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Compassion Without Limits


from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-06, 2000

A mile or so from my house, beside a country road that curves gently through pine forests and hay fields, sits a haven of abject cruelty. On a concrete slab under a shiny metal roof, a few dozen calves endure what will be short lives in cages they barely fit in. Someone is—to say it euphemistically—raising veal.

I don’t usually drive that road, so when I noticed the calves one day I started to tell my wife about them.

“Don’t say any more,” she said. “I can’t even bear to hear it.”

Compassion comes naturally for people pursuing real spiritual goals. Hare Krishna devotees are often dismayed to see otherwise gentle people, even religious people, so callous about the suffering of animals. Why would anyone who knows that animals are God’s creatures needlessly harm them?

I often notice inconsistencies in people’s compassion. A person whose heart breaks at the thought of abortion feels no sympathy for the victims of the slaughterhouse. A vegetarian champions a woman’s right to kill her own child. A philanthropist for suffering humanity finds no pity for the plight of animals or the unborn.

Unless we take lessons from Krishna, our compassion will fall short. In Krishna consciousness we learn why our compassion should go out to every living being: Like us, each is a soul encased in a body; each is an eternal servant of Krishna.

Devotees of Krishna show compassion by trying to awaken everyone to their original, pure consciousness, or Krishna consciousness. We suffer because we’ve turned away from Krishna. When we go back to Him, our suffering dissolves. It is said that when we take full shelter of Krishna, our ocean of suffering will shrink down to the amount of water that fills a calf’s hoofprint. We’ll easily step over it.

Compassion requires humility, an essential quality for anyone trying for spiritual progress. I might become proud of my compassion when I see the lack of it in others. But when I remember saints who showed full compassion, I’m quickly humbled. The greatest devotees sacrifice their lives to give Krishna consciousness to others. They feel the suffering of others as their own and spontaneously work to apply the balm of Krishna consciousness.

Vasudeva Datta, a follower of Lord Caitanya, was unequaled in his display of compassion. He begged the Lord to allow him to suffer everyone else’s karma so that everyone in the world could return to Krishna.

Lord Siva drank an ocean of poison to save the world. While relating that history, the Srimad-Bhagavatam declares, “It is said that great personalities almost always accept voluntary suffering because of the suffering of people in general. This is considered the highest method of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present in everyone’s heart.”

To stop the suffering of the animals, the unborn, the poor, the sick, the distressed, we all must do whatever we can to draw out—from ourselves and others—pure love for Krishna.