Seeing the Good

By Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, from Back To Godhead Magazine #22-10, 1987

I recently discussed with a friend the importance of trying to see good in all persons. But my friend doubted: “Isn’t it a fact that some people are actually bad?” It occurred to me that I should have first defined what I mean by good. Positive thinking must be more than vague sentiments.

According to Vedic knowledge, any thought or act progressive to spiritual life is good. And spiritual life may be defined simply—but accurately—as that which is pleasing to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as enunciated in the recognized scriptures. For practical guidance in spiritual life we should also follow the example and advice of God’s representatives, those who have attained to a state of pure goodness.

It is difficult to find someone who is one hundred percent good, someone completely in accord with God’s wishes. In the Bhagavad-gita the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, admits, sa mahatma sudurlabhah. The mahatma, who is completely in the spiritual energy of God, is very rarely found in this world. But do we have to wait until we find one hundred percent goodness before we recognize and encourage good acts? A more realistic approach is to appreciate sincere attempts at spiritual life, even in a person who has flaws.

An incident in the life of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada exemplifies this positive but realistic outlook. In 1973 Prabhupada received a letter from a woman named Lynne Ludwig, who had encountered two of his young disciples in California. She complained that they had “a very negative outlook toward the people they meet.” Moved by her genuine concern, Srila Prabhupada wrote her a thoughtful letter. He acknowledged that his followers may have acted in an indiscreet way, and he asked her to please forgive them. At the same time Srila Prabhupada pointed out the saving grace in the behavior of his devotees:

To give up one’s life completely for serving the Supreme Lord is not an easy thing, and maya, or the illusory, material energy, tries especially hard to trap those who have left her service to become devotees. Therefore, in order to withstand the attack of maya and remain strong under all conditions of temptation, some who are inexperienced devotees in the neophyte stage of devotional service will sometimes adopt an attitude against those things or persons which may possibly be harmful or threatening to their tender devotional creepers. They may even overindulge in such feelings just to protect themselves, and thus they will appear to some nondevotees, who are perhaps themselves still very much enamored by the material energy of maya to be negative or pessimistic.

Prabhupada went on to state that when a devotee of God actually comes to the mature stage, then he becomes “constantly enlightened, always positive, not negative, as you say. The advanced devotee is the friend of everyone.”

So far I have discussed seeing the good in those who have accepted the spiritual path, even if they are immature. But what about persons who may not believe in God? What about persons who flagrantly disobey the basic commandments? And what about the animals and plants? Should we see God only in theistic human beings?

In fact, the vision by which one sees everyone as equally good is the vision of the topmost theist. As Lord Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita (5.18), “The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater [outcaste].”

The enlightened sage can see everyone equally because he doesn’t see in terms of bodily coverings. He sees the spirit soul within. He sees that even animals are eternal spirit souls, but because of their previous bad karma, they have been forced to enter a species of life with a very limited consciousness. But all souls are equal, and therefore no one has a right to kill. When applied in this way, the attempt to see the good in others becomes a very crucial and practical basis for personal ethics.

There is another important reason why we should see everyone as equal: Everyone is equally a servant of God, equally subject to His supreme will. Lord Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita (4.11), “”As all surrender to Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” From the viewpoint of God, therefore, everyone is His eternal part and parcel, and everyone may become His eternal associate again in the spiritual world.

But what about seeing the bad? Certainly systems of morality, philosophy, and religion teach an important distinction between sinful and unsinful acts. There are laws of God, or laws of nature, and anyone who defies them receives punishment through the law of karma: The proof of this is that some spirit souls have taken birth in lower species, where they suffer more misfortune than others. But even when we acknowledge karma, that does not condone our taking a negative attitude toward “sinners.” A God conscious person, who has actually developed traits of goodness, hates not the sinner but the sin—the destructive act itself.

Those who have gained a conviction about the equality of all beings have the added responsibility to try to help others come to the higher understanding. We should all strive to see the good in others and to help them bringout their best. This is expressed in the Bhagavad-gita (3.26), “Let not the wise disrupt the minds of the ignorant who are attached to fruitive action. They should be encouraged not to refrain from work, but to work in the spirit of devotion.”

If we want to promote good in the world, we cannot blindly believe that all acts are equally good. But we can see that everyone is good at heart because he is constitutionally part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A learned person, therefore, seriously tries to follow the path of goodness and introduces it to others.

Furthermore, real goodness is not the transient happiness we enjoy by our senses. That which is good must be eternal, and therefore it is attained by reviving our relationship with God. We can promote goodness by glorifying God through philosophy, art, science, music, and innumerable other methods. Mundane attempts at “doing good” deteriorate into moralistic meddling and schemes for others’ welfare, which end in failure.

Transcendental, positive thinking is not a Pollyanna pose, nor does it mean seeing through rose-colored glasses. It is a broad vision that includes and encompasses the bad and elevates us to our original state of eternal happiness. Seeing the good, therefore, means to love all beings in God’s creation. Even if pure goodness cannot be immediately achieved, the smallest attempt at goodness creates auspiciousness in the world. If we are able to face our own weaknesses, as well as the widespread corruption and evil in the world, and yet go on working for the cause of good, only then can we realize the happiness of the mahatma, the great-hearted servant of God and humanity.

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