Selfless concern for the eternal wellbeing of everyone
Feelings of pity and sorrow are evoked when we see the sufferings of our fellow man. Our attempts to alleviate that distress by acts of charity are certainly regarded as noble acts of benevolence, and there have been many people who have made selfless sacrifices for the poor, infirm and marginalised. The world would definitely be a better place if more people were benevolent, concerned, kind, and empathetic – qualities collectively appreciated as compassion.
Depending on one’s premise however, compassion can be understood in different ways. Srila Prabhupada enlightened us about our real identity – that “I am not this body, but a spirit soul”. On this level of insight, compassion has a much deeper significance.
Srila Prabhupada taught and lived by this premise. He stated:
Material compassion, lamentation and tears are all signs of ignorance of the real self. Compassion for the eternal soul is self-realisation…
No one knows where compassion should be applied. Compassion for the dress of a drowning man is senseless. A man fallen in the ocean of nescience cannot be saved simply by rescuing his outward dress – the gross material body.
As an enlightened soul, Srila Prabhupada felt pain at the distress of others and wanted to relieve their suffering. He explained that compassion for the material body alone does not provide a lasting solution. He saw the suffering of the living entity as a symptom of a deeper problem − the misidentification of the real person (the soul) with the temporary material body. As long as the spirit soul identified with this body, it would have to repeatedly endure birth after birth and the concomitant suffering typical of material existence.
How did his compassion manifest in his outreach? Srila Prabhupada gave the world a vast amount of sublime knowledge to deliver them from the entanglement in material nature and change the consciousness of this planet. He established institutes and temples all over the world that provided spiritual shelter. He established the spiritual practices that enabled the living entity to successfully achieve spiritual enlightenment. He gave the foundations of real education curricula and established several schools and research institutes around the world. He launched the largest sanctified vegetarian food distribution programme on the planet, which fulfils several purposes: it provides the much needed nutrition for the needy, raises the consciousness of one who partakes of the meal due to its sanctified nature, and provides an avenue for one to engage in a real compassionate act of devotional service by serving others on a daily basis. He did all this at the expense of his own comfort and even health – surrendering family life and travelling non-stop around the world to serve others.
There was no sectarian consideration in Srila Prabhupada’s compassion; his profound intellectual and spiritual sensitivity, characteristic of a true saint, was manifest in his concern and compassion that extended to all of society. As a preacher of God consciousness he was a friend to all living entities and extended his compassion because he was unhappy to see the suffering of others.
Interested to learn more about Srila Prabhupada and Krishna Consciousness? You can explore our online resources, ask a question or visit a temple.
What is my real identity? Who is Krishna? What is bhakti yoga?
Read the books of Srila Prabhupada, one of the most prolific authors of commentaries on and translations of Vedic texts.