Bhagavān has no experience of material misery

A perennial question is why people suffer in the material world. If God is benevolent, why does He not immediately relieve people of suffering? The suffering of people suggests that God is either cruel, or He is incapable of alleviating the suffering of others.

Śrī Jīva Goswami provides an original answer to this question in Anuccheda 93 of the Paramatma Sandarbha. His explanation has the following features to it:

  1. Bhagavān cannot experience material misery.
  2. To be moved to compassion by material misery, one must be able to empathize with the person who is suffering. This is not possible unless one has had an experience of misery.
  3. Bhagavān cannot empathize with material suffering and therefore His compassion is not aroused.
  4. Therefore He does not relieve people of their suffering.

We examine Śrī Jīva Goswami’s treatment of this subject below.

Experience of pain is necessary for empathy

Śrī Jīva Goswami begins by citing a verse from the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam:

yathā kaṇṭaka-viddhāṅgo jantor necchati tāṁ vyathām
jīva-sāmyaṁ gato liṅgair na tathāviddha-kaṇṭakaḥ

One whose foot has been pricked by a thorn would not desire others to suffer such agony, having understood the sameness of all living beings [in regard to the experience of pain] through external signs, but not a person who has never been so pricked. SB 10.10.14

This is an important principle. If one can theoretically imagine that a person has had no experience whatsoever of any material misery, then that person would simply be unable to understand the concept of pain. Such a person would completely lack any empathy for another’s pain. If one has experienced suffering, then and only then, can one empathize with the suffering of others, and only then will one feel compassion for others.

A corollary of this principle is that all empathy and compassion for others is ultimately a type of selfish emotion. We read or hear of news of death through disease and accidents all the time in the news, but we don’t feel grief most of the time. However, if misfortune were to befall someone we know, then we would feel emotional and compassionate. This is because we identify with the person, owing to our relation with them, and we suffer because we identify with their suffering. Our compassion for them, ultimately, is purely about us, and not about their own suffering; we suffer through the suffering of others, and therefore want to take action to stop it.

Bhagavān has no experience of material suffering

Śrī Jīva writes in his commentary on the above verse that the misery which goes by the name of ‘happiness’ in the material world, and that which is commonly understood to be misery, both, can never be experienced by Bhagavān. This is because Bhagavān is ever situated in His own svarūpa śakti, which is composed of the bliss of His being. Just as an owl simply lacks the capacity to see the sun, and just as darkness can never co-exist with light, Bhagavān lacks the capacity to have any kind of material experience.

Being absorbed in His own abode with His own devotees, Bhagavān is unaware of material suffering. Does this mean that He is not omniscient? No, it is just that He is uninterested in the dealings of the material world by His very nature. The fact that darkness is absent from the sun, does not mean that the sun lacks the capacity to pervade the universe. Bhagavān is omnipotent- He is fully capable of relieving everyone’s misery in a moment- but because He has no direct contact with suffering, He is not moved to do so.

Bhagavān is compassionate to His devotees

But then what about the fact that Bhagavān is called the supremely compassionate person in various places in the scriptures? This is certainly true, but His compassion is bestowed only upon His devotees. How is His compassion triggered in this case? Surely He must have experience of misery.

This is not true because the devotees’s suffering is actually not suffering, but a transformation of Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti, in which suffering is completely lacking. Just as happiness in the material world is actually just suffering, suffering in the spiritual world is actually just happiness. When Bhagavān feels the pleasure and pain of His devotees, He is only experiencing bliss and not material pain as we know it.

Śrī Jīva Goswami examines further objections to his thesis. There are instances where Bhagavān appears to have been moved to compassion for devotees like Gajendra who prayed to Him while in distress. Śrī Jīva explains that this was not compassion for Gajendra’s distress, but rather Bhagavān responded to his surrender, which is a limb of bhakti.

Implications for Śrī Caitanya’s pastimes

Śrī Caitanya mahāprabhu is popularly described as the most compassionate avatāra of Bhagavān who appeared to bestow compassion to all living beings. The fact, though, is that He was not compassionate because of material suffering. If He had been moved to compassion because of material suffering, He would have delivered everyone right away for all time. This obviously has not happened. Śrī Caitanya was not moved by the suffering of the world; He came only at the behest of His own devotee, Advaita ācārya.

Sometimes devotees are seen to be moved to compassion because of the suffering of others. This is not actually true of Śrī Caitanya’s immediate associates, who are of the same nature as Bhagavān, and are incapable of empathy.

Rather, it is the devotees who became perfected by sādhanā, alone, who are capable of compassion, because they have suffered in the material world, and have the capacity for empathy. Of course, material suffering cannot be truly solved without bhakti. Therefore, their compassion comes in the form of knowledge of bhakti, which solves the problem of suffering at its root.


If Bhagavān were able to empathize with material suffering, then He would be compassionate to the people in the material world and everyone would have stopped suffering because Bhagavān is fully capable of all action. Because He has no experience of suffering, however, He does not become compassionate. Bhagavān’s sphere of interaction is only with devotees, and His every action is for their sake alone. He has no interest in the dealings in the material world, and this has been the case since beginningless time.

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34 replies »

  1. Quote from the article: “Bhagavān lacks the capacity to have any kind of material experience. Being absorbed in His own abode with His own devotees, Bhagavān is unaware of material suffering. Does this mean that He is not omniscient? No, it is just that He is uninterested in the dealings of the material world by His very nature.”

    So, He knows everything (omniscience) but is… anaware of something. Strange logic.

    The meaning of OMNISCIENCE:
    1. Infinite knowledge; the quality or attribute of fully knowing all things: an attribute of God.
    2. Hence Very wide or comprehensive knowledge; a knowledge of everything.
    3. The quality or state of being omniscient; the quality of knowing everything; an attribute peculiar to God.
    (The Century Dictionary)


      • If He is beyond logic and doesn’t have to obey it, why not also being beyond the views and versions of Goudiya sampradaya, which is just one among many other sampradayas with their different views and versions of God?


      • This site presents the Gaudiya sampradaya’s teachings. God reveals Himself in different ways to others, and they are welcome to their views and beliefs. You are now beginning to waste my time.


    • Omniscience does not mean ‘to experience everything’ but to ‘know everything’. Otherwise God will have experienced all the nasty things in the material world, like robbing a bank or killing a child. There is nothing strange about it whatsoever. That, together with Sri Jiva’s logic that empathy requires experience, is sufficient to support Sri Jiva’s conclusions.


    • this is where the english language fails. The sanskrit terms bhoktṛtva and jñātṛtva are different. bhoktṛtva means experiencership. and jñātṛtva is knowership. Kṛṣṇa has sarvajñātṛtva= knowledge of everything, including material suffering, completely. But He only experiences the antaraṅga śakti, never the bahiraṅga. So this is the distinction being made here. The word omniscience is an english word–gotta look at the sanskrit and will avoid confusion.


      • Why then there is a word karṣayantaḥ in BG 17.5-6?

        aśāstra-vihitaḿ ghoraḿ
        tapyante ye tapo janāḥ

        karṣayantaḥ śarīra-sthaḿ
        bhūta-grāmam acetasaḥ
        māḿ caivāntaḥ śarīra-sthaḿ
        tān viddhy āsura-niścayān

        And from the commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi:
        “Endowed with these qualities, they starve or cause suffering (karṣayantaḥ) to all elements such as earth (bhuta gramam), to me (mam) and to my amsa the jiva, situated in their bodies. Know these people to be also situated on the level of asuras.”


      • The commentary from Sri Visvanatha is below:
        bhūtānāṁ pṛthivyādīnāṁ grāmaṁ samūhaṁ karśayantaḥ kṛśī-kurvanto māṁ ca mad-aṁśa-bhūtaṁ jīvaṁ ca duḥkhayantaḥ

        Here- Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti is glossing māṁ ca as mad-aṁśa-bhūtaṁ jīvaṁ ca. i.e. causing misery to the jīva, who is my aṁśa.

        If we examine Sridhar Swami, Madhusudana Saraswati, or Sri Baladeva’ translations, they mention that they displease antaryami, paramatma, because of transgressing His order, thereby insulting Him.

        Meaning to any verse has to be given with eka-vakyata in mind- that shastra elsewhere should not become contradicted- otherwise incorrect translations are the result. There are hundreds of statements that Bhagavan is pure Ananda and that suffering cannot reach Him.


  2. Isn’t kleshaghni described by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti in Madhurya Kadambini a sign of God’s compassion? – If you suffer take to devotional service, and kleshas will go away.


      • Then what about this ,I was bit confused..

        Nindasi yajna-vidher ahaha shruti-jatam
        Sadaya-hrdaya darsita-pasu-ghatham
        Keshava dhruta-buddha-sarira jaya jagadisa hare 9

        Victory to Keshava, the lord of Universe,
        Who assumed the form of Buddha,
        Who found fault with fire sacrifices,
        In which poor animals were sacrificed,
        As prescribed in the Vedas due to his compassionate heart(Dasavatara stotra of Sri Jayadeva Goswami)

        Seems like confusing,if you can clarify


      • Krsna is compassionate but He is not moved to compassion because someone suffers materially. He is compassionate toward his devotees – obviously responding to their Bhakti and not to their suffering. Now poets can see Him in different ways according to their own vision and praise Him as compassionate like Sri Jayadev does due to their bhava. Doesn’t mean it is tattva. The tattva is in the article above. So we have to interpret any other statement that does not match with Sri Jiva’s statement.


  3. “Now poets can see Him in different ways according to their own vision and praise Him as compassionate like Sri Jayadev does due to their bhava. Doesn’t mean it is tattva. The tattva is in the article above. So we have to interpret any other statement that does not match with Sri Jiva’s statement.”

    Can you cite few such examples where bhava does not match with tattva..In such cases how to know which is tattva and which is not?


    • Tattva is known from the Sandarbhas that are written to teach tattva. There are many examples. Sanatana Goswami’s brhad bhagavatamrta is one. The bhagavatam is another. Sri Suka himself says that some of the stories he told in bhagavata are not literally true from tattva point of view.


    • I was inquisitive about this thing that whether Haridas sastri Maharaj learned sandarbhas from his spiritual master who in turn learned from his spiritual master without any break till Sri jiva Goswami?
      Thank you


      • I know he learned from his guru. Beyond that, I cannot say. No reason to doubt it, as the diksha parampara is well defined.
        Scholarship and traditional learning is a hallmark of his parivaar.


      • I think in those days there was no question about authenticity. It is the modern times that the problem began. Modern gurus do not have proper training in nyaya, Sanskrit, purva mimamsa, etc


      • Since we came to the point that we have to learn sandarbhas from parampara,I began to ponder over it because now a days there are many translations on sandarbhas and their comments with different views
        on some issues even among the gaudiyas.There starts the confusion and search for what is the unbroken chain of learning from Sri Jiva goswami.


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