Jīvera dayā (mercy to living entities) is one of the main constituents of Vaiṣṇava dharma. It is the inherent nature of a Vaiṣṇava to be kind to the jīvas. When this nature is not detected, one cannot become a Vaiṣṇava even if one has thousands upon thousands of other external symptoms. Jīvera dayā nāme ruci vaiṣṇava sevana (compassion to the jīvas, a taste for the Holy Name and service to the Vaiṣṇavas) is the only teaching that Śrī Śacīnandana has propagated everywhere. The Vaiṣṇava’s mercy to the jīvas resides deep within the mind of a Vaiṣṇava, and the significance of this instruction (of Mahāprabhu) can only be understood by knowing its external indications. Thus these external indications must be cultivated by us. The phrase ‘jīvera dayā’ must be understood only in relation to baddha-jīvas (conditioned living beings). Furthermore, among the baddha-jīvas, those who have attained an inclination towards Kṛṣṇa are not objects of our mercy and should be treated as friends. Therefore, among the baddha-jīvas, those who are foolish or ignorant are to be shown mercy. The instinct that arises from recognising the suffering of a jīva, which produces tenderness in favour of that jīva, is called dayā (kindness).
There are three kinds of sufferings, namely ātmā-niṣṭha (those inflicted upon the ātmā), liṅga-deha-niṣṭha (those inflicted upon the subtle body) and sthula-deha-niṣṭha (those inflicted upon the gross body). Illusion, as a result of ignorance, is known as ātmā-niṣṭha. This is why kṛṣṇa-dāsya (servitorship to Kṛṣṇa), the inherent identification (svarūpa) of the jīva, is forgotten. This is the root of all suffering for the jīva. Bound and bewildered by māyā, the false ego has accepted the intellect, mind and consciousness to be the jīva. That is his subtle-body (liṅga-śarīra). In material existence, the mentality of “I and mine” is said to be a product of the false ego working under the dictates of māyā. Studying knowledge in connection with gross matter is due to the intellect working under māyā. When one gathers knowledge about gross matter, the consciousness is said to be contaminated by māyā. When one thinks and deliberates upon material religion, the mind is said to affected by māyā. This situation is one type of suffering for the jīva. Here in this world, we increase our sin and piety, discussing and arguing about it. The more this is done, the more the jīva becomes distant from the ātmā, his true self, and focuses upon the world of māyā which is full of misery. A gross body, obtained from the mother’s womb, is forced upon the jīva. The gross body has deficiencies – the punishment of pain and compulsion are the physical sufferings of the jīva’s gross body. Impious behaviour creates suffering. Even though pious activities, that are far-removed from the intrinsic nature of the ātmā, may be considered good for the time being, they eventually produce suffering. The jīva who is inclined towards Kṛṣṇa is eventually freed from all these tribulations and enjoys the bliss of performing those activities that are favorable to Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇānuśīlana). The more he gains, the more he feels suffering at the distress of other afflicted jīvas. He desires this – “Why are other jīvas mostly absorbed by all these problems? I will try to eradicate their threefold miseries.” Even though it is not his business, he goes to everyone’s door and tries to generate a taste within them for kṛṣṇa-nāma. This is the specific nature of a Vaiṣṇava.
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta says:
mahānta-svabhāva ei tārite pāmara
nija kārya nāhi tabu yāna tāra ghara
(“It is the specific nature of great personalities to save the fallen. They go to their houses, even though they have no personal business there.” – Cc. Madhya-līlā 8.39)
He goes from door to door saying this:
(śraddhāvān jana he)
nadīyā-godrume nityānanda mahājana
pātiyāche nāma-haṭṭa jīvera kāraṇa
prabhura ājñāya, bhāi, māgi ei bhikṣā
bala `kṛṣṇa,’ bhajo kṛṣṇa, kara kṛṣṇa-śikṣa
aparādha-śūnya ha’ye laha kṛṣṇa-nāma
kṛṣṇa mātā, kṛṣṇa pitā, kṛṣṇa dhana-prāṇa
kṛṣṇera saṁsāra kara chāḍi’ anācāra
jīve dayā, kṛṣṇa-nāma sarva-dharma-sāra
(“O people with faith! In Nadīyā, at Godruma, that great personality Nityānanda has opened a marketplace of the Holy Name for delivering the jīvas. O brothers, by the order of the Lord, I beg this favour – Chant “Kṛṣṇa,” worship Kṛṣṇa, and follow Kṛṣṇa’s teachings. Being free of offences, take up the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is your mother, Kṛṣṇa is your father, and Kṛṣṇa is the wealth of your life. Abandon unrighteous activities and perform your worldly duties in relation to Kṛṣṇa. Show compassion to other jīvas and chant kṛṣṇa-nāma – that is the essence of all dharma.”)
By distributing such teachings door to door, if even one single jīva is saved in a year and takes to kṛṣṇa-bhajana, then that Vaiṣṇava feels special pleasure from his work. If a jīva’s good fortune is not awakened, his inclination towards Kṛṣṇa does not arise. To help the jīvas in this task is the only sign of a Vaiṣṇava’s heartfelt jīvera dayā. The main business of a Vaiṣṇava is to turn the jīva towards Kṛṣṇa. Wherever curing diseases or satisfying the hunger of the gross body becomes the main purpose, there is no Vaiṣṇavism there. This is because such things are only temporary and have no eternal benefit. However, when such activities can help promote an inclination towards Kṛṣṇa, the Vaiṣṇavas spontaneously take part in them.
Jīvera dayā gradually becomes stronger in a madhyama-adhikāri or uttama-adhikāri Vaiṣṇava. It is not the first instinct of a kaniṣṭha Vaiṣnava. By the grace of a Vaiṣṇava, when the kaniṣṭha stage disappears and the madhyama stage arises, then one becomes a Vaiṣṇava, and jīvera dayā manifests in the heart. Jīvera dayā is very strong in the hearts of the highest Vaiṣṇavas, thus one of them has said:
jīvera pāpa lañā muñi karì naraka bhoga
sakala jīvera prabhu ghucāha bhava roga
(“I will accept the sinful reactions of the jīvas and experience their hellish suffering. O Lord, please remove the material disease that all the jīvas are suffering from.” – spoken by Śrī Vasudeva Datta in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 15.163)
(‘Jīvera Dayā – Mercy to the Living Entities’ by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was published in Sajjana Toṣaṇī, Vol. 4. Issue 8 in 1893 and translated into English by Swami B.V. Giri)