would have replied, “We can live without Krishna, but we can’t live without talking about Him.”
That is love. When there is love, no matter one’s condition, one cannot but think of the beloved. You can’t forget the person. Even if you want to forget and try to forget, you cannot—out of love.
The love of the devotees for Krishna is not shaken in any condition. Sometimes devotees face trials and tribulations, but their love for Krishna never wavers. In the Mahabharata we see how the Pandavas were insulted, sent into exile, and put through so many difficulties, but their love for Krishna never wavered. While they were in exile, Krishna, unannounced, came to where they were and approached Arjuna. And when Arjuna saw Him, he was immediately overwhelmed with ecstatic love. He didn’t waver for a moment. He never thought, “Oh, Krishna, we are suffering so much. Why are You making us suffer so? Why are You allowing us to suffer?” No complaint. Only pure love—completely spontaneous. Sometimes we see someone we don’t like, or someone with whom we are angry, and we have to make an effort to be polite. It wasn’t like that, and there was no complaint—just pure love, causeless love. Devotees love Krishna without any material motive. In fact, if there were some material motive, it wouldn’t be love. If I love you to get something from you, it is not pure love; it is lust. I am actually thinking of my own desires, what I can get from you to gratify my senses. It is not love, but lust. Pure love is causeless and thus is never disturbed by material affliction.
Srila Prabhupada says that in the material world the boy says to the girl, “I love you,” and the girl says to the boy, “I love you,” but that as soon as there is some disruption in their sense gratification, there is quarrel, separation, divorce, because there was some material motive. But in prema the only motive is to make Krishna happy. There is no question of personal gain or loss. Our only interest is to please Krishna. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, echoing the sentiments of Srimati Radharani, said, “If, by my suffering, Krishna becomes happy, I will take the greatest suffering to be the greatest happiness—because Krishna will be pleased.” That is Srimati Radharani’s mood:
na gani apana-duhkha, sabe vanchi tanra sukha,
tanra sukha-amara tatparya
more yadi diya duhkha, tanra haila maha-sukha,
sei duhkha-mora sukha-varya
“I do not mind My personal distress. I only wish for the happiness of Krsna, for His happiness is the goal of My life. However, if He feels great happiness in giving Me distress, that distress is the best of My happiness.
ye narire vanche krsna, tara rupe satrsna,
tare na pana haya duhkhi
mui tara paya padi’, lana yana hate dhari’,
krida karana tanre karon sukhi
“If Krsna, attracted by the beauty of some other woman, wants to enjoy with her but is unhappy because He cannot get her, I fall down at her feet, catch her hand, and bring her to Krsna to engage her for His happiness.” (Cc Antya 20.52, 53)
And such is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s internal mood of surrender, as expressed in His Siksastaka (8):
aslisya va pada-ratam pinastu mam
adarsanan marma-hatam karotu va
yatha tatha va vidadhatu lampato
mat-prana-nathas tu sa eva naparah
“Let Krsna tightly embrace this maidservant who has fallen at His lotus feet, or let Him trample Me or break My heart by never being visible to Me. He is a debauchee, after all, and can do whatever He likes, but still He alone, and no one else, is the worshipable Lord of My heart.” (Cc Antya 20.47)
A devotee wants only Krishna’s happiness. He has no separate, selfish interest. And he can desire and work for Krishna’s happiness in any situation. No material impediment, no condition, can stop one’s service or mood of service to Krishna, to please Krishna.
On one morning walk in Chicago, Srila Prabhupada commented on a car called a Thunderbird. “Is there any bird called thunderbird?” he asked. Some devotees ventured, “It’s a bird from American Indian legend. Sometimes their chiefs are called Thunderbird.” Srila Prabhupada said, “We have got an idea of thunderbird. The bird flies near the cloud in expectation of water, and he is not afraid of thunder.” He said that the example was given by Rupa Gosvami: “The cataka bird will not take water from the ground. He will take water only from the cloud. So, in the beginning of every cloud there is thunder. And this bird, because he is expecting water, although the cloud is giving him thunder, still he will not take water from the ground.” When a devotee askedwhat the example illustrated, Srila Prabhupada replied, “A devotee will take mercy only from Krishna, not from the material world. Even if there is thunder—Krishna . . . puts him into difficulty—still he will not take any mercy from the material world.”
Srila Rupa Gosvami wrote this beautiful verse:
viracaya mayi dandam dina-bandho dayam va
gatir iha na bhavattah kacid anya mamasti
nipatatu sata-kotir nirmalam va navambhas
tad api kila payodah stuyate catakena
“O Lord of the poor, do what you like with me, give me either mercy or punishment, but in this world I have none to look to except Your Lordship. The cataka bird always prays for the cloud, regardless of whether it showers rains or throws a thunderbolt.”
The devotee will not look for shelter in the material world, but he will tolerate the thunder and lightning and wait for Krishna’s mercy, those nectarean drops of pure rain.
And the devotee also takes the thunderbolt as Krishna’s mercy. Srimad-Bhagavatam says that when a devotee is put into difficulty, into distress, he patiently suffers the reactions to his past activities, expects the Lord’s mercy, and serves the Lord with body, mind, and words. And if he passes his life in this way, he will earn the right to enter the kingdom of God.
tat te ’nukampam su-samiksamano
bhunjana evatma-krtam vipakam
hrd-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak
“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words, and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” (SB 10.14.8)
This verse is very significant. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) Lord Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja/ aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah—“If one surrenders unto Me, I deliver him from all sinful reactions.” For a devotee, there are no sinful reactions. So, when a devotee suffers, what is actually happening—what does it mean that “he patiently suffers the reactions to his past deeds”? Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains that a devotee knows that his present happiness is due to past devotional activities and that his present distress is due to past offenses. Thus he peacefully endures all happiness and distress and patiently awaits the mercy of the Lord. Or he takes his present happiness and distress as the Lord’s mercy on him. As Srila Prabhupada writes, “He accepts all miseries as the mercy of the Lord, thinking himself only worthy of more trouble due to his past misdeeds; and he sees that his miseries, by the grace of the Lord, are minimized to the lowest. Similarly, when he is happy he gives credit to the Lord, thinking himself unworthy of the happiness; he realizes that it is due only to the Lord’s grace that he is in such a comfortable condition and able to render better service to the Lord.” (Gita 2.56 purport)
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti explains further that a devotee thinks, “As a father sometimes mercifully gives a cup of milk to his small son and at other times mercifully gives him bitter medicine, at other times embraces and kisses him and at other times spanks him, so the Supreme Lord, who is like my father, knows what is actually good and bad for me, who am like His son. I do not know myself.” Thus, as a service to His dear child, for the child’s benefit, the loving supreme father administers both happiness and distress.
Prthu Maharaja prays,
tvan-mayayaddha jana isa khandito
yad anyad asasta rtatmano ’budhah
yatha cared bala-hitam pita svayam
tatha tvam evarhasi nah samihitum
“My Lord, due to Your illusory energy, all living beings in this material world have forgotten their real constitutional position, and out of ignorance they are always desirous of material happiness in the form of society, friendship, and love. Therefore, please do not ask me to take some material benefits from You, but as a father, not waiting for the son’s demand, does everything for the benefit of the son, please bestow upon me whatever You think best for me.” (SB 4.20.31)
It is a beautiful thing—Krishna consciousness. It is different from ordinary life. In ordinary life, “Sweets yea! Bitter medicine nay!” That is not the vision of a devotee.
Krishna’s supreme quality is His affection for His devotees—bhakta-vatsalya. The word vatsa means “calf” or “dear child.” Cows are so affectionate, so loving and caring, to their calves. And the word vatsalya comes from vatsa. Krishna is so loving and caring, so kind and compassionate to His devotees, that the question may be raised: Why should He put them into suffering?
As the acharyas explain, there is a great purpose behind the material creation: to rectify the living entity’s tendency to enjoy without the Lord, so that he becomes fully purified and liberated. When a person engages in a sinful activity, he suffers a reaction that is meant to purify his heart of the desire to commit that sin. Although a devotee who has surrendered to Krishna no longer engages in sinful activities, he may have some lingering trace of the enjoying spirit, of wanting to enjoy independent of Krishna, so even though he doesn’t actually engage in a sinful activity, the Lord, out of His mercy, will give His devotee a punishment that resembles a sinful reaction, to remove the last traces of the devotee’s sinful mentality. So, the misery suffered by a sincere devotee is not technically a karmic reaction. Rather, it is the Lord’s special mercy for inducing him to completely let go of the material world and return home, back to Godhead. And the devotee, completely cleansed in heart, becomes fully absorbed in loving service to Krishna and in the end returns to Him—the devotee’s goal. The devotee’s deepest desire is to attain the Lord’s association in loving service.
When a devotee’s only desire is to serve and please Krishna, he becomes eligible to go back home, back to Godhead. As stated in the purport, “A sincere devotee earnestly desires to go back to the Lord’s abode. Therefore he willingly accepts the Lord’s merciful punishment and continues offering respects and obeisances to the Lord with his heart, words, and body. Such a bona fide servant of the Lord, considering all hardship a small price to pay for gaining the personal association of the Lord, certainly becomes a legitimate son of God, as indicated here by the words daya-bhak. Just as one cannot approach the sun without becoming fire, one cannot approach the supreme pure, Lord Krsna, without undergoing a rigid purificatory process, which may appear like suffering but which is in fact a curative treatment administered by the personal hand of the Lord.” (SB 10.14.8 purport)
If one passes his life in this spirit, he will attain the lotus feet of the Lord. As a legitimate son needs only to remain alive to gain his inheritance from his father, one who simply remains alive in Krishna consciousness, following the regulative principles of devotional service, becomes eligible to inherit the kingdom of God.
That is how a devotee lives. He is like a cataka bird. He awaits the Lord’s mercy, and even if for some time the Lord gives thunder and lightning, still the devotee doesn’t go anywhere else; he simply awaits the Lord’s mercy. He expects the Lord’s mercy (su-samiksamana) and offers obeisances to the Lord with heart, words, and body (hrd-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te). These two processes are so potent that they can bring the devotee back to Godhead.
Thus our lust is purified and transformed into its original state of pure love. The enjoying spirit means lusty, selfish desires. And any remnant of that enjoying spirit can impede our progress. We want to become completely purified, perfectly Krishna conscious. And if we accept whatever remedial measures Lord Krishna arranges to purify us, however painful they may be, as His mercy, and expect further mercy in terms of attraction to Krishna—that is the real mercy, not that the pain will stop. Of course, the pain may stop, but the real mercy is that one is able to think of Krishna without deviation, which really means to develop love for Him. If you love someone, you naturally always think of the person, and that state of pure Krishna consciousness will carry us back home, back to Godhead, to the lotus feet of the Lord. And that is why we are here—to practice and preach Krishna consciousness, pure love for Krishna.
Are there any questions or comments?
Devotee (1): Thank you for your talk. You said that if you are fond of Krishna you should talk about Him.
Giriraj Swami: The gopis said, “We can live without Krishna, but we can’t live without talking about Him.” That is our business, to talk about Krishna. Especially in separation, one finds solace by speaking about Krishna.
Maha-sakti dasa: Thank you, Maharaja. I think the example about the bird was really neat. Is the bird cakora or cataka?
Giriraj Swami: Cataka. The cakoras like the moon; they subsist only on moonlight. Manasa-candra-cakora. Krishna is the candra, moon, for the cakora bird of the devotee’s mind (manasa). As the cakora bird goes to the moon, so the devotee’s mind goes to Krishnachandra.
Maha-sakti dasa: I was thinking that the example of the cataka bird is so powerful, and very appropriate. We do austerities in Krishna consciousness, but they are not really austerities. There is always something related to Krishna to replace what we give up. Prabhupada would say, “Don’t stop talking; just talk about Krishna.” Or “Don’t stop eating, but eat only krsna-prasada.” The functions of the tongue are to vibrate and to taste, and Srila Prabhupada explained how to engage both in relation to Krishna: vibrate krsna-katha and taste only krsna-prasada. It is a simple yet extremely powerful point. Our tongue wants to taste so many things, and the tendency is to eat anything we like: “Oh, I want this tasty food, or that tasty food.” By allowing our tongue to taste any type of food, we are letting it drag us to hell. And by accepting the austerity of tasting only krsna-prasada, by that simple agreement to accept that vrata, we are raising ourselves back home, back to Godhead. We are becoming Krishna conscious. And it is not that prasada is bad-tasting; it is incredible. But it is an austerity that we follow.
So, getting back to the example of the cataka bird, if prasada is not there, a devotee will not take something else. He would rather fast or wait for something that he can offer as prasada. It is that loyalty that qualifies him.
Giriraj Swami: Yes. Very good. Srila Prabhupada made the same point: The cataka bird drinks water when the rain falls; otherwise he will die of thirst. He will never accept any water from this earth. In the same way, a devotee will never accept materialism, even if he has to die of starvation. “There are still mainly saintly persons in India who do that,” Prabhupada said. “If some food comes, they eat; otherwise, not. They just sit in one place and chant or meditate without any concern for bodily necessities.”
Tamal Krishna Goswami said, “We see, Srila Prabhupada, that you also have no such concern, but just to deliver the whole world you are taking on this concern.” And Prabhupada replied, “This is for Krishna. We are constructing buildings and begging money only for this purpose: People may become Krishna conscious. That is the only idea.”
Syamananda dasa: You were describing from the Tenth Canto how a devotee patiently tolerates the difficulties that he is going through because there are these little anarthas left and Krishna is correcting him by giving him some mercy, which seems like pain. I was wondering, if the devotee is sincerely endeavoring and practicing, why can’t the Lord make him . . . like when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came, He just gave mercy without any requirements. One may have lust—one may have anything—but He just gave them love, and because of receiving that love, the rest, all the bad qualities, just fell away. So, I was wondering why the Lord doesn’t always do that.
Giriraj Swami: The acharyas have addressed the same question in relation to a similar verse:
harisye tad-dhanam sanaih
tato ’dhanam tyajanty asya
So, the question can be raised, Why does Krishna have to purify him in this way? Why can’t He do it in a less painful way?
As explained in the purport, “The beloved devotees of the Lord do not regard as very troublesome the suffering He imposes on them. Indeed, they find that in the end it gives rise to unlimited pleasure, just as a stinging ointment applied by a physician cures his patient’s infected eye. In addition, suffering helps protect the confidentiality of devotional service by discouraging intrusions by the faithless, and it also increases the eagerness with which the devotees call upon the Lord to appear. If the devotees of Lord Visnu were complacently happy all the time, He would never have a reason to appear in this world as Krsna, Ramacandra, Nrsimha, and so on.”
For example, Vasudeva and Devaki were imprisoned by Kamsa, their children were mercilessly massacred in front of them, and they suffered tremendous pain. But when Krishna finally appeared and ultimately delivered them—killed Kamsa and delivered them—they appreciated the Lord’s presence more than if everything had been very comfy and cozy.
Srila Prabhupada discusses the same question in Krsna, Chapter 88: “If the Supreme Lord is all-powerful, why should He try to reform His devotee by putting him in distress? The answer is that when the Supreme Personality of Godhead puts His devotee in distress, it is not without purpose. Sometimes the purpose of putting the devotee in distressis that in distress a devotee’s feelings of attachment to Krsna are magnified. For example, when Krsna, before leaving the capital of the Pandavas for His home, asked Kuntidevi for permission to leave, she said, ‘My dear Krsna, in our distress You were always present with us. Now, because we have been elevated to a royal position, You are leaving us. I would therefore prefer to live in distress than to lose You.’When a devotee is put into a situation of distress, his devotional activities are accelerated. Therefore, to show special favor to a devotee, the Lord sometimes puts him into distress. . . . Besides that, it is stated that the sweetness of happiness is sweeter to those who have tasted bitterness.”
“Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti here counters a possible objection: ‘What fault would there be in God’s incarnating for some other reason than to deliver saintly persons from suffering?’ The learned acarya responds, ‘Yes, my dear brother, this makes good sense, but you are not expert in understanding spiritual moods. Please listen: It is at night that the sunrise becomes attractive, during the hot summer that cold water gives comfort, and during the cold winter months that warm water is pleasing. Lamplight appears attractive in darkness, not in the glaring light of day, and when one is distressed by hunger, food tastes especially good.’ In other words, to strengthen his devotees’ mood of dependence on Him and longing for Him, the Lord arranges for His devotees to go through some suffering, and when He appears in order to deliver them, their gratitude and transcendental pleasure are boundless.” (SB 10.88.8 purport)
And as explained by Srila Prabhupada in Krsna, when the devotee is bereft of material riches and is deserted by his relatives, friends, and family members, because he has no one to look after him he completely takes shelter of the Lord. And from within his heart, the Lord inspires him to surrender to His devotees:
sa yada vitathodyogo
nirvinnah syad dhanehaya
“When he becomes frustrated in his attempts to make money and instead befriends My devotees, I bestow My special mercy upon him.
tad brahma paramam suksmam
cin-matram sad anantakam
“A person who has thus become sober fully realizes the Absolute as the highest truth, the most subtle and perfect manifestation of spirit, the transcendental existence without end. In this way realizing that the Supreme Truth is the foundation of his own existence, he is freed from the cycle of material life.” (SB 10.88.9, 10)
Krishna says,“My devotee is not deterred by any adverse conditions of life; he always remains firm and steady. Therefore I give Myself to him, and I favor him so that he can achieve the highest success of life.” (Krsna Chapter 88)
Although it is true that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gave the holy name and love of God without any condition, one can accept these gifts fully only if one’s heart is completely cleansed of material desires and attachments. Therefore Locana dasa Thakura, a great acharya almost contemporary to Lord Chaitanya, requests everyone, bhaja bhaja bhai, caitanya-nitai: “My dear brothers, I request that you just worship Lord Chaitanya and Nityananda with firm faith and conviction.” He sings,
bhaja bhaja bhai, caitanya-nitai
sudrdha visvasa kori’
visaya chadiya, se rase majiya,
mukhe bolo hari hari
Explaining this verse, Srila Prabhupada says, “Don’t think that this chanting and dancing will not lead to the desired goal. It will. It is the assurance of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu that one will get all perfection by this process. Therefore one must chant with firm faith and conviction (visvasa kori’). But what is the process? The process is visaya chadiya, se rase majiya. If one wants to be Krishna conscious by this process, one has to give up his engagement in sense gratification. That is the only restriction. If one gives up sense gratification, it is sure that he will reach the desired goal. Mukhe bolo hari hari: one simply has to chant, ‘Hare Krishna! Hari Hari!’ without any motive of sense gratification.”
And we are not alone in our efforts. The Lord, the scriptures, the devotees, the acharyas, the Deities, the holy names—they are all here to help us.