Teachings of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada
Question: When a devotee is born in a family, does that family benefit from his or her birth?
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta: When a great saint, a pure devotee, appears in a family, then his ancestors and descendants for a hundred generations each are elevated. When a devotee of the middle stature (madhyama bhagavata) appears in a family, then his ancestors and descendants for fourteen generations each are elevated. When a neophyte devotee appears in a family, then his ancestors and descendants for three generations each are elevated.
Question: Why are devotees sometimes born in low class families? If devotees are not subject to the results of their actions (karma), then why are they sometimes illiterate or disease ridden?
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta: Devotees are never subject to the result of their karma. It is by the will of the Lord that they take birth and perform other pastimes. But when it is seen that they are born in low class families, are illiterate, or are disease ridden, we should know that there is a great or noble purpose behind it. If people saw that devotees were always born in high class families or were always strong or educated, then they would become discouraged. So the merciful Lord, in order to benefit people of all classes, sends his devotees to different classes of society to give his mercy to other living entities. This is something like catching a wild male elephant by sending a trained female elephant. Srila Vrindavan Das Thakur has said in the Caitanya Bhagavata that a vaisnava delivers everyone just by taking birth. In a land and in a family where a vaisnava descends, many hundreds of miles around that place become purified by his influence.
Even if you see some external misery in a vaisnava's life, you should know that he is in great ecstasy. Those who are blinded by pride in their material possessions do not know any of these things. Intoxicated with pride in their education, money, and family, they do not recognize a vaisnava.
If a devotee appears in a low-class family, then we should not think that it is a result of his sin that he was subject to the result of his action. Rather, we should know that he has purified a low-class family. If a good person becomes successful only in the devotional process, then we should consider him a great soul.