Essential Principles ‘‘Vaiṣṇava etiquette’’ part II
By the mercy of Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅga, we will continue discussing the Vaiṣṇava etiquette.
7. A devotee of the Lord always shows his respect to all living entities. Even the seventh Gosvāmī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, mentions this in one of his songs, I want the mercy from a brāhmaṇa and a Vaiṣṇava. I am paying my obeisances to all living entities; they may be of higher grades or of lower grades.
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we see how pure devotees like Ambarīṣa Mahārāja and Uddhava give proper respect to the brāhmaṇas. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu mentions in the Bhakti-Sandarbha [śloka 246] that, although Durvāsā Muni caught hold of the feet of Ambarīṣa Mahārāja, Ambarīṣa Mahārāja was not happy with that. Even Kṛṣṇa told His sons - My dear followers, never treat a learned brāhmaṇa harshly, even if he has sinned. Even if he attacks you physically or repeatedly curses you, always continue to offer him obeisances. Just as I was carefully bowing down to the brāhmaṇas, so all of you should likewise, bow down to them. I will punish anyone who acts otherwise [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.64.41].
In other scriptures, like Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta [Adi-līlā 16.301] and Śrī Varāha Purāṇa it is stated that, in the Kali-yuga, demons will take birth in the families of brāhmaṇas just to harass those rare persons who are conversant with the Vedic way of life. The scriptures forbid one from touching, speaking to, or offering respects to such so-called brāhmaṇas.
If we consider this carefully, we may notice it seems contradictory. Many ācāryas make many statements about a smārta-brāhmaṇa. On the other hand, the śāstra and some ācāryas say we have to give respect to the brāhmaṇas. We have to know the tattva. When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, give respect to all living entities because Kṛṣṇa is residing within all living entities as the Supersoul, we are paying obeisances and giving respect to the Supersoul and not to the body. However, in the case of a kaniṣṭha-bhakta this is not possible. A kaniṣṭha-bhakta only gives respect to that person who gives respect to him. A madhyama-adhikārī always follows the instructions of the śāstra. He discriminates between people who are fit for association and those who are not. This discrimination includes the general public as well as the kaniṣṭha-bhaktas. A madhyama-adhikārī will not associate with persons who are not devotees of the Lord. Most of the time, the kaniṣṭha-bhaktas and the general innocent public associates with the māyāvādīs, smārta-brāhmaṇas, and some sentiments to get name, fame, etc. Śāstra therefore concludes not to associate with such a bhakta in order to avoid losing bhakti. On the contrary, an uttama-adhikārī sees Kṛṣṇa everywhere, and therefore he naturally gives respect to everyone. For preaching purposes, the uttama-adhikārī comes to the madhyama stage and preaches accordingly within the society. He saves us by criticising the māyāvādīs, smārta-brāhmaṇas, and sahajiyās, but inside they do not have any enviousness, hatred or a fault-finding nature towards anyone. They are on the stage of prema. To establish the siddhānta, to keep the paramparā system pure and to save the general public, they preach in that manner. Still, inwardly they are always in their natural position. When we are criticising someone, in our heart, we immediately develop enviousness, a fault-finding nature. This is very harmful for our spiritual life. Therefore, we have to become very careful in our dealings. According to time, place and circumstances, different instructions are given. Nevertheless, in our mind we have to give respect to all living entities.
8. Another very interesting point Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu mentions, before taking a bath in different tīrthas like the Ganga, we have to give up our mentality to achieve more results that are pious. He mentions in Bhakti-Sandarbha [śloka 173] that although a devotee has full faith that by remembering Kṛṣṇa or by chanting His Holy Name he achieves all the results - and is purified both inside and out, he still takes a bath in a tīrtha to give respect to the principles adopted by great sages like Vyāsa deva and Nārada Muni. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [3.33.7] Mother Devahūti exclaims - Oh, how glorious are they whose tongues are chanting Your Holy Name! Even if born in the families of dog eaters, such persons are worship-able. A person who chants the Holy Names of Your Lordship must have executed all kinds of austerities, fire sacrifices and achieved all the good manners of the Āryans. To be chanting the Holy Name of Your Lordship, they must have bathed at Holy places of pilgrimage, studied the Vedas and fulfilled everything required to attain such benediction.
Therefore, the conclusion is that one must always follow the principles adopted by ācāryas. We are facing problems in our spiritual life because of our weaknesses. In many cases, we do not appreciate the ācārya’s principles. Sometimes we do follow, but we lack the faith. That is the cause of our entire problem in our spiritual life. How qualified we may be, we have to remind ourselves always, that our attempt to succeed in spiritual life is like a dream without the ācārya’smercy.
9. If a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa uses harsh words, chastisement, or gives you some heavy punishment, respect must still be given to him. One may ask, if I have not committed any fault why is Gurudeva or the pure devotee still chastising me? The answer is; in that particular instance we may not have committed some fault, but in the future we will surely commit faults, or in the past we have had plenty of faults. We have to admit to ourselves that we are full of faults. If we are pure, then why have we come to the material world? A pure devotee of the Lord is not envious of anyone. Through them Kṛṣṇa wants to rectify our faults. Our Gurudeva used to say, admit your own faults. Then you are a hopeful case. It is very difficult to admit our own faults. Sometimes punishment comes to brighten our future.
Once a karmi, some moral instructor, said - We are acting as a lawyer for our own faults and a judge for the faults of others. Someone may question; without any fault, if a pure devotee of the Lord or Guru rejects a disciple what should be the duty of that disciple? To attain the shelter at the lotus feet of Śrī Guru, one should pray repeatedly. Still, if the Guru is not giving him shelter and not expressing his faults, then we have to request the Vaiṣṇavas, those that are very dear to Śrīla Gurudeva, so that they will request Śrīla Gurudeva on behalf of us. If Gurudeva is still not accepting us, then what should one do? At that point, we still do not have the right to reject the pure devotee. The only thing we can do at that time is, in a solitary place, we must chant the Holy Name while crying and praying for mercy from the Holy Name, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and the Vaiṣṇavas, so that Gurudeva will once again be pleased and allow us to serve. That happened in the case of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu. Once Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu was displeased with Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu because Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu argued with Śrīla Vallabhācārya Prabhu and defeated him. On the part of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu there was no fault, but Śrīla Vallabhācārya Prabhu wanted to correct one of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu’s verses, but in that verse was no mistake. Therefore, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu argued with Śrīla Vallabhācārya Prabhu. As a disciple, he wanted to keep his Guru’s prestige. However, that was not Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu’s mood. He wanted to serve and please his Guru, but in order to serve he had to understand his Guru’s mood. Therefore, because Śrīla Vallabhācārya Prabhu was a senior Vaiṣṇava, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu wanted to give him that respect. As a result, he rejected Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu. Even though Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu had no fault in this particular incident about the verse, he still made the mistake because he not understood his Guru’s mood properly. Despite the fact that Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu didn’t want service from Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī Prabhu never gave up his shelter. Instead, he went into a solitary place in Vṛndāvana and performed bhajana to please Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu. Later Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī Prabhu came to know of the incident and wanted to solve the matter. In essence, we never have the right to reject a pure devotee, rather Kṛṣṇa already rejected us, and therefore this mentality has come about.
Sometimes, the devotee gives up his service, even Lord Brahmā or Lord Śiva wanted to serve the Lord, but out of abhimāna (pride) we don’t want to do anything. That means the Lord does not want our service, therefore, this mentality is surfacing. We do not have the right to challenge a pure devotee, his decision, his instructions, or his plans. They are independent, just like the Lord. In the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta [Madhya-līlā 10.137], Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu also said this thing to Śrīla Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya Prabhu. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said: both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and my spiritual master, Śrīla Īśvara Purī, are completely independent. Therefore, the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead nor that of Śrīla Īśvara Purī is subjected to any Vedic rules or regulations.
In the purport of the previous verse , Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions that Śrīla Īśvara Purī was so empowered that he was as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, Śrīla Īśvara Purī was the spiritual master of the whole world. He was not a servant of any mundane rule or regulation.
In conclusion, in whatever case, we always have to respect a pure devotee.
Your servant and well-wisher,