In his Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya commentary to Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has—in reference to the verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.1.2) beginning dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo— characterized a nirmatsara person as an individual whose heart is full of compassion for all living entities.
Good qualities are only good qualities when in relation to Bhagavān
Unless and until one is compassionate to oneself, it is not possible that one can be compassionate to others. If sambandha-jñāna (knowledge of one’s relationship with Bhagavān) has not manifested completely, then any externally exhibited quality that resembles compassion cannot be considered real compassion. In such ‘compassion,’ selfishness must necessarily be present. Only when one has realized sambandha-jñāna to its fullest extent is one capable of seeing that all living entities are part and parcel of the Lord. At such a time, one will consider “If, as a result of my eligibility to awaken this living entity’s Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he becomes engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service, then my Prabhu, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, will be pleased with me and reward me with prema-dhana. I will therefore look after this particular living entity in order to please my Lord.”
Those persons in whom sambandha-jñāna has not properly matured appreciate, follow and teach ideologies that result in the attainment of dharma (religiosity), artha (wealth), kāma (sense gratification) and mokṣa (liberation). Such persons possess matsaratā (spitefulness), are nirmama (heartless), and are deceptive and cruel, not only toward their students, but toward themselves as well.
Although such a deceitful instructor’s act of teaching externally appears to be highly auspicious and free of cruelty, it is only through careful deliberation that we can realize the truth of this matter.
Madhusūdana Rāya and the Rāmānandī Sādhu
In my youth, my classmate Madhusūdana Rāya once came across a Rāmānandī sādhu (a follower of Śrī Rāmānanda, a Śrī Vaiṣṇava saint of medieval India) travelling atop an elephant with a mahout. Seeing a stream ahead, the mahout asked the boy, “How deep is that water? Can our elephant safely walk through to the other side?” The boy first respectfully offered his obeisances to the Rāmānandī saint, and then, with all politeness, knowingly directed them to a path that passed through a swamp, instead of one with shallow water.
The Rāmānandī saint, being impressed with the gentlemanly behavior of the boy, immediately trusted him, and thus instructed his mahout to follow the path advised by the boy.
Shortly after, as my friends and I were returning home from school, we heard the news that a Rāmānandī saint, his mahout and their elephant became trapped in a swamp. We went to see the site and found that the situation was quite grave. The more the mahout tried to move the elephant, the deeper they sunk into the swamp. Despite their best efforts, the elephant and the mahout were unable to free themselves. The Rāmānandī saint was in tears. Seeing his pitiful condition, I sent a fellow student to notify the landlord of the village. The landlord was an initiated Vaiṣṇava in the line of Śrī Śyāmānanda. After being informed about the situation, he sent two elephants and a truck to rescue the party. With great difficulty and strenuous efforts, the elephant was eventually pulled out from the swamp.
Externally, Madhusūdana Rāya did not demonstrate any acts of obvious cruelty to the Rāmānandī saint, such as shooting him with a gun, attacking him with a knife or stick, using vulgar language or any other abuse, whether physical or mental. However, although he offered his praṇāmas and spoke with polite words, no intelligent person would describe what Madhusūdana Rāya did as an act of nirmatsaratā (non-maliciousness). Actually, it would have been better if he had not talked to the saint at all, or if he had professed ignorance, saying he was unaware of the right path and that they should inquire from someone else.
Although it appears that the saint was the only victim, will a reaction for such an act of malice not be borne by Madhusūdana Rāya? As it is said: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” To treat others with matsara (malice) is to be unkind to oneself, because one must taste the fruits of one’s actions.
Only nirmatsara instructions are included in bhāgavata-dharma
After an exceedingly long time—that is, after taking birth countless times among the 8,400,000 species of life—only the most fortunate souls obtain a birth in this extremely rare human form of life. Only humans have the qualification to follow the path of self-realization and attain the transcendental abode of Bhagavān, which is the topmost destination. But the material potency (māyā) of Lord is so powerful that only a highly righteous soul who has performed copious amounts of pious deeds can gain freedom from the clutches of māyā and obtain the desire to walk on the path of spiritual realization. This is indeed very rare.
If such a person’s guru, in whom he has sought shelter, does not guide him to follow the topmost path of bhakti-yoga—which would quickly lead him to the supreme transcendental abode—and instead misguides him by encouraging him to follow the path of either dharma, artha, kāma or mokṣa—all of which will force him to remain wandering in the fourteenfold planetary system of this material world—or advises him to follow any other path headed by the paths of karma, jñāna, tapa and dāna—which are long and strenuous routes full of twists and turns that the seeker would not survive—then such improper guidance is to be understood as being possessed of matsaratā (maliciousness). To express this, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has written in his Kalyāṇa-kalpataru (3.1.4):
āre mana, ki vipada hôilo āmāra
māyāra durātmya-jvare, vikāra jīvere dhare
tāhā̃hôite pāite nistāra
O my dear mind, what a state of calamity I am facing in my life. I was suffering from a high fever in the form of immense misery inflicted upon me by māyā (due to my own past sins), which was burning me like fire. I was looking for the means of deliverance from this fever.
sādhinu advaita mata, ĵāhe māyā haya hata
viṣa sebi’ vikāra kaṭilô
kintu e durbhāgya mora, vikāra kaṭilô ghora
viṣera jvālāya prāṇa gelô
In order to relieve myself from the fever of these material miseries, I took to the path of advaita-vāda (monistic philosophy), which advises that one ought to abolish one’s own existence (by merging into brahma), so that material misery will no longer exist. Drinking this poison, I was relieved of miseries, but what a misfortune has arisen: it is now burning my very life.
‘āmi brahma ekamatra’, e jvālāya dahe gātra
ihara upāya kiba bhāi?
vikāra ĵe chilô bhālô, ausadha jañjāla hôilo
ausadha-ausadha kothā pāya?
Now I feel that I was better off with the miseries before, as this so-called medicine of māyāvāda philosophy, the idea that ‘I am brahma’, has become more troublesome. This flame is burning my whole body. Now please tell me, where shall I find a medicine that will cure the burning effect of this previous ‘medicine?’ Where can I find a sādhu who, like a doctor, can give me the right medicine to relieve me of this fever and also remove the ill-effect of this wrong medicine I have mistakenly taken?
The jīva is by constitution a transcendental eternal entity, and its eternal sva-dharma (constitutional duty) is to render devotional service to the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa and attain kṛṣṇa-prema. Spiteful (matsara) so-called gurus extensively profess that the sva-dharma of the jīva consists of pious activities (puṇya), impious activities (pāpa) and the activities performed to attain mokṣa (liberation), and therefore it is extremely difficult for simple-hearted persons to differentiate between sva-dharma and other activities that appear similar, but are actually chala-dharma (cheating religion):
pṛthivīte ĵata kathā dharma-nāme cale
bhāgavata kahe saba paripūrṇa chale
Jaiva Dharma (Phala Śruti 1)
Whatever is being performed in this world in the name of dharma has been condemned by Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as cheating.
The result of such activities is the attainment of a goal opposite of that which one desires. To engage in karma, jñāna and sense gratification, or to give teachings with the aim of attaining some material object, is only deception. Such endeavors are in the domain of the mode of ignorance (tamo-dharma).
Only activities performed with the aim of achieving true knowledge about loving devotional service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and ultimately kṛṣṇa-prema, constitute the rightful path (śreya-mārga). Teachers who give instructions exclusively on this subject are alone nirmatsara-sādhus, or compassionate saints. The directives of such individuals alone—and of no one else—can be truly be free of any trace of deception, for they advise one on how to follow the topmost, eternal dharma.