The Greatness of the Vaisnava
Question: On the path of devotional service, how is one to improve his own condition?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Through superior association. In the commercial world, in business, if you want something but you have insufficient capital to purchase it, if you join with a greater capitalist, if you make some arrangement with him, your business will grow, it will develop. Similarly, if you want to improve your condition in Krsna consciousness, find a 'capitalist'; on your own, by your own transaction, you may not gain so much, but with their help you can go on, you can advance more quickly.
Help is of two kinds: from sadhu and sastra, from saints and scriptures. The living agent is sadhu, and the passive, sastra. There is no other way to improve but by sadhu-sastra-krpa - by their mercy.
krsna-bhakti-janma mula haya 'sadhu-sangha'
The very root, the origin, beginning of krsna-bhakti, devotional service, is association - the help of the sadhu. And in the higher stage also, when your dormant love for Krsna awakens, that association is still the most essential principle to help you. The birth of devotion is from there, its nourishment is also from there; and at the end, when you have almost finished, have almost attained the final stage, then also, with the help of some superior, under some superior you are to go on, to continue your service. So, the sadhu is all-important, from the beginning to the final goal. At the final stage also, no direct connection with Krsna is admissible but you are to do some service only under the direction of the sadhus. The eternal servitors are there, in different departments of service, and you will be taken in and directed: "Serve Krsna under his direction, or her direction..." So, sadhu-sangha is always necessary.
Do not have disgust towards the sadhu, thinking: "O, he's just a man. Why should we do service to him, why should we do vaisnava-seva? Why is it recommended so much in different places, in different scriptures? It is always said, 'You are to be dependent on sadhu'; but I want God, Himself! Why will he come between me and God?" Do not think like that. Rather, you can understand the importance of the sadhu by the example of the telescope: in a telescope there are so many lenses coming between myself and the object of my search, but they help my vision. The guru-parampara, the disciplic succession, is working in this way, like a 'telescopic system'.
The devotees' aspiration therefore is 'dasa-dasa-dasa-anudasa, tad dasa-dasa', to be the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna's servant's servant. His understanding will be: "There are so many gurus, and they are thinking about my welfare." To have so many gurus means that so many guardians are always trying for my fortune.
We find in this world that a man who has many servants, thousands of servants always waiting on his order, thinks he is holding a very good position, a high position. But in the case of a devotee it is just the opposite. He will think that if he has so many gurus, so many guardians looking after his welfare, then he is really a wealthy man: "I am fortunate when so many guardians are looking out for me, for my interest, and are pleading my case in the upper level." To have a connection with the guru-parampara, to be servant of the servant, to be under the guardianship of the great Vaisnavas, is a great fortune. It is a fortunate life.
In the beginner, faith in the Vaisnava is not apparent. The newcomer in devotion says, "I want Bhagavan, God, Krsna. Then why the impression is always given to us, 'O, you must get the krpa, the mercy, of a Vaisnava; you must get his blessing. You must go to him to have your fortune'? Why this tedious thing, that the Vaisnava always is coming between us, between Bhagavan and myself?" But when the aspirant is grown up, his faith in the Vaisnava becomes established more and more. Ultimately, even our attention to the vigraha, the Deity, and the sastra, the Scripture, we may leave, we may put aside, but we must always submit to the Vaisnava, the Lord's living agent.
So the first cause of nama-aparadha is offense to the Vaisnava:
satam ninda namnah paramam aparadham vitanute
"To blaspheme the saintly persons who are engaged in preaching the glories of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is the worst offense at the lotus feet of the Holy Name. The Nama Prabhu, Who is identical with Krsna, will never tolerate such blasphemous activities, even from one who passes as a great devotee."
While taking the Name, especially in the beginning of spiritual practice, the first warning is this: "Be careful in your association with the sadhus. They are truly your well-wishers to the utmost, the agents who are carrying good to you, so be very much alert not to commit any wrong against them. Don't misunderstand them; try to have faith in them. Their goodness is beyond your understanding. They love you so much. You cannot love yourself as much as they do, because they see you as the property of their Lord. From that standpoint they love you; and that love is very high, in quality and quantity. So be very careful, don't commit any wrong against the sadhu you must always remember this."
yadi vaisnava-aparadha uthe hati mata
"If the devotee commits offense to the Vaisnava while cultivating the creeper of devotion, his offense is compared to a mad elephant that uproots the creeper and breaks it. In this way the leaves of the creeper become dried up."
If any great crime comes against the sadhu, the Vaisnava, then the whole of the offender's devotional life will be demolished. The Lord will be enraged with him: "My devotee is going to give him all wealth, and he is kicking him? What is this? He is the most wretched..." So we must be careful about this offense of satam-ninda, the first nama-aparadha: offense to the Holy Name.
But still we see that Nityananda Prabhu is the most merciful, even to the offenders. His nature is of a peculiar type, a special type, such that whom even Mahaprabhu is rejecting, He is keeping them, giving them assurance: "No, no, don't be hopeless..." Nityananda Prabhu's mercy was shown in this way in the pastime of Mahaprabhu and Kala-Krsna dasa.
Kala-Krsna dasa was accompanying Mahaprabhu on His journey in south India, and there he did something wrong: he left Mahaprabhu's personal association, enticed by the Bhattatharis, the gypsy women. This occurred in south Kerala, Karnataka, the place of Madhvacarya. The people of that province, both men and women, are reputed to be very beautiful. Their complexion is very good, as well as their features and their figures; Gandhi referred to that place as the 'land of the fairies'. And Kala-Krsna dasa was enticed, and left Mahaprabhu's association. That even in the direct company of Mahaprabhu, Kala-Krsna dasa was deviated from Him, he could be taken away, is certainly also for our instruction. But utilising His special power, Mahaprabhu rescued Kala-Krsna dasa from the gypsies' camp; and later, after taking him to Jagannath Puri, Mahaprabhu released him from His service, saying "He is of such nature; but, anyhow, I have taken him from the hands of those villifiers. Now I release him, he may go anywhere." But Nityananda Prabhu utilised Kala-Krsna dasa, He again gave him service: "Go to Saci devi and inform her that Mahaprabhu has arrived in Puri safely after two years tour in the south country. Mahaprabhu's safe arrival' give this news to Saci devi." Despite Mahaprabhu's rejection, still Kala-Krsna dasa was utilised, by Nityananda Prabhu.
WAIT AND SEE
When I was preaching in Madras there was a similar case which I can remember. Myself and Hayagriva brahmacari (later he became Sripad Madhava Maharaj) were preaching there, and we sent one boy to the Madras Centre of Gaudiya Math. He was staying there and serving, as a brahmacari, but then he became misguided. Sripad B.P. Tirtha Maharaj, who was at that time quite elderly, was in charge of the Math there, and he punished that fallen brahmacari by ousting him, sending him away from the Math. He managed to stay in some other place in the city, then, after Sripad Tirtha Maharaj had left Madras, that boy came to Hayagriva and myself, pleading: "You please give permission, let me stay in the Math." We told him, "Guru Maharaj is very soon coming here; at that time, you come..." Then when Guru Maharaj came, to officially open the new lecture hall, we put the case to him: "This boy came for service, but then he had to leave, for such a reason; but again now he wants to stay in the Math. We have told him, 'Guru Maharaj is coming, and you come at that time'; now, he has come, what to do with him?"
EXTENSION OF GRACE
Then our Guru Maharaj, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, said: "Mahaprabhu did not take Kala-Krsna dasa after he was seduced by the Bhattatharis' showing him a lady, a girl. So, I can't accept him. But Nityananda Prabhu kept him, and gave him engagement. So you should keep him." A peculiar position we then found ourselves in! I thought: "Gurudev, you are all-in-all our leader, our unconditional Lord; you can't accept him, then how can we give him shelter, being under your guidance?" That was a puzzle: "How can we do it? If you can't accept, then how can we?" But Guru Maharaj has said, "I can't accept him; but you should keep him...." And we had to adjust with that.
From this we can trace the line of benevolence and causeless mercy. The line of causeless mercy is extending from the Centre, but the extension gets the more intense position: "Go to see the mercy department, take yourself there; perhaps, there is some arrangement to help, to accept you..." Just as in a hospital, the general department disappoints the patient: "No, we can't accept such patients as you here. But, you may try the other department. There, you will find more accomodation". And after going there and checking, the patient finds them to be of such type: "Here we can accept all. There is arrangement for you." In this way we find the servants are more benevolent, more even than their Lord. It is inconceivable.
LOVE AND ABUSE
In seeing the mood of humility as expressed in different ways by Krsnadas Kaviraj Goswami and Vrndavan das Thakur, I also came to some revolutionary understanding about this.
While writing Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Kaviraj Goswami has expressed so much humility, humility of such a degree, that he says "My position is the worst; I am a sinner far worse than Jagai and Madhai, I am lower than the worm in the stool. If anyone hears my name, his merit will be diminished; and if anyone speaks my name, he commits sin - such kind of wretched person I am. But the grace of Nityananda Prabhu has taken me up from such a nasty pit, taken me to Rupa-Sanatana, to Raghunatha das, and to divine Vrindavan. I should not proclaim this, I should not speak in such a way, that "I have got something" - but if I do not say so, then it will show ingratitude to Nityananda Prabhu, I would be a traitor to Him. So I shall have to say, to admit, "I have got something"; and that is by the grace of Nityananda. It is all His property, His grace, otherwise there is nothing, no worth at all in me." With so much humility Kaviraj Goswami is approaching the public and appealing to them to come to Gaura-Nityananda.
But Vrindavan das Thakur, in his writing, says, "I appeal most fervently and with the greatest humility to you all: accept Nityananda and Sri Gauranga! You'll get the best benefit of your life. This I urgently beg you, with the utmost humility, with a straw between my teeth. But if such appeal of mine fails, and if still you want to put blame on Nityananda-Gauranga, then I just kick you! I kick such a person, demoniac person."
eta parihare o ye papi ninda kare
"If in spite of hearing the glories of Nityananda, one blasphemes Him, then I kick the head of such a sinful person."
To this, the ordinary commentators will say, "Kaviraj Goswami and others, they are humiliating themselves so much, they are appealing in such a humble way. But this Vrndavan das! What kind of egoistic fellow is he? He says, he kicks those who do not come to hear his Gaura-Nityananda. He'll kick them! Such a boast, so proud he is - is he a Vaisnava? Is this type of person a Vaisnava? Trnad api sunicena, taror api sahisnuna: more humble than straw, more tolerant than a tree -- is he of this type?"
A NEW PATH
This is how Vrindavan Thakur's statement is met by the ordinary thinkers; but not long after joining the Gaudiya Math, I heard a revolutionary remark from our Guru Maharaj, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, in which we find a most peculiar meaning or explanation. He said: "For those who had no chance, no possibility of entering into devotional service, by this statement Vrindavan Thakur has created a path. For those who had no chance of getting any service, Vrindavan Thakur has made that chance by kicking them." How is it so? Guru Maharaj explained, "Vrindavan Thakur has pronounced such a bold expression against those unbelieving persons to wound their feelings, so that Krsna will come to their aid. Just as, if any attendant or son of a gentleman does wrong to some other person, then that person's guardians will come to help their dependent: "Oh, what he has done to you, don't mind it; look here, I am giving something to you - be pleased, and go on, happily..." So, because Vrindavan Thakur has in such an ostentatious way apparently committed some wrong against that particular unbelieving section, it will draw Krsna's attention; Mahaprabhu's special attention will be drawn towards them, that "My son has done something wrong, some damage to you; don't take it badly, but 'forgive and forget' now, I am giving something to you, come..."
In this way Vrindavan Thakur has made a new path, by threatening the unbelievers in Gaura-Nityananda; by his strong remark of very abusive character, he has given the chance to those fellows to draw the greater and more special attention of the authority.
IMBUED WITH KRSNA
But this kind of statement, as we see given by Vrindavan Das Thakur, from where can it come? Only from the fully surrendered soul. Who is fully surrendered to Krsna - they can say such things.
Krsna is the Absolute Good; and everything in the soul who is fully surrendered to Krsna, everything in the pure Vaisnava, cannot but be goodness. Just as iron when put into the fire becomes of the nature of fire -- so the fully surrendered soul is imbued with Krsna in its every part.
sarva maha-guna-gana vaisnava-sarire
"A Vaisnava is one who has developed all good transcendental qualities. All the good qualities of Krsna gradually develop in Krsna's devotee."
Every part of a pure Vaisnava, his wrath, his abusing, everything in him is pure, is good. It cannot but be. Whether his blessing or his curse, through him Krsna is giving something. Nalakuvera and Manigriva were cursed by Rsi Narada to become trees; but that misfortune was managed in such a way that they came to have their birth in Vrindavan, so that when their tree-form would be broken, uprooted by Krsna, they would get the chance to go to Goloka, for their eternal service.
So any connection with a Vaisnava is able to give such an ultimately beneficial result. But that does not mean that we shall deliberately go to offend him! It is not meant like that and we should not take it in that way. To do so will be inconsistent with the meaning; it will be suicidal.
AFFECTION THE CONTROLLER
The Lord Himself says, aham bhakta-parardhino asvatantra iva dvija, "I am dependent on My devotees." This was told by Lord Narayana to Durvasa Muni, in the case of Ambarisa Maharaj. Through affection, the infinitesimal jiva-soul, though by constitution the Lord's potency, and fully dependent on Him, can conquer or control his Possessor, his Lord.
We find that the law of affection is such. In India, in the family, the mother formally has nothing, she has no property, no right; but she commands reverence and respect, a high respect, and through this, she holds a superior position even to that of the father. The father holds the property; the mother holds no such property, no such right, formal right, but she has 'social right,' and through it she holds the greatest respect of the children. There is a popular sloka which says that the father is considered 'higher than the heaven', and the mother, 'higher than the land where we stand.' And it is also said, and we see, that both the mother and the father help to raise the children, but in that the mother's quota is far greater than that of the father, so her dignity, her superiority, is much greater than his. This is the custom in varnasrama-dharma: the mother has no legal possession, but she has social or moral possession.
DURVASA AND AMBARISA
When Durvasa Muni ran to Lord Narayana for His shelter, being chased by Sudarsana Cakra due to his offense against Ambarisa Maharaj, Lord Narayana told him,
aham bhakta-parardhino, hy asvatantra iva dvija
"I am dependent on My devotees. O you brahmin, I am not at all independent of them -- I am dependent on them, as if I have no freedom of My own. Yes, freedom I have got; but through My devotees' affection, I am reduced to such a position that it is as if I have none. In the case of My devotees I cannot but be partial; My independent thinking has no place there, so much indebted I think I am to them. Sadhubhir grasta-hrdayo: My whole heart has been 'swallowed' by them, those saints, devotees. They have swallowed Me, and I may not have any independent thinking, but only their interest, at heart. By their service, by their serving tendency, they have acquired such a position with Me."
Such an admission, a wonderful thing! Durvasa Muni wanted impartial judgement from the Lord: "I am a brahmana, Ambarisa is a ksatriya; I am a sannyasi, he is a grhasta, in household life. So my prestige is above him. And You are 'brahmanya-deva', You are supposed to be the supporter of the brahmanas. So I have a claim to You, that You must make a fair judgement in this case." Lord Brahma, and Mahadeva Siva, they had both frustrated Durvasa: "Go to Narayana, we can't do anything in this matter, we can't interfere." Then Durvasa had to approach Narayana for shelter. And Narayana replied: aham bhakta parardhino, "I am helpless; I am dependent on My devotees!"
But Narayana also made a good argument to Durvasa: "Yes, you are a brahmana; but Ambarisa was also observing the Ekadasi-vrata, which is connected with Me. You observed that same vow, it is true, and you also knew, like him, that the parana, the time for breaking the fast, is a part of that vow. Then what wrong did Ambarisa do? What was his fault? Only in order to observe, to give respect to the vow, he did parana, in your absence. And you also did parana, on time; but, you are his guest, so he only took a drop of water to observe the indispensable part of the vow. He only took a drop of water, he did not feed himself without feeding you - and you were enraged with him? What he did, in his observance of the vow, he only did it for Me. And that disturbed you. And you say that you are more akin to Me than Ambarisa? The difference between you two arose where? In observance of My vow you both acted - and he was at fault? What reason is there? Who is nearer to Me, you or he?
You say that you are a brahmana, a sannyasi, that you are all these great things, and that you have the higher position. But when you went to burn him with that jatam, that fire-demon created from the hair you plucked from your head, Ambarisa did not step back, he did not run to save his life. But you - brahmana, sannyasi - when Sudarsana came to attack you, you were running through the whole universe to save your life. Then, who is sannyasi, you or he? When faced with the fire, he did not budge an inch to save his life. He stood, with the attitude: "If I have done anything wrong, let my life be finished." But you ran everywhere - to Brahma, to Siva. Finally you came here, in fear for your life. Then whose renunciation is superior, is better?"
In this way Durvasa was given stricture; he was rebuked, chastised, by Lord Narayana.
THE GREATNESS OF THE VAISNAVA
Then Lord Narayana told Durvasa, "You will have to go back to Ambarisa. I cannot give any judgement against My devotee. He will give judgement in this case. Go to him, and see how generous he is." What was Durvasa to do? He had to come before his opponent, for his judgement of the case. Arriving at the place of Ambarisa, he found him still standing in the same spot, mortified: "The brahmana is troubled on my account, and he is my guest. Some accident happened in such a way that Sudarsana chased him, and he is running all around, in every direction. But, he is my guest; without feeding him, how can I take food?" In this way Ambarisa was standing there in a mournful condition: "It is a bad luck for me, that when my guest is waiting I could not feed him, as is proper. How can I take food when my honoured guest is disturbed, and running this way and that? How can I?"
Just as he was thinking this, Durvasa appeared, chased by Sudarsana: "Maharaj, save me! There is no other saviour in this world for me, except you. I have come to you. Please, save me!"
Then Ambarisa began to pacify Sudarsana. He prayed: "If for a single day I have done any devoted activity for Narayana, O Sudarsana, you please pacify yourself. Be pacified. This brahmana is my honourable guest, and that you will disturb him in my presence - I cannot tolerate it. Please, stop." So Sudarsana had to withdraw, and Durvasa was saved. And then Durvasa was fed, as the guest of Ambarisa. And, astonished by the magnanimity of Ambarisa, Durvasa announced:
aho ananta-dasanam, mahattvam drstam adya me
"O King, today I have experienced the greatness of the devotees of God, of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, because in spite of my offense against you, you have prayed for my protection."
Durvasa was astounded to find the depth of generosity in the servitors of Ananta, Narayana. That great rishi began to speak aloud, to announce on all sides the magnanimity, the nobility of the servitors of Narayana: "How great they are! I did so much wrong towards him, and he saved my life from the reaction, the danger that came as reaction! I insulted him, and he is honouring me so much."
THE HIGHEST JUDGE
So for one who has got nothing, who thinks that he is not an independent entity but that he is a slave, fully dependent on the Absolute, for him the Absolute has got, correspondingly, the proper recognition.
Lord Narayana Himself sent Durvasa to Ambarisa, His devotee, to be judged. Brahma failed, Mahadeva failed, and Narayana Himself admitted: "I also failed; I could not do anything independent of you, My devotee. You are the judge." The Lord makes the highest judge His devotee, His servant. We find it is like this.