People want to make themselves “useful”, and some are even addicted to finding purpose in helping others (as we have seen in an earlier post). The question that is generally overlooked, however, is to what extent it is possible for anyone to help another! I believe that there is little one can do, and here we take a closer look at this fallacy of helping others.
For us to be able to help anyone, there are two requirements to be met. First, we should know what is good for them. Then we should be able to effect a change in that direction. Turns out, both of these conditions are hard to fulfill, even individually.
Let’s take the aspect of knowing what is good for a person. Many boys, in their teenage, want to become cricketers and want to spend their time playing than studying. But most parents don’t allow it. Instead, they make their children spend time on what they (the parents) believe is good for them. Their logic makes sense because there are only a few successful sportsmen for hundreds who are able to find a job and make a living with their regular educational qualifications. But this insistence on academic excellence may also have ended the dreams of many athletes who had the potential to make a name for themselves. So are these parents helping their kids or ruining their lives?
The simple answer is that we don’t know, and have no way of knowing with certainty. It is impossible to be sure if even becoming a successful athlete at a young age would actually be good for them or not as the many instances of early fame ruining the career and lives of those who are not ready to receive it will show. We never have complete information of even the present and much less of the future. With the limited knowledge that we have, we are in no position to decide what is good for a person (including ourselves)
In Srimad Bhagavatam, an exalted soul, Chirtraketu, when cursed by Goddess Parvathy, says:
गुणप्रवाह एतस्मिन् क: शाप: को न्वनुग्रह: |
क: स्वर्गो नरक: को वा किं सुखं दु:खमेव वा ||
In this flow of qualities (nature), what is a curse and what is a blessing? What is heaven and what is hell? What is happiness and what is sorrow? (No one can tell – or there is no difference)
Chirtraketu’s own life is an illustration of this truth. He was a King and had many wives but no children, and was thus sad. With sage Angira’s blessings, one of his wives bore him a child. Now, we would assume that to be good. But his other wives got jealous and killed this child. The king was deeply grieved. Seeing his sorrow, the celestial sage Narada brought back the dead son. We would assume that would make him happy. But the son didn’t show any attachment to him. Instead, he said he had had many fathers and many mothers over countless lives, and wondered which his real father was. Rejected by the son, the King was dejected. However, that led him to develop dispassion, renounce everything worldly, and attain the ultimate goal of life!
Now, let’s look at the second condition to be met. Even if we do know what is good, is it within our power to change? We cannot change anything for anyone, bound as we all are by the chords of karma. In the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatham, when Yudhishthira comes to know that Dhritarashtra has left his palace for the forest, he worries about who will take care of his uncle who is both old and blind. While consoling him, the Narada explains how foolish it is to think of others as being dependent on us. He says:
कालकर्मगुणाधीनो देहोऽयं पाञ्चभौतिकः |
कथमन्यांस्तु गोपायेत्सर्पग्रस्तो यथा परम् ||
This body made up of gross elements is under the control of time, past actions and inherent qualities. How can it protect anyone else, just as one who is in the grasp of a snake cannot save another?
Does that mean we should stop helping and being good to others because they will anyway get what they deserve? No, we should help others when we can and the situation arises. However, it should be from the conviction that it is the right thing to do, rather than a misguided notion that it is us who are helping them or making their lives better. When we do this, the one who is actually benefited will also be ourselves!