Essential Principles ''Vaisnava Etiquette'' part I
When we are associating with a sādhu, we must first qualify ourselves by following some principles or etiquettes. By doing so we may attain the mercy from Guru and Gaurāṅga. These principles are known as “vaiṣṇava etiquette”. If someone does not follow these etiquettes, Mahāprabhu and the previous ācāryas will not be pleased. Mahāprabhu Himself mentioned this to Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī in the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta [Antya-līlā 4.129-130]. It is the characteristic of a devotee to observe and protect the vaiṣṇava etiquette. Maintenance of the vaiṣṇava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee. If one transgresses the law of etiquette, people will make fun of him and thus he will be vanquished in both this world and the next.
Therefore, we have to follow these vaiṣṇava etiquettes prescribed by the previous ācāryas. Many previous ācāryas like Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī mentioned this in their books. However, we are in the Kaliyuga and we cannot follow all the principles given by the previous ācāryas. The current or present ācārya is the representative of all the previous ācāryas. According to the time, place and circumstance, they have given us some principles and we must follow all these principles. Śāstra gives us the essence of how to achieve Kṛṣṇa. The essence of śāstra comes through the paramparā and the essence of paramparā’s teachings comes through the ācārya. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [10.2.30-31] the demigods mention the same thing in their prayerful offerings to Kṛṣṇa.
In that purport Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions this process shown by the great devotees. It is not only for them but also for others. The great devotees have shown the path, they have made the process seem easy. This awards the facility for the person, for whom this path has been made easy, and also for others who follow the same principles. In the next verse, the demigods are praying – “when the ācāryas take complete shelter under Your lotus feet in order to cross the fierce ocean of nescience, they leave behind on earth the method by which they can cross this ocean, and because you are very merciful to all your devotees, you grant this method to help them.” In the purport, Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions - the ācārya gives the suitable method for crossing the ocean of nescience and that is by accepting the boat of the Lord’s lotus feet. And if this method is strictly followed, the follower will ultimately reach that destination, by the grace of the Lord.
Therefore, we have to follow the ācārya’s principles called vaiṣṇava etiquette. In human society, the etiquettes of even the civilized so-called spiritual persons are full of duplicity but the dealings among the vaiṣṇavas is based on simplicity and their natural disposition. By following the so-called human etiquette we cannot develop vaiṣṇava etiquette, rather by following vaiṣṇava etiquette we develop common human etiquettes. The so-called dealings in human society seem very welcoming; outwardly talking very nice and very attractive but inside they have enviousness and enmity. But in the vaiṣṇava society our dealings are natural, if we follow these etiquettes of common society then it is a severe offence and a great hindrance to our spiritual path.
Even if we are following vaiṣṇava etiquettes but inside some duplicitousness is there, then as a result day by day more anarthas will arise. Without following vaiṣṇava etiquette with a simple heart, there is no chance of achieving the stage of unflinching faith. So, for further clarification we will discuss some of these vaiṣṇava etiquettes;
- Before uttering Gurudeva’s name, with love and devotion, in the beginning we have to add Oṁ Viṣṇupāda to Gurudeva’s name. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura Mahārāja also mentions that one should utter Gurudeva’s name with devotion. If we don’t have devotion and faith towards the ācārya, our so-called devotion towards Kṛṣṇa is sentimental or artificial.
- We should not accept any material designation from worldly people, rather we have to present ourselves in society as kṛṣṇa-dāsa (servants of Kṛṣṇa). Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura Mahārāja said when a person has this simple unflinching faith that I am eternally kṛṣṇa-dāsa, then there is no more misery that prevails in his life.
- When we are praying, singing or glorifying, we should first glorify Gurudeva, then the vaiṣṇavas, the pañca-tattva, then finally Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. By glorifying the pure devotee, the Lord becomes far more pleased. In Ādi pūraṇa - Kṛṣṇa said to Arjuna, “My devotees’ glory is greater than My Own glories.” Although no one is more superior than Kṛṣṇa, still Kṛṣṇa gives a higher position to His pure and unalloyed devotees. Kṛṣṇa’s glories become more sweet, relishable and magnanimous for devotees. Kṛṣṇa is more glorious due to Arjuna, Draupadī, Sudāmā and the gopīs. At the same time the devotee also becomes glorious by Kṛṣṇa’s blessing. So, we have to glorify the pure devotee so that Kṛṣṇa will become pleased.
- One should not criticize or disrespect the demigods. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura Mahārāja has instructed us to pay obeisances to demigods, as they are kṛṣṇa-dāsa. In addition, one should not give any type of trouble, agitation or problems to others through body, speech or mind. Kṛṣṇa is residing in every one’s heart as the Supersoul. Even if someone is creating problems for us it’s only coming due to our past karma. Actually, this person is our friend and he is helping us, he is the carrier of our past karma. But in the conditioned stage to tolerate everything is not at all easy. We don’t want to create any new karma. For that reason, once again, we would have to enter into another body according to our karma. Therefore, we have to give respect to everyone, even to small creatures.
- If someone is wearing tulasī mālā and putting tilak on his forehead we have to pay obeisances to such a person. Even if he is from some different sampradāya or he is not a pure devotee still we have to pay respect because he is putting tilaka. Even Kṛṣṇa personally told Uddhava in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [11.29.15], regarding the ridicule of one’s companions. One should give up the bodily conception and it’s accompanying embarrassment. One should offer obeisance before all, even the dogs, outcastes, cows and asses - falling flat upon the ground like a rod. Until one has fully developed the ability to see Me within all living beings, one must continue to worship Me by this process with the activities of his speech, mind and body.
- If some vaiṣṇava is coming to see us from far we have to go as near-by as possible and pay obeisances and welcome him. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī mentions in Bhakti Sandarbha [135 anucheda] - if someone sees a vaiṣṇava and is not welcoming him, then Kṛṣṇa will not accept his service for twelve years. By seeing a vaiṣṇava, if someone does not feel happy this is also among one of the vaiṣṇava aparādhas. Someone may ask this question, “if we see the faults of some vaiṣṇava, how is it possible to give respect?” Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura mentions this clearly in his commentary of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [7.7.30], that is even mentioned by Śrīla Prabhupāda in his purport. “A saintly person must be saintly in his behaviour. Unless one adheres to this standard of behaviour, one’s position as a sādhu is not complete.” Therefore, a vaiṣṇava sādhu must completely adhere to the standard of behaviour. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that a vaiṣṇava, a person initiated into the vaiṣṇava culture, should be offered the respect that is befitting a vaiṣṇava. Which means that he should be offered services and prayers. However, one should not associate with him if he is not a fit person with whom one should associate. Gurudeva used to say, pay obeisance and keep distance.
In next article, we will discuss some more topics about vaiṣṇava etiquette.
Your servant and well-wisher,