[This article was translated and published in English for the first time in Rays of The Harmonist Karttika 2009 issued by the Rays of The Harmonist team. To download a PDF of the Karttika 2009 issue of Rays of The Harmonist, click here. To download other issues of Rays of The Harmonist, click here.]
Criticizing a Vaisnava
By Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
The Result of Blaspheming a Vaisnava
Among all the different types of offences a jiva (living being) can possibly commit, no offence is more severe than blaspheming a Vaisnava. It is therefore essential to contemplate the meaning of vaisnava-ninda according to the scriptures. It is written in the Skanda Purana:
nindam kurvanti ye mudha
patanti pitrbhih sardham
hanti nindati vai dvesti
krudhyate yati no harsam
darsane patanani sat
That foolish person who criticizes an exalted Vaisnava falls down to the hell known as Maharaurava, along with his forefathers. Whoever (1) kills a Vaisnava, (2) blasphemes him, (3) feels malice toward him, (4) does not properly greet him upon seeing him, (5) becomes angry with him or (6) does not feel joy upon seeing him, certainly becomes degraded as a result of these six types of misconduct.
It is written in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.74.40):
nindam bhagavatah srnvams
tat-parasya janasya va
tato napaiti yah so ’pi
yaty adhah sukrtac cyutah
A person who does not promptly leave that place where blasphemy of Bhagavan or His dedicated devotee, the Vaisnava, is perpetrated, becomes bereft of all his previously accumulated spiritual merit (sukrti) and meets with degradation.
Different Categories of Jivas and Appropriate Conduct with Each
Having thus been forewarned about vaisnava-ninda, it is absolutely imperative to first ascertain what specifically designates one a Vaisnava, and then determine which acts result in vaisnava-aparadha (offences to Vaisnavas). All jivas fit into one of four categories: (1) ordinary jivas; (2) religious jivas; (3) brahmanas and those jivas who resemble Vaisnavas (vaisnavapraya jivas); and (4) vaisnava-jivas.
With the wisdom that Sri Krsna resides in the heart of all jivas, one should honour every living being. A deeper respect should naturally be shown to the religious jiva, and, beyond this, it is imperative to feel even deeper honour for the brahmana-jiva and the vaisnava-praya jiva. But above all, it is enjoined that one must worship and serve the lotus feet of a vaisnava-jiva.
If one fails to offer respect to the common jiva, special respect to the religious jiva, and befitting honour to the brahmana and vaisnava-praya jivas, then one incurs sin (papa). However, to disrespect or dishonour a vaisnava-jiva is actually an aparadha (an offence against divinity). There is no form of sin that cannot be destroyed by performing ordinary penances,but an aparadha committed against a Vaisnava is not easily eradicated. Sins affect the gross and subtle material bodies, whereas an aparadha specifically affects the jiva’s quest to establish himself in his constitutional position as a pure spirit soul, causing him to fall from his path. Therefore, those who wish to perform loving worship of the Supreme Lord (bhagavad-bhajana) must diligently protect themselves from committing aparadha.
Three Types of Vaisnavas According to Srimad-Bhagavatam:
Kanistha, Madhyama and Uttama
In Srimad-Bhagavatam, three specific categories of Vaisnavas are described in the following three verses:
- The neophyte, or kanistha, Vaisnava –
arcayam eva haraye
pujam yah sraddhayehate
na tad-bhaktesu canyesu
sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah
He who engages in worshipping the deity as Bhagavan Sri Hari, with ordinary faith received through some lineage of worldly teachers, but who does not engage in worshipping Sri Hari’s devotees, is a kanistha Vaisnava, or neophyte Vaisnava. In other words, he is just beginning to enter into understanding the science of bhakti.
The specific difference between worldly, traditional faith and faith based on the revealed scriptures (sastriya-sraddha) is that the former arises from mere conventional, worldly education, whereas in the latter, namely sastriya-sraddha, faith in the Vaisnavas arises from deep conviction in the words of the scriptures and is based on the evidence presented therein. It is only with the advent of sastriya-sraddha that the jiva becomes a madhyama Vaisnava, or intermediate Vaisnava.
Until sastriya-sraddha has arisen, the obligation of a sadhaka (a devotee in the stage of practice) to perform karma does not wane. In this regard, Sriman Mahaprabhu has said:
suddha-vaisnava nahe, kintu vaisnavera praya
Such persons are not pure Vaisnavas, but they resemble Vaisnavas.
Solely by genuine association with true Vaisnavas, the kanistha Vaisnava, who is a vaisnava-praya jiva, can become a suddha Vaisnava (pure Vaisnava).
- The intermediate, or madhyama, Vaisnava –
balisesu dvisatsu ca
yah karoti sa madhyamah
He who offers his love to the Supreme Lord, Sri Bhagavan; remains a sincere friend to all Vaisnavas; shows mercy to the innocent*; and, through the most appropriate use of indifference, tolerance or even complete avoidance, neglects those who are envious of Bhagavan and the Vaisnavas, is a madhyama Vaisnava.
* This refers to the vaisnava-praya jivas, or those living entities who resemble Vaisnavas but are not yet conversant with the
science of bhakti.
In this way, the madhyama Vaisnava even shows fitting mercy to the envious, seeing them as ignorant. Only the madhyama Vaisnava is actually qualified to serve the Vaisnavas.
Since the kanistha Vaisnavas do not engage in such service, they cannot be called Vaisnavas; rather, they are known as vaisnava-praya (those who resemble Vaisnavas).
- The topmost, or uttama, Vaisnava –
sarva-bhutesu yah pasyed
bhutani bhagavaty atmanyesa
He who experiences the revelation of his own cherished form of Bhagavan in the hearts of all jivas, including his own; who experiences that all jivas, their very existence resting in Bhagavan, are fully surrendered to that same Supreme Absolute Reality; and who perceives everyone in the whole world as a Vaisnava, is known as an uttama Vaisnava (topmost Vaisnava). Such a Vaisnava does not see the difference between a Vaisnava and a non-Vaisnava.
Three Classifications of Vaisnavas
According to the Teachings of Sriman Mahaprabhu:
Vaisnava, Vaisnava-tara and Vaisnava-tama
The only conclusion to be drawn then is that when those who were in the kanistha stage attain faith in the scriptures (sastriya-sraddha) and hence become eligible to serve the Vaisnavas, they are thereafter described simply as vaisnava (having vaisnava qualities) until the time when they attain the other qualities characteristic of a madhyama Vaisnava. Correspondingly, madhyama Vaisnavas are described as vaisnava-tara (having vaisnava qualities to a profound degree) while uttama Vaisnavas alone, the topmost Vaisnavas, are described as vaisnava-tama (having vaisnava qualities to the superlative degree).
* The word vaisnava is here being used as an adjective, as in “having vaisnava qualities”, and the affixes tara and tama modify that adjective to the intensified and superlative degrees respectively.
It is necessary to deliberate upon the way in which Sriman Mahaprabhu introduces us to these three types of Vaisnavas:
- One who is vaisnava –
“ataeva yanra mukhe eka krsna-nama
sei ta’ vaisnava, kariha tanhara sammana”
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (15.111)
One who chants the name of Krsna* even once is vaisnava (possessed of vaisnava qualities). Therefore, you should show all respect to him.
* In this article the term krsna-nama, or “the holy name of Krsna”, refers to suddha-nama – as distinct from nama-aparadha (offensive chanting of the holy name) and nama-abhasa (a semblance of chanting the holy name). Suddha-nama is directly Krsna Himself in the absolutely pure, transcendental form of His holy name.
- One who is vaisnava-tara –
‘krsna’-nama nirantara yanhara vadane
sei se vaisnavatara, bhaja tanhara carane
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (16.72)
One who incessantly chants Krsna’s name is vaisnava-tara (possessed of vaisnava qualities to a profound degree) and one should render service to his lotus feet.
- One who is vaisnava-tama –
yanhara darsane mukhe aise krsna-nama
tanhare janiha tumi ‘vaisnava-pradhana’
krama kari’ kahe prabhu ‘vaisnava’-laksana-
‘vaisnava’, ‘vaisnavatara’, ara ‘vaisnavatama’
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (16.74–75)
One who inspires others to chant krsna-nama merely by being visible to them is vaisnava-tama (possessed of vaisnava qualities to the superlative degree) and is the topmost Vaisnava.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu thus explained the different grades of Vaisnavas in sequence – those who are vaisnava, those who are vaisnava-tara and those who are vaisnava-tama – in accordance with the symptoms they each exhibit.
According to these teachings of Sriman Mahaprabhu, one who merely utters krsna-nama is eligible to be described as a Vaisnava. Among the kanistha bhaktas, those who are described as vaisnavapraya (resembling Vaisnavas), or else vaisnava-abhasa (the semblance of a Vaisnava) only chant namabhasa (a semblance of the holy name). They do not chant suddhanama (the absolutely pure holy name). However, those who are, in fact, able to chant suddha-nama, even once, have vaisnava qualities and are suddha Vaisnavas; those who incessantly chant suddha-nama are vaisnava-tara (possessed of Vaisnava qualities to a profound degree); and those who cause others to chant krsna-nama merely by being visible to them, are vaisnava-tama (possessed of Vaisnava qualities to the superlative degree).
One who chants suddha-krsna-nama
even once is indeed a Vaisnava
& Diksa (initiation) is unnecessary in terms of
the existential reality (tattva) of sri näma
At this point, one more thing needs to be considered. Becoming a suddha Vaisnava does not depend on the process of taking diksa (ceremonial initiation). Diksa is the process whereby a person receives a mantra for the worship of Sri Hari’s deity form, and thus comes at least to the stage of vaisnava-praya.
In terms of the existential reality of the holy name (nama-tattva), such diksa is unnecessary. As Sriman Mahaprabhu has said:
prabhu kahe,—“yanra mukhe suni eka-bara
krsna-nama, sei pujya,—srestha sabakara”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu answered, “He from whose mouth krsna-nama is heard even once is worshipful and is the best among human beings.”
eka krsna-name kare sarva-papa ksaya
nava-vidha bhakti purna nama haite haya
Even uttering Krsna’s name a single time destroys all of one’s sins. The nine-fold process of devotional service (navadha-bhakti) attains completeness only through nama.
diksa-purascarya-vidhi apeksa na kare
jihva-sparse a-candala sabare uddhare
One is not required to undergo the process of receiving diksa or any preparatory regulative rites in order to chant krsna-nama. Simply by coming in contact with the tongue, krsna-nama delivers everyone, including even the most degraded class of men.
anusanga-phale kare samsarera ksaya
citta akarsiya karaya krsne premodaya
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (15.106–109)
As a secondary result of chanting krsna-nama, one’s material entanglement is terminated. The primary result is that the mind and heart of the chanter become uncontrollably drawn to Krsna and finally krsna-prema awakens in his heart.
ataeva yanra mukhe eka krsna-nama
sei ta’ vaisnava, kariha tanhara sammana
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (15.111)
One who even chants Krsna’s name a single time is described as a Vaisnava; therefore you should show him utmost respect.
The Difference Between Sri Nama and Namabhasa
& Those who Chant Namabhasa are not Vaisnavas
The difference between nama and namabhasa is not the topic of our present deliberation. This shall be discussed specifically at another time. Herein, this much can be said: when krsna-nama is chanted with sastriya-sraddha (faith in scripture), that is, with unalloyed surrender, then it is nama. When nama is chanted with desires unrelated to making Krsna happy (anyabhilasita), or when it is eclipsed by jnana (dry, impersonal knowledge), karma (reward seeking action), vairagya (renunciation born of aversion) and so forth, it is namabhasa.
Although the chanting of namabhasa can award any result, even up to emancipation from the material energy (mukti), the Vaisnava only chants suddha-nama and is never inclined to chant any form of namabhasa.
When nama is chanted by one who has knowledge of His actual svarupa, who understands that nama and nami (the name and the named) are non-different, and who has realized that nama only makes His appearance upon the pure transcendental senses of the jiva, only then is it nama.
When that nama appears on someone’s tongue, even once, he becomes a Vaisnava. By the time nama appears, all of one’s fructified (prarabdha) and unfructified (aprarabdha) sins are destroyed. And along with the awakening of such nama comes love of Godhead.
The Vaisnava who chants suddha-nama
is endowed with all good qualities,
is free of sins and has no interest
in pious or impious activities
A Vaisnava is naturally endowed with all good characteristics and is devoid of all vice. It is stated in Sri Caitanyacaritamrta:
sarva maha-guna-gana vaisnava-sarire
krsna-bhakte krsnera guna sakali sancare
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (22.75)
All exalted virtues reside in the body of a Vaisnava. All the transcendental qualities of Krsna are transmitted to His bhakta.
vidhi-dharma chadi’ bhaje krsnera carana
nisiddha papacare tara kabhu nahe mana
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (22.142)
A Vaisnava exclusively worships Sri Krsna’s lotus feet, so even though he casts aside the regulative principles and conduct prescribed for the discharge of varnasrama-dharma (righteous societal duty), his mind is never tainted by the inclination to engage in prohibited, sinful activities.
ajnane va haya yadi ‘papa’ upasthita
krsna tanre suddha kare, na karaya prayascitta
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (22.143)
If, however, a Vaisnava somehow unknowingly becomes implicated in sinful activity, Krsna does not make him undergo the ordained method of atonement, but personally purifies him instead.
jnana-vairagyadi—bhaktira kabhu nahe ‘anga’
ahimsa-yama-niyamadi bule krsna-bhakta-sanga
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (22.145)
Never mistake the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation as limbs of bhakti in their own right, for all good qualities such as gentleness, control over the mind and senses, and appropriate renunciation automatically accompany the krsna-bhaktas.
‘stri-sangi’—eka asadhu, ‘krsnabhakta’ ara
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (22.87)
To discard the company of those who diminish one’s resolve in krsna-bhakti (asat-sanga) is truly the natural conduct of a Vaisnava. And the most detrimental association of all is those who enjoy the company of women and the non-devotees.
The day krsna-nama appears on someone’s tongue, even a single time, he will lose all taste for sinful activities. What to speak of taste for sinful activities, he will even lose interest in pious activities.
All three classifications of Vaisnavas – namely those who are vaisnava, those who are vaisnava-tara and those who are vaisnava-tama – are devoid of any form of material contamination, flawless and without sin. If it is observed, however, that a person is actually inclined toward sinful activities, then he is not to be counted among the Vaisnavas. Even the kanisthavaisnavas* have no inclination for pious or impious activities.
* Also known as vaisnava-praya
Wicked people see faults in a Vaisnava in three ways
Pure Vaisnavas have no faults and are therefore above criticism. But those who do criticize them just blame them and vilify them wrongly. Such wicked persons hatefully criticize the Vaisnavas in the following three ways:
(1) They criticize all the faults that existed in a person before suddha-bhakti manifested in him. In actual fact, as soon as bhakti appears in one’s heart, all of one’s faults begin to quickly disappear.
(2) During the period of time in which any untoward propensities are being destroyed within the Vaisnava’s heart, wicked people take the opportunity to criticize him for any faults that may still remain in him.
(3) Although an exalted Vaisnava is never inclined toward faulty behaviour, sometimes, due to divine providence, some unwarranted conduct may be observed in him. Though such faulty behaviour can never remain a permanent habit in the Vaisnava, wicked people still criticize him for it.
In this way, these heartless people lead themselves to their own doom by committing the wicked deed of blaspheming a Vaisnava. Therefore, in the book Namatattva-ratnamala, it is said:
prag bhakterudyaddosah ksayavasista eva ca
daivotpannasca bhaktanam naivalocyah kadacana
saduddesyamrte yastu mrsapavadameva ca
dosanalocayatyeva sa sadhu-nindakohadhamah
One should never reflect upon the faults of a bhakta – namely, those that were present in him before bhakti awakened in him, those that temporarily remain during the time when his heart is purified through his practice of bhakti, and those that may appear in him accidentally due to providence. One who reflects upon any of these faults, not with a good-hearted purpose but rather with slanderous intent, is a blasphemer of saints and is extremely degraded.
Criticism of a Vaisnava’s previous faults is abominable
O readers, any faults that were present in a Vaisnava before the onset of bhakti should never be reflected upon, unless there is some good-hearted purpose in doing so. A Vaisnava should not be criticized for the insignificant remnants of his previous faults. This is why Sri Krsna has said in Srimad Bhagavad-gita (9.30–31):
api cet suduracaro
bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah
ksipram bhavati dharmatma
na me bhaktah pranasyati
Even a man of abominable character who engages in loving service performed with one-pointed dedication (ananya-bhajana) to Me is still to be considered a saint due to being rightly situated in bhakti. He quickly becomes virtuous and attains eternal peace. O Kaunteya, declare it boldly that My bhakta never perishes.
It is offensive to criticize a Vaisnava for his waning faults
or for any fault that appears by providence
By the influence of bhakti all the extremely abominable kinds of behaviour that may have existed in one’s heart before the awakening of bhakti and have gradually become one’s acquired nature (nisarga) diminish day by day and are finally destroyed within a very short time. Therefore, criticizing a Vaisnava without a virtuous motive, because of the presence of such waning faults, results in vaisnava-aparadha. Even if one observes some accidental fault in a Vaisnava that occurs due to divine providence, one should still not criticize him. In this context, Sage Karabhajana has said:
sva-pada-mulam bhajatah priyasya
tyaktany abhavasya harih paresah
vikarma yac cotpatitam kathancid
dhunoti sarvam hrdi sannivistah
That person who engages in exclusive bhajana of the lotus feet of Sri Bhagavan, having left all else, is most dear to Him. Even if the tendency to engage in some sinful, forbidden act somehow appears in his heart, Paramesvara Sri Hari, who resides directly within his heart, not only destroys those tendencies but also removes any reaction that would have come as a result of having committed some sin.
The underlying principle is that wrongly blaming and criticizing a Vaisnava for any of the faults just mentioned, which fit into three categories, leads to nama-aparadha, offences against the holy name. If one commits nama aparadha, a sphurti (divine revelation) of nama will never take place, and without such sphurtis it is not possible to become a Vaisnava.
The faults of others can be deliberated upon if one has a virtuous motive
At this point, an opposing argument may arise: would it be appropriate to deliberate on a fault found in a Vaisnava that is not counted among the three types of faults just mentioned? The answer is that no fault other than these three types can exist in a Vaisnava. If someone has faults that do not fit into one of these three types, then, according to the revealed scriptures, they cannot be called Vaisnavas.
We should consider that, without the right motive, it is inappropriate to reflect, even impartially, upon the faults of any living being, what to speak of Vaisnavas. To blaspheme Vaisnavas is an offence, but even blaspheming other jivas is a sin. Vaisnavas have no interest in performing such a sinful act.
However, provided one has the right motive, the scriptures have not condemned a careful critique of someone’s faults.
Proper motive is of three types:
- desiring the welfare of the person criticized,
- desiring the welfare of the world
- and desiring one’s own welfare
There are three types of proper motive:
(1) If the intention in analyzing someone’s sins is to ensure that he attains his ultimate welfare, then such reflection is auspicious.
(2) If the motive behind reflecting on someone’s sins is to benefit the whole world, then this is to be counted as an auspicious act.
(3) If such reflection is undertaken for one’s own spiritual welfare, then it too, is auspicious. There is no fault in such reflection.
When one reflects upon the historical accounts of personalities like Valmiki or Jagai and Madhai in light of one or more of these three virtuous motives, then such reflection is never the cause of incurring sin. When a disciple humbly asks his spiritual master to instruct him on how to identify a Vaisnava, the spiritual master, desiring the welfare of his disciple and of the whole world, explains that those who exhibit unholy behaviour are non-Vaisnavas. He thus points out how to identify true Vaisnavas through antithesis.
With the motive of encouraging one to accept the shelter of the lotus feet of a true Vaisnava by abandoning false, so-called preachers of religion, one neither risks committing blasphemy of saints (sadhu-ninda) nor vaisnava-aparadha (offence to Vaisnavas). In such cases, even criticism directed at a specific person is free from fault. These are all examples of criticizing with the proper motive.
To Abandon Bad Association and to Accept Association of Devotees
O readers, you must all contemplate this profound subject with the utmost care. As an irrevocably established principle, you must offer all respect to true Vaisnavas and invariably abandon the association of non-devotees. If one criticizes the true Vaisnavas, the existential reality of the holy name will not manifest in one’s heart. Thus the instruction has been given in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.26.27):
tato duhsangam utsrjya satsu sajjeta buddhiman
santa evasya chindanti mano-vyasangam uktibhih
For all these reasons, intelligent people reject detrimental association and associate instead with saintly persons. This is because saintly personalities, with their powerful and virtuous instructions, cut unholy, material attachments from the heart and thus dispel all the distress they cause.
It is only possible for a madhyama-adhikari to serve saintly persons
& unrighteous activity is Corrupting
You should not think that by serving a non-devotee, considering him to be a saint, you will get the benefit serving a true saint. The reason the madhyama Vaisnava, as mentioned before, is the only one who is able to truly serve saints, is because the kanistha Vaisnava (neophyte) is not yet inclined toward serving saints, while the uttama Vaisnava (topmost Vaisnava) does not see the difference between a saintly man and an unsaintly one.
O readers! You are madhyama Vaisnavas, and are therefore duty-bound to search out and identify a saint and then befriend him. It is also your duty to shower mercy upon those who are non-devotees, or in some cases, neglect them. You will be at fault if you abandon your own adhikara (rightful position).
The instruction of Srimad-Bhagavatam in regard to vice and virtue is this:
sve sve’dhikare ya nistha
sa gunah parikirtitah
viparyayas tu dosah syad
ubhayor esa niscayah
Steadfastness in carrying out the duties of one’s own, rightful position is declared to be a good quality, whereas deviation from the duties of one’s position is considered a fault. In this way, the two are clearly ascertained.
Even if you unintentionally fall into bad association, you will become an offender to bhakti. As said in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.23.55):
sango yah samsrter hetur
sa eva sadhusu krto
Even if someone falls into ungodly association due to his ignorance, such association still leads to degradation. But in the same way, even if someone finds himself in the association of saintly persons accidentally, such saintly association very easily leads him away from bad association and cuts his worldly attachment.
The uttama-bhaktas’ glory of seeing everyone as saints is proclaimed in holy books such as Bhakta-mala and Prapannamrta. However, such conduct should never be imitated by a madhyama Vaisnava. For a madhyama Vaisnava, such behaviour would lead to the fault known as anadhikara-cesta – not acting in accordance with one’s eligibility, or position – and he would rapidly become degraded as a consequence.
May the suddha-bhaktas mercifully deem our discussion of all these subjects to have been properly motivated.
Translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika, Year 7, Issue 10
in Rays of The Harmonist, Kartika Issue, 2009.