Another question may be raised: What is the difference between a devotee and a common man, since both are put into different kinds of happy and distressful conditions—the devotee by the arrangement of the Personality of Godhead, and the common man as a result of his past deeds? How is the devotee any better than the ordinary karmī ? The answer is that the karmīs and the devotees are not on the same level. In whatever condition of life the karmī may be, he continues in the cycle of birth and death because the seed of karma, or fruitive activity, is there, and it fructifies whenever there is an opportunity. By the law of karma a common man is perpetually entangled in repeated birth and death, whereas a devotee’s distress and happiness, not being under the laws of karma, are part of a temporary arrangement by the Supreme Lord which does not entangle the devotee. Such an arrangement is made by the Lord only to serve a temporary purpose. If a karmī performs auspicious acts he is elevated to the heavenly planets, and if he acts impiously he is put into a hellish condition. But whether a devotee acts in a so-called pious or impious manner, he is neither elevated nor degraded, but is transferred to the spiritual kingdom. Therefore a devotee’s happiness and distress and a karmī’s happiness and distress are not on the same level. This fact is corroborated by a speech by Yamarāja to his servants in connection with the liberation of Ajāmila. Yamarāja advised his followers that only persons who have never uttered the holy name of the Lord or remembered the form, qualities and pastimes of the Lord should be approached by his watchguards. Yamarāja also advised his servants never to approach the devotees. On the contrary, he instructed his messengers that if they meet a devotee they should offer their respectful obeisances. So there is no question of a devotee’s being promoted or degraded within this material world. As there is a gulf of difference between the punishment awarded by the mother and the punishment awarded by an enemy, so a devotee’s distress is not the same as the distress of a common karmī.
Here another question may be raised: If the Supreme Lord is all-powerful, why should He try to reform His devotee by putting him in distress? The answer is that when the Supreme Personality of Godhead puts His devotee in distress, it is not without purpose. Sometimes the purpose is that in distress a devotee’s feelings of attachment to Kṛṣṇa are magnified. For example, when Kṛṣṇa, before leaving the capital of the Pāṇḍavas for His home, asked Kuntīdevī for permission to leave, she said, “My dear Kṛṣṇa, in our distress You were always present with us. Now, because we have been elevated to a royal position, You are leaving us. I would therefore prefer to live in distress than to lose You.” When a devotee is put into a situation of distress, his devotional activities are accelerated. Therefore, to show special favor to a devotee, the Lord sometimes puts him into distress. Besides that, it is stated that the sweetness of happiness is sweeter to those who have tasted bitterness. The Supreme Lord descends to this material world just to protect His devotees from distress. In other words, if devotees were not in a distressed condition, the Lord would not have come down. As for His killing the demons, or miscreants, this can be easily done by His various energies, just as many asuras are killed by His external energy, goddess Durgā. Therefore the Lord does not need to come down personally to kill such demons, but when His devotee is in distress He must come. Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva appeared not in order to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu but to save Prahlāda and to give him blessings. In other words, because Prahlāda Mahārāja was put into very great distress, the Lord appeared.
When after the dense, dark night there is finally sunrise in the morning, it is very pleasant; when there is scorching heat, cold water is very pleasant; and when there is freezing winter, hot water is very pleasant. Similarly, when a devotee, after experiencing the distress of the material world, relishes the spiritual happiness awarded by the Lord, his position is still more pleasant and enjoyable.