“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
मात्रा-स्पर्शास् तु कौन्तेय
तांस् तितिक्षस्व भारत
mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
“One of the more profound verses from Bhagavad-gita relates to the sequence of happiness and sadness. Namely, they arrive on their own schedule, but one that is somewhat predictable. The comparison is to the seasons, and the two extremes of winter and summer.
“Today, it is cold outside. The temperature is below freezing, which means that if you stay out there long enough you won’t survive. I can complain about the conditions all I want, but this was expected, given the geographic location.
“In several months, I will be complaining about the scorching heat and the high humidity. I will long for the colder days of winter. The cycle repeats, every year, without end. These seasons arrive on their own. No one needs to do anything. There is no external management system.
“Shri Krishna explains that happiness and distress flow in the same manner. They will arrive on their own. It is not surprising to find such a profound comparison in the beginning period of the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Bhagavad-gita drops so many truth bombs right at the outset, with plenty of time reserved for further questioning and contemplation.
“I had a realization today, though. Could we not take the same principle and apply it to Krishna’s mercy? Why should we be so anxious to see the Divine, to feel His comfort, to bask in His glory? Will not such rescue arrive eventually? Should not we simply wait out the storm, until the clouds part and the original sun shines it comforting light?”
There is a story from the life of the saint named Vitthalanatha that features a similar exchange. He would regularly give offerings to the deity of the temple in which he worshiped. The offerings would often include something written.
One time the deity responded with writing of its own, asking the question posed above. If the clouds give rain at the appropriate time, what need is there to be anxious? In other words, why be so desperate for experiencing the mercy of the Supreme Lord when it is known to arrive eventually?
The reply from Vitthalanatha was that the behavior of the clouds has no bearing on the chataka bird. That bird will never stop being anxious, though it is fully aware of the periodic nature to rainfall. This bird is often used by saintly people to more accurately describe the life of pure devotion.
The chataka only drinks rainwater. Its beak always points in the upward direction. It will take only the rain falling into its beak. The chataka will not direct attention elsewhere. If the Supreme has ordained that the rain will go to some other direction first, the behavior of the chataka does not change.
The same principle applies with expectation. Though the devotee knows that Bhagavan is amazing, that He is endless compassion personified, that He never abandons those who are fully surrendered to Him, they will still wait anxiously for further connection. They are never satisfied and neither will their attention go elsewhere.
The person on the receiving end would have to appreciate the sentiment to an unimaginable degree. It is for this reason that Shri Krishna explains that He can never fully repay the debt owed to the gopis of Vrindavana. Their devotion is so strong that even God feels embarrassed in trying to reciprocate.
“The example is given that small lamps may become agitated by a little breeze, but the greatest lamp or the greatest illuminating source, the sun, is never moved, even by the greatest hurricane. One’s greatness has to be estimated by one’s ability to tolerate provoking situations.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)
With such an appreciative object of worship, it is no wonder that the chataka-like devotees remain steady in their chosen way of life. Whether they live in a temple, travel to an office each day, work from home, or study to advance in formal education, they never forget their real interest, which meets both the svartha and paramartha of every living entity.
Expected to arrive on its own,
From nature’s cycles shown.
But chataka still upward directed,
Ready whenever expected.
Even if mercy elsewhere to fall,
That one still devoted to call.
By Supreme such appreciated,
That allegiance not deviated.