Doing good out of “humanity” independent of relationship to God
Answer by HH Romapada Swami
Question:People should help people just for the sake of helping them, and without any additional motivation. The propagation of that kind of behavior is the positive part of society in general. Doing everything for God negates the basic human decency of every good act, even though the outcome might be the same. The difference in motivation removes all of the good will from the equation. Essentially, people who do things only for indirect purposes are only automatons. I don’t consider the act nearly as positive for society, because people appreciate and gain inspiration from a gesture that is truly from the heart. If everyone acted in the name of God instead of their fellow humans, and nobody formed deep attachments to other people, would the world really be a better place, or would the best aspects of humanity be lost? Note: The word ‘human’ can be replaced with ‘animal’. They are interchangeable.
Answer: Although the ideal of a positive society you are presenting is noble, practically we see that it is unrealizable and utopian without acknowledging God in the picture.
In the last several decades, after having made the state secular, carefully keeping any mention of God out of educational institutions and relegating religion to a sort of personal hobby or an unofficial non-governmental Social Welfare agency, there has been no dearth of researches and reform movements and humanitarian efforts targeting the upliftment of others, seeking in various ways to help people. Thousands of good-willed social scientists, educators & psychologists are all trying their very best to come up with improved methods for character education for children, and so on. For all that effort, the world should be becoming increasingly more peaceful, people becoming increasingly courteous and loving and accommodating of each other etc – but any objective and discerning onlooker can see that the trend is in the reverse, with crime, fraud and social unrest on the rise every day; even neighbors think twice to trust each other and so on.
Thus, when God is removed from the equation, it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals or groups of individuals of differing interests to focus on a common goal or identity for want of a common center. It is only a matter of time before whatever goodwill is present will diminish and vanish.
Definition of good:
Please consider, in the scenario you have presented, how would one define what is actually good? Actual goodwill would have to go beyond just helping an old lady across the street or giving some donation to the salvation army, or more seriously dedicating oneself to a noble and worth cause and feeling very good about oneself – there are many who do this, but simultaneously their life doesn’t necessarily reflect a high standard of character in many other aspects. In fact by their very lifestyle, knowingly or unknowingly, they are often hurting and destroying so many helpless victims unintentionally, even as they are trying to be “good” to certain others.
The very concept of competitiveness and getting ahead of others in life, on the basis of which the whole society is operating, is opposed to the ideal of goodwill. Rob Peter and help Paul – that is also not a very nice definition of goodwill. But in this world, if you want to help one entity, without keeping God in the center, it would invariably involve hurting or exploiting another. Sympathizing with the cause of women’s freedom often ends up with the consequence of terrible neglect and imbalances for the cause of children; someone may champion the cause of feeding the poor at the expense of killing innocent animals; another person’s compassion may extend a little further to include the animals also, but then what about the trees, and what about the lesser forms of life, microbes and so on?
For want of an absolute authority, everyone is left to come up with their own definition and limits of goodwill – but that’s like trying to drive on the highway with no rules and simply depending on the goodwill and good judgment of one another! The definition of good in a godless society is arbitrary or at best conventional — based on the current opinion of the majority, which simply means might is right, and what is right keeps changing with the changing whims of the public.
Thus when God is removed from the equation, it is not even possible to ascertain what constitutes being truly good to each other and have everyone come to an agreement. In such a condition how are we to train people at large and inculcate such character in them if at all we are able to even define it?
Vedic conception of welfare:
On the other hand, followers of Vedic culture understand that God is the Supreme authority, and also the best well-wisher of every living entity. Dharma is the codes of conduct laid by God Himself. His laws are universally applicable for all times and places. By following the God-given laws, all living entities are simultaneously benefited, without any side-effects so to speak. Contrarily, any man-made set of laws is bound to be defective; limited by our own limited vision and cannot be universally applicable.
Furthermore, the Vedic understanding of welfare is long-term (shreyas), not short-term, stop-gap solutions (preyas). Real welfare is to bring one to the end of all miseries by connecting them back to God. Material amelioration is likened to giving a plate of food to a lost child, or like blowing over a boil to give temporary relief. Whereas real and true help is to take the child back to the parents, to find a permanent cure to the disease, to address the root cause which has brought upon this suffering to others. In the ultimate sense this means to connect people back to their relation with God — it may include offering some kind words or prasadam or relief, but it goes further than that.
Devotee of God develops good qualities:
You have stated that those who act nobly or help others only to please God are automatons and in this I beg to differ. One who is accomplished in the art of acting in his relationship with God, a pure devotee, automatically develops all good qualities worth possessing. When such a person acts compassionately, it is not simply out of courtesy, formality or religious obligation, but he actually feels and is moved deeply by feelings of compassion, not just in a limited, self-centered or self-extended way – but for all parts and parcels of the Lord. It is certainly done from the heart, more deeply and genuinely than the humane courtesy or obligation one may momentarily feel upon coming across a needy person.
This was practically and amply demonstrated by Srila Prabhupada through his personal example. When, for instance, Srila Prabhupada first arrived in California to fulfill the order of his spiritual master, the scene was one of tumult and madness – the youth had become disenchanted with materialistic goals of Western culture and turned hippies. Feeling lost and confused, high on LSD and other drugs, dropped out of mainstream society, home & school and flocking the streets of San Francisco – their cause had stirred great public concern, becoming an uncontrollable social problem. All public authorities and responsible citizens including the police, civic leaders, social workers, and even the doctors were completely at a loss and having no clue how to handle and help these wild, intoxicated youth. In the midst of this pandemonium walked in Srila Prabhupada, an elderly and cultured sadhu from Vrindavana, with no precedents or experience with dealing with any such crises, with no resources or support, and provided the hippies a transcendental refuge and a higher alternative. He welcomed and gave shelter to them, fed them, directed and engaged them, treated them gently yet confidently, administered the process of devotional service to them fearlessly and not only that – in time he reformed and trained many of them to in turn become saints! The authorities of San Fransisco were not just appreciative but struck by his effectiveness in doing this single-handedly where all their collective efforts had failed.
This was because Prabhupada actually knew the science of God and how to administer it suitably in all situations; he was not perplexed but knew for certain what is the absolute good for everyone and confident that only this could factually help humanity while all other solutions would be patchwork at best. And what he did was deeply heartfelt, not a routine religious obligation, or meant for achieving some indirect goal or personal salvation – indeed it would have been impossible to take that kind of risks and face the kind of challenges that he did by routine formulas or selfish motivations. Thousands of people from all walks of life became deeply moved, inspired and felt their lives transformed by coming in contact with him and experiencing his love and affection. If you read some of the accounts of his activities, one cannot fail to be deeply moved by the intensity of compassion and love he personally felt for humanity that drove him to make such sacrifices at such an advanced age. There are many such examples in the history of the world. The kind of sacrifices that Jesus Christ or Haridas Thakur undertook on behalf of humanity is inconceivable for a mundane humanist.
So-called good qualities in non-devotees are unsteady and do not bear the right results:
On the other hand, one who does not understand how everything and everyone is related to God cannot actually manifest these good qualities in a steady and consistent manner. Their attempts to be kind, truthful, co-operative etc will only go so far as the extent of their attachments – some may have a lesser degree of attachment than others, but the point where their sense-gratification feels pinched, there ends their practice of virtue.
Besides, whatever good they may do is also frustrated in time and does not bear ultimately good result because of their lack of proper knowledge of the true nature of things. It is like the attempt of trying to water the individual branches of a tree and neglecting the root. Real and proper welfare is to connect the branches back to the root and to water the root, then automatically the branches become nourished.
I was so far describing the nature of highly accomplished saintly devotees of God. There may be others who are mere beginners in the science of God and who out of good faith and in good association begin to worship God. Such persons may themselves not have developed these good qualities but *if* they act under the direction of a bona fide devotee, their acts are also flawless and truly beneficial – just as a nurse functioning under the direction of a qualified doctor is also rendering valuable service that is authorized and not whimsical.
Or like a child who is lovingly induced and educated by the parents to give some of her toys in charity. Such beginners are not automatons; rather they are simply at a less mature stage of devotional perfection, but on the right track. The child on her own may have not yet developed the maturity to realize the need for sharing and helping others, but because she is acting without resentment and out of affection for her loving parents, quickly she will also acquire that quality. However, if the nurse or the child tries to whimsically do something to help others without guidance, they may not be very effective.
Good intentions are not good enough:
Srila Prabhupada narrates a simple incident that graphically illustrates this idea – one boy was suffering from very severe case of typhoid and his mother had placed him under very strict diet and medical care. The younger brother of this boy felt very sorry for his sick brother. Out of affection and goodwill, he brought to him fried samosas and puris, but his mother noticed this and reprimanded the little boy for his foolish act. Despite his fine sentiments, his well-intentioned act could have proved deadly to the sick boy. In other words, good intentions are not good enough. Just as the goodwill of a doctor is heightened by his/her efforts to properly learn the medical science, similarly one who really wants to do good to others would take the time to learn and practice the science of Bhagavata-dharma by which real help can be rendered.
Proper conception of God and spiritual training:
There are some spiritually poorly-informed people who hold a fallacious conception that the idea of ‘God’ was simply fabricated by some wise ancestral philosophers in order to instill virtue or fear among common men, in-order to extraneously motivate them to be good. If that were the case and people are induced in the fashion of a child being coaxed to do something based on false promises, then your concern may be valid that such a tactic spoils the motivation behind a good act.
But that is far from the truth, at least when devotional service is guided by bona fide acharyas who know the spiritual science – as in the case of a qualified doctor or parent in the above examples. Even if someone begins with an indirect motivation of wanting some piety, because of acting under proper authority they render more valuable help and also quickly come to the right standard of knowledge and motivation – the key being proper spiritual training under qualified authority.
God is a real person, the Supreme Personality, on whom all other living beings are dependent upon to fulfill their needs. He is the Supreme Father and Maintainer, perfectly supplying the needs of all living entities, and He is the most well-wishing friend of every living being. Those who have forgotten their relationship with him are placed in this material world, and are something akin to being in a spiritually sick condition – God is still providing for them but with many restrictions. If we find some scarcity or suffering in this world, it is because of the living entities’ own diseased state of forgetfulness and disconnection from God, it is certainly not because Krishna has somehow neglected them or incapable of helping them.
Therefore the real welfare that we can do for anyone is effected when we act under the direction of the Supreme Father, which means under the direction of scriptures and saintly persons who represent Him. Trying to do so independently will actually not prove helpful and could even bear adverse effect.
Relationships in proper perspective:
Keeping Krishna in the center doesn’t mean we have no relationships with others; rather, we then have the proper perspective of our spiritual relationship with all beings. On the other hand, attempting to have an independent relationship with other parts and parcels of the Lord is unnatural and ineffective – like the fingers trying to independently feed the different limbs of the body.
Again consider the example of a family – a mature son who has received training from the father to serve his other siblings also simultaneously develops deep affection, care and concern for them, he works with them and helps them according to the father’s direction – but that is not independent of the relationship with their most loving, common father.
When human society is trained in this way in the culture and science of God consciousness, naturally everything will be harmonious – humans, animals, demigods and nature will all act in full co-operation with one another in their common service to the Supreme Lord. Try to attain unity and harmony any other way, keeping the Supreme Father out of the equation, it is bound to fail; quarrels, misunderstandings and selfish concerns will prevail, as is amply demonstrated by the state of affairs in the world around us!
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