Encountering Others

Hare Krishna dear students of the Japa Meditation school participating in our retreat. Once again, I wanted to reiterate that I am very much pleased in having the opportunity to offer some service within this project, helping all of you, as I understand quite well that by helping you, I first and foremost help myself. 

These short series prepared for the retreat are an illustrative example of such statement.

I have been contemplating many important topics, as I committed myself to the narrative regarding our upcoming spiritual path of three encounters, namely Encountering the self, God, and the others. Having combined my personal reflections with the study of literature and lectures, I was able to enormously enrich myself. 

And today, we are moving to our third encounter, the third time meeting you at the retreat as well as the Third Encounter with the others on our Spiritual path. This is our topic for today and in the beginning I would like to refresh your memory regarding the subjects of the previous lectures, summarizing them in few words. 

It may be less relevant to you because you just listened to those, as for myself, I personally needed a refresher more than anything, since I prepared the narrative quite some time ago. I hope that to a certain degree, it will benefit you as well to glance back a little bit. 

During our first conversation we reviewed how difficult it is for people to get in touch with their inner self, because they have been accustomed to project outward some unreal self-images, lacking the understanding of who they actually are. 

Everyone is entangled in all these “games” from the earliest childhood when they tried to adjust themselves to opinions of others, thus losing some innocence. A person is born innocent; though it is well understood that according to the law of karma nobody is innocent in the true sense of the word, but Krishna allocates to each individual some innocent time interval. It is the period when karma does not yet have strong influence and during that stage a person is simply playing. This state is a natural disposition of the soul. A child is happy, in a very spontaneous way when he is playing, often pretending to be someone else, without deceiving himself and others. 

Sadly, what happens next is the subjugation of this simple, happy child where adults, being themselves, as a rule, miserable, each in their own way, begin to etch the happiness out of this innocent being, thus for the lack of a better word, “domesticating” the child. They start demanding some sort of conformity to their own objectives or ideals of how one must be, so much so that soon a little child forgets of his own identity and departs from his inherent happy natural state. Thus, moving away from his own self, he turns into a person inundated with internal “viral” programs. This can be manifested in many different ways, however one of those programs is the notion of constantly judging himself. We all were exposed to the idea of judging coming from adults, who criticized us, prohibited us from acting naturally, yelled at us for wrongdoing, without first accepting us, selflessly.

Therefore, in the very beginning of our lives, we did not receive or rather were lacking the unconditional loving care, acceptance, and respect to ourselves as individuals. Unfortunately, that is what absent in reciprocal relations between individuals, one, regrettably, lost the ability to see in others their true value, even more so if this happens in respect to those who depend on us, are weaker than us, or less intelligent, such as children. 

We start looking down on individual, pushing on one some rules and standards, then express our judgement, and ultimately coach one to be in a habit of judging himself. We have become the most ruthless in our self-judgements, we constantly deem ourselves unworthy, because we simply got used to such treatment. And certain part in us is represented as a bitter judge when we compare ourselves with some unattainable ideal, which we defined for ourselves, some image of a perfection, of what we need to become. This image could have populated our minds from anywhere, including religious literature. We keep comparing ourselves to this ideal and notice frustrating discrepancy between the two. 

We fail to realize that God does not look at us in the same manner; He is not judging us according to some highest ideal. The highest ideal is presented to us in order to thrive for it, to pull ourselves up in its direction, without judging ourselves. By judging, we limit ourselves! God Has faith in us, He is aware we do have a potential to reach the ideal. We encounter this ideal as it is mentioned frequently in spiritual literature, particularly in Srila Prabhupada’s books, but not for the purpose of downgrading ourselves. We often feel not good enough, or being total rascals, worthless, hopeless, etc. Instead, we should feel rejoice to have such unlimited opportunities for personal growth and advancement. 

Krishna knows we are creatures of the inner beauty, though we do not see it, we are being busy judging. Again, as I previously mentioned, certain part of us has become this harsh and merciless self-judge, and we further project this part of us onto God, implying God is the Judge. God is not a Judge. God is just, he sends our way what we need the most, which we may not have deserved. As Srila Prabhupada said, He gives us less than we deserve. He does not judge us by usual categories and He always opens for us the possibilities to grow. He recognizes our dormant potential that we have no idea exists in us, solely due to the bad habit of judging and accusing ourselves. 

And another part of us is a victim. Judge and victim take simultaneous residency in us. And we think that it is rightfully so, we got what we deserved, we are not worthy to feel happy. At times, when an unconstrained happiness rushes out of our souls, when we pour love onto everyone, feeling playful, embracing others, our engraved bad habits retract us back to remain in this boiling hell, the one we invented ourselves. We have become very much hostages of an emotional prison, which has been formed as a result of improper relations. 

We will talk about relations today, how to try developing them without any possibility to squeeze ourselves into a solitary confinement prison of one's own emotions, a place of lost identity and heavy suffering. In our most natural state, we are joyful! Our true nature is desperate to sprout from within and we have to reveal it to ourselves. In this state we will instinctively love Krishna, because He is the center of attraction, and if He is happy, we will experience greatly multiplied happiness together. As they say, one wanted to become many, eko bahusyam. Why did He do so? To share His happiness and receive it back reflected from others, thus increasing the initial happiness and enjoyment. The problem is that we created an abyss of sufferings we doomed ourselves to, we have been preloaded with “viral” programs, we developed misconception about our feelings, desires, and needs. All these are stumbling blocks distracting us from our devotional service. Serving, by definition, is a natural, pleasant, exuberant response of the soul. 

Praharsayisyami sanatha-jivitam (Yamunacarya prayer quoted in SB 9.8.24 purport). Yamunacarya in this verse gives a definition of dasya bhava or dasya prema. He asks: “When shall I engage as your permanent eternal servant -nirantarah- and always feel joyful praharsayisyami to have such a fitting master – sanatha-jivitam? He means service without expecting anything in return, which is our natural constitutional position. Such was the topic of our first lesson, on how to reawaken our true nature and become a servant, the only appropriate position for a human being, expressed out of feeling complete and liberated. Definitely not because we must do it. What we call a service, sadly, is rather servitude. As famous Griboyedov’s character states: “I’d be glad to serve, as servitude is nauseating”.

Again, we should all cultivate our service, as it is an entirely cheerful event by itself; it is the most natural, free, and sweet disposition of the soul, provided we are rendering true service. However, we have been bent and broken to perform the servitude or do “back-scratching” instead, seeking rewards in exchange of our “service”. This is the reason we cannot feel happy and have continuation of our service. When we join the community of devotees, we tend to confuse the meaning of service with servitude, taking definition of one for another. We are trying to make up for our incompleteness, fill up our inner gap by seeking recognition from others, taking some cheap handouts. We cannot discern that we are not in need of anything, except of the selfless true love, pure love of God. We simply need to uncover this love in ourselves and release it. This was, again, our topic for the First Encounter where we tried to figure out the steps necessary for reaching this ideal. 

Today, though, we will sequentially proceed to the continuation of this topic. We made a conclusion last time that one cannot truly Encounter himself unless others are there to help. If only we can find such sanga within the community of devotees, where others would not be our barriers, would not enslave us, but to the opposite, be the place where we feel true freedom. 

This isn’t a simple task, we all, unfortunately, so used to play those brutal and evil games, common in this world, when we exploit others, induce them to do as we please. We will talk quite a bit about this today, why this is a manifestation of our dominating, diseased nature, which, regrettably, stands out through our daily interactions.

We held a second meeting with you, which happened here, if I understand correctly, yesterday as for myself few more days have passed since. There I was talking about Encountering God, and the need for us to not rush to this rendezvous. God needs to set up the time for us to come and face Him. And when He sets this time, then we must run there with the full speed. However, we must carefully prepare for this date. And preparing for this ultimate Encounter with God, means to develop the trust in God, more so to awaken it within ourselves. As of now, we do not trust Him. Not only Him, we don’t trust ourselves, we don’t trust others. We have not gained enough experience in selfless love and acceptance by others. Therefore, we cannot capture the love of God, which surrounds us and this entire Universe. We do not have a sensation of it, thus not thankful for it. We spoke before that gratitude should be our primary sadhana. This sadhana wonderfully conveyed in a verse from the prayers of Lord Brahma. 

tat te 'nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo

bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam

hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te

jīveta yo bhakti-pade sa dāya-bhāk

CC. Madhya 2.261

In this verse Lord Brahma states that whoever has taken on this sadhana with tolerance, understanding that God is both just and merciful to all, very important point, jīveta yo bhakti-pade sa dāya-bhāk – this person will surely see God. Mukti becomes his inalienable right, so does Encountering God, well deserved occasion. This cannot be easily achieved. We discussed the necessity to meditate onto these two qualities God possesses, being just and merciful, and what this means in our lives. These two God’s qualities translate onto our lives as a capacity to take responsibility of what is happening with us. 

If we understand that God is impartial and just, i.e. He sends us our deserved deeds, though this statement may not be entirely correct as I will clarify later, we then have to take certain responsibility for those ourselves. Primarily, the responsibility for our own life, every episode of it, as it is an important aspect of our sadhana. In no case we shall ever blame others. By doing so, we inevitably blame God Himself. 

We are always tempted to shift the blame, i.e. transfer our own responsibility to others. It’s easy to find an excuse for our improper actions as we blame others, ISKCON, community, president, leaders, parents, etc. for enforcing us to do so.

In reality, nobody is at fault. We must take the blame upon ourselves to stop this endless guilty list. This would not mean we became inadequate; it simply means we admit our imperfections. We must take on some responsibility. 

tat te 'nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo; evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam

There are consequences, vipak, ātma-kṛtaṁ - of our own deeds. 

In sum, the first quality is the ability to take on responsibility. Along with it, the second quality, is gratitude to God. If God is merciful, we are obligated to express the gratitude for that. We have to try unfolding His mercy, to gain deeper meaning of it. 

More often than not we confuse mercy with pity. Pity itself is quite a cruel quality, egotistic in its nature. When we feel pity for someone it usually confirms our desire to get rid of someone’s pain or distress as soon as possible. We are not even considering helping the individual, but simply doing everything in our power to plug this negative hole, thus avoiding being excruciatingly ashamed because someone next to us is suffering.

When the child is crying, first thing we do is give him a candy. We don’t even think whether the candy is going to help him or not, will it truly benefit him? Therefore, pity is known as cruel and egotistic trait, distancing us from coming into contact with someone else’s pain. We chose the easiest path to be pity, throw something useless onto people and buy our way out of the association with them. 

God does not act like this! He is full of mercy. He does not have pity, in its negative meaning. He is merciful beyond doubt, but He will never do anything to harm us. He is not rushing to fulfill our minuscule requests or desires that can cause issues. 

Today, as I was reading the poetry, which I time to time like to do to enrich my emotional intellect, mainly trying to find some parallels with Vaishnava philosophy, a poem by Lermontov caught my attention. In it the poet is exploring the thoughts of his destiny, trying to understand why God destroyed all of his hopes without any mercy. Unfortunately, I cannot recall this poem by heart, but the author was crying asking why God crushed his youthful dreams and how can it be understood what God wanted from him?

God inevitably wants to say only one thing to us that He loves us, therefore he is merciful to us, which is expressed as merciless crush of our hopes, our silly, illusionary hopes for happiness in this material world. This is sadhana, the second part of it, which is bringing us up closer to seeing God - jīveta yo bhakti-pade sa dāya-bhāk- to definite encounter with God, which we are impatiently pursuing and it will happen when He invites us to the appointment with Himself. 

These are the topics we covered in our two preceding lectures. And now we are moving along to the third lecture. I beg your pardon for taking so long to reflect on previous content. I feel the importance of this. Today’s subject is Encountering others. 

Again, first, to Encounter ourselves we must learn to render service, which is a lesson of accepting the self, then serving. 

Second, Encountering God, is a lesson of trust in God, admitting He is our well-wisher. As Albert Einstein said in his famous phrase: “Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not”1. In other words, His actions are not easy interpreted, He is very sophisticated in His ways, but He is never an evil. He truly wishes the best for us. 

Finally, the third lecture, Encountering others, is the lesson of responsiveness and sensitivity. It may be the most important lesson for us to learn. We are situated right here, at the School of God, where we study and analyze certain lessons and learn from them. We need to learn how to serve under the token of free will, accepting the fact of it being our true nature. 

We need to learn how to trust God. And, ultimately, we must learn how to become responsible and sensible individuals towards others. This, obviously quite important lesson, people never had a chance to learn, as there is no limit to our insensitivity and indifference. It is closely related to our inner self ill-being. And yet, we make one significant error, that prohibits us to sincerely encounter others, listen and hear them, express sensible response towards their pain, in thinking that we are obligated to take the pain of others onto ourselves, or accept responsibility for someone’s pain. Such perception is erroneous. We can empathize with someone’s pain, sharing their feelings, but this does not at all mean we are taking responsibility for it.

Regretfully, and this is what we will be discussing today, people are accustomed to socializing in a way where they commonly shift their responsibility onto others. It became a “normal”, in quotes of course, type of relationships between individuals. 

Subsequently, when we witness someone’s suffering, we immediately think to ourselves: “Oh no, no way I am ever dealing with this. Do I have to take this responsibility on top of what I already have? I am not well myself!”

Why we are so insensitive and irresponsive? What are we afraid of? Why we are being so callous? All this is happening to us because we have accumulated excessive emotional pain within ourselves and we think that by being responsive, we will add even more to already overflowing "cup” of our patience. We have so much of it ourselves, it merely suffocates us with its poisonous effects. We suffer from our own ill condition, the misfortune we imposed onto ourselves. 

In this manner, we pretend that someone’s pain is not our business, we don’t need to be involved with others, and overall, those others are needed here only for one reason, to make us happy, so we could use them to our advantage. And this is what multiplies pain in this world, our own included. 

Without establishing sincere mutual relationships with others, trying to push them beyond our own coordinate plane of pain, we increase pain for ourselves and others. As opposed to this, if we escape the limits of our own pain, we can get rid of its significant load. Association with others, as a matter of fact, is a magnificent sadhana, which will help us to experience real happiness. I would like to repeat again that we are not using the meaning of “pity” and “empathy” correctly, they are not equal terms. Let’s move now to this subject. 

For the starts, I wanted to quote 4-line verse from the poem of Fyodor Tutchev, where he elaborately describes exactly what I wanted to emphasize today. 

No blessings given one to see ahead

How words we utter carry their reflection 

Compassion is bestowed on us instead

As well as grace and heavenly affection

The author is making a startling discovery by saying that compassion is a blessing, God’s gift, it is an amazing feature bestowed upon us by God. And this feature alone can make us happy. 

“Compassion is bestowed on us instead

As well as grace and heavenly affection”

Besides, he directs our attention to the need of being thoughtful to the highest degree, while associating with others, maintaining conversation with them, as

“No blessings given one to see ahead

How words we utter carry their reflection”

Majority of individuals limit themselves to the first 2 lines of this verse, thinking that since it is impossible to predict how others would reflect on our words, we’d rather converse based on this restrictive concept. The truth is that we may or even have to be able to comprehend how our words would reflect off others. This is the third sadhana molding us to the third encounter. 

I am specifically addressing this topic to show how to put this concept to practice every lifetime. This can have tremendous success, and the sympathy to others will inevitably make us happier. 

To prove this concept one more time, I wanted to cite 2 very relevant yet captivating verses from Shrimad Bhagavatam:

mayy ātmānaṁ saha jagad

drakṣyasy ātmani cāpi mām

This verse is the Lord Vishnu’s speech after appearing in front of Kardama Muni in response to his performed sadhana. Lord Vishnu expressed satisfaction by sage’s efforts and announced that He would reward sage with the son, which would be His own incarnation. Lord Vishnu affirms in His very important message that muni can become an ātmavān, 

SB 3.21.31

kṛtvā dayāṁ ca jīveṣu

dattvā cābhayam ātmavān

Ātmavān signifies a person who is aware of his soul origin, eternal blissful entity (as opposed to the material body and the mind filled with endless sufferings and complexities), a person who knows himself, who already encountered himself. Lord Vishnu promises that Muni will become an ātmā-vān once he performs a simple chore. 

Srila Prabhupada declared that this verse alone gives the simplest method of self-realization, which can be used by every living being. Now please listen to this method of self-realization given by Lord Vishnu Himself. 

kṛtvā dayāṁ ca jīveṣu - a person must show a sincere compassion to all living entities; dattvā cābhayam ātmavān – and at the same time, which, in essence, has the same meaning as the first line (two facets of the same), a person must act in a way that others are not afraid of him - dattvā cābhayam means one is giving assurance of safety to all, being nice and compassionate to the extent that others are not sensing even a slight fear in his presence, rather feel protected. 

Then ātma-vān – a person is self-realized, but that is not it. This is not the only reward one receives once he has learned to behave in such a way. 

Addressing Muni as “You”, Vishnu further states: “You will perceive your own self as well as all the universes in Me, and Myself in you”.

mayy ātmānaṁ saha jagad

drakṣyasy ātmani cāpi mām

In other words, such ātma-vān, will realize being already connected with God, for the entire world is manifestation and the energy of God, as well as able to see God within himself. The link between these two phenomena will be obvious, one will feel this connection between himself and God. 

And for such deep realization there is one and the only sadhana, to behave compassionately towards other living beings.

Srila Prabhupada’s purport to this verse is quite lengthy, 3 pages total. I will skip the purport but would like to nonetheless emphasize how valuable is such sadhana. 

Another verse I wanted to read is a quote by Prahlada Maharaj where he sheds the light onto nearly the same subject. This is a concluding verse of instructions to his demoniac classmates at school. The indicator of the final outcome is use of the Sanskrit word “tasmāt”.

SB 7.6.24

tasmāt sarveṣu bhūteṣu

dayāṁ kuruta sauhṛdam

Therefore, a person must show compassion, kindness, and mercy to all living beings and must become friendly to others. Prahlada also calls them to give up their demoniac mentality, which is an obstacle on the way of developing all good qualities. Sadly, we have this mentality, we became demons as a result of gathering so much pain within. 

bhāvam āsuram unmucya

yayā tuṣyaty adhokṣajaḥ

Why do we need to do it? Because, Adhokṣajaḥ, the Supreme Lord who is beyond the perception of our senses now, will be satisfied with us. If we simply act in a friendly manner and compassion to others. 

I prepared the third pramana to fully saturate all of us with necessity of proper association with others, but cannot retrieve it, unfortunately, at the moment. Technology is rebelling, so to speak. Maybe we can get it loaded little later, we shall see. This was citation from Sri Chaitanya Sikshamrita, by Bhaktivinoda Thakur. He says there that friendliness carries a constitutional value for a human being. Additionally, he states further that compassion is no different than bhakti. One cannot think of those two, as separate categories, there is bhakti and there is compassion. Compassion is bhakti!! 

Bhaktivinoda Thakur pronounces: “When a person takes shelter of bhakti, mercy towards all living entities is a natural quality. Compassion does not have separate existence from bhakti. The quality which, when offered to the Lord, is called bhakti or prema, becomes friendship, compassion, and indifference when directed towards other living beings. It is a feeling which is inherent in the eternal nature of the soul”. 

This is very important note to a devotee. 

Further Bhaktivinoda Thakur continues: “In the spiritual realm this quality manifests only as a friendship, but in material world it manifests as friendship towards devotees, mercy towards the innocent, and indifference towards the offenders. These are but different aspects of the same compassion. In the conditioned state this compassion is extremely stunted. It starts with one’s own body, then widens to include one’s household, then one’s varna, then one’s countrymen. Expanding, it includes the human beings of the whole world. Compassion becomes complete when it is directed towards all living entities. Patriotism is but an aspect of this sentiment in relation to one’s country. Philanthropy is compassion directed towards all humanity. The Vaisnava should not be limited by these sentiments. He is compassion for all living entities, not wanting to cause harm to any of them.” - Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Chaitanya Sikshamrita, Part 3. Avoiding obstacles in devotional service.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur is addressing very important quality here. Someone may say sure, it is natural to have a compassion for a person who already has loving relationship with God. And this is absolutely true. For us, however, sādhakas, practicing devotional service for the time being, it is beneficial to work on restoring this natural quality. 

Srila Prabhupada explained that this is the essence of sadhana as a process, the main goal of which is to uncover the original nature of the soul, being currently damaged or hidden within the shell of many layers. 

Compassion is sadhya, which is no different than love to God and at the same time it is also a sadhana, when we are trying to communicate in such a way to not to cause any grief, harm, or pain, to other living beings, precisely speaking, to all living beings. The issue is that in our conditioned state we have a quality directly opposite to compassion. It is cruelty, in its true meaning. Besides, it starts to become apparent when we come in contact with subjects to which we can apply cruelty, someone who is subordinate to us. This can be someone who is weaker than us, caught into the sphere of our influence. Unfortunately, this quality is inherent to all living beings. Some may think it does not apply to them, as they perceive themselves as kind or never doing anything bad. 

Let’s have some examples to justify the truth of this statement. In 1970s Stanford University set up a psychological experiment. I cannot recall the name of the Author of the experiment, but I can send a link if anyone is interested. The result of the experiment had shocked the researcher himself. The main topic of this research was to answer the question why cruelty flourishes in penitentiaries or armed services? We all heard how a normal person comes to the Army to fulfill his duty, serves one year, then becomes a sophomore or so called “oldie” during the second year. This oldie starts torturing others, newly drafted soldiers. 

Back to the experiment, the participants were selected by random draft out of the most common pool of students attending that university, with average communication skills. They were offered some minor perks for participation. The researcher created an artificial prison and placed participants there for two weeks. Some agreed to play the roles of inmates, others – of prison guards or wardens. 

Shocking results of the experiment later were summarized and published by the Author in the book. During just a few days, literally from the very first day of this endeavor, this tiny, staged environment, became a personified Hell. Everyone simply incarnated into their roles. Totally normal people, students, given a little power over the “inmates” started to exhibit cruel, sadist inclinations, right from half a turn of the experiment. The guards started to violently suppress riots, sparked by inmates. The experiment initially planned for two weeks, had to be ceased by emergent outcome on the 6th day, as the scale of the outrage, happening there, was too difficult to control any further. Moreover, the lead researcher, playing the role of the main superintendent in this prison, felt himself how his character quickly turns into an evil side, testing his power on others. He felt that cruelty is awakening in him. 

I am not brining this point of view in vain. Once again, I wanted to reaffirm that just as compassion is a natural trait of a living being in its pure state, the cruelty is a “natural” state of a conditioned living being, when we dwell here in the material world. We shall never forget this condition; we have seen it all around us. Why parents often are so rude to their children? Simply because the children are in their total control. Why schoolteachers often become aggressive? Because fragile, small individuals came under the line of their power. Pretty famous expression of Lord Acton stands true to this day: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”2 

2. Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887. In Acton, Historical Essays and Studies, edited by J.N. Figgis and R.V. Laurence. London: Macmillan, 1907).

Bitterly, I must note that the same situation occurs in spiritual organizations. When someone rises to the power of authority, taking a leading position, he almost immediately launches this power to action thinking he is caring about others where in reality he simply demonstrates his cruelty to them.

Again, I am bringing this topic to your attention for a very good reason. When we perform a certain sadhana, we better be aware of all obstacles we can face on our path. If compassion, mercy, responsiveness, and sensitivity are to become our sadhana, we also must be very careful to watch our shadowy, conditioned, personality side, controlling its exposure in daily interactions with others. 

As we ourselves are full of piled up inner pain, much more often than it seems, we are causing pain to others, shattering their personalities. 

Srila Prabhupada talks about it in Bhagavad Gita: 

BG 4.10


man-maya mam upasritah

bahavo jnana-tapasa

puta mad-bhavam agatah

Why fear comes across between individuals? Because people act with the underlying basis of fear. And, as we already well aware of, all this begins from the early childhood, when corrupted mental programs are “implanted” into individuals. 

Let’s talk about sadhana. This was an introduction to the main theme and now we need to understand what would be our sadhana to follow. I hope we all understood the importance of this. I am sure everyone of us has certain experience of proper relationships with others, when we treated them with respect to their individuality, freedom, independence, qualities, and relationship with God, trying to open up to them, we were undoubtedly delighted. Giving is fundamental to humanity. Anyone is well aware of it. When we can truly touch someone, and even accept a drop of their pain onto ourselves, we become overjoyed. Such pain does not burden us. If someone’s pain comes to us, awakening our sympathy, as a result of the proper interaction with others, it uplifts us and is perceived as a blessing. And vice versa, the same pain can drag us down, as I already mentioned before, depending on our attitude towards others. 

Further, I would like to introduce a concept of 4 main obstacles prohibiting people to relate to one another in a good way. In the beginning, I said that in a very harmonious natural fashion, when two people, being free and pure, get together, the amicable currents start to flow between them. I am most positive we all experienced those feelings as well, sometime in our lives. We perhaps do have someone in our life whose association is pleasant and thus we naturally express soft friendly bond with those individuals. This, by the way, is the intrinsic, original quality of our soul. 

On the contrary, when miserable person encounters others, being in a similar state, and, God forbid, if one of them have some obligations towards another or depends on another, the “game” reverses its course. While within the spiritual world, where relationships are favorable for all, the friendly games are coming across in all their bliss, here, in the material world, the cruelty is a mainstream “game”. 

So, here are the 4 types of behavior we exhibit towards each other, often unconsciously, nonetheless causing the “freeze” of our contacts with other individuals, or total destruction of our relationships, depriving us from being sensitive to others, all of which becomes a steady fountain of pain. 

Communicating in such a way with others, we bring about unbearable pain to them, concurrently increasing our own. 

The first type of obstacle is judging others. We are in a bad habit of rigidly judging others. When you see someone, please carefully notice how you are scanning others. Usually, at the very first glance, we are tempted to find countless faults. In all of us dwells this inner desire to surface faults in others, put people down no matter in which respect or on what grounds, either from some spiritual ideal point of view in devotional service, or even based on insignificantly common perception. 

We instantly analyze everyone coming in contact with us, classifying a person, defining his social type, figuring out his weak sides. This impulse in us sparks up instantly, once we grasped the faults and defined the weaker sides, we put an individual onto his well-deserved place, according to our presumptive classification, some lowest level “shelf”. Then, we are holding until the right moment to pour all our sinister thoughts onto him. 

Frequently we hear similar outbursts towards ourselves, especially widespread are internet-based offenses, such as posted on YouTube, etc. You can see how generous people are in sharing their opinions regarding others, marking them as being rascals, greedy, etc. Thus, they firmly finalize their opinions of others as done and determined, and there are no more hopes for anyone to escape those verdicts. Naturally, when people hear such nonsense about themselves, it causes pain. They have no idea what motives were used to define them as such, but their negative qualities are now permanently engraved into their personality. They are accused of being egotistic, deceiving, etc. When in our thoughts we are categorizing people in such manner, we literally commit violence, we cause pain. When we speak in these terms, we increase pain, and when we act this way, we increase it manyfold. 

And the habit of thinking in these offensive terms is firmly rooted in our minds. And if we come across such individuals, who are pre-classified by us, thus fitting into some designated tiny cell, we are simply anticipating confirming our thoughts regarding their destined position. We are eager for others to manifest those negative qualities, and surely, they will be evident, therefore we find a suitable moment and the reason to verbally punch them into their “wound”. Most frequently this happens with relatives, the closest people living together, knowing well each other’s weaknesses. Their communication boils down to finding the right moment to “pierce” others to hurt them most. 

This is one aspect of our cruelty that destroys human relationships, the manifestation of it as a total opposite of a compassionate nature. 

The second aspect is cruelty resulting from our own pain. People who behave rude, are miserable themselves. We are not trying to judge them; we must understand what we can and are doing to others. If we interact with such unhappy people, we must show them sympathy in trying to understand their misery. And their distress speaks loud and clear; when judging everyone around, the only thing those individuals are really trying to yell to the rest of the world is that they have no happiness of their own, nobody likes them, and they don’t like anyone as well. 

And we must hear them saying it, which does not mean we have to physically approach them. Bhaktivinoda Thakur advices that some type of people is best to stay away from, be indifferent to them. This would be equivalent of our compassion to them. Nonetheless, we shall be aware that it is a pain that screams through an individual.

Another symptom of pain is when we demand something from others. Husband has demands for his wife, wife has demands for her husband, parents impose demands to their children, government has demands for its citizens. In any case, as soon as there is unequal relationship with imbalance between partners, demands start to crawl into such unions. Demands are always accompanied by the threat, such as: “You must do this. It is your obligation to do so.” Often times, the threat is not expressed, but always implied: “If you don’t do it, it will get worse!” Threat causes fear. The relationships that destroy our encounters with others, our ties with others, thus demonstrating our inferior qualities, always evoke negative emotions in others. One of those emotions is a shame. When we blame or judge someone, calling them egotistic, greedy, self-absorbed, etc. we are trying to make them feel ashamed. 

When we demand something from others, we instigate a feeling of fear in them. And, definitely, every one of us has examples of this, when someone demands something from us, we feel strong inner desire to withstand it. We may agree to satisfy those demands, but very reluctantly, acting out of fear. If nobody is watching us though, we will immediately stop fulfilling those demands or in spite of demands, will do just the opposite.

When a parent orders his child to stop doing something, a child may even pretend to abide by the demand, but at the very first opportunity, he will act in spite of it. This happens because a child feels the pressure, a cruel, harsh repressing force coming from “authority”. This is another type of pain destroying human relationships. 

The third aspect that ruins relationships is forcing others to satisfy our whims by either rewarding or punishing them for that. This happens when we constantly remind others what they have to do, promising to reward them if they agree or punish if they refuse. This is the most horrible treatment of others. 

When we align our relationship with others in a similar manner, especially when small children are involved, which happens all the time, as we keep the tight scores for every step they make, marking them accordingly, promise them "gifts" for demanded actions, our victims start to realize, that everything they do has a certain price tag to it and tangible reward. Over the time, children in particular, become so spoiled by such attitude of adults and if this situation went way too long and too far to extremes, they turn at certain stage in their life into narcissists. These are the type of people who demand excessive attention towards their persona from others, constantly evaluate themselves at certain “price”, which is then communicated to others. 

Their mentality follows the following pattern: “ I have done this; therefore, you owe me. You must reward me, I deserve it, look what I am doing. Give me, give me, give me”. They emit immensely rough energy. They admire themselves, therefore expect others to “pay” for their exceptional traits. And the main reason they are as such is because they were spoiled during the childhood by twisted relationships with their parents. 

If our relationships with others are based on such grounds, the natural loving exchange is not going to happen. These 4 principles I am trying to elaborate on now degrade any innocent friendly relationship and compassion, which we do have plenty of and can utilize in a wonderful manner towards others. 

Finally, the last aspect, number 4, is shifting the responsibility. I said few words about it earlier. This means that we are trying to build up relationship with others by shifting the responsibility onto them, thus finding a reason to blame them. People we treat that way start feeling guilty, ashamed, fearful, and duty-bound. 

These are 4 games people play, in order to make others do what they need. Such people do not start their relationships out of being complete, self-sufficient, or loving, but out of desire to get what they need from others. This is not as bad in itself. We, after all, are somewhat deficient individuals and may cooperate with others to receive something from them but giving them what we can give. However, since most people have no clue how to get what they need, they resort to forcing others to do it for them. 

So, most people are establishing relationships based on these 4 aspects. Needless to say, we can indefinitely expand the list of the principles, but these are the most prominent. Again, they are demands, system of rewards, shifting the responsibility, and judging others.

When we are facing one or more of these 4 types of situations, all scenarios lead to broken relationships. I bet we all have reaffirming experience of this. 

In case of demands from others, we receive their resistance in response; thus, no relationships can develop. 

In case of judging others, when we permanently prescribed others undesirable qualities, motives, created classification for them; this ends any relationship.

And, in case of shifting the responsibility or blaming others; the relationships instantly shut down.

I know it quite well from my own experience. At certain point in life I was a leader and many people were trying to play these games with me. I was constantly blamed for variety of things, which appeared that I was guilty of just about everything that I have ever done. After this, despite of my most sincere desires, I cannot properly associate with those individuals. This is not the way to build up relationships.

System of rewards also part of it as we already said before. 

Four of these are destructive forces or four manifestations of violence. These are 4 ways to inflict pain on others and unfortunately, we utilize them freely and deliberately in our relationships. Most thoroughly we must try to avoid them. This is our sadhana. If we decide to start a relationship with others, we must be always on alert, asking ourselves what we want from those relationships and whether we are enforcing others to serve our needs or rather help them to become sincere servants of Krishna, also raising ourselves to a better, more pure state. 

At the same time, while being in good relationship, we may receive something that we need. I will explain little later how to do it decently, with compassion. 

We started our discussion with these negative influences, because those are the most destructive forces in attempts to restore our original compassionate nature. 

Now, let’s move on to our sadhana of sensitivity and responsiveness, how shall we conduct ourselves? We need to concentrate only on one process, well, there are many, but the one we will address is the very beginning of the practice. We must attempt to perform service for others and as we are all well aware, serving starts with listening. 

If we truly are tuned onto serving others, willing to hear them and be sensitive to them, before we say anything, we must hear what they have to say. Therefore, going back to Tutchev’s verse, where he says:

No blessings given one to see ahead

How words we utter carry their reflection 

Compassion is bestowed on us instead

As well as grace and heavenly affection

we surely need to take into account that we have no idea how our words will be perceived by others, so before we open our mouth, it is necessary to concentrate on feelings of others. And such attitude can lead us to real happiness, it may become a blessing for us. Solely after hearing and understanding the feelings of others, we will be able to think of the right way to speak back to them, thus knowing well how our words will be taken. Please listen to people first. Listening anyways is a primary sadhana in our relationships with others. 

Frequently preaching leaders tend to think that their main goal is to talk nonstop, as they are so convinced in needing to deliver the truth to people, give them advice, or show off their verbal wisdom. But I am going to tell you that the main duty of the preacher is to listen. It appears that I am contradicting my own advice, as I have been speaking for a while, but behind the scene, prior to this seminar, I have been listening sufficiently. I have listened to myself and have included answers to many collected questions posed for me by others at various times. For some time, I also observed and heard about painful experiences expressed by others, as well as I have added few of my own heart-breaking examples, with the pain inflicted upon me by others, sadly, some of whom were devotees. 

Therefore, listening is the first step on the path of building relationships, most importantly proper listening. Our effort in doing so is a hard work. Prahlada Maharaj starts the sequence of 9 devotional service forms exactly with listening. There is a reason for that, we begin our service to Krishna by hearing about Him. And as you can guess, there is a wrong way of listening. There are also 4 types of improper listening. You all should know those. 

The 1st type is ignoring, when we simply disregard the speaker, though we may pretend to be attentive, but we concentrate on ourselves. We cannot comprehend anything that was said, often multi-tasking with typing, using our gadgets, thanks to plenty of those available nowadays, or talking on the phone and searching the Internet. The speaker is trying hard to share his pain with us, but we stare at him disassociated from the topic. I said, “we pretend”, but often we don’t even have decency to do that, we boldly ignore others, being engaged in irrelevant activity right in front of them. The speaker as he comes to the audience sharing his personal issues, usually stumbles onto insensitive “wall” of individuals. Again, we are not judging anyone here. General audience is not prepared to listen to or accept someone else’s pain, thinking they have enough of their own. 

The 2nd type is pretend listening. We put on the face “mask” of a thorough listener, taking certain posture to show off our undivided attention. We follow some advices of practical guides for a proper listener, where one must take certain posture, avoid crossing the legs, etc. All of it is rubbish. We simply cannot wait until the speaker is done with his speech. While sitting there, we are busy preparing our responses to the speaker and miss most important parts of the conversation. Ultimately, we are not for a moment interested in what someone is trying to say to us. We already got convinced that we understood whatever they were trying to say long ago, therefore, we don’t care anymore and want them to be done with their topic. We think we know it all, we have got all the answers, more over we sure to have some great suggestions and stories of our own to tell, which the speaker be delighted to hear. This is not going to be good, not the right path for us. This is our deception and hypocrisy.

The 3rd type is a selective listening. We listen to what interests us. Again, at the same time, we are judging the speaker, classifying him, finding his errors. We hear what suits our own mentality. We apply “filter” where everything said is flowing through rigid censor of our mind. And the residual that comes through that filter is incredibly minute. It is possible that gradually more will come through, at least in this type of listening we select some information. But again, what is left is only needed by us. We often found ourselves in situations when we tell something to others, and all of a sudden, they are making some unexpected conclusions, taking important part out of context of our topic, and converting it to their desired outcome. 

And the 4th type is an attentive listening when we are trying to remember what we heard. Additionally, to a certain degree, we even comprehend the subject, but do not have deep feelings about it. It happens quite frequently, that a person wants to say something else rather than what he is talking about. 

As I said before people judge and chastise others, and one does not need to be extremely sensitive to decode the pain or the offense coming through those messages. Someone’s message can come across as either lamentation of not being recognized or not noticed, some demands were not fulfilled, but in reality, a person is simply trying to express his feelings of pain and is begging for help. Whether we can help one or not is a different question, but must be able to hear his outcry, which can only happen at the 5th type of listening. There we listen to a person and entirely grasp the meaning of what he is trying to tell us. This is the type where we hear beyond the words, which can easily be perverted into entirely different meaning when retold. 

In few of my lectures I touched the portions from the treatise Kamandak Nitisara, which is a composition of purports by brahmana Kamandak for the Niti-shastra of Chanakya pandit. In this Niti-shastra, Chanakya pandit established the basic rules of relationships, note those are not some elevated types of relationships, just bare minimum basics of human interactions within the society. Not to mention that we are trying to associate ourselves and truly belong to the highly elevated community of Vaishnavas. 

So, in his Nitisara, Kamandak pandit states that a person can possess 8 virtues. 

The first, the minimum necessary virtue, is a desire to listen to others. Instead of being indifferent or ignoring others, if we simply would like to listen to others, it becomes already a merit. When we see someone and he appears captivating and interesting to us, we feel reverence towards him and know that he also loves and aspire to Krishna, we listen to him dearly, even if we cannot yet hear his entire message, because our mind is prohibiting us from deeper understanding and its “thickness” filters out certain points. 

The second virtue is a result of pretend listening, but since a person hears at least something in the message, this leads to partial understanding of the meaning. 

The third virtue is remembering of what was spoken.

The fourth - is true understanding of the subject matter.

The next three are various stages of assessing the spoken topic, either confirming it or, to some degree, denying it. 

And the final, the highest, 8th virtue, is obtaining the wisdom from received message. This virtue is forming as a result of interaction with others and learning how to truly listen to them. 

Summing this up, the list of virtues begins with the desire to listen, and, gradually, as a response to this desire, progresses to the development of the ability to listen to what speaker has to say. We can later analyze received information and retain its essential wisdom. When listening to the lecture or communicating in any other way, we need to learn how to listen, keeping in mind the virtues and types of listening skills I just mentioned. Listening is not an easy skill to acquire. In a purport to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where there is a famous verse:

Ãtmã vã are drashtavyaha, shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyãsitavyaha' 

(Brihadãranyaka Upanishad: 2/4/5)

In order to see God or Atma, one needs to listen about Him (shrotavyam). The process of seeing God begins with listening about God. Listening about God is a minimal experience from exposure to God. Don’t think that listening about God is not an experience, we do get in contact with God via our shrotri, ears. 

SB 3.9.11

āsse śrutekṣita-patho 

We come in contact with God through listening, this is the only method to encounter God. After this, using mantavyam, through analysis and reflection, then via nididhyasitavyam, through our mediations, God appears to us. Ultimately, we can see God, ātmā vā are drashtavyam.

The same applies to other people. To encounter others, we must listen to them and, using our intelligence, think and analyze what are they trying to share with us, shrotavyam, mantavyam, nididhyasitavyam, further uncovering a deeper meaning of the message. Then and only then, ātmā vā are drashtavyam, we will be able to see someone else’s ātmā. We will see a soul in her genuine beauty in front of us. If we make an effort to behave in such fashion, really concentrating on listening to others, hearing their so to speak inner feeling, reflecting on it, to a certain degree even sharing it, and responding appropriately, we can declare a successful encounter with others.

This 3rd lesson, as I said before, is the one we need to master, at our Krishna’s learning institution. This is a lesson of responsiveness, ability to react onto the feelings of others, which will make us happy. This is our constitutional position, our nature, as we are compassionate creatures. When we manage to put our compassion to a good use, by hearing, helping, and giving to others, there is no doubt we can reach the stage of unlimited happiness. And on the other hand, we will be frustrated when, instead of establishing solid relations, we are demanding, judging others, finding their faults, trying to pull something out of them for a cheap reward, in one word “domesticating” them like animals to play to our tune.

At the conclusion of this long drawn and winding lecture, I would like to summarize my advices on proper relationships, which starts with listening. Unfortunately, I can’t go into greater details now, but in few words, I wanted to refer you to the fascinating book by Bir Krishna Maharaj “Realizing our empathic nature: Connected to Krishna”. I read it fairly recently. 

In the book, Bir Krishna Maharaj meticulously describes the compassionate nature of human beings and its unveiling in connection to Krishna. The book contains many examples of nonviolent relationships. American psychologist Marshall studied human relations and determined that to a larger degree people relate to one another on a mere basis of violence. He derived, however, an algorithm, on how to correct this type of behavior thus avoiding violence and pain. Imagine you need something from another individual, or you simply have relationship with someone familiar to you, being near you. Here is his formula, however if you try to follow it mechanically, it will act opposite of its intent. I am not instigating you to use it right away, but just to think about, as it is a great formula of compassionate relationships. Simplicity of it is in the statement: “If you want to get something from others, give them with pleasure what you have!” 

Generally speaking, rare person is not happy to give. Then, asking in a right way whatever it is we need from the individual will not cause any heart burn and most likely he will be happy to give us anything if he could. Most important is to ask politely. We must be in touch with ourselves before asking, knowing our feelings, sharing them with others and then putting the words together sensibly, begging for something we need. Again, we must know precisely what we need and what we feel about it, then the right words will come to us on their own, and there will be no judgment from our side. Such are few simple suggestions, compiled into the single rule.

What happens in reality though? People’s most frequent reaction is outrage. When someone wanted something from others without receiving it, he goes on the “roller coaster” judging them. Here is an example from the book. 

One bhakta was assigned to mop the floor in the temple. Instead of finishing the task, he got distracted and left the bucket of water with the mop right in the middle of the entry way. Some other devotee in charge, came to the temple and saw this mess right before Mangala arati. 

Now imagine what would go through senior devotee’s mind, put yourself for a moment into his “shoes”. Naturally, his temper will be rising. And what do you think he would do at once? He will confront poor bhakta, releasing all his frustrations into the bhakta’s face, calling him rascal and lazy, thus interpreting the outcome from his own perspective. Devotee in charge probably already noted from the past that bhakta was not a very diligent individual, missing some of responsibilities here and there, acting lazy. Therefore, it would be very easy to find a confirmation of suspected attitude and let him hear about it in an elevated tone. And what happens to bhakta after such treatment? He immediately shuts himself down. 

What should have been done instead? Very simple, only 4 things, as Bir Krishna Maharaj explains it. 

First, state the facts, without making them better or worse emotionally. Such as: “I came to the temple tired at the very late hour. I know I asked you to mop the floor but saw that it was not done, and I saw a bucket of water with the mop in the middle of hallway instead”. Who can have any objections to those facts? Not likely anyone will. 

Moving on, next thing to do, which is the most difficult for majority of people, is to express calmly the feelings this situation raised. Sadly, quite often we don’t know how to manage our feelings, at least cannot properly express them. Here is the next typical phrase to say: “ I felt disappointed and heavy at heart, because I knew that tomorrow devotees will come to the area and see the dirty floor, and after curtains open up, the Deities will also see this mess, thus people’s moral will go down. I was very tired myself yesterday to finish it off for you, I really relied on you”. Devotee in charge should have expressed his feelings without accusing or judging bhakta, as he has no idea what motivated the bhakta to half finish his duty. 

The third thing to do is to state what is needed and for that we better know exactly what we need, no less, no more, stating: “I would like to see this area cleaned and organized, to make devotees happy and elated”, then phrase the request: “ Please, next time, try to fulfill your duty entirely”.

Most likely bhakta would explain what happened and why the work was not finished. This would have softened the contact between the two because request was made with compassion, out of respect to another person, presuming bhakta’s innocence at first, rather thinking the service was attempted, but something prevented it to be completed. 

In this way, the situation would have been handled without shifting responsibility on anyone and our feelings would be simply and gracefully stated. 

Saying that someone let you down or is guilty of anything is always going to cause natural resistance. 

This example therefore shows you how to develop relationships with others in a kind way. 

If we can be in control of our feelings while contacting others, this would be an invaluable possibility for us to show our compassion, to sincerely hear others, help them, respond to their cry for help, assist them in feeling Krishna’s love towards them. We can bestow them with selfless love of other devotees, raise them above their problems and sufferings, and relief them from some pain they experience, thus bringing ourselves to somewhat exalted position.

As Lord Vishnu says in Third Canto of SB, such individual would become an atmavan. If someone can grant fearlessness to other living beings, he is in control of his senses and he can reach genuine happiness. 

This is all I wanted to talk about today for our third encounter. We addressed three encounters, three sadhanas, the ones we need to follow while performing our devotional service or in our attempts to serve Krishna, chanting His holy name. This third sadhana is the predominant one, because in association with others, if we continue to offend people, especially devotees, all our attempts to serve Krishna will drastically fail. 

Thank you very much. Srila Prabhupada ki, jaya!!!

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