Primary and Secondary Rules
By Madhavananda das
Vaiṣṇavas follow various vidhis or rules. However, it’s not that all of these vidhis have equal importance. For example it is a rule that one should take bath daily, it is also a rule that one should chant the holy names daily, but of the two vidhis the latter is much more important.
One set of rules are mukhya-vidhis or primary rules, for us these are the pañcāṅga-bhakti, the five limbs of bhakti described by Mahaprabhu in Cc madhya 22.128: sādhu-saṅga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa, mathurā-vāsa, and śrī-mūrtira seva.
Another set is gauṇāṅga, or secondary rules. These include taking morning bath, being honest, and yes, even being vegetarian. Due to absorption in bhāva, or some serious health problem some vaiṣṇavas may not be able to take bath daily; Yudhisthir Maharaja is famous for his so-called “dishonesty” (which was actually pleasing to the Lord); and Srila Prabhupada sometimes refers to Garuda, the Lord’s personal carrier as a “non-vegetarian vaiṣṇava” (he sometimes eats fish, snakes, and turtles etc).
These gauṇāṅga-vidhis are secondary in the sense that they have potency only when they are practiced in connection with the mukhyāṅgas. For example, there are people all over the world who take bath daily, however, we don’t see them developing bhakti because of their bathing.
One the other hand, if someone simply chants the holy name they will develop bhakti even if they don’t take bath daily (they probably won’t be very popular socially, but Lord Rishabhdev is an example of someone who was not taking bath everyday).
Nāma-kīrtana is a mukhyāṅga or primary limb of bhakti, therefore it acts by itself (in this age, all aṅgas of bhakti, even the mukhyāṅgas are dependent on nāma). Taking a daily bath to purify one’s consciousness so he or she can chant in a more concentrated way is helpful to the mukhāṅga of nāma-kīrtana, so it has some potency *while* in connection with any of the mukhyāṅgas of bhakti. Therefore it becomes a gauṇāṅga, secondary limb of bhakti.
This, of course does not mean that it is not important to take bath everyday or that one can give up being vegetarian. However, we should understand why we follow these principles if they are not universal. Those who have received initiation into our line are vegetarian and take daily bath because it is the order of their guru. To neglect the order of guru is the offence known as guru avajña. By disobeying the order of guru one will get a far worse reaction than an ordinary person gets by performing sin. Sad Guru gives orders to follow secondary aṅgas of bhakti because they will help us to follow the primary ones.
Padma Purāṇa describes the most important of all vidhis:
smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucitsarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ
“Krishna or Vishnu, should always be remembered and never forgotten. All the vidhis, rules, and niṣedhas, prohibitions of śāstra should be the servants of these two principles.”