“Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”
– Finley Peter Dunne (American humorist and writer, 1867-1936)
But the Bhagavad Gita says this material world is a temporary place of suffering. And the Srimad Bhagavatam condemns a life of sense gratification, calling those attached to enjoying in this world as dogs, asses, camels and hogs. The scriptures mince no words while exposing the harsh realities of this world. Ill informed people may conclude that the scriptures present a fatalistic view of life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The scriptures contain detailed descriptions of the spiritual world and the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna in His abode. Krishna’s enchanting beauty, virtuous qualities, most endearing nature and His irresistibly sweet pastimes have been elaborately described in various Vedic writings. How do we reconcile these supremely positive statements with heavy condemnation of materialistic life in the very same scriptures?
If a man is fallen in the well, what’s the best way to get him out? You throw a rope from above and encourage him to hold on to it while his friends and well wishers from above happily pull him out. But what if the man is comfortable within the well, and prefers to remain confined within, rather than seek the freedom outside? Despite seeing his well wishers implore him to grab the rope and come outside, he complacently seeks some arrangements within the well.
At such times, a truly compassionate friend has a bigger challenge to pull the man out; he has to first convince him to get out of the well. To complement the effort of pulling the man from above, there also has to be a push from below. If he faces pain and suffering within the well, he may be inclined to consider the option of going out. The recurring bite of scorpions and snakes within the well and realizing how its painful coupled with the attractive descriptions of life outside could spur him to grab the rope.
Similarly as most people lead a complacent life in this world, busying themselves with the activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending, they are blind to the real goal of life, and the eternal happiness that awaits them in the spiritual world. The scriptures shake up such men and women by revealing candidly how they are being bitten by the snakes and scorpion like sufferings of this world. For a person who is attached to life in this world and is blind to tapping his rare human potential, the scriptures push him from below. But if a person is depressed within the well due to repeated sufferings therein, then he needs a positive hope. His friends happily cheer him on to come outside, and that gives him confidence. Likewise, for those depressed by the recurring trials and tribulations of this world do not need others to convince them about how life is full of suffering. They could take hope and inspiration from those statements in scriptures that reveal the attractive future that awaits them.
The scriptures thus beautifully balance with encouragement to those suffering in this world and chastisement to those lazy and complacent to spiritual life while living in this world.
This maturity of the scriptures is revealed when we study them under the direction of sincere devotees of the Lord. They would reveal to us the need to take shelter of Krishna and also the happiness in receiving this shelter. If you are on a boat that is fast sinking but you aren’t aware of it, and a friend comes along with a beautiful big ship what would he do to save you? He first needs to convince you that your boat has holes and is sinking. Then he would tempt you to join him on his boat. Similarly the scriptures first try to convince us that our ship like plans of enjoyment in this world has ‘holes’; it’s unsustainable and then the same scriptures also goad us to board the ship of Krishna consciousness and seek to go back home to the kingdom of God.
“O Lord, the powerful thieves of my senses have blinded me by stealing my most precious possession, my discrimination, and they have thrown me deep into the pitch-dark well of delusion. Please, O Lord of lords, extend Your hand and save this wretched soul” – Mukunda mala stotra (mantra 36)