Since we aspire to be servants of the Lord, it is important that we not take a casual or dismissive attitude toward catastrophes and say, for example, “It’s just a fight among the materialists” or “People are just suffering their karma.” Were this to be the full extent of our response to these events, I think we would be deficient in our devotion to God. Why do I think this way?
Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita (6.32) that a devotee should feel universal empathy. Srila Prabhupada translates this verse as follows: “He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!”
This verse, among other meanings, recommends a kind of universal empathy. In his purport Srila Prabhupada stresses the point of empathy: “One who is Krishna conscious is a perfect yogi; he is aware of everyone’s happiness and distress by dint of his own personal experience. In other words, a devotee of the Lord always looks to the welfare of all living entities, and in this way he is factually the friend of everyone.”
We find another explicit, powerful call for devotional empathy in the Bhagavatam (6.10.9): “If one is unhappy to see the distress of other living beings and happy to see their hap-piness, his religious principles are appreciated as imperishable by exalted persons who are considered pious and benevolent.”
This is how we can apply such empathy in the case of the recent terrorist attacks:
First, we can imagine what it would have felt like for us to have been on one of the four planes that were hijacked and destroyed, or in one of the three attacked buildings. There is ample information available so that we can be quite specific and explicit in imagining the experience.
Second, we will probably have to honestly admit that we would feel significant discomfort, pain, or anxiety in such a situation. If we are capable of deep empathy, if we are able, as Srila Prabhupada states, to understand the experiences of others by comparing them to our own experiences, and we are “factually the friend of everyone,” then we experience true Vaishnava compassion.
In other words, we should not be more detached from the suffering of others than we are from our own suffering. We should not arrogantly dismiss the anguish of others, as if we are beyond anguish. A devotee who is truly transcendental to material suffer-ing, and who would not have suffered at all in one of those four airplanes, or in one of those three buildings, would be a most exalted pure devotee and as such would feel great compassion for the fallen conditioned souls. Those who are not compassionate, and who dismiss as trivial or unimportant such great suffering, are not actually demonstrating advanced detachment in Krishna consciousness, but rather they are demonstrating a disturbing lack of common empathy, and are in fact embarrassing our movement by their neophyte response.