Devotees often ask me, “If Krsna is really merciful towards His devotees, why do so many devotees seem to experience misery? I hear in all these lectures that Krsna is so merciful but I don’t experience it – I just had an accident!” Others tell me: “A good friend distanced himself from me,” or “This great devotee is dying from cancer, so how can we make a general statement that Krsna is merciful to His devotees? Maybe He is merciful to Srila Prabhupada, but not to me or those I know…” I would like to address this doubt… Krsna’s mercy towards souls like us – and even for the greatest souls – is that He removes the obstacles we face when we worship Him. However, often we hold on to things that are actually dangerous. For instance, recently a relative of mine, a professor, left his body because of his addiction to alcohol. We used to tell him that drinking is very bad for his liver and that he would soon die if he continues. But he was too attached to the thing that eventually killed him. Often we are no better than this and in these times Krsna’s mercy takes away such obstacles to our devotional service. Out of ignorance we may not find this pleasant but in the long run it is beneficial for us.
Krsna removes obstacles in two ways: softly or more forcefully. For devotees who are at that moment not particularly determined to become purified, He fulfills material desires in such a way that in the end they will develop attachment to His lotus feet. That is the soft way: He gives what the devotee wants, but eventually removes these desires so in the end one only wants Krsna. I think most of us favor this way.
An example: someone might have a strong desire to travel and see the world, but also wants to dedicate their life to Krsna’s service. Krsna might then fulfill the desire for travel within the frame of devotional service. Therefore, Krsna arranges for you to gradually lose interest in the material part of your desire (to travel, become famous or be appreciated by others, etc.) and you will just want to serve. It can also be the case that a devotee is only a little stubborn, but at the same time, he or she wants Krsna intensely. Here Krsna might choose the other way, which is a little bit harder. He might forcefully remove the things that the devotee is attached to. For example, all of a sudden the devotee develops an illness and can no longer eat luxurious food. This is the second type of mercy – where Krsna takes away hindrances to devotional life, without continuing to fulfill materially mixed desires. Krsna expresses it like this, “If I especially favor someone I gradually deprive him of his wealth by which he fulfills all his material desires. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man give him up! In this way he suffers one distress after another.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.88.8) I believe these are the instances many of us interpret as Krsna’s cruelty. And this is where our mistake lies. This is where our faith breaks. Please don’t make this mistake – have a little faith! We all need to be educated so that we realize that material life and material pleasures are actually not good for us, in fact they are dangerous. Let us never forget why we became interested in Krsna consciousness: to obtain something that even the creator of the universe is hankering for – pure love of God. To help us receive such a precious gift, the Lord sometimes has to use unexpected means to wake us up.
I request you: the next time you experience a mishap in your life or when something does not work out according to your plan, before you go down the road of judging Krsna: “Isn’t it true that you’re not that merciful to me, my Lord? And these lecturers who talk about Your mercy and say You are bound by love are liars.” Take a step back and try to look at your life from the spiritual perspective. Maybe you will find that what you first considered to be a curse is in truth a disguised blessing. The moment you discover this, your faith in Krsna will grow.
In summary, there are two ways in which Krsna destroys His devotees’ obstacles. One is the gradual soft way where He fulfills material desires, but in such a way that in the end you want only Him. The other way, which He considers to be special mercy, is more firm. When the first method doesn’t work that well, He may take the poisonous toy we want to continue playing with, away from us.