[This was written about ten years ago, when my body was healthier and I got around more.]
Of a morning I go for a walk to a local wetland park. It’s very peaceful there, with large ponds and creeks that are teeming with life. There are black swans, ducks, herons, egrets, kingfishers, native hens, ibis, and various smaller birds, finches, fantails and wrens whose names I don’t know. The pond has mauve-coloured water lilies, and there are lots of small fish, eels, frogs, water iguana and other lizards and snakes. Bush-rats and other rodents and small mammals live in the surrounding long grasses. It’s a very peaceful place for me to go and chant my rounds, but under the surface, it’s a jungle.
Larger predator birds like owls, kookaburras, crows, magpies and currawongs eat the baby chicks out of the nests of other birds. The water birds eat the frogs and small fish, as do the eels. Feral cats kill and eat a variety of birds, reptiles and rodents. Spiders, wasps and praying mantis’ capture and eat other insects. Some even eat their partners after mating. Sometimes the parent ducks are swimming along with their ducklings in tow, and it makes a very sweet and picturesque scene, until a large eel grabs one of the ducklings and gobbles it down. You can almost hear the music from “Jaws.” Bigger snakes eat frogs, rodents, lizards and smaller snakes.
In Srimad Bhagavatam, mundane sound vibration, materialistic talk, is likened to the croaking of frogs. The frogs are croaking, and they are saying, “Make love to me, I am very handsome!” to the other frogs. But the snakes hear their croaking and think they are saying, “Come and eat me, I taste delicious!” So material talk, nonsense chatter, is likened to the croaking of frogs – it is simply inviting death, wasting the precious moments of life.
This world is called “martya-loka,” the world of death. And it’s a jungle where everyone is in danger at every moment. As the baby-boomers grew up, there was always the fear of atomic warfare. Once the Cold War ended between the Communist and Capitalist nations, there was a period of apparent peace. Then, with September 11, 2001, a new fear, the fear of domestic terrorism by extremist groups became widespread. There are always wars and terror in the material world, different factions venting their hatred and fighting for control. Perhaps we don’t have to worry about being eaten by lions, tigers and crocodiles. But daily, so many people are being eaten by motor cars, heart attacks, cancer and other fatal diseases. Now it’s Covid-19. We are being ravaged by the jaws of time. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says:
Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.
I am also inexhaustible time.
In the purport to B.g. 10:33, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami says:
Among all kinds of killers, time is the ultimate because time kills everything. Time is the representative of Krishna, because in due course of time there will be a great fire and everything will be annihilated.
And in Bhagavad-gita 10:34, Krishna says:
I am all-devouring death.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami comments:
As soon as a man is born, he dies at every moment. Thus, death is devouring every living entity at every moment, but the last stroke is called death itself. That death is Krishna.
Everybody gets to meet Krishna at the end of his life. We meet Him either as our dear-most friend, or as cruel death. So, death is likened to the jaws of a cat. The mother cat sometimes carries her kitten in her mouth, and sometimes she carries a mouse or a bird. There is a lot of difference in these two experiences. The kitten feels very secure and happy in its mother’s jaws. But for the mouse or bird, it is a terrifying and painful experience.
So, for a devotee who is surrendered to Krishna at death, it is a very wonderful experience, for he enjoys Krishna’s love and protection. Otherwise, death is a painful and bewildering experience, in which all of our shelter, all of our attachments, all that we hold dear, is ripped away from us.
In the Srimad Bhagavatam it is stated:
The terrible fear of birth and death can never be forsaken by anyone who resorts to any shelter other than Myself, for I am the almighty Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original source of all creation, and also the Supreme Soul of all souls.
The yogis, equipped with transcendental knowledge and renunciation and engaged in devotional service for their eternal benefit, take shelter of My lotus feet, and since I am the Lord, they are thus eligible to enter into the kingdom of Godhead without fear.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 3:25:41, 43]
On the edge of the pond where I walk in the morning, there is a sheltered seat which overlooks the pond with its water-lilies. The seat is on a platform which sits above the water, and the floor of this platform is an iron grid, through which you can see the water and lily pads below. The grid is made of rectangles about two centimetres by eight centimetres, and walking on this grid, there are always a few ants which seem very lost and confused.
Every few centimetres, they come to a crossing on the grid, and they have to choose to keep going straight ahead, turn right or left, or go back the way they came. They seem to be endlessly going back and forth, around in circles. I rarely see them make it back to solid land. The grid is like a maze in which there are too many options, too many choices to make, and the poor ants are bewildered. And a wrong step or gust of wind can see them falling into the water below. This is like the material world, where the living entities are forever being dragged around, reaping their karma, following their desires, taking wrong options and making wrong turns lifetime after lifetime ad infinitum. But there is a way out of the maze of the material world.
Meeting a Sadhu Frees One from Material Bondage
According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some of them are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets the opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, one gets the creeper of devotional service.
[Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 19:151]
The living entities are wandering in different species of life on different planets, but if by chance they get the association of a pure devotee [sadhu] they give up all other engagements and engage in the service of Lord Krishna.
[Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 24:312]
When one is face to face with the sun, there is no longer darkness for one’s eyes. Similarly, when one is face to face with a sadhu, a devotee, who is fully determined and surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one will no longer be subject to material bondage.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 10:10:41]
In his purport to this verse, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami states:
As stated by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:
sadhu-sanga, sadhu-sanga – sarva-sastre kaya
lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya
[The verdict of all scripture is that even by a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.]
[Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 22.54]
If by chance one meets a sadhu, a devotee, one’s life is immediately successful, and one is freed from material bondage. It may be argued that whereas someone may receive a sadhu with great respect, someone else may not receive a sadhu with such respect. A sadhu, however, is always equipoised toward everyone. Because of being a pure devotee, a sadhu is always ready to deliver Krishna consciousness without discrimination. As soon as one sees a sadhu, one naturally becomes free. Nonetheless, persons who are too much offensive, who commit vaisnava-aparadhas, or offenses to a sadhu, will have to take some time before being rectified. This is also indicated herein.
[Purport to Srimad Bhagavatam10:10:41]
If we examine the life of great Vaisnava devotees of the Lord, we see amazing displays of tolerance and compassion for those souls who are lost in the jungle of the material world. In his book The Science of Self Realization, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami glorifies Lord Jesus Christ for his great tolerance and compassion:
The Srimad Bhagavatam states that any bona fide preacher of God consciousness must have the qualities of titiksa (tolerance) and karuna (compassion). In the character of Lord Jesus Christ, we find both these qualities. He was so tolerant that even while he was being crucified, he didn’t condemn anyone. And he was so compassionate that he prayed to God to forgive the very persons who were trying to kill him. (Of course, they could not actually kill him. But they were thinking that he could be killed, so they were committing a great offence.) As Christ was being crucified he prayed, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.” …
… A Vaisnava is unhappy to see the suffering of others. Therefore, Lord Jesus agreed to be crucified – to free others from their suffering. … Jesus Christ was such a great personality – the son of God, the representative of God. He had no fault. Still he was crucified. He wanted to deliver God consciousness, but in return they crucified him – they were so thankless. They could not appreciate his preaching. But we appreciate him and give him all honour as the representative of God. Of course, the message that Christ preached was just according to his particular time, place, and country, and just suited for a particular group of people. But certainly, he is the representative of God. Therefore, we adore Lord Jesus Christ and offer our obeisances to him. Once, in Melbourne, a group of Christian ministers came to visit me. They asked, “What is your idea of Jesus Christ?” I told them, “He is our guru. He is preaching God consciousness, so he is our spiritual master.” The ministers very much appreciated that.
Actually, anyone who is preaching God’s glories must be accepted as a guru. Jesus Christ is one such great personality. We should not think of him as an ordinary human being. The scriptures say that anyone who considers the spiritual master to be an ordinary man has a hellish mentality. If Jesus Christ were an ordinary man, then he could not have delivered God consciousness.
[A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami: The Science of Self-Realisation p.120-121]
How great devotees take upon themselves the sinful reactions and suffering of others is described by Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his book Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers:
Karma and the Spiritual Master
Disciple: One time you said that sometimes you feel sickness or pain due to the sinful activities of your devotees. Can sometimes disease be due to that? Caused by that?
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: You see, Krishna says:
I will deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.
So, Krishna is so powerful that He can immediately take up all the sins of others and immediately make them right. But when a living entity plays the part on behalf of Krishna, he also takes the responsibility for the sinful activities of his devotees. Therefore, to become a guru is not an easy task. You see? He has to take all the poisons and absorb them. So sometimes – because he is not Krishna – sometimes there is some trouble. Therefore, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has forbidden, “Don’t make many sisyas, many disciples.” But for preaching work we have to accept many disciples – for expanding preaching – even if we suffer. That’s a fact. The spiritual master has to take the responsibility for all the sinful activities of his disciples. Therefore, to make many disciples is a risky job unless one is able to assimilate all the sins.
kripa-sindhubhya eva ca
vaisnavebhyo namo namah
[I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord. They are just like desire trees who can fulfil the desires of everyone, and they are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.]
He takes responsibility for all the fallen souls. That idea is also in the Bible. Jesus Christ took all the sinful reactions of the people and sacrificed his life. That is the responsibility of a spiritual master. Because Krishna is Krishna, He is apapa-viddha – He cannot be attacked by sinful reactions. But a living entity is sometimes subjected to their influence because he is so small. Big fire – small fire. If you put some big thing in a small fire, the fire itself may be extinguished. But in a big fire, whatever you put in is all right. The big fire can consume anything.
Bob: Christ’s suffering was of that nature?
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: Mm-m?
Bob: Was Christ’s suffering …
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: That I have already explained. He took the sinful reactions of all the people. Therefore, he suffered.
Bob: I see.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: He said – that is in the Bible – that he took all the sinful reactions of the people and sacrificed his life. But these people have made it a law for Christ to suffer while they do all nonsense. Such great fools they are! They have let Jesus Christ make a contract for taking all their sinful reactions so they can go on with all nonsense. That is their religion. Christ was so magnanimous that he took all their sins and suffered, but that does not induce them to stop all these sins. They have not come to that sense. They have taken it very easily. “Let Lord Jesus Christ suffer, and we’ll do all nonsense.” Is it not?
Bob: It is so.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: They should have been ashamed: “Lord Jesus Christ suffered for us, but we are continuing the sinful activities.” … We should be very much cautious: “For my sinful actions my spiritual master will suffer, so I’ll not commit even a pinch of sinful activities.” That is the duty of the disciple. After initiation, all sinful reaction is finished. Now if he again commits sinful activities, his spiritual master has to suffer. A disciple should be sympathetic and consider this. “For my sinful activities, my spiritual master will suffer.” If the spiritual master is attacked by some disease, it is due to the sinful activities of others.“Don’t make many disciples.” But we do it because we are preaching. Never mind – let us suffer – still we shall accept them. Therefore, your question was – when I suffer is it due to my past misdeeds? Was it not? That is my misdeed – that I accepted some disciples who are nonsense. That is my misdeed.
Bob: This happens on occasions?
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: Yes. This is sure to happen because we are accepting so many men. It is the duty of the disciples to be cautious. “My spiritual master has saved me. I should not put him again into suffering.” When the spiritual master is in suffering, Krishna saves him. Krishna thinks, “Oh, he has taken so much responsibility for delivering a fallen person.” So, Krishna is there.
na me bhaktah pranasyati
O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.
Because the spiritual master takes the risk on account of Krishna.
Bob: Your suffering is not the same kind of pain…
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami: No, it is not due to karma. The pain is there sometimes, so that the disciples may know, “Due to our sinful activities, our spiritual master is suffering.”
[Excerpts from Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers]