“Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
शोच्या शोचसि कं शोच्यं दीनं दीनाऽनुकम्पसे।
कस्य कोवाऽनुशोच्योऽस्ति देहेऽस्मिन् बुद्बुदोपमे।।
śocyā śocasi kaṃ śocyaṃ dīnaṃ dīnā’nukampase।
kasya kovā’nuśocyo’sti dehe’smin budbudopame ||
Friend1: I know that at the beginning of the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna was lamenting over the potential fate for the other side.
Friend2: Explain the setting. Where are we? Who is Arjuna? What is this “other side”?
Friend1: The Bharata War, staged at Kurukshetra. Some five thousand years ago, well-documented in the Sanskrit work of epic length, the Mahabharata. Arjuna is the leading fighter for the Pandava side. For all intents and purposes, these are the good guys. In reality, there is no such thing as good and bad.
Friend2: How can you say that? If I’m trying to lose weight, sugar is bad for me. If I’m training for an upcoming marathon, proper rest the night before is good for me. I doubt anyone would challenge these assertions.
Friend1: Good and bad in the bigger picture. One side follows dharma, or the way of righteousness. The other side is committed to adharma. The end result for both is death, i.e. quitting the body and leaving everything behind. In that sense it doesn’t really matter what you do.
Friend2: Are you making the case for atheism? This life is everything, so enjoy as much as possible, carrying over into lying, cheating and stealing, if necessary.
Friend1: I am saying just the opposite, in fact. The spirit soul is the essence of identity. It is eternal in its existence. It never takes birth and it never dies.
न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्
नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतो ऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
Friend2: If we exist, if we persist into the future, shouldn’t good deeds make a difference?
Friend1: Only temporarily. That is what I am saying. Good and bad in the relative sense have the same destination of rebirth. The pious enjoy in heaven. The sinful get punished in hell. Eventually, the time expires and there is a return to the situation of karma. Action with consequences.
Friend2: If good and bad are the same, why was Arjuna lamenting?
Friend1: He had temporarily forgotten the truth of the spirit soul as identity. He was concerned over the material wellbeing of those on the other side.
Friend2: But hadn’t the bad guys, in this case, harassed Arjuna and his family for such a long time? Didn’t they deserve the punishment they were about to receive in battle?
Friend1: Absolutely. That is true. Just shows you the saintly character of Arjuna. He knew his side was with dharma, but he made excuses because he lamented for those about to lose.
Friend2: Which sets the stage for the Bhagavad-gita conversation.
Friend1: And the transition to my current dilemma. I feel the same kind of lamentation. Not necessarily for thieves who have stolen a kingdom. Just people affected by worldwide emergencies. Businesses closed down forever. People financially ruined. Massive unemployment.
Friend2: You don’t feel any pleasure at their pain?
Friend1: Absolutely not. I am doing okay, but I worry so much for them.
Friend2: That is understandable. It is amazing what is happening.
Friend1: Is my lamentation misplaced? Should I be above it all and relegate everything to karma?
“These people are getting what they deserve. So much sinful activity that nature had to step in and stop it, for a while. They won’t learn their lesson, either. Once this panic calms down, people will be back to living the same way they used to.”
Friend2: A lot of people think that way.
Friend1: Even if it is their fault, so to speak, I feel for them. I don’t want others to suffer. What should I do?
Friend2: There is a great teaching from Shri Hanuman in this regard. He told a person who had just become a widow that there was no reason to feel sorry for others. This is because everyone is living in a vessel that is like a bubble. It can burst at any moment, as we’ve just witnessed.
Friend1: That is true.
Friend2: Which means that rich and poor are also relative circumstances. We should always feel distress upon seeing others in difficulty. This is the impetus for the saints of the Vedic tradition to travel from place to place and describe the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They know dharma is the way to happiness for every person. Dharma is sanatana, and so it is eternally the way for every person to live.
That dharma the way to live,
This gift the saints to give.
Not considering that poor is he,
Since my own condition to see.
Where destructible body sharing,
And in same way eventually faring.
Better towards Divine holy name,
And helping others know the same.