A Talk by Giriraj Swami
For the most auspicious celebration of Sri Radhastami, we read from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Two, Chapter Three: “Pure Devotional Service.”
jivan chavo bhagavatanghri-renum
na jatu martyo ’bhilabheta yas tu
sri-visnu-padya manujas tulasyah
svasan chavo yas tu na veda gandham
The person who has not at any time received the dust of the feet of the Lord’s pure devotee upon his head is certainly a dead body. And the person who has never experienced the aroma of the tulasi leaves from the lotus feet of the Lord is also a dead body, although breathing.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, the breathing dead body is a ghost. When a man dies, he is called dead, but when he again appears in a subtle form not visible to our present vision and yet acts, such a dead body is called a ghost. Ghosts are always very bad elements, always creating a fearful situation for others. Similarly, the ghostlike nondevotees who have no respect for the pure devotees, nor for the Visnu Deity in the temples, create a fearful situation for the devotees at all times. The Lord never accepts any offerings by such impure ghosts. There is a common saying that one should first love the dog of the beloved before one shows any loving sentiments for the beloved. The stage of pure devotion is attained by sincerely serving a pure devotee of the Lord. The first condition of devotional service to the Lord is therefore to be a servant of a pure devotee, and this condition is fulfilled by the statement “reception of the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee who has also served another pure devotee.” That is the way of pure disciplic succession, or devotional parampara.
Maharaja Rahugana inquired from the great saint Jada Bharata as to how he had attained such a liberated stage of a paramahamsa, and in answer the great saint replied as follows (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.12.12):
rahuganaitat tapasa na yati
na cejyaya nirvapanad grhad va
na cchandasa naiva jalagni-suryair
“O King Rahugana, the perfectional stage of devotional service, or the paramahamsa stage of life, cannot be attained unless one is blessed by the dust of the feet of great devotees. It is never attained by tapasya (austerity), the Vedic worshiping process, acceptance of the renounced order of life, the discharge of the duties of household life, the chanting of the Vedic hymns, or the performance of penances in the hot sun, within cold water, or before the blazing fire.”
In other words, Lord Sri Krsna is the property of His pure unconditional devotees, and as such only the devotees can deliver Krsna to another devotee; Krsna is never obtainable directly. Lord Chaitanya therefore designated Himself as gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah (Cc Madhya 13.80), or “the most obedient servant of the servants of the Lord, who maintains the gopi damsels at Vrndavana.” A pure devotee therefore never approaches the Lord directly, but tries to please the servant of the Lord’s servants, and thus the Lord becomes pleased, and only then can the devotee relish the taste of the tulasi leaves stuck to His lotus feet. In the Brahma-samhita it is said that the Lord is never to be found by becoming a great scholar of the Vedic literatures, but He is very easily approachable through His pure devotee. In Vrndavana all the pure devotees pray for the mercy of Srimati Radharani, the pleasure potency of Lord Krsna. Srimati Radharani is a tenderhearted feminine counterpart of the supreme whole, resembling the perfectional stage of the worldly feminine nature. Therefore, the mercy of Radharani is available very readily to the sincere devotees, and once She recommends such a devotee to Lord Krsna, the Lord at once accepts the devotee’s admittance into His association. The conclusion is, therefore, that one should be more serious about seeking the mercy of the devotee than that of the Lord directly, and by one’s doing so (by the good will of the devotee) the natural attraction for the service of the Lord will be revived.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
This verse and purport are so deep. Practically the whole philosophy of Krishna consciousness is contained in this purport, and one could discuss it for many hours and days. Still, we shall try to say something within the time available to us.
The first point—the most basic point—is that the living entity is not the body. The living entity is the soul within the body. The living entity in the material body has material desires for sense gratification and more subtle material desires that express themselves in mental speculation. After leaving the body, some unfortunate living entities end up as ghosts, in subtle, ghostly bodies, but they still have gross desires.
How does someone become a ghost? A typical way is that a living entity full of material desires becomes so frustrated and disappointed (which everyone is, to some extent), he commits suicide. The result is that he gets a ghost body, a subtle body without a gross body. Krishna, the Supersoul, fulfills all desires. The person who commits suicide wants to be free from his gross body, so Krishna fulfills his desire and gives him a ghost body, a subtle body. But the frustration and disappointment that gave rise to the impulse to commit suicide came from strong material desires, and he still has the material desires but not a gross body through which to fulfill them. So he is even more frustrated. And so the ghost will try to inhabit, or possess, someone else’s gross body in order to fulfill its desires through that person’s senses. Thus ghosts are disturbing elements. They create fearful situations.
Another way a person can get the body of a ghost is if he is very attached to a thing or place—to his house, for example—and at the time of death thinks of that object of attachment. Yam yam vapi smaran bhavam tyajaty ante kalevaram/ tam tam evaiti kaunteya sada tad-bhava-bhavitah: “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Gita 8.6) Whatever you think at the time of death will determine your next body. Now, if you think of your house at the time of death, you can’t get the body of a house, because that is not one of the species of life, but you can take birth as a ghost in that house. Therefore many houses, especially big, opulent ones—mansions and castles—are reputed to be haunted by ghosts.
How can one be freed from ghosts? The chanting of the holy name is the best remedy for practically any ill in the world, and it is the remedy for being troubled by ghosts. Sometimes devotees take advantage of this fact. A large estate will be haunted and so people won’t want to buy it, but the devotees will see, “Oh, here is a good opportunity. We can get a major property to use in Krishna’s service for only a small sum of money, and as for the ghosts, we’ll just do hari-nama–sankirtana and the ghosts will go away and we will have a nice place for Krishna.”
In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu Srila Rupa Gosvami composed a beautiful verse in which he says that one who is haunted by material desires can never experience the sweet taste of devotional service.
pisaci hrdi vartate
katham abhyudayo bhavet
“The material desire to enjoy the material world and the desire to become liberated from material bondage are considered to be two witches, and they haunt one like ghosts. As long as these witches remain within the heart, how can one feel transcendental bliss? As long as these two witches remain in the heart, there is no possibility of enjoying the transcendental bliss of devotional service.” (Brs 1.2.22) Pisaci means “ghost” or “witch.” Material desires are like ghosts that fill our minds with ideas foreign to us. In our normal consciousness we think in a certain way, but when a ghost possesses our mind, we think in a completely different way. As spirit souls, we are all originally Krishna conscious, by constitution eternal servants of Krishna (jivera ‘svarupa’ haya-krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’). So to desire anything other than to be a servant of Krishna or a servant of a servant of Krishna is like being haunted by a ghost. We get desires, ideas, for sense gratification, and instead of accepting Krishna as the supreme enjoyer, which is His constitutional position, we want to take His place and enjoy independent of Him. Such desires, such ideas, are foreign to our true nature. So, being possessed by these desires is like being haunted by a ghost.
Everyone in the material world is in a fearful position, and everyone needs shelter. Once, someone asked Srila Prabhupada, “What do you personally feel when you chant?” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “I feel no fear.” Every conditioned soul is fearful. If we think about it, we are always afraid. We can’t even count all the things we are afraid of all the time. The Bhagavatam (11.2.37) says that fear arises from thinking of things as being separate from Krishna.
bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syad
isad apetasya viparyayo ’smrtih
tan-mayayato budha abhajet tam
“Fear arises when a living entity misidentifies himself as the material body because of absorption in the external, illusory energy of the Lord. When the living entity thus turns away from the Supreme Lord, he also forgets his own constitutional position as a servant of the Lord. This bewildering, fearful condition is effected by the potency for illusion, called maya. Therefore, an intelligent person should engage unflinchingly in the unalloyed devotional service of the Lord, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, whom he should accept as his worshipable deity and as his very life and soul.” If we recognize that everything is related to Krishna and that Krishna is the supreme enjoyer, the supreme proprietor, and our best friend, we won’t be afraid. We’ll feel peaceful.
We need shelter, and we can get the shelter we need only from Krishna. But we cannot get Krishna’s shelter directly. We have no way to approach Him directly. Therefore all scriptures and bona fide acharyas recommend that to achieve the shelter of Krishna we should seek the shelter of a pure devotee who himself has achieved the shelter of another pure devotee who has achieved the shelter of another pure devotee—all the way back to Krishna. This is devotional parampara.
mahatmanas tu mam partha
daivim prakrtim asritah
jnatva bhutadim avyayam
“Those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” (Gita 9.13) The great souls are not under the material energy. They are under the divine energy, the spiritual energy. And they achieve the shelter of the spiritual energy by taking shelter of a pure devotee who is under the spiritual energy, who in turn has taken shelter of a pure devotee under the spiritual energy, and so on back to Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada was once invited to speak at the home of the wealthiest family in India then, the Birlas. I presented Mrs. Birla a list of topics on which Srila Prabhupada could speak (I knew he could speak on any topic), and she chose “How to be Successful.” The invitees would be people we imagined were very successful, but her choice suggested that they wanted to become more successful—that they were not satisfied as they were. Thus they would want to learn the secret of how to become more successful.
At the program Srila Prabhupada gave an interesting definition of success, one that we had not anticipated. He explained that everyone in the material world is under the control of the material energy, personified as Durga, who rides on her lion carrier and exhibits many arms with many weapons. He said that Durga holds a trident (trisula), which represents the threefold miseries of material existence, and that she pierces the conditioned souls with these miseries. And opposed to the material energy is the spiritual energy, personified as Srimati Radharani. Srila Prabhupada said that success in life means to transfer oneself from the control of Durgadevi, the material energy, to the shelter of Radharani, the spiritual energy. Of course, Durgadevi herself is serving Lord Krishna, but her service is to punish us conditioned souls who are under her control. She is the warden of the prison house of material existence, and success for a prisoner is to be released from the prison—not to get better facility within the prison house. Success is to be freed.
Srila Prabhupada’s definition was so intelligent and subtle. He was saying that success doesn’t mean to move to a better grade of prison: a better house, a better office, a better car—a better material position. Success means to get out of prison, and that is achieved by surrendering to Krishna, as stated by Him in the Bhagavad-gita (7.14):
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante
mayam etam taranti te
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.”
We must take shelter of Krishna and move from the control of the material energy to the protection of the spiritual energy, Srimati Radharani. But we cannot do that directly. We do it by taking shelter of someone who has taken shelter of someone who has taken shelter of someone who has taken shelter of Srimati Radharani. That is parampara. We take shelter of Srila Prabhupada and of those working under his direction, just as he took shelter of his guru maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and served him, and as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura took shelter of his spiritual master, Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji Maharaja, and served him—like that, all the way back to Krishna.
It is a simple process, but it requires humility. And that can be a problem—a big, big problem. We don’t want to submit, to surrender. When Hiranyakasipu asked his five-year-old son, Prahlada, “What is the best thing you have learned in school?” he thought his son would say something agreeable. Sometimes we may also ask a child, “What is your favorite subject?” and we would be shocked and dismayed if the child said, “The best thing I learned is how to cheat people and get ahead by pushing others into the ground.” We would wonder, “Where did he learn that?” Hiranyakasipu was the type who thought that being selfish and learning how to defeat others was a good thing. So when Prahlada replied, “The best thing I have learned is service to God (sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam),” Hiranyakasipu was shocked: “Where did you learn that? Who has spoiled your consciousness?”
The powerful tyrant accused the boy’s teachers: “You have taught him this nonsense, bhakti, devotional service to Lord Visnu. You have spoiled his intelligence.” “No, we haven’t,” they replied. “He hasn’t learned devotional service from us or from anyone else. He seems to be naturally Krishna conscious.”
Then Hiranyakasipu asked his son directly, and Prahlada replied with a verse similar to the one quoted by Srila Prabhupada in the purport. First he said,
matir na krsne paratah svato va
mitho ’bhipadyeta grha-vratanam
adanta-gobhir visatam tamisram
punah punas carvita-carvananam
“Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krsna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (SB 7.5.30) Now, if one cannot become Krishna conscious by one’s own efforts, by the efforts of others, or by the combined efforts of oneself and others, how can one become Krishna conscious? It seems that all logical possibilities have been eliminated.
Then Prahlada said,
naisam matis tavad urukramanghrim
sprsaty anarthapagamo yad-arthah
niskincananam na vrnita yavat
“Unless they smear upon their bodies the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaisnava completely freed from material contamination, persons very much inclined toward materialistic life cannot be attached to the lotus feet of the Lord, who is glorified for His uncommon activities. Only by becoming Krsna conscious and taking shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord in this way can one be freed from material contamination.” (SB 7.5.32) One cannot become Krishna conscious unless one has been favored by the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee who has nothing to do with the material world. By taking shelter of the lotus feet of a pure devotee—by serving the instructions of a pure devotee—one becomes free from anarthas, unwanted, miserable conditions. The miseries of birth, death, disease, and old age are all unwanted. And by following the pure devotee’s instructions one becomes free from all unwanted, material desires, which bind us to material existence. One becomes free from everything unfavorable to Krishna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada explains that Prahlada was indirectly telling his father, “You need not worry about becoming Krishna conscious, because one can become Krishna conscious only if one bows down to the lotus feet of a pure devotee, but you are too proud, so you will never bow down to a pure devotee. So, my dear father, you need not worry about becoming Krishna conscious. It just won’t happen.”
We tend to like to identify with Prahlada and to see other people as Hiranyakasipus, but if we—I shouldn’t speak for all of us, but many of us—if we look inside ourselves, we will see that we also are not that humble. We also have a little rebellious spirit. We don’t want to submit or surrender. We also have something inside us that thinks, as some people actually say, “I’ll never surrender. I’ll never submit.” Or, “I can surrender to God but not to any human being. I can serve God but not some human being.” But that false spirit of independence will not help us.
Given that we have so many doubts and reservations and rebellious tendencies, what hope do we have? The good news is that in this age of Kali, Sri Krishna came in the mood of Srimati Radharani. And as we read in the purport, Srimati Radharani is the tenderhearted feminine counterpart of Krishna. In The Nectar of Devotion also, Srila Prabhupada says that Srimati Radharani represents the compassionate nature of Krishna. Because Krishna is the father, He might be a little strict (which is sometimes necessary and beneficial), but the mother may be more compassionate, more understanding, more encouraging. Therefore devotees approach Krishna through Sri Radha. “Because Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is very difficult to approach Him. But the devotees, taking advantage of His compassionate nature, which is represented by Radharani, always pray to Radharani for Krsna’s compassion.” (NOD Ch 22) Srimati Radharani, in addition to having other qualifications, is a maha-bhagavata. She sees that everyone is a better servant of Krishna than She. So if someone approaches Her with a desire to serve Krishna, She’ll very easily recommend the person to Krishna, and when Radharani recommends someone, Krishna is bound to accept, because ultimately Krishna wants to please Radharani. Transcendentally, Krishna comes under the control of Radharani. Thus in Radharani’s hometown of Varsana, the devotees have a saying: “Whatever Radha does, Krishna likes. Whatever Radha likes, Krishna does.” So if Radharani wants Krishna to accept us, He will accept us.
Because today is a special day, Radhastami, we can approach Radharani directly—but even today it is through Her servants. Even when we are in the spiritual world, whenever that fortunate occasion arises, we will serve Radha and Krishna not directly, but under the guidance of Their servants. That is an eternal principle. There are different rasas, or relationships, that we can have with Krishna, but in whatever relationship we have, we will be under the eternal guidance of some eternal associates of Krishna. As Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says,
naham vipro na ca nara-patir napi vaisyo na sudro
naham varni na ca grha-patir no vanastho yatir va
gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah
“I am not a brahmana, I am not a ksatriya, I am not a vaisya or a sudra. Nor am I a brahmacari, a householder, a vanaprastha, or a sannyasi. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krsna, the maintainer of the gopis. He is like an ocean of nectar, and He is the cause of universal transcendental bliss. He is always existing with brilliance.” (Cc Madhya 13.80)
That principle, being the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna, the maintainer of the gopis, applies both in the conditioned state of sadhana-bhakti and in the liberated state of sadhya-bhakti, or prema-bhakti. It is an eternal principle. And we should welcome the opportunity to serve the servant of the servants. We shouldn’t think, “Oh, all right, in the stage of bondage I am in now, I guess I have to do it. It is the only way to get out.” Like, “Okay, I’m in prison now, so I have to do what the warden says, but once I’m out, that’s it. Then I’m free.” No. This is an eternal principle, and we should welcome it and relish it.
Srila Prabhupada paraphrased Srila Rupa Gosvami’s verse about being haunted by ghosts: “Anyone who has any desire or aspiration for satisfying his senses by becoming more and more important, either in the material sense or in the spiritual sense, cannot actually relish the really sweet taste of devotional service.” (NOD Ch 3) And in a class, Srila Prabhupada stated the same thing in a positive way: “The more you become the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna, the sweeter and sweeter and sweeter and sweeter devotional service becomes.” It is glorious to be the servant of the servant of the servant.
We want to take shelter of one who is niskincana, who has no material possessions. Yes, in India there are sadhus, saintly persons, who hardly have material possessions. But as Srila Prabhupada explains, niskincana also means one who is free from false proprietorship. Here we are in a beautiful temple, and if I think, “This is my temple,” that is false proprietorship. But if I think, “This is Krishna’s temple, and I am just a humble servant of His servants,” that is also niskincana. A pure devotee’s only possession, so to speak, is his or her service to the lotus feet of the Lord. And the more lotus feet we have to serve—the lotus feet of the servant of the lotus feet of the servant of the lotus feet of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Krishna—the richer we are in bhakti, which is the life of the living entity.
Today’s verse is one of a series that all make the same point: If we are not engaged in pure devotional service, we are dead. In other words, pure devotional service is real life, and anyone engaged in anything other than devotional service is just a walking, breathing dead man.
Srila Prabhupada has given us this life. He has given us this opportunity. Sri Krishna Chaitanya is Krishna but in the mood of Radharani, and in Her kindhearted, tenderhearted, merciful, compassionate mood of love and care, He has given us the easiest and most practical process for success in the present age: the chanting of the holy names.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
“In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari [Krsna].” (Brhan-naradiya Purana 38.126) By chanting the holy names without offense, all the dirty things in the heart become cleansed (ceto-darpana-marjanam). Even if we have that little rebellious spirit—“Why should I surrender?”—by chanting, which is both easy and enjoyable, all these dirty things, these misconceptions and false identifications, are cleansed, and naturally we come to our real position as eternal servants of the servants of Krishna. So it is very easy. We just have to do it.
This is, ultimately, Srimati Radharani’s mercy. It is Her mercy that Srila Prabhupada came to America and gave us Krishna consciousness. In a poem he wrote on board the cargo ship he took to America, Srila Prabhupada wrote, krsna taba punya habe bhai, e-punya koribe jabe radharani khusi habe, dhruva ati boli toma tai: “O brothers, you will obtain your good fortune from the Supreme Lord Krsna only when Srimati Radharani becomes pleased with you.” First we must please Radharani. And how? By following the orders of the spiritual master, serving the mission of the spiritual master. We have everything—every opportunity. We have beautiful Deities; we have Srila Prabhupada, our founder-acharya; we have his instructions, his books, his translations of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam; we have the holy name; we have the association of devotees—we have everything. We just have to take advantage, and that is why we are here.
Any questions or comments?
Child: How do you become the servant of the servant of the servant?
Giriraj Swami: She is a very intelligent young lady. Do you know what ISKCON is?
Child: Not really.
Giriraj Swami: ISKCON is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a spiritual organization founded by Srila Prabhupada; the temple where we are now sitting is part of that organization. You could say that the more senior devotees here who are steady in devotional service, in following Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, are servants of Srila Prabhupada, that Srila Prabhupada is serving the instructions of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta is serving the instructions of his spiritual master. And so by following the instructions of one or more of the solid devotees of Srila Prabhupada here, you are automatically serving the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant, going through the line all the way back to Krishna.
Gentleman: How can one overcome the fear of losing one’s identity and uniqueness by surrendering oneself to a pure devotee?
Giriraj Swami: Every living entity has a unique spiritual identity, and the process of Krishna consciousness means to discover what one’s unique, specific, eternal identity is. So you don’t lose your identity; rather, you discover your actual unique identity.
Just imagine Krishna’s situation. There He is in the spiritual sky, Goloka Vrindavan, surrounded by wish-fulfilling cows and trees and gems, being served by unlimited numbers of beautiful, pure, loving devotees. And off somewhere in a cloud is a bunch of angry, morose, belligerent souls, each determined that “I’m not going to serve Him.” Why should Krishna bother with them? Why should He even care? He is enjoying an eternal, celestial party. Why should He bother about us?
One answer is that each one of us is a unique living entity. No two of us are exactly the same. And so when we are liberated our mood of service to Krishna will be unique. This means that as long as we remain in the material world, Krishna in the spiritual world will be deprived of the particular flavor of loving service that each of us is meant to offer Him. Each of us has a specific, unique contribution to make to Krishna’s pleasure that no one else can make in the exact same way.
Even in the stage of sadhana-bhakti, we always have our individual preferences, but as devotees we give the highest preference to Krishna’s pleasure. Parents often sacrifice doing what they would ordinarily like to do, for the sake of doing what their children would like them to do. The parents are still individuals, but they give priority to pleasing their children. And when their children are happy, they feel happy. One reason we try so hard to have nice programs for children is that when the children want to come to the temple, even if the parents are feeling a little lethargic, the children will prevail upon them: “Come on, Mommy. Come on, Daddy. I want to go to the temple. I want to see the Deities. I want to sing and dance in the kirtan and arati. I want to meet the other children. I want to eat prasada.” And the parents will come, not because they don’t have their individuality, but out of love. They get more happiness when they see their children happy than when they do things for their own satisfaction that would leave the children feeling neglected. So in devotional service you remain individual but you give preference to Krishna. And as you become purified, you actually experience more pleasure in doing what Krishna likes than you would get out of doing what you would ordinarily like for your own sake.
So, do not hesitate. Serving a pure devotee, serving a servant of the servants of Radha and Krishna, is not a matter of force, being forced into a mold without any freedom or individuality. Rather, it is an opportunity for the conditioned soul to realize his or her fullest potential, fullest individuality, and fullest freedom, in divine, ecstatic love.
Thank you very much.
Hare Krishna.[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Radhastami, August 30, 2009, San Diego]