Caitanya’s Sannyasa, Prabhupada’s Mercy
A Talk by Giriraj Swami
January 17, 2010
We read from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, Chapter One: “The Spiritual Masters.”
sadhavo hrdayam mahyam
sadhunam hrdayam tv aham
mad-anyat te na jananti
naham tebhyo manag api
sadhavah—the saints; hrdayam—heart; mahyam—My; sadhunam—of the saints; hrdayam—the heart; tu—indeed; aham—I; mat—than Me; anyat—other; te—they; na—not; jananti—know; na—nor; aham—I; tebhyah—than them; manak—slightly; api—even.
“Saints are My heart, and only I am their hearts. They do not know anyone but Me, and therefore I do not recognize anyone besides them as Mine.”
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
This verse appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.4.68) in connection with a misunderstanding between Durvasa Muni and Maharaja Ambarisa. As a result of this misunderstanding, Durvasa Muni tried to kill the king, when the Sudarsana cakra, the celebrated weapon of Godhead, appeared on the scene for the devoted king’s protection. When the Sudarsana cakra attacked Durvasa Muni, he fled in fear of the weapon and sought shelter from all the great demigods in heaven. Not one of them was able to protect him, and therefore Durvasa Muni prayed to Lord Visnu for forgiveness. Lord Visnu advised him, however, that if he wanted forgiveness he had to get it from Maharaja Ambarisa, not from Him. In this context Lord Visnu spoke this verse.
The Lord, being full and free from problems, can wholeheartedly care for His devotees. His concern is how to elevate and protect all those who have taken shelter at His feet. The same responsibility is also entrusted to the spiritual master. The bona fide spiritual master’s concern is how the devotees who have surrendered to him as a representative of the Lord may make progress in devotional service. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is always mindful of the devotees who fully engage in cultivating knowledge of Him, having taken shelter at His lotus feet.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
This verse is placed by Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami in the first chapter of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, which discusses guru-tattva, the truth about the spiritual master. First and foremost, the spiritual master must be a devotee of the Lord, and Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami describes different characteristics of devotees. In the current series of verses, he discusses the Lord’s presence in the devotee’s heart. The devotee receives inspiration from the Lord within the heart, and thus the devotee should be identified with the Lord.
In the present verse, Lord Vishnu describes the beautiful reciprocation between the Lord and His devotees. In essence, the devotees know nothing but the Lord, and the Lord knows no one but His devotees. The Lord dwells in the hearts of His devotees, and His devotees remain in the core of His heart. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (9.29),
samo ’ham sarva-bhutesu
na me dvesyo ’sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te tesu capy aham
“I am equal to all living beings. I do not envy anyone, nor am I partial to anyone. But those who render service unto Me in devotion are in Me, and I am in them.”
When I came before Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda this morning, I thought of Srila Prabhupada, how he came here and installed the Deities. There are many wonderful pictures and even live footage of him offering arati and dancing in kirtan before the Deities. And I thought of how Prabhupada endeavored ceaselessly to preach the message of Sri Krishna Chaitanya and to give facility to devotees to progress in Krishna consciousness. He voyaged alone by steamship, arriving in America at the age of seventy, not knowing anyone. On the order of his spiritual master, between the ages of seventy and eighty-two he preached and spread Krishna consciousness and created so many facilities for the devotees, like Bhaktivedanta Manor, all over the world. I thought, “What selfless service. What surrender. What dependence on the Lord. How much the Lord must love Srila Prabhupada.”
Then I thought of myself: “Now I am sixty-two. Who knows what condition I’ll be in when I am seventy, the age at which Srila Prabhupada arrived in America. And I have so many people to help me. By Srila Prabhupada’s grace, there are devotees practically everywhere I go. I have people to travel with me and to help me with my luggage. And I go by plane. I don’t go by steamship, by cargo carrier. Yet even then, it is so hard to travel—really hard.
“And Srila Prabhupada had no one. Externally, he was all alone. He began at the age of seventy—he traveled by steamship, cargo carrier—and he served the Lord in the best way by preaching the message of Krishna and making devotees, caring for them, protecting them, encouraging them, and giving them every facility to progress in Krishna consciousness. What deep love for the conditioned souls, for his spiritual master, and for Krishna resided in Srila Prabhupada’s heart! And reciprocally, what love for Srila Prabhupada resided in Krishna’s heart!”
When Durvasa Muni approached the Lord for protection from the reaction to his offense against His devotee, the Lord told him,
hy asvatantra iva dvija
“I am completely under the control of My devotees. Indeed, I am not at all independent. Because My devotees are completely devoid of material desires, I sit only within the cores of their hearts. What to speak of My devotee, even those who are devotees of My devotee are very dear to Me.
naham atmanam asase
mad-bhaktaih sadhubhir vina
sriyam catyantikim brahman
yesam gatir aham para
“O best of the brahmanas, without saintly persons for whom I am the only destination, I do not desire to enjoy My transcendental bliss and My supreme opulences.
pranan vittam imam param
hitva mam saranam yatah
katham tams tyaktum utsahe
“Since pure devotees give up their homes, wives, children, relatives, riches, and even their lives simply to serve Me, without any desire for material improvement in this life or in the next, how can I give up such devotees at any time?
vase kurvanti mam bhaktya
sat-striyah sat-patim yatha
“As chaste women bring their gentle husbands under control by service, the pure devotees, who are equal to everyone and completely attached to Me in the core of the heart, bring Me under their full control.
mat-sevaya pratitam te
necchanti sevaya purnah
kuto ’nyat kala-viplutam
“My devotees, who are always satisfied to be engaged in My loving service, are not interested even in the four principles of liberation [salokya, sarupya, samipya, and sarsti], although these are automatically achieved by their service. What then is to be said of such perishable happiness as elevation to the higher planetary systems?
sadhavo hrdayam mahyam
sadhunam hrdayam tv aham
mad-anyat te na jananti
naham tebhyo manag api
“The pure devotee is always within the core of My heart, and I am always in the heart of the pure devotee. My devotees do not know anything else but Me, and I do not know anyone else but them.” (SB 9.4.63–68)
In the Bhagavad-gita also, Lord Krishna promises, ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: “As they surrender unto Me, I reciprocate accordingly.” He is always true to His promise, and he always reciprocates with His devotees. In fact, He reciprocates with everyone who approaches Him in whatever way they approach Him. But Krishna’s eternal, immortal promise was broken by the love of the gopis. This is a very elevated and confidential topic, but it is relevant to Lord Chaitanya’s acceptance of sannyasa.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta explains that the Lord appeared for two reasons—internal and external. The external reason was to propagate the yuga-dharma of hari-nama-sankirtana, and the internal reason was to taste the love of the residents of Vrindavan, especially the love of Radharani, in separation—and to distribute that pure love to the conditioned souls in the material world. In the same way, there are two reasons for the Lord’s acceptance of sannyasa. The Caitanya-caritamrta explains that many of Lord Chaitanya’s contemporaries could not recognize Him. They thought He was an ordinary human being, and some disrespected and even blasphemed Him. The Lord knew that unless they accepted Him, they would not be able to get the benefit of Krishna consciousness, and so, out of His causeless mercy, for the fallen souls in general and the offenders in particular, He accepted sannyasa.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta describes the effects of accepting—or not accepting—Lord Chaitanya:
more na manile saba loka habe nasa
ithi lagi’ krpardra prabhu karila sannyasa
“Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu thought, ‘Unless people accept Me they will all be destroyed.’ Thus the merciful Lord accepted the sannyasa order.
sannyasi-buddhye more karibe namaskara
tathapi khandibe duhkha, paibe nistara
“‘If a person offers obeisances to Me, even due to accepting Me only as an ordinary sannyasi, his material distresses will diminish, and he will ultimately get liberation.’” (Cc Adi 8.10–11)
Unless people accept Lord Chaitanya, they cannot approach Lord Krishna. Thus Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami implores us:
ataeva punah kahon urdhva-bahu hana
caitanya-nityananda bhaja kutarka chadiya
“Therefore I say again, lifting my arms: O fellow human beings, please worship Sri Caitanya and Nityananda without false arguments!” (Cc Adi 8.13)
Srila Prabhupada, following Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, has advised us to chant the Panca-tattva mantra—sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu-nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda—before we chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. He said that the Panca-tattva will help us to chant Hare Krishna. Lord Chaitanya said, “If people do not accept Me, they will be ruined.” How? Their human form of life will be spoiled because they will not attain Krishna consciousness. In order to achieve Krishna consciousness, we must accept Lord Chaitanya. Then we can approach Lord Krishna. So, in the same way, before we chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, we first chant the holy names of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda: sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu-nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda.
Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa so that offenders would not blaspheme Him; rather, they would offer Him respect, if for no other reason than because He was a sannyasi. In Vedic culture, even today, people offer respect to sannyasis. Thus Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa for the sake of the fallen souls, to deliver them. That is the external reason.
The internal reason is explained in a confidential talk that Lord Chaitanya had with Lokanatha Gosvami, as recorded in the book Prema-vilasa, by Nityananda dasa, a disciple of Jahnava-devi, the eternal consort of Nityananda Prabhu and the leader of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas after the disappearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates. Srila Prabhupada cites Prema-vilasa in a purport in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, quoting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s Anubhasya.
In this confidential talk Lord Chaitanya reveals His innermost thoughts to Lokanatha Gosvami: “I feel restless remaining silent about My appearance and mission. I have come into the material world and have directed some people to Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Acarya, but who will actually hear from Me and understand My personal mission? To whom can I reveal My heart?”
“I carry deep pain within My heart for two reasons,” He told Lokanatha Gosvami. “One is that there is a brahman who has criticized Me. He does not recognize Krishna’s supreme position. Instead of worshiping Krishna, he worships Krishna’s servants, the demigods, and for his offenses he is going to hell. For the sake of such brahmans, I shall accept the renounced order of life and become their guru.” (A sannyasi is considered the spiritual master of all the varnas and ashramas, and a brahman is also expected to offer obeisances to a sannyasi.)
Then Lord Chaitanya said that there was another, internal reason for His taking sannyasa. He said that He felt great pain in His heart because He was indebted to Srimati Radharani for Her glorious, pure love for Him and He was unable to repay His debt.
Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami alludes to this fact in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 4.177–180):
krsnera pratijna eka ache purva haite
ye yaiche bhaje, krsna tare bhaje taiche
“Lord Krsna has a promise from before to reciprocate with His devotees according to the way they worship Him.
ye yatha mam prapadyante
tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
manusyah partha sarvasah
“In whatever way My devotees surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Prtha. [Bg 4.11]
se pratijna bhanga haila gopira bhajane
tahate pramana krsna-sri-mukha-vacane
“That promise has been broken by the worship of the gopis, as Lord Krsna Himself admits.
na paraye ’ham niravadya-samyujam
sva-sadhu-krtyam vibudhayusapi vah
ya mabhajan durjaya-geha-srnkhalah
samvrscya tad vah pratiyatu sadhuna
“O gopis, I am not able to repay My debt for your spotless service, even within a lifetime of Brahma. Your connection with Me is beyond reproach. You have worshiped Me, cutting off all domestic ties, which are difficult to break. Therefore please let your own glorious deeds be your compensation.” [SB 10.32.22]
Why is it that Krishna, who reciprocates the love of all devotees, is unable to reciprocate the love of Srimati Radharani? As Krishna told Radha and the other gopis, evam mad-arthojjhita-loka-veda svanam hi vo mayi: “You have renounced social customs, scriptural injunctions, and your relatives for My sake.” (SB 10.32.21) Radha and the gopis forsook their families and reputations—which Krishna Himself did not do. When Krishna played on His flute to call the gopis, they ran out of their homes, not caring for their husbands, children, or elders. They thought only of Krishna and Krishna’s service—nothing else. But Krishna would not do that. Late at night, He would carefully, stealthily sneak out of the house, and in the early morning He would sneak back in, back into His bed. His mother and father and others did not know that He had gone out, and His relationships with them remained intact.
Further, Krishna reciprocates the love of all devotees. He reciprocates the love of His parents, the love of His boyfriends, and the love of His servants; He even reciprocates the passive love of the sages in santa-rasa, and He reciprocates the efforts to love Him of the practicing devotees in the material world. As He says, “Saints are My heart, and only I am their hearts.” For every saint, there is only one—Krishna—but for Krishna, there are many saints. And especially for the gopis, there was only Krishna. For Krishna’s sake, the unmarried girls risked their relationships with their parents—like many of us did when we came to Krishna consciousness. And the married girls risked their relationships with their husbands and in-laws. They thought of nothing but Krishna. But Krishna’s position is different. He has to think of everyone, and so He could not reciprocate the love of the gopis, who sacrificed everything for Him. They knew no one but Him, but He was mindful of so many other devotees and relationships.
Still, He gave His promise, ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham, and He wanted to reciprocate the love of Sri Radha, but He couldn’t, and that was causing Him great pain. And in His distress, as Sri Krishna Chaitanya, He revealed His mind to Lokanatha Gosvami: “The only way I can reciprocate Sri Radha’s love for Me is to leave My home and family and friends. Therefore I must take sannyasa.”
Before Krishna left Vrindavan, Srimati Radharani would wear garments that were blue, the color of Krishna, and thus feel happiness. But after He left, She wore saffron-colored dress, in the mood of separation, thinking of Herself as His maidservant. She would not eat or sleep or care for Her appearance. She simply absorbed Herself in chanting and hearing about Krishna, feeling each day’s separation from Him to be like a hundred years.
Krishna, as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, thought, “The only way I can reciprocate Her love is if I take sannyasa and wear the saffron-colored cloth of separation. As a sannyasi, in the mood of separation, I will lie down on the bare floor. I also won’t be able to sleep at night, and I also won’t eat nicely”—just like Srimati Radharani in Her separation from Krishna. Krishna thought, “As the gopis, in their separation from Me, proclaimed My glories, so I too, in My separation, will proclaim the glories of the gopis, and in particular Srimati Radharani. In this way I will begin to repay My debt to Her.”
Sri Prema-vilasa (126–134) describes Lord Chaitanya’s words to Lokanatha Gosvami:
‘amara lagiya radha adi sakhi-gana
virahe vyakula haiya tejila jivana
‘amiha tejiba prana tanhara lagiya
se dasa ha-ibe tumi sunibe thakiya
“‘Feeling separation from Me, Radha and the gopis have given up Their lives. Now I shall also give up My life for Her. You will see Me in that condition, O Lokanatha.
‘dhariba tahara kanti pariba aruna vasana
ha-iba tanhara dasa anandita mana
“‘Adopting Radha’s complexion and the saffron-colored cloth of separation, I will become Her maidservant and get happiness.
‘ei lagi aruna vasana diba gaya
japiba tanhara guna kahilu tomaya
“‘Wearing the saffron-colored dress of separation on My body, I will sing the glorious qualities of Radharani.
‘tanhara yateka guna nariba sodhite
sata-janma ayu yadi haya prthivite
‘gune prite tanra sthane ha-iyachi rni
toma sthane lokanatha kahilama ami
“‘Her wonderful qualities are not possible to describe. Even if I took birth a hundred times in this world I could not describe them all. I tell you, Lokanatha, by the wonderful qualities of Her love She has put Me in Her debt.
‘jagat bhasaiba ami tanra yasa kirti
tabe jani krpa more karena emati
“‘Singing Her glories, I will flood the universe with Her fame. Then She will give Me Her mercy.
‘pa-iba tanhara prema kandiba nayane
dhulaya dhusara haiya naciba sankirtane’
“‘Getting Her prema, I will cry and dance in sankirtana with dust all over My body.’ (133)
iha bali phukariya kande gaura-raya
‘radha vrndavana’ bali dharani lotaya
“Saying this, Lord Gaura Ray began to cry. Chanting ‘Radha!’ ‘Vrndavana!’ He rolled on the ground.”
This is a very deep and confidential topic, revealed to us by the mercy of our acharyas so that we can understand how to receive Lord Chaitanya’s precious gift. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta describes and Srila Prabhupada has often repeated that Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself come as a devotee to teach us how to serve Krishna, how to worship Krishna, how to love Krishna. As described in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Lord Krishna, before manifesting Himself as Lord Chaitanya, considered what He would do:
apani karimu bhakta-bhava angikare
apani acari’ bhakti sikhaimu sabare
“I shall accept the role of a devotee, and I shall teach devotional service by practicing it Myself.”
yuga-dharma pravartaimu nama-sankirtana
cari bhava-bhakti diya nacamu bhuvana
“I shall personally inaugurate the religion of the age—nama-sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy name. I shall make the world dance in ecstasy, realizing the four mellows of loving devotional service [in Vraja].” (Cc Adi 3.20, 19)
Lord Chaitanya’s activities are absolute—both the external and the internal. That is the nature of the Absolute Truth, Krishna. There is no difference between His inside and outside, His internal and external activities. They are all absolute.
Lord Chaitanya came to show us how to worship Krishna. Externally, He chanted the holy names of Krishna, performing hari-nama-sankirtana. For all times, Sri Chaitanya’s followers will chant Lord Krishna’s names and perform hari-nama-sankirtana with rapt attention, without offense.
While instructing Srila Sanatana Gosvami, Lord Caitanya told him that of the different practices of devotional service, the nine processes (nava-vidha bhakti) are the best. And of them, nama-sankirtana is the best.
tara madhye sarva-srestha nama-sankirtana
niraparadhe nama laile paya prema-dhana
“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” (Cc Antya 4.71) Of the nine processes (tara madhye), the best of all (sarva-srestha) is the chanting of the holy name. If one chants without offense (niraparadhe), one will get the treasure of ecstatic love for Krishna (prema-dhana). And because we want that treasure, which Lord Chaitanya came to give, we endeavor to chant without offense. That is the only way we can get that prema-dhana.
There are ten offenses, but the one we most scrupulously try to avoid while chanting is pramada, inattention. If the mind wanders from the sound of the holy name, we must bring it back. Making a conscientious effort to remove the offense of inattention puts us on the clearing stage of chanting, which by definition clears us of anarthas and offenses (aparadhas) and brings us, by Krishna’s and His associates’ mercy, to the perfect stage of chanting, to the coveted treasure of ecstatic love of Godhead.
Scripture says that one can be freed from the effects of all sins by surrendering oneself unto the Lord and that one can freed of all offenses at the feet of the Lord by taking shelter of His holy name but that one cannot protect oneself by any means if one commits an offense at the feet of the holy name of the Lord. Thus one should carefully avoid the ten offenses, and if one happens to offend the holy name, one has no recourse but to continuously chant the holy name and try to become free from the reactions.
Among the ten offenses is one that Srila Prabhupada calls “the worst offense at the lotus feet of the holy name”—sadhu-ninda, or vaisnava-aparadha. This offense was committed by Durvasa Muni, a great mystic and brahman, when he became angry with King Ambarisa.
As described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.4), Maharaja Ambarisa had been strictly observing Ekadasi, neither eating nor drinking. And to complete the observance properly, he had to break the fast within a range of times called the parana. It so happened that Durvasa Muni came to the court of King Ambarisa before then and said that he would return in time to break the fast. Following etiquette, Ambarisa, a kshatriya, waited for Durvasa, a brahman, to offer him the first food, but the time to break the fast was approaching and the sage Durvasa still had not returned. And without breaking the fast in time, the whole observance would be flawed.
Maharaja Ambarisa consulted the brahmans in his court and concluded that the solution would be to drink water. According to Vedic injunction, drinking water may be accepted as eating or as not eating. Srila Prabhupada comments that although Ambarisa was a kshatriya, because he was a Vaishnava he could find a solution to this dilemma, whereas the brahmans apparently could not. So he took a little water, but when Durvasa finally arrived, he became furious, thinking, “This impudent man has transgressed religious laws, eating before feeding me.” He blasphemed the king and attempted to kill him. But the king remained peaceful. He was not at all disturbed, and he simply depended on the mercy of the Lord.
The Lord immediately sent His divine disc, the Sudarsana chakra, to protect Ambarisa Maharaja and kill the offender, Durvasa Muni. The chakra, with its unbearable heat, pursued Durvasa Muni, a great yogi, wherever he went, and Durvasa could not find any relief, even on the heavenly planets. Eventually he went to Lord Brahma, and then Lord Shiva, but they simply referred him to the supreme authority, Lord Vishnu. Eventually he tried to take shelter of Lord Vishnu, who simply glorified his pure devotees (in the verses quoted above). And the Lord advised Durvasa that he must immediately approach King Ambarisa.
Ultimately, Durvasa fell at the feet of King Ambarisa, who as an exalted and humble devotee felt ashamed and embarrassed. The king offered prayers to Sudarsana and Lord Vishnu, and thus Durvasa was saved. Finally appreciating the glory of a devotee, Durvasa praised Ambarisa Maharaja: “My dear king, today I have experienced the greatness of the devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for although I have committed an offense, you have prayed for my good fortune. For those who have achieved the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of the pure devotees, what is impossible to do, and what is impossible to give up? What is impossible for the servants of the Lord? By the very hearing of His holy name one is purified.” (SB 9.5.14–16)
Here is an important lesson for aspiring devotees and chanters of the holy name: We must avoid vaisnava-aparadha, “the worse offense at the lotus feet of the holy name,” and if, unfortunately, we happen to offend a Vaishnava, we must directly approach him or her and beg forgiveness.
Sometimes we may think that our criticism of a Vaishnava is justified. In Sri Hari-nama-cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura discusses four grounds on which one might criticize a Vaishnava—low birth, previous sins (or faults), an accidental falldown, and present traces of previous sinful activity. But he says that although all these conditions may be present in a Vaishnava, they are insubstantial grounds for criticism and that one who so blasphemes a Vaishnava will be punished. He says that because the Vaishnava is spreading the glories of the Lord’s holy name, the Lord does not tolerate such criticism.
Now, when we live in a society of devotees, there are bound to be little irritations, but we should not take minor differences too seriously. Once, a disciple said to Srila Prabhupada, “If I have to offer obeisances and beg forgiveness every time I offend a devotee, I will be offering obeisances and begging forgiveness all day.” And Prabhupada replied, “In the morning program, you offer obeisances to the Vaishnavas. That is sufficient.” Every morning after mangala-arati, the devotees offer respectful obeisances to each other, reciting the Vaishnava pranama mantra. Within themselves they should beg the other devotees to forgive them for their incidental offenses, and they in turn should forgive the other devotees. Then they can start the day fresh and clean.
Sometimes, however, unfortunately, one may commit a more grievous offense, and in that case one should approach the offended devotee personally and beg forgiveness. Generally the Vaishnava will forgive. But sometimes the offense is such that the Vaishnava’s anger does not subside when approached by the offender, and in that case the offender should act in ways to somehow please the Vaishnava. In due course, the merciful Lord, the merciful holy name, and the merciful Vaishnava will relieve the devotee of the reactions.
Lord Chaitanya not only wanted to relieve the offenders of their offenses and save them from further offenses, but He also wanted them to accept Him and offer Him respects. And so He took sannyasa. Here too there is a lesson for us. Instead of criticizing and offending devotees, we should offer them respects and service. On the negative side, we don’t want to blaspheme devotees, but on the positive side, we want to glorify and please them. If we are fully engaged in the positive activities of appreciating and serving devotees, where is the chance of criticizing and offending them?
By Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, we are all here. He has given us all the knowledge we need to become Krishna conscious. As Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja used to say, “Everything is in Prabhupada’s books. They are like an ocean, with many precious gems at the bottom. But to get those gems, we must dive deep”—deep into the ocean of Prabhupada’s books. There is so much in them—unfathomable. If we go deep, we will find the most precious jewels of transcendental knowledge, realization, and love, prema.
Srila Prabhupada has given us the holy name. We can get everything just by chanting the thirty-two syllables of the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If one is not very literate or scholarly, one can get all knowledge and realization just by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantrawithout offense(niraparadhe). Such pure chanting will lead us to the most valuable treasure of love of God (prema-dhana).
Srila Prabhupada has given us wonderful temples with beautiful Deities (as we are experiencing now). And he has given us the association of devotees, which is really what this chapter of the Caitanya-caritamrta is about. Every Vaishnava is a guru, siksa-guru. Srila Prabhupada said we should address each other as “Prabhu.” Prabhu means “master.” Every prabhu is our master, to be served and learned from. Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter: “One who teaches can be treated as spiritual master. It is not that after we become initiated we become perfect. No. It requires teaching. So if we take instruction from them, all senior godbrothers may be treated as guru; there is no harm. Actually, you have only one spiritual master, who initiates you, just as you have only one father. But every Vaishnava should be treated as prabhu, master, higher than me, and in this sense, if I learn from him, he may be regarded as guru. It is not that I disobey my real spiritual master and call someone else as spiritual master. That is wrong. It is only that I can call spiritual master someone who is teaching me purely what my initiating spiritual master has taught.”
I once had an interesting talk with His Holiness Sacinandana Swami. Every year Maharaja goes to Vraja for Kartik and does a very strong nama-vrata, chanting the holy name so many times. One year, he was staying at Radha-kunda, and some of that time I was staying nearby at Govardhana, at the Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Ashram, which Tamal Krishna Goswami and I procured from the king of Chhatarpur. Although Sacinandana Swami hardly had time to eat or sleep then—he had such a strong nama-vrata—he did find some time to spend with me, and we discussed this point of sadhu-sanga, which is one of the five most potent forms of devotional service described by Rupa Gosvami in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.
sadhu-sanga, nama-kirtana, bhagavata-sravana
mathura-vasa, sri-murtira sraddhaya sevana
“One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Srimad-Bhagavatam, reside at Mathura, and worship the Deity with faith and veneration.” (Cc Madhya 22.131)
Sadhu-sanga is defined—sajatiyasaye snigdhe sadhau sangah svato vare: “One should associate with the devotees who are more advanced than oneself and who are endowed with a similar type of affection for the Lord.” (Brs 1.2.91, Cc Madhya 22.131) Literally, sajatiya means “of the same caste,” or, more generally, “similar.” So the sadhu should be like-minded, having a similar kind of affection for the Lord, and be more advanced than oneself (svato vare).
On this point, Sacinandana Swami said that there are people who think that you have to go outside ISKCON to get sadhu-sanga, to associate with a more advanced devotee, but that he did not agree. We want to associate with a sadhu who is sajatiyasaye snigdhe, who has the same type of affection not only for the Lord but also—and in our case, most importantly—for Srila Prabhupada. The sadhu should have a similar understanding of Srila Prabhupada. For us to associate with someone whose affection and appreciation for Srila Prabhupada is not similar to ours will not be favorable for us. If our relationship with Prabhupada is important to us—and it certainly is for Sacinandana Swami and me, and I hope it is for everyone here—we must associate with someone who has our kind of appreciation and affection for Srila Prabhupada. Otherwise, for us, it will not constitute proper, favorable sadhu-sanga.
As for associating with someone more advanced (svato vare), Sacinandana Swami said that from the external point of view people may see that we are equals—“Sacinandana Swami and Giriraj Swami are peers”—but that internally, “I see that Giriraj Swami is more advanced than I am and that I can learn from him, and Giriraj Swami is thinking, ‘Sacinandana Swami is more advanced than I, and I can learn from him. I should associate with him and hear and learn from him and serve him.’ ” Thus, as humble devotees, we will see that there are many devotees in ISKCON more advanced than we are who have the same kind of understanding of Srila Prabhupada that we have and that therefore, according to Rupa Gosvami’s definition, we can get sadhu-sanga right within ISKCON. In fact, ISKCON is meant for such sadhu-sanga.
Srila Prabhupada has given us every facility. He has given the holy name, he has given the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, he has given us the Deities, he has given us temples in Mayapur and Vrindavan and in practically every major city of the world, and he has given us the association of his faithful followers. So we really have everything we need. We just need a humble, simple heart so that we can accept what he has given us and derive the full benefit. And in this endeavor, I pray that you will help me, and to my capacity, I will try to help you. And we will all go back home, back to Godhead together.
Thank you very much.
Gaura Bhagavan dasa: Every day in the Guru-vandana prayers we sing, sri-guru-carane rati, ei se uttama gati, ye prasade pure sarva asa: “Attachment to the lotus feet of the spiritual master is the best means of spiritual advancement. By his mercy all desires for spiritual perfection are fulfilled.” So, if someone is attached to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada, he will achieve all perfection. He doesn’t need anything else but to associate with devotees who are attached to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada.
Giriraj Swami: I agree with you. What you quoted confirms what was said in the class.
Gopi Vallabha dasa: We see in the example of Mahaprabhu that He used the sannyasa- asrama to trick the blasphemers and induce them, often without their knowledge, to worship Krishna. The position of the scientists today is sort of like that of the impersonalists in the time of Mahaprabhu. But over the last two or so years, we have lost Sadaputa Prabhu and His Holiness Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami Maharaja, who helped spearhead the Bhaktivedanta Institute, which was a very dear project to Srila Prabhupada. Many of the academics and scientists today who are leading society away from personalism will not hear the tattva, truth, from you unless you have a doctorate or some sort of distinction within their particular disciplines. They seem to be hard of hearing unless you are within their fraternity, as it were. To me, having a PhD resembles how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu tricked the impersonalists, or the nondevotees, into listening to Him. But Prabhupada also said it is not necessary to have a doctorate to be heard by the scientists. So there’s this dilemma in some devotees’ minds, including mine. I wonder if you could resolve that. Am I being clear?
Giriraj Swami: Our godbrother Garuda Prabhu had the very same thought: Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa so people would listen to Him, so what is the counterpart in today’s society in the West? It is getting a PhD. And so he got a PhD, and people accept him as an authority.
Whether or not you need to have a PhD for people to listen to you will depend on the person. Some people will be open to you even if you don’t have a PhD. The disciples who joined the Bhaktivedanta Institute—Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, Sadaputa dasa, and others—had PhDs, but the person who preached to them, Srila Prabhupada, didn’t. Still, they accepted what he said. Before taking sannyasa, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also preached, and some people accepted Him. But when He took sannyasa, more people accepted Him.
So you can preach to scientists and scholars without having a PhD, but some may consider that you are not on their level to speak to them. Those types may hear better from someone who has a PhD.
I am not sure whether you are asking for your own sake or for the sake of others, but as a personal comment I would add that it is much less risky to get a PhD in mathematics or chemistry or biology than in religious studies. To enter religious studies and not be affected by the deconstructionist, skeptical approach requires tremendous spiritual strength and conviction. And even if one is able to go through the process and get a PhD, to actually have an effect on scholars in the field of religious studies, one has to be exceptionally competent and intelligent.
It is like any field. Many people play ball, but not everyone makes the team. And even if they make the team, not everyone becomes a major player. Some spend most of their time on the sidelines. So it is not that everyone who gets a PhD will be able to mold scholars’ views on Gaudiya Vaishnavism or religious studies. To come to that level of influence one must be extremely expert, intelligent, and Krishna conscious. Tamal Krishna Goswami, for example, was not only intelligent and Krishna conscious but also very expert in interpersonal interactions. And in a short time in academia he had a significant influence in religious studies. Garuda Prabhu is very Krishna conscious, very intelligent, and very adept at dealing with people. He has had and still has influence. But how many Tamal Krishna Goswamis or Garuda Prabhus are there? Very few. Even if a devotee is able to maintain his or her Krishna consciousness, working in academia can become more or less just a job, which is fine—“I am a devotee. I need money to maintain my Krishna conscious lifestyle. I like to study and teach. I like the subject of Vaishnavism, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Vedic culture. I have to do something. So let me teach religious studies.”
But devotees who go into that field or who contemplate going into that field should be aware that for some it will put tremendous pressure on them to give up their faith and that even if they pass through it without losing their faith, it will take a very rare and highly qualified soul to really have influence in the academic study of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
Radha Govinda dasa: In the beginning you described how Srila Prabhupada came to the West and preached. Can you find any internal reason why Srila Prabhupada came to do what he did—or would that be going too far? There is no doubt that he was an associate of Lord Chaitanya.
Giriraj Swami: Srila Prabhupada came to the West on the order of his guru maharaja with love for Krishna, for his guru maharaja, and for the fallen souls. The question is whether it would be going too far to ask if there was an internal reason.
In a way, the internal reason is similar to Lord Chaitanya’s: he wanted to give people vraja-bhakti. Bhurijana Prabhu analyzed this question. Srila Prabhupada had a burning desire to bring people to Krishna consciousness. If we are open and look at other religious or spiritual traditions, we will find that there is a lot there. Almost every broad religious tradition has an esoteric, mystical tradition within it. And there is a lot there. Much of what Prabhupada gave us is available in other traditions if you know how to find it. But the one thing that other traditions don’t have is Krishna in Vrindavan, vraja-bhakti. So, according to Bhurijana Prabhu’s analysis, which made sense to me, Srila Prabhupada was not sectarian or fanatic; he knew that there was God consciousness in other traditions—not just in ISKCON or in Gaudiya Vaishnavism or Vaishnavism in general—but still he gave all he had to bring people to Krishna consciousness. Why? To give them vraja-bhakti.
In the early days of Krishna consciousness in America, in 1968, a lady asked Srila Prabhupada, “Is there anyone similar to Joan of Arc in Srimad-Bhagavatam?” And Prabhupada replied, “You want to see Joan of Arc in Srimad-Bhagavatam? Why don’t you take Joan of Arc of Srimad-Bhagavatam? Any activities of devotees—that is Srimad-Bhagavatam. Bhagavatam: this word comes from bhagavan, meaning ‘God.’ Anything pertaining to Bhagavan is Bhagavatam. So Bhagavatam can be expanded unlimitedly. Anything in relationship with God—that is Bhagavatam. So if Joan of Arc was in relationship with God, she is also Bhagavatam. You should expand Bhagavatam in that way.”
Srila Prabhupada’s view was very liberal. Once, Atreya Rishi Prabhu, who used to preach in Iran, told Srila Prabhupada that his dream was that one day all the Muslims would chant Hare Krishna. Srila Prabhupada said, “Why do you want them to chant Hare Krishna? We’re not sectarian. Let them chant ‘Allah Allah.’”
Srila Prabhupada was not sectarian, not fanatical, not narrow-minded, yet he had such a burning desire to spread Krishna consciousness that he risked everything to do it. Given that there is so much richness in other traditions, why should he go to such extremes to give people specifically what we call Krishna consciousness? Bhurijana Prabhu concluded that it was because only in Krishna consciousness can one get vraja-bhakti, the opportunity to serve Krishna in Vrindavan in these intimate, loving relationships. And that was part of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s internal purpose as well—to give that specific type of love of Godhead found in the inhabitants of Vrindavan. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 3.26) explains Krishna’s reasoning before He appeared as Krishna Chaitanya: Ama vina anye nare vraja-prema dite—“No one but Me can bestow the kind of loving service performed by the residents of Vraja.”
Rupa-vilasa dasa: It strikes me as very safe to say that Srila Prabhupada came to give vraja-bhakti. That is philosophically very sound. Now, I don’t know if you would call it an internal reason, but Srila Prabhupada many times referred to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s commentary where he says that the duty of the disciple is to make the order of the spiritual master his life and soul. He has to try to execute that order as his only business. When we study Prabhupada’s life, we see that the force that drove him was that sense of obligation to his spiritual master, making the order of his guru his only desire. That was practically the only thing that was important to him, to try to execute that order.
Giriraj Swami: Definitely. And that supports Gaura Bhagavan’s reference to Sri Guru-vandana. Guru-mukha-padma-vakya, cittete koriya aikya, ar na koriho mane asa: “Make the teachings from the lotus mouth of the spiritual master one with your heart, and do not desire anything else.”
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada also said that his purports were his personal ecstasies.
Guru Carana Padma dasi: If someone does something to which you take offense, what is the attitude you can have so that you in turn don’t commit an offense by thinking badly of the person? Should you forgive in your heart? Sometimes it is hard to let go. Should you go up to the person and tell them honestly how you feel? What is the correct mentality to have so that it doesn’t hinder you in your spiritual progress?
Giriraj Swami: You mean if you feel offended by someone?
Guru Carana Padma dasi: Maybe Krishna sent the person to test me.
Giriraj Swami: You have posed an excellent question. The answer would depend a lot on who offended you, what the offense was, what your relationship with the person is, and other such factors. I heard that one year in Mayapur, our godsister Manmohini dasi, a very, very nice devotee, approached devotees by whom she felt offended, just to clear the air. And she is such a good, cleanhearted, openhearted devotee, I think there could be merit to that approach.
Usually when there is an offense, you can find something in your behavior that might have been offensive to the other person, even if, from a certain point of view, you think, “The other person was 99 percent at fault, and I was 1 percent at fault.” Still, this is how I tend to approach such situations. I feel that if I am 1 percent at fault I should apologize for my part and then at least I’ll get free from the reaction to my share of the offense. And it might happen—I wouldn’t do it with that intention, but it might happen—that the person feels, “Oh, this person is apologizing to me. I should probably apologize for my part as well.” That could also be an approach.
Another approach, again depending on who it is and what it is, and who you are and what you can do, is not to take offense. Just to let it go. See that it is something that happened and don’t take it to heart so much. It could also depend if there was malice or not, and if there was malice, how deep it was.
His Holiness Radhanath Swami gave a nice example for how to see a devotee’s so-called offensive behavior. He and I were walking on the beach in Santa Barbara, and he said that a devotee can be like the ocean. The ocean is very deep, and underneath the surface the water is still, but because of the wind, waves may come up. You might be near the ocean, and a big wave might come and hit you and get you wet—even knock you over—and so you might become upset and angry. So, the devotee’s love for Srila Prabhupada and Krishna may be deep and constant, but because he is in the material world, the winds of the material modes, of the society in which he lives, can influence him and give rise to waves that may come and hit you. But beneath the waves is deep devotion for Prabhupada and Krishna. So, if we think of the devotee’s underlying love and devotion, which is really the person’s essential character, and see the waves, which may happen to hit us, as temporary, superficial manifestations that arise due to the devotee’s being in the material world, then we can let it go and not take it too seriously. We will have a perspective that will allow us to see the good in the devotee and not take offense. Or if we have taken offense, we will be able to more easily forgive the devotee.
Rasa Sundari dasi: Maharaja Ambarisa was in a dilemma about breaking his fast. Being faced with offending the sadhu or not getting the benefit of the Ekadasi, wouldn’t it be better to not get the benefit of Ekadasi than to offend the sadhu?
Giriraj Swami: Whatever a pure devotee does, including observing Ekadasi, is for the pleasure of the Lord. A pure devotee doesn’t do anything with any selfish motive. The observance of Ekadasi is a basic principle, one of the ten first items in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Lord Chaitanya observed it strictly. Although we may do it to get some benefit, we really do it to please Krishna. What is the benefit we get? We increase our power to serve and please Krishna. I appreciate your point, but King Ambarisa wanted to accomplish both: to please Krishna by following His instructions for Ekadasi and to avoid offending Durvasa Muni.
Your question reminds me of a little story from when Srila Prabhupada was present in Vrindavan. One of his disciples, Gargamuni, had grown his hair long, and Prabhupada chided him. It happened to be Ekadasi, but still Gargamuni shaved up. He said that he feared Prabhupada’s wrath more than he feared the reactions to shaving on Ekadasi. Of course, Srila Prabhupada was his spiritual master.
Thank you very much. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.