Killing With Kindness

Lord Krishna “Dear Krishna, You are the killer of all the fears of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. You are the supremely powerful hero, and we know that You can kill the unnecessary pride of Your devotee as well as the pride of women like us simply by Your beautiful smile.” (Songs of the gopis, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 31)

There are different ways to deal with an enemy, an antagonist, or someone who just isn’t very nice. Sometimes the solutions involve brute force, face-to-face confrontation, heated arguments, or other forms of violence. Yet one method is particularly effective, especially when it comes to dealing with those who are excessively proud. This method is kindness, an abundance of sweet words and peaceful overtures offered in the humblest of attitudes. “Kill them with kindness” is how the saying goes, and this method is certainly effective in many situations. Pride often gets lowered when one is in the presence of others who are devoid of it. Along the same lines, this potency of kindness takes on an even greater importance in the realm of spirituality. The Supreme Potent, the one person who possesses all noble attributes to the greatest degree, is God. Therefore through His kindness, sweetness, and all-attractive nature, He is the greatest killer of pride.

Lord Krishna Why does killing with kindness work at disarming pride? Pride results from the mindset of “I am great”, or “Look at me”. Pride can be considered good or bad depending on the use. The practice of taking pride in others is generally viewed favorably. If our parents are noble or if our friends are very successful in a particular venture, we take pride in their achievements. “I am proud to be my father’s son; I am proud to be his friend.” This isn’t necessarily a kind of hubris, but rather more of a way of offering praise. While being proud of someone else is considered good, being excessively proud of oneself is not. This is seen as hubris or arrogance.

By simply studying the nature around us, it’s obvious why excessive pride in one’s own abilities is not considered laudable. Every one of us is born into the same surroundings. Surely the exact geographic locations of our birth and the environments of our childhood may vary, but the overall condition is still the same. By default, an animal takes to eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. It must meet the demands of food, shelter, and clothing. Human beings are very similar to animals, so naturally the same obligations and penchants for activity exist. In this way, there is no difference between one human being and another. Moreover, we are ignorant at the time of birth. We are so unintelligent that we can’t even remember coming out of our mother’s womb, learning how to walk, or speaking our first word. For the young child, knowledge is acquired through education, guidance, and experience.

Based on these facts, it is quite silly for anyone to be proud. Pride means that we think we are better than someone else. How can anyone adopt this attitude when they didn’t have any control over where they were born? We certainly have a choice in how we interact with nature, and obviously there will be losses and gains from time to time. But to say that we are inherently better than others is quite silly. Let’s take the area of academics as an example. Say we have one student who studies very hard, does their homework in a timely manner, and gets the proper rest each night before going to school. Let’s say we have another student in the same class who behaves in just the opposite manner. They are often tardy, don’t do their homework, and never study for exams. The person on the straightened path will likely perform well in school while the slacker will do poorly. Should the well-performing student feel excessive pride over his or her accomplishments? They can certainly feel satisfied that their hard work didn’t go to waste, but it would be silly for them to think that they are genuinely more intelligent than the other students in their class. After all, the starting point was equal; each student had the same potential for success at the beginning of the class.

Lord Chaitanya The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide evidence to support these claims. Since the Vedas come from God, the knowledge they contain is flawless. The central Vedic teaching is that every living entity is a spirit soul, part and parcel of God. Lord Chaitanya, the famous preacher incarnation of Godhead, posited the ultimate conclusion of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which stipulates that the individual spirit souls are the same in quality as the Supreme Lord, but at the same time different. This simultaneous oneness and difference is inconceivable to the individual soul, thus God’s superior nature is reinforced through this conclusion. While God is superior to the individual soul, there is no difference between one living entity and another. This means that we are all equal in makeup.

This begs the question as to why there are different forms of life and why some people enjoy life while others suffer. While all spirit souls are equal, they assume different gunas, or qualities, upon taking birth on this planet. These qualities are determined by previous work performed; work which was driven by desire. Since no two people have exactly the same desires, everyone takes to different activities. With each activity comes a commensurate result, or reaction. The sum total of all these reactions leads to the different circumstances of birth. One person is born to a wealthy family, while another is born to a poor family stuck in a country run by an oppressive government. One person has an easy life, while another has to struggle all the time. This is all due to the results of fruitive activity, or karma.

Based on empirical evidence and knowledge provided by the Vedas, we see that being excessively proud is not a good thing. Not only is this pride not based in any reality, it dampens the hopes for spiritual enlightenment. What separates the animals from the human beings is the potential for intelligence. At the time of birth, the human being is no more intelligent than any animal, yet the potential is still there for the acquisition of knowledge. This potential can be fully realized when the living entity takes to understanding the soul and its relationship with God. Through acts of devotion to God, which can include renunciation and the acquisition of knowledge, a person can reach their full potential for intelligence. This intelligence is visible when the living entity both knows and realizes that they belong to God and that true happiness only comes through His association. This realization leads the enlightened soul back to the spiritual plane, a place wherefrom they never have to return.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

Krishna and ArjunaThose who become excessively proud due to lack of knowledge of the soul can be disarmed in a variety of ways. Kindness works quite often, but only when implemented fully and without deviation. If someone is very mean to us, or if they take to aggressive behavior based on their pride, if we are overwhelmingly kind to them, there is a good chance of their pride being deflated. This speaks to the truth that pride can only provide satisfaction when there are others around to challenge it. For example, say that a person feels they are the most beautiful person in the world. If every single person in the world were to acknowledge this fact, it would lose its meaning. On the other hand, if others would raise opposition to this claim, the proud individual would have to make an effort to support their argument.

By acting kindly towards those who are puffed up, we take away their opportunity to act off their pride. If someone boasts of their wealth, we can simply tell them, “Yes, you are very wealthy. I can’t think of anyone else in the world who has more money than you.” Now the prideful person has nothing to say, for their faulty claim has been validated, thus leaving no cause for belaboring the point. By the same token, the belligerent and rude person can eventually be won over through acts of kindness. Being treated in the best possible way, a person will likely lose their need to behave bitterly towards others.

Krishna with Radha and the gopis While this technique of kindness works to some degree, it certainly fails in many instances. Duality is the nature of the world we live in. Any method employed for success in a venture is likely to only succeed some of the time. Sometimes defeat is the only way to become humbled. In this way, defeat and loss are acts of mercy upon the puffed up living entities.  While kindness has some effectiveness when offered by the living entity, it takes on its true potency when offered by Krishna. This was the point stressed by the gopis of Vrindavana. Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, descended to earth in His original form to enact wonderful pastimes. As a young child, He would roam the forests of Vrindavana quite often and play with His various friends. The gopis were the cowherd girls of the town, and they all loved Krishna very much. He was their life and soul. When they were separated from Krishna, they would often praise His transcendental features by singing songs.

Krishna smileThe above referenced quote is taken from one of those songs. In this statement, a gopi is pointing to Krishna’s power to give protection to all the inhabitants of Vrindavana. As a great hero, He is also capable of removing the pride of not only enemies, but of devotees as well. What’s interesting to note is just how Krishna goes about disarming a devotee of their pride. This particular gopi states that Krishna uses His smile to remove one’s false prestige. A smile is an act of peace, a sign of kindness. Since Krishna is transcendental, His kindness is of the topmost variety. Therefore only His smile is capable of removing the pride of anyone.

How does this smile remove a person’s pride? In Vedic terminology, pride is known as false ego. Living entities in this world are covered with the three subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego. These elements are described as subtle because no one can see them. False ego manifests in the form of pride, which is essentially an affront to God’s authority. False ego is rooted in thoughts of “I am God” and “I am greater than God.” Such a mindset is both foolish and the greatest impediment towards advancing in spiritual life. The “false” part of this ego gets removed when one realizes that God is Supreme and that they are meant to serve Him.

Lord Krishna There are different ways to go about achieving this realization, such as studying scriptures, associating with devotees, and sitting in meditation. The most effective method for this age is the regular chanting of God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. There is no difference between God and His name. This means that if we say “Krishna”, the Lord comes right before us. As we see from the statements of the gopis, Krishna can disarm the sincere devotee’s pride with His smile. The smile is a sign of Krishna’s kindness, a quality which also manifests to the chanter of the holy name. If we want to kill others with kindness, we simply need to show them Krishna. Visit the temples of the Lord, view paintings and pictures of Him, and chant His holy name. These activities will remove the “false” aspect of the ego very quickly. The vision of Krishna’s smile and the sound of His holy name are the most effective methods for disarming the pride that keeps us tied to material life.

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