The laws of nature work in subtle ways unknown to us. Mahārāja Bharata was a great king very advanced in devotional service. He had almost reached the point of loving service to the Supreme Lord, but even from that platform, he could fall down onto the material platform. In Bhagavad-gītā we are therefore warned:
so ’mṛtatvāya kalpate
“O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Bg. 2.15)
Spiritual salvation and liberation from material bondage must be worked out with great caution, otherwise, a little discrepancy will cause one to fall down again into material existence. By studying the activities of Mahārāja Bharata, we can learn the art of becoming completely freed from all material attachment. As it will be revealed in later verses, Bharata Mahārāja had to accept the body of a deer due to being overly compassionate for this infant deer. We should be compassionate by raising one from the material platform to the spiritual platform; otherwise, at any moment our spiritual advancement may be spoiled, and we may fall down onto the material platform. Mahārāja Bharata’s compassion for the deer was the beginning of his fall down into the material world.
From this, we can understand how we have to be very cautious in executing our spiritual duties by observing the rules and regulations and regularly chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. If we neglect to do this, we will eventually fall down. We must rise early in the morning, bathe, attend maṅgala-ārati, worship the Deities, chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, study the Vedic literatures and follow all the rules prescribed by the ācāryas and the spiritual master. If we deviate from this process, we may fall down, even though we may be very highly advanced. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (18.5):
na tyājyaṁ kāryam eva tat
yajño dānaṁ tapaś caiva
“Acts of sacrifice, charity and penance are not to be given up but should be performed. Indeed, sacrifice, charity and penance purify even the great soul.” Even if one is in the renounced order, he should never give up the regulative principles. He should worship the Deity and give his time and life to the service of Kṛṣṇa. He should also continue following the rules and regulations of austerity and penance. These things cannot be given up. One should not think oneself very advanced simply because one has accepted the sannyāsa order. The activities of Bharata Mahārāja should be carefully studied for one’s spiritual advancement.
When a person is advanced in spiritual consciousness or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he naturally becomes very sympathetic toward all living entities suffering in the material world. Naturally, such an advanced person thinks of the suffering of the people in general. However, if one does not know of the material sufferings of fallen souls and becomes sympathetic because of bodily comforts, as in the case of Bharata Mahārāja, such sympathy or compassion is the cause of one’s downfall. If one is actually sympathetic to fallen, suffering humanity, he should try to elevate people from material consciousness to spiritual consciousness. As far as the deer was concerned, Bharata Mahārāja became very sympathetic, but he forgot that it was impossible for him to elevate a deer to spiritual consciousness, because, after all, a deer is but an animal. It was very dangerous for Bharata Mahārāja to sacrifice all his regulative principles simply to take care of an animal.
The principles enunciated in Bhagavad-gītā should be followed. Yaṁ hi na vyathayanty ete puruṣaṁ puruṣarṣabha. As far as the material body is concerned, we cannot do anything for anyone. However, by the grace of Kṛṣṇa, we may raise a person to spiritual consciousness if we ourselves follow the rules and regulations. If we give up our own spiritual activities and simply become concerned with the bodily comforts of others, we will fall into a dangerous position.
Māyā is very strong. In the name of philanthropy, altruism and communism, people are feeling compassion for suffering humanity throughout the world. Philanthropists and altruists do not realize that it is impossible to improve people’s material conditions. Material conditions are already established by the superior administration according to one’s karma. They cannot be changed. The only benefit we can render to suffering beings is to try to raise them to spiritual consciousness. Material comforts cannot be increased or decreased. It is therefore said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.5.18), tal labhyate duḥkhavad anyataḥ sukham: “As far as material happiness is concerned, that comes without effort, just as tribulations come without effort.” Material happiness and pain can be attained without endeavor. One should not bother for material activities.
If one is at all sympathetic or able to do good to others, he should endeavor to raise people to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In this way everyone advances spiritually by the grace of the Lord. For our instruction, Bharata Mahārāja acted in such a way. We should be very careful not to be misled by so-called welfare activities conducted in bodily terms. One should not give up his interest in attaining the favor of Lord Viṣṇu at any cost. Generally people do not know this, or they forget it. Consequently they sacrifice their original interest, the attainment of Viṣṇu’s favor, and engage in philanthropic activities for bodily comfort.
How Mahārāja Bharata increased his affection for the deer is described herein. Even such an exalted personality as Bharata Mahārāja, who had attained loving affection for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, fell down from his position due to his affection for some animal. Consequently, as will be seen, he had to accept the body of a deer in his next life. Since this was the case with Bharata Mahārāja, what can we say of those who are not advanced in spiritual life but who become attached to cats and dogs? Due to their affection for their cats and dogs, they have to take the same bodily forms in the next life unless they clearly increase their affection and love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Unless we increase our faith in the Supreme Lord, we shall be attracted to many other things. That is the cause of our material bondage.
Mahārāja Bharata left his home, wife, children, kingdom and everything else to advance his spiritual life in the forest, but again he fell victim to material affection due to his attachment to an insignificant pet deer. What, then, was the use of his renouncing his family? One who is serious in advancing his spiritual life should be very cautious not to become attached to anything but Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes, in order to preach, we have to accept many material activities, but we should remember that everything is for Kṛṣṇa. If we remember this, there is no chance of our being victimized by material activities.
(Srimad Bhagavatam 5.8.7 to 13 Purport)