Qualification and advancement based on Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s teachings
By Anantaram das
Devotees often find themselves immersed in conflict with other devotees and thus see their development come to a halt. This has certainly happened to me. By the mercy of Hari-Guru-Vaisnava, this is changing and I am slowly progressing in my spiritual life. I simply try to focus on chanting the holy name and on not committing offenses against any living entities, especially against devotees. I will share with you some excerpts from three books that have profoundly changed my life. I take the opportunity to beg for forgiveness from those Vaisnavas that I have offended by thought, word or deed. I have done this privately with several devotees, but in case I forgot about past disagreements and offenses, please also kindly forgive me.
Toward the end of the discussion of the first offense against the chanting of the holy name, Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes in Harinama Cintamani:
“The neophyte devotee (kanistha-adhikari Vaisnava) displays a faith that is formal, even wordly. He worships the Deity but has not developed an interest in serving a Vaisnava sadhu. He is almost a Vaisnava, but is not a real Vaisnava yet, hence he is not able to take full spiritual advantage of sadhu-sanga. A neophyte will have to receive a pure Vaisnava’s blessings to advance spiritually.
“If a madhyama Vaisnava (intermediate devotee) develops loving affection for Lord Krsna, friendship with Lord Krsna’s devotee’s, compassion for the innocent, and evades the company of atheists, he quickly becomes a pure devotee. He alone becomes eligible to chant the pure name.
“A pure devotee of the highest level sees Lord Krsna manifest everywhere and knows that everything rests in Him. Indeed, he sees that Lord Krsna is his life and soul. He is unconcerned with distinctions of who is a Vaisnava or who is not; his whole life revolves around the holy name. To him, the holy name is the essence of everything.
“A madhyama Vaisnava is always engaged in serving sadhus. The madhyama Vaisnava stage marks the beginning of pure Vaisnavism. He is required to distinguish the Vaisnava from the non-Vaisnava; serving the pure Vaisnava is his necessity. If he neglects to differentiate among the grades of Vaisnavas, then he stands to commit Vaisnava-aparadha. He has to continuously evaluate the Vaisnavas and serve the pure Vaisnava. The uttama-Vaisnava does not see any distinction whatsoever between a Vaisnava and a non-Vaisnava, or between enemy and friend; how will he then serve a Vaisnava? How will he distinguish a Vaisnava from the non-Vaisnava?
“The scriptures declare that a neophyte Vaisnava (one who is almost a Vaisnava) can chant in the stage of namabhasa, the clearing stage. A madhyama Vaisnava is worthy of chanting the pure name: therefore, he must always carefully avoid the offenses or namaparadha. The uttama Vaisnava can never commit any offense, because he perceives Lord Krsna everywhere.
“Now, every sadhaka must consider these points calmly and reflect upon his real position. First, he must stop sadhuninda. Then he should chant with firm faith, according to his status as a Vaisnava. It is therefore essential that he recognize his own position. The devotee’s activities should center around association with sadhus, service to sadhus, the chanting of the holy name, and a constant attitude of compassion for all living entities.
“If anyone offends a sadhu in a moment of delusion and madness, he must fall at the sadhu’s feet and repent bitterly; weeping and full of contrition, he must beg forgiveness. He should declare himself a fallen wretch in need of a Vaisnava’s grace. A sadhu is very merciful; his heart will soften and he will embrace the offender, thus exonerating him from his offenses.” (Harinama Cintamani, Chapter 4, translated by Sarvabhavana dasa)
If one must identify his own status as a Vaisnava, how will one do that? Honesty is the sole requirement. Bhaktivinoda Thakura further explains in Sri Caitanya Siksamrita the nine stages in the development of prema (sraddha, sadhu-sanga, bhajana kriya, anartha-nivritti, nistha, ruci, asakti, bhava, and prema). [Note that the first three correspond to the level of kanistha-adhikari, the next three to that of madhyama-adhikari, and the last three to the level of uttama-adhikari. Honestly determine your own position.]
“Upon studying the lives of devotees, it will be found that some have developed faith by studying the scriptures impartially. Many have developed faith by association with devotees and hearing their teachings. Others have developed faith in bhakti after performing duties according to varnasrama and developing repulsion for taking material results from such activities. Others have developed faith through disgust for speculative knowledge. Others have developed faith suddenly. There is no specific rule for the development of faith, for faith, the seed of the creeper of bhakti, is above the rules. Therefore, it may be said that faith develops only within the consciousness of a fortunate soul. The end of executing karma according to one’s varnasrama duties and the appearance of faith are simultaneous. When faith arises, the devotees become filled with hopeful anxiety. This sraddha (faith) is the first stage in the development of prema.
“By previous material habits, the aspiring devotees are still controlled by sinful tendencies, but thinking of how to dissipate this evil, they take shelter at the feet of pure devotees. The aspirants begin to search out pure devotees free from material desires, and by Krsna’s mercy, they attain such association. This sadhu-sanga (association with devotees) is the second sign in the development of prema.
“In that pure association, the devotees begin to carry out devotional activities, such as hearing and singing the glories of the Lord and remembering the form, qualities and pastimes of the Lord. With this practice of bhakti, according to the five divisions mentioned previously (body, mind, soul, matter and society), material sense pleasure and desire, which are the root of the material evils, become submissive to bhakti. Although the tendency to sinful activity remains within the body, the desire to sin is now given up. This is the third stage in attaining prema, known as bhajana-kriya (devotional action).
“By cultivating devotion, attachment to material pleasure, sinful conduct, violence, greed and other material habits gradually decreases, and the devotee becomes progressively free of material desire. This is anartha-nivrtti (clearing of sin), the fourth stage.
“As material desire dissipates, attachment to things other than the Lord also disappears. Faith becomes nistha (steadiness) in devotion to the Lord. As long as the anarthas remain, faith cannot be steadily applied to the Lord, so to the extent that the anarthas are extinguished, faith turns into nistha. This attainment of nistha is the fifth stage in attaining prema.
“Attaining steadiness, devotees perform their devotional activities and take association with more care. By this, the anarthas are further reduced and steadiness turns to joy in the Lord’s service. This is called ruci (taste). This is the sixth step. With ruci for Krsna well established, everything else material becomes tasteless.
“When ruci becomes more intense, along with greater destruction of sin, asakti (attachment) appears. Asakti is still within the purview of sadhana-bhakti. However, sadhana has now become perfect, devotional attachment has reached fullness, and the devotee feel successful. This asakti is the seventh stage.
“When asakti becomes completely full and deep, it is called bhava or rati (the seedling of prema). At the stage of asakti, there is no manifestation of suddha-sattva-svarupa. This is attained at the stage of bhava, and so the heart melts, becoming soft and smooth. This bhava is the eighth stage.
“When bhava attains exclusive possessiveness of Krsna, it is called prema, which is the state of permanent spiritual emotion suitable for rasa. This is the ninth stage in devotional development.
“The devotees performing sadhana-bhakti should always be attentive to the condition of their devotion, perceiving the condition yesterday and the improvement made today. If they perceive that after some time no progress has been made according to the stages given above, they must understand that some offense must have been committed. Having diagnosed that offense, they should give it up and by association with devotees correct the harm done. Continuously cultivating bhakti and praying to Krsna, they should be careful that the offense does not occur again. Those who do not care to examine their progress will advance very slowly because of the unseen obstacles they have created. Devotees, please take special precaution in this matter!” (Sri Caitanya Siksamrta, sixth Rainfall, second Shower, translated by Bhanu Swami)
In explaining the obstacles devotees face, and their relation to krsna-lila, Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains in Sri Krsna Samhita,
“The eleventh obstacle of the Vaisnavas is sectarianism, which takes the shape of the forest fire. Due to sectarianism, a person cannot accept anyone outside his own group as a Vaisnava, and as a result, he faces many obstacles in finding a guru and associating with devotees. Therefore, extinguishing the forest fire is most important.” (Sri Krsna Samhita, 8.22, translated by Bhumipati dasa)
“These sectarian symptoms are seen in all countries since time immemorial. This is prominent among neophytes and found to some extent amongst madhyama-adhikaris. Amongst uttama-adhikaris, however, there is no trace of sectarianism.” (Sri Krsna Samhita, Introduction, translated by Bhumipati dasa)
Let us abandon the sectarian spirit that keeps the forest fire arresting our development. Also, let us pray that we receive the mercy of Hari-Guru-Vaisnava to attain krsna-prema. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Purity is the force.”
At the servive of Hari-Guru-Vaisnava,
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
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