(Click to enlarge photo of Srila Prabhupada offering arotika to Krishna-Balarama, 1975)

"Lord Kṛṣṇa answered the question of Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira as follows: 'If I especially favor a devotee and especially wish to care for him, the first thing I do is take away his riches. When the devotee becomes a penniless pauper or is put into a comparatively poverty-stricken position, his relatives and family members no longer take interest in him, and in most cases they give up their connection with him. The devotee then becomes doubly unhappy.' First of all the devotee becomes unhappy because his riches have been taken away by Kṛṣṇa, and he is made even more unhappy when his relatives desert him because of his poverty. We should note, however, that when a devotee falls into a miserable condition in this way, it is not due to past impious activities, known as karma-phala; the poverty of the devotee is a creation of the Personality of Godhead. Similarly, when a devotee becomes materially opulent, that is also not due to his pious activities. In either case, whether the devotee becomes poorer or richer, the arrangement is made by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This arrangement is especially made by Kṛṣṇa for His devotee just to make him completely dependent upon Him and to free him from all material obligations. He can then concentrate his energies, mind and body—everything—for the service of the Lord, and that is pure devotional service. In the Nārada-pañcarātra it is therefore explained, sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam (CC Madhya 19.170), which means 'being freed from all designations.' Works performed for family, society, community, nation or humanity are all designated: 'I belong to this society,' 'I belong to this community,' 'I belong to this nation,' 'I belong to this species of life.' Such identities are all merely designations. When by the grace of the Lord a devotee is freed from all designations, his devotional service is actually naiṣkarmya. Jñānīs are very much attracted by the position of naiṣkarmya, in which one’s activities no longer have any material effect. The devotee’s activities are freed from material effects, and so they are no longer in the category of karma-phalam, or fruitive activities. As explained before by the personified Vedas, the happiness and distress of a devotee are produced by the Personality of Godhead, and the devotee therefore does not care whether he is in happiness or in distress. He goes on with his duties in executing devotional service. Although his behavior seems to be subject to the actions and reactions of fruitive activities, he is actually freed from the results of action.

It may be questioned why a devotee is put into such tribulation by the Personality of Godhead. The answer is that this kind of arrangement by the Lord is just like a father’s sometimes becoming unkind to his sons. Because the devotee is a surrendered soul and is taken charge of by the Supreme Lord, whatever condition of life the Lord puts him in—whether one of distress or of happiness—it is to be understood that behind this arrangement is a large plan designed by the Personality of Godhead. For example, Lord Kṛṣṇa put the Pāṇḍavas into a distressed condition so acute that even grandfather Bhīṣma could not comprehend how such distress could occur. He lamented that although the whole Pāṇḍava family was headed by King Yudhiṣṭhira, the most pious king, and protected by the two great warriors Bhīma and Arjuna, and although, above all, the Pāṇḍavas were all intimate friends and relatives of Lord Kṛṣṇa, they still had to undergo such tribulations. Later, however, it was proved that this was planned by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, as part of His great mission to annihilate the miscreants and protect the devotees.

Another question may be raised: 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 is that in distress a devotee’s feelings of attachment to Kṛṣṇa are magnified. For example, when Kṛṣṇa, before leaving the capital of the Pāṇḍavas for His home, asked Kuntīdevī for permission to leave, she said, 'My dear Kṛṣṇa, 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. The Supreme Lord descends to this material world just to protect His devotees from distress. In other words, if devotees were not in a distressed condition, the Lord would not have come down. As for His killing the demons, or miscreants, this can be easily done by His various energies, just as many asuras are killed by His external energy, goddess Durgā. Therefore the Lord does not need to come down personally to kill such demons, but when His devotee is in distress He must come. Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva appeared not in order to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu but to save Prahlāda and to give him blessings. In other words, because Prahlāda Mahārāja was put into very great distress, the Lord appeared.

When after the dense, dark night there is finally sunrise in the morning, it is very pleasant; when there is scorching heat, cold water is very pleasant; and when there is freezing winter, hot water is very pleasant. Similarly, when a devotee, after experiencing the distress of the material world, relishes the spiritual happiness awarded by the Lord, his position is still more pleasant and enjoyable.

The Lord continued: 'When My devotee is bereft of all 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 lotus feet of the Lord.' Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has sung in this connection, 'My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, O son of Nanda Mahārāja, You are now standing before me with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the daughter of King Vṛṣabhānu. I am now surrendering unto You. Please accept me. Please do not kick me away. I have no shelter other than You.'

When a devotee is thus put into so-called miserable conditions and bereft of riches and family, he tries to revive his original position of material opulence. But although he tries again and again, Kṛṣṇa again and again takes away all his resources. Thus he finally becomes disappointed in material activities, and in that stage of frustration in all endeavors, he can fully surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such persons are advised by the Lord from within to associate with devotees. By associating with devotees they naturally become inclined to render service to the Personality of Godhead, and they immediately get all facilities from the Lord to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The nondevotees, however, are very careful about preserving their material condition of life. Generally, therefore, such nondevotees do not come to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but worship Lord Śiva or other demigods for immediate material profit. In the Bhagavad-gītā it is said, therefore, kāṅkṣantaḥ karmaṇāṁ siddhiṁ yajanta iha devatāḥ: 'The karmīs, in order to achieve success within this material world, worship the various demigods' It is also stated by Lord Kṛṣṇa that those who worship the demigods are not mature in their intelligence. The devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, therefore, because of their strong attachment for Him, do not foolishly go to the demigods.

Lord Kṛṣṇa said to King Yudhiṣṭhira, '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.' The mercy bestowed upon the tried devotee by the Supreme Personality is described as brahma, which indicates that the greatness of that mercy can be compared only to the all-pervasive greatness of Brahman. Brahma means unlimitedly great and unlimitedly expanding. That mercy is also described as paramam, for it has no comparison within this material world, and it is also called sūkṣmam, very fine. Not only is the Lord’s mercy upon the tried devotee great and unlimitedly expansive, but it is of the finest quality of transcendental love between the devotee and the Lord. Such mercy is further described as cin-mātram, completely spiritual. The use of the word mātram indicates absolute spirituality, with no tinge of material qualities. That mercy is also called sat (eternal) and anantakam (unlimited). Since the devotee of the Lord is awarded such unlimited spiritual benefit, why should he worship the demigods? A devotee of Kṛṣṇa does not worship Lord Śiva or Brahmā or any other, subordinate demigod. He completely devotes himself to the transcendental loving service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead."

(Kṛṣṇa Book, Chapter 88)

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Why Is Krishna's Devotee Put in Distress?