In a forest bordering the south-eastern bank of the sacred pond known as Sri Gora-hrada, there were some Vaisnavas living in a secluded grove. One afternoon, the Vaisnavas of that place invited the Vaisnavas of Godruma to join them for afternoon prasada. After honoring prasada, the Vaisnavas sat together in the grove. At that time, Lahiri Mahasaya sang a bhajana that awakened ecstatic love of Vraja in everyone’s hearts.
(gaura!) kata lila karile ekhane
advaitadi bhakta-sange nacile e vane range
e hrada haite prabhu, nistarile nakra prabhu
krsna yena kaliya-damane
Oh, think of the many pastimes Gaura performed here! Hedanced and
sported in this forest grove in the company ofAdvaita and other Vaisnavas.
Just as Sri Krsna tamed Kaliyanaga,so our Prabhu delivered a crocodile
from this pondwith His sankirtana, which became known as kaliya-damana
When the bhajana was over, the Vaisnavas began to discuss the unity of gaura-lila and krsna-lila. While they were doing so, a few Vaisnavas from Baragachi arrived and offered dandavat-pranama, first to Gora-hrada and then to the Vaisnavas. The Vaisnavas in the grove offered suitable respects to the newcomers and seated them.
In that secluded kunja was an ancient banyan tree, around whose base the Vaisnavas had constructed a circular, mortared terrace. Everyone honored the tree as Nitai-vata (Nityananda Prabhu’s banyan tree), for He would enjoy sitting beneath it. The Vaisnavas now sat beneath this Nitai-vata, and began discussing spiritual matters. A young, inquisitive Vaisnava in the group from Baragachi said very humbly, “I would like to ask a question, and I will be most satisfied if one of you will please answer it.”
Haridasa Babaji Mahasaya, a resident of that secluded kunja, was a wise and deeply learned scholar. He was almost a hundred years old. He had personally seen Nityananda Prabhu sitting beneath that banyan tree many years before, and his heart’s desire was to depart from this world at this very spot. When he heard the youth’s words, he said, “My son, while Paramahamsa Babaji’s entourage is sitting here, you need have no anxiety about receiving a reply to your question.”
The young Vaisnava from Baragachi then enquired very humbly, “I understand that vaisnava-dharma is eternal religion, and I would like to know in detail how one who has taken shelter of vaisnava-dharma should behave with others.”
Having heard the newcomer’s question, Haridasa Babaji Mahasaya glanced over at Sri Vaisnava dasa Babaji and said, “Vaisnava dasa, there is no scholar in Bengal at the present time
who is equal to you, and you are also a superlative Vaisnava. You had the association of Srila Prakasananda Sarasvati Gosvami, and you have received instruction from Paramahamsa Babaji. You are a very fortunate recipient of Sriman Mahaprabhu’s mercy, and you are therefore most fit to answer this question.”
Vaisnava dasa Babaji Mahasaya said humbly, “O great soul, you have seen Sriman Nityananda Prabhu, who is an avatara of Baladeva Himself, and your instructions have enabled countless people to enter the spiritual path. I would deem it a great mercy if you will instruct us today.”
All the other Vaisnavas agreed with Vaisnava dasa Babaji. Seeing no other recourse, Babaji Mahasaya finally relented. He offered dandavat-pranama to Sri Nityananda Prabhu at the foot of the banyan tree and began to speak.
Babaji: I offer pranama to all the jivas of this world, considering them to be servants of Krsna. “Everyone is a servant of Sri Krsna, although some accept this, and some do not.” Although everyone is by nature a servant of Sri Krsna, due to ignorance or illusion, some souls do not accept this. They form one group. Another group consists of those who do accept their natural identity as servants of Sri Krsna. Consequently, there are two kinds of people in this world: krsna-bahirmukha, those who are diverted from Krsna; and krsna-unmukha, those who are attentive to Krsna.
Most people in this world are diverted from Krsna and do not accept dharma. There is nothing much to say about the first group. They have no sense of what is to be done and what is not to be done, and their entire existence is based upon selfish happiness.
People who accept some moral principles have a sense of duty. For them the great Vaisnava, Manu, has written:
dhrtih ksama damo ‘steyam saucam indriya-nigrahah
dhir vidya satyam akrodho dasakam dharma-laksanam
Sri Manu-samhita (6.92)
There are ten characteristics of religious life: dhrti (determination with patience); ksama (forgiveness), which means not retaliating when wronged by others; dama (control of
the mind), which means equanimity even in the face of unsettling circumstances; asteya (abstinence from theft); saucam (cleanliness); indriya-nigrahah (restraining the senses from their sense objects); dhi (intelligence), which means knowledge of the sastra; vidya (wisdom), which means realization of the soul; satya (truthfulness); and akrodha (absence of anger), as demonstrated by even temperedness amidst irritating circumstances.
Six of these characteristic – determination, control of the mind, cleanliness, restraint of the senses, knowledge of the sastra, and wisdom – are duties to one’s own self. The remaining four – forgiveness, abstinence from stealing, truthfulness, and absence of anger – are duties to others. These ten religious duties have been prescribed for people in general, but none of them clearly indicate hari-bhajana. Furthermore, one will not necessarily attain complete success in life simply by carrying out these duties faithfully. This is confirmed in the Visnu-dharmottara Purana:
jivitam visnu-bhaktasya varam panca-dinani ca
na tu kalpa-sahasrani bhakti-hinasya kesave
quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa (10.317)
It is most auspicious to live in this world, even for five days, as a bhakta of
Sri Visnu, whereas it is not at all auspicious to live in this world for thousands
of kalpas without bhakti for Sri Kesava.
A person bereft of krsna-bhakti is not fit to be called a human
being, therefore sastra counts such people among the two-legged
animals. Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.19) states:
sva-vid-varahostra-kharaih samstutah purusah pasuh
na yat karna-pathopeto jatu nama gadagrajah
Only men who are like dogs, hogs, camels and asses praisethose who
never hear the holy name of Sri Krsna, the elder brother of Gada.
If a person never allows sri-krsna-nama to enter his ears, he is like an animal. In fact, he is more degraded than hogs that eat stool and other rejected substances, camels that wander in the desert of samsara eating cactus, and asses that carry heavy loads for others, and are always harassed by the she-ass. However, the question raised today was not about what such unfortunate people should or should not do. It was only about how those who have taken shelter of the path of bhakti should behave with others.
Those who have adopted the path of bhakti may be divided into three categories: kanistha (neophyte), madhyama (intermediate), and uttama (topmost). Kanisthas are those who have embarked upon the path of bhakti, but are not yet true bhaktas. Their symptoms are described as follows:
arcayam eva haraye pujam yah sraddhayehate
na tad-bhaktesu canyesu sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah
One who faithfully worships the Deity form of Sri Hari, but does not render
service to His bhaktas or to other living beings, is a prakrta-bhakta,a
Thus it is established that sraddha is the bija, or seed of bhakti. One’s bhakti is only effective when he worships Bhagavan with sraddha, and it is still not suddha-bhakti unless he worships the bhaktas as well. Bhakti does not develop thoroughly as long as he fails to do so. This type of bhakta has barely entered the doorway of the practice of bhakti. It is said in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.84.13):
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat tirtha-buddhih salile na karhicij
janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah
One who considers this corpse-like body, comprised of the three elements
vata, pita, and kapha, to be his real self; who regards his wife, children,
and others as his very own; who considers mundane forms made of earth,
stone, or wood to be worshipable; and who regards mere water to be a place
of pilgrimage – but who does not consider the bhagavad-bhaktas to be more
dear than his very self, to be his very own, to be worshipable, and to be places
of pilgrimage; such a person, though human, is no better than an ass among animals.
The purport of these two slokas is that one cannot even approach the threshold of bhakti without worshiping Bhagavan in the form of the Deity. If one rejects the Deity form and resorts to logical debate alone to deduce the truth, his heart becomes dry and he cannot ascertain the true object of worship. Yet even when one accepts the Deity, it is essential to serve Him in transcendental consciousness (suddha-cinmaya-buddhi). In this world the jivas are cinmaya vastu, conscious entities, and among all the jivas, the bhaktas of Krsna are suddha-cinmaya, endowed with pure consciousness. Krsna and the bhaktas are both suddha-cinmaya-vastu (pure conscious entities), and in order to understand them, it is essential to have sambandhajnana, which is knowledge of the interrelationship between the material world, the jivas, and Krsna. If one is to worship the Deity with sambandha-jnana, then one must worship Krsna and serve the bhaktas at the same time. This type of adoration and respect for cinmaya-tattva, the transcendental reality, which is endowed with sraddha, is known as sastriya sraddha, faith based on sastra.
Worship of the Deity that lacks this unequivocal knowledge of the interrelationship between the different aspects of the transcendental reality is simply founded on laukika sraddha, customary or traditional regard. Such customary worship of the Deity is not suddha-bhakti, although it is the first step in approaching the entrance to bhakti; this is the conclusion of sastra. Those who have reached this threshold of bhakti have been described as follows:
grhita-visnu-diksako visnu-puja-paro narah
vaisnavo ‘bhihito ‘bhijnair itaro ‘smad avaisnavah
Learned scholars have determined that a Vaisnava is one who is initiated into
a Visnu mantra in accordance with the regulations of sastra, and who is engaged
in the worship of Sri Visnu. All others are known as non-Vaisnavas.
Kanistha Vaisnavas, or prakrta-bhaktas, are those who accept a family priest out of hereditary tradition, or who are prompted by laukika sraddha (wordly faith) to imitate others by taking initiation into a Visnu mantra and worshiping the Deity of Sri Visnu. Such materialistic devotees are not suddha-bhaktas; rather, a shadow-like semblance of bhakti called chaya-bhakty-abhasa is prominent in them. However, they do not have pratibimba-bhakty-abhasa, which is a reflective semblance of bhakti. This pratibimba-bhaktyabhasa is offensive in nature and is devoid of Vaisnavism. The stage of chaya-bhakty-abhasa is the result of great fortune, because it is
the preliminary stage of bhakti, and people can gradually develop from it into madhyama and uttama Vaisnavas. Still, those at the stage of chaya-bhakty-abhasa cannot be called suddha bhaktas. Such people worship the Deity with laukika sraddha (worldly faith). They can only behave towards others according to the ten types of religious duties that I have already described for people in general. The behavior that the sastras prescribe for bhaktas does not apply to them, for they cannot even ascertain who is a true bhakta and who is not. That power to discriminate is a symptom of the madhyama Vaisnava.
Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.46) describes the behavior of the
madhyama Vaisnava as follows:
isvare tad-adhinesu balisesu dvisatsu ca
prema-maitri-krpopeksa yah karoti sa madhyamah
A madhyama-bhagavata is one who loves Isvara, is friendly towards His
bhaktas, shows mercy towards those who are ignorant of bhakti, and neglects
those who are inimical to Isvara or His bhaktas.
The behavior being described here is classified in the realm of nitya-dharma. I am not referring here to naimittika-dharma (temporary religious or worldly duties). The behavior that I am describing is part of nitya-dharma, and it is essential in the life of a Vaisnava. Other types of behavior that are not opposed to this behavior may be accepted where necessary.
A Vaisnava’s behavior is directed towards four categories of individuals: isvara, the Supreme Lord; tad-adhina, His bhaktas; balisa, materialistic people who are ignorant of spiritual truth; and dvesi, those who are opposed to bhakti. A Vaisnava shows love, friendship, mercy, and neglect respectively to these four kinds of individuals. In other words, he behaves lovingly towards Isvara, with friendship towards the bhaktas, and mercifully towards the ignorant; he neglects those who are inimical.
The first characteristic of a madhyama Vaisnava is that he has prema for Sri Krsna, who is the Supreme Lord of all. The word prema here refers to suddha-bhakti, whose symptoms have been described as follows in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.1.11):
anukulyena krsnanusilanam bhaktir uttama
Uttama-bhakti is the consummate endeavor to serve Sri Krsna in a favorable
mood. It is free from any other desire, and it is not covered by knowledge of
impersonal brahma, by the daily and periodic duties outlined in the smrt -sastras,
or by renunciation, yoga, sankhya, and other types of dharma.
Bhakti that is imbued with such characteristics is first found in the sadhana practices of a madhyama Vaisnava, and it extends up to the stages of bhava and prema. The only characteristic in the bhakti of the kanistha is that of service to the Deity with faith. Such a person does not have the characteristics of uttama-bhakti, namely: anyabhilasita-sunya, freedom from ulterior desires; jnana-karmadyanavrta, freedom from the coverings of impersonal knowledge and fruitive action; and anukulyena krsnanusilana, consummate endeavours to serve Krsna in a favorable mood.
A kanistha is considered to have become a madhyama Vaisnava and a genuine bhakta when bhakti with these symptoms manifests in his heart. Prior to this stage, he is a prakrta-bhakta, which means that he is only a semblance of a bhakta (bhakta-abhasa), or a semblance
of a Vaisnava (vaisnava-abhasa). The word krsnanusilana refers to prema, love for Krsna, and it is qualified by the word anukulyena. This refers to those things that are favorable to krsnaprema,
namely, friendship with the bhaktas, mercy towards the ignorant, and neglect of those who are inimical. These three items are also symptoms of a madhyama Vaisnava.
The second characteristic of a madhyama Vaisnava is his friendship towards bhaktas, in whose hearts suddha-bhakti has appeared, and who are submissive to Bhagavan’s will. Kanistha bhaktas are not suddha-bhaktas fully submissive to Bhagavan, and they do not offer respect or hospitality to suddha-bhaktas. Therefore, madhyama and uttama-bhaktas are the only suitable people with whom to develop intimate friendships.
In three successive years the bhaktas of Kulina-grama asked Sriman Mahaprabhu, “What is a Vaisnava and what are the symptoms by which he can be recognized?” Sri Mahaprabhu replied by instructing them about uttama, madhyama, and kanistha Vaisnavas. Now, according to the characteristics of His description, all three of those classes – as He described them – meet the standards that I have defined for madhyama and uttama Vaisnavas. None of them correspond to the kanistha bhaktas who are only capable of worshiping the Deity form, because they do not utter suddha-krsnanama. Their chanting is known as chaya-namabhasa. Chayanamabhasa
refers to a semblance of the pure name obscured by ignorance and anarthas, like the sun covered by clouds, which does not manifest its full brilliance.
Mahaprabhu instructed madhyama-adhikari grhastha Vaisnavas to serve the three kinds of Vaisnavas, which He described as follows: one from whose mouth krsna-nama is heard even once; one from whose mouth krsna-nama is heard constantly; and one whose very sight spontaneously evokes the chanting of sri-krsna-nama. All these three types of Vaisnavas are worthy of service, but this is not true of one who only utters namabhasa, and not suddha-krsna- nama. Only Vaisnavas who utter suddha-nama are worthy of service.
We are instructed to serve the Vaisnavas in accordance with their respective levels of advancement. The word maitri signifies association, conversation, and service. As soon as one sees a pure Vaisnava, one should receive him, respectfully converse with him, and fulfill his needs as far as one is able. One should serve him in all these ways, and one should never envy him. One should not criticize him, even by accident, or disrespect him, even if his appearance is unattractive, or if he has some disease.
The third characteristic of the madhyama Vaisnava is that he bestows mercy on the ignorant. The word balisa refers to people who are ignorant of spiritual truth, bewildered, or foolish. It means materialistic people who have not received any genuine guidance in spiritual matters, but have not been contaminated by unauthorized doctrines such as Mayavada. They are not envious of bhaktas and bhakti, but their mundane egoism and attachment prevents them from developing faith in Isvara. Learned scholars also belong in this category if they have not attained the highest fruit of study, which is to develop faith in Isvara.
The kanistha-adhikari prakrta-bhakta is standing at the doorway to the temple of bhakti, but because of ignorance in the principles of sambandha-jnana, he has not yet attained suddha-bhakti. Such a person is also regarded as balisa until he comes to the platform of suddha-bhakti. When he becomes acquainted with the truth of sambandha-jnana, and awakens taste for suddha-hari-nama in the association of pure bhaktas, his ignorance will be dissipated, and he will attain the status of a madhyama Vaisnava.
It is essential that a madhyama Vaisnava should bestow his mercy upon all the above-mentioned ignorant people. He should treat them as guests and should satisfy their needs as far as he is able, but that is not enough in itself. He should also act in such a way as to awaken their faith in ananya-bhakti and their taste for suddhanama. That is the real meaning of mercy. The ignorant may be victimized by bad association and may fall down at any time because they lack expertise in the sastras. The madhyama Vaisnava should always protect such susceptible people from bad association. He should mercifully give them his association and gradually instruct them in spiritual matters and in the glories of suddha-nama.
A diseased person must be under the care of a physician because he cannot cure himself. Just as one should pardon the anger of a diseased person, so one should also excuse the improper behavior of the ignorant. This attitude is known as mercy. The ignorant have many misconceptions, such as faith in karma-kanda, occasional inclination towards jnana, worshiping the Deity with ulterior motives, faith in yoga, indifference towards the association of pure Vaisnavas, attachment to varnasrama, and many other things. However, the kanistha-adhikari can quickly become a madhyamaadhikari when these misconceptions are dispelled by good association, mercy, and good instructions.
When such people begin to worship the Deity of Bhagavan, it may be understood that they have laid the foundation of all auspiciousness. Of this there is no doubt. They do not have the defect of adhering to false doctrines, and for this reason they have a scent of true sraddha. Their Deity worship is not like that of the Mayavadis, who do not have even a trace of sraddha for the Deity, and who are offenders at the lotus feet of Bhagavan. That is why the words sraddhaya ihate, (he worships with faith), have been used in the sloka (11.2.47) that describes the kanistha-bhakta.
The philosophical outlook lodged in the heart of Mayavadis and proponents of other similar doctrines is that Bhagavan has no form and that the Deity which is worshiped is simply an imaginary icon. Under such circumstances, how can there be any faith in the Deity? As a result there is a significant difference between Deity worship of Mayavadis and that of even the most neophyte Vaisnavas.
Kanistha-adhikari Vaisnavas worship the Deity with faith, knowing that Bhagavan possesses personal form and attributes. Mayavadis, however, believe that Bhagavan has no form or attributes, and that the Deity is therefore imaginary and temporary. Neophytes are not guilty of the offense of Mayavada, and that is why they are accepted as prakrta Vaisnavas (materialistic devotees), even though they do not possess any other Vaisnava characteristics. This is where their Vaisnavism is found. On the strength of this one quality, and by the mercy of sadhus, they will certainly gradually be elevated. Madhyama-adhikari Vaisnavas must be genuinely merciful towards such people, and if they are, the neophyte bhakta’s worship of the Deity and his chanting of hari-nama will quickly rise from the abhasa stage to the purely transcendental stage.
The madhyama Vaisnava’s fourth characteristic is neglect towards those who are inimical. Here we must define enmity and describe its different types. Dvesa, enmity, is a particular attitude which is also known as matsarata, envy, and which is exactly the opposite of love. Isvara is the only object of love, and dvesa is the attitude that is directly opposite to love for Him. There are five different types of dvesa: absence of faith in Isvara; the belief that Isvara is nothing more than a natural potency that brings about the results of all action; the belief that Isvara has no particular form; the belief that the jivas are not eternally subordinate to Isvara; and the absence of mercy.
Individuals whose hearts are contaminated by these inimical attitudes are absolutely bereft of suddha-bhakti. They do not even have prakrta-bhakti, the rudimentary devotion that is the doorway to suddha-bhakti, and which is represented by the neophyte bhakta’s worship of the Deity. The five types of enmity are found to coexist with attachment to material sense enjoyment. Sometimes the third and fourth types of enmity lead to such an extreme form of asceticism or aversion towards the world that it culminates in self-annihilation. This is seen in the lives of the Mayavada sannyasis. How should suddha-bhaktas behave towards such inimical people? It is their duty to avoid them.
The word upeksa, neglect, does not imply that one should abandon all social dealings that are normal between human beings. Nor does it mean that one should fail to alleviate an inimical person’s difficulty or deprivation if he falls into distress. Grhastha Vaisnavas remain within society, so they have many types of relationships, for instance, with relatives through marriage, and with others through business dealings, through the maintenance of property and bringing up of animals, through endeavoring to mitigate the suffering and ailments of others, and through their position as citizens of the state. These different social relations entail connection with inimical people, and avoidance does not mean that one should at once give them up. One is obliged to conduct routine affairs and interact with people who are indifferent to Isvara, but
one should not take their association when it comes to spiritual matters.
Some members of one’s own family may acquire a malicious nature as a result of their sinful activities from a previous life. Should one abandon such people? Certainly not. One should deal with them without attachment insofar as ordinary affairs are concerned, but one should not associate with them for spiritual matters. Upeksa should be applied in this regard. Spiritual association means to meet together for the purpose of spiritual advancement, to discuss topics of eternal truth, and to render reciprocal service and welfare that awakens one’s devotional sentiments. Upeksa means avoiding the association of people with whom such types of exchange are not possible.
When an inimical person who has adopted discordant or inconsistent opinions hears glorification of suddha-bhakti or virtuous instructions regarding bhakti, he will immediately retort with some futile argument which is not beneficial for you or for him. One should avoid such fruitless arguments, and interact with such people only as far as necessary in routine social dealings. One may think that one should include inimical people among the ignorant, and therefore bestow mercy upon them, but if one does so, one will not help them and will only harm oneself. One should be benevolent, but with caution.
Madhyama-adhikari suddha-bhaktas should certainly follow these four instructions. If they neglect to do so in any way, they become guilty of behaving improperly and thus fail to do that for which they are qualified. This is considered a serious defect, as explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.21.2):
sve sve ‘dhikare ya nistha sa gunah parikirtitah
viparyayas tu dosah syad ubhayor esa niscayah
To be firmly established in the duties one is authorized to perform is a
good quality, whereas failure to do so is a fault. Good qualities and faults
are ascertained in this way.
In other words, good qualities and faults are determined according to one’s eligibility, and not by any other criterion. According to the sastras, the madhyama-adhikari suddha-bhakta should develop prema for Krsna and friendship with His pure bhaktas. He should be merciful to the ignorant and should neglect those who are inimical. The degree of friendship that the madhyama-bhakta establishes with other bhaktas should be in keeping with the degree of
their advancement in bhakti; the degree of mercy that he bestows upon the ignorant depends on their degree of sincerity or foolishness; and the extent to which he neglects the inimical depends
on the degree of their enmity. The madhyama-bhakta considers all these things as he interacts with others in spiritual affairs. Worldly affairs should be conducted in a straightforward manner, but should always be performed with consideration of the ultimate spiritual benifit.
Just then, a resident of Baragachi named Nityananda dasa interrupted by saying, “What is the behavior of uttama-bhaktas?”
Slightly startled, Babaji Mahasaya said, “Brother! You have asked a question that I am just in the process of answering. Let me finish what I have to say. I am an old man and my memory is fading. If the subject matter changes too abruptly, I will forget what I was going to say.”
Haridasa was a strict Babaji. Although he never found fault with anyone, he was quick to respond when anyone spoke inappropriately. Everyone was stunned to hear his words. Again he offered pranama to Nityananda Prabhu at the foot of the banyan tree and resumed speaking.
Babaji: When the bhakti of the madhyama Vaisnava progresses beyond the stages of sadhana and bhava, and comes to the level of prema, it becomes highly condensed, and at that time, the Vaisnava becomes an uttama-bhakta. Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.45) describes the symptoms of an uttama Vaisnava as follows:
sarva-bhutesu yah pasyed bhagavad-bhavam atmanah
bhutani bhagavaty atmany esa bhagavatottamah
One who sees his own bhagavad-bhava, ecstatic mood of attraction towards
Sri Krsnacandra, in the hearts of all jives (sarva-bhutesu) and sees all beings
within Sri Krsnacandra is an uttama-bhagavata.
An uttama Vaisnava perceives that all living beings love Bhagavan with the same particular feeling of transcendental love that he himself cherishes towards his istadeva. He also perceives that Bhagavan feels a reciprocal attitude of love towards all living beings. An uttama Vaisnava has no disposition other than this mood of transcendental love. Other moods arise from time to time, according to different circumstances, but they are all transformations of that prema.
For example, Sukadeva Gosvami was an uttama-bhagavata, but he described Kamsa in words such as bhoja-pamsula, a disgrace to the Bhoja dynasty. Although it appears as if these words were spoken out of enmity towards Kamsa, they are actually a manifestation of prema towards Krsna. When suddha-prema becomes the very life of a bhakta, he is known as an uttama-bhagavata. In this condition there is no longer any distinction between love, friendship, mercy, and neglect, as is the case with the madhyama-adhikari. All his behavior becomes a manifestation of prema, and there is no difference in his eyes between a kanistha, madhyama, or an uttama
Vaisnava, nor is there any difference between a Vaisnava and a non-Vaisnava. This advanced condition is extremely rare.
Just consider now that a kanistha Vaisnava does not render service to Vaisnavas, and an uttama Vaisnava does not make any distinction between Vaisnavas and non-Vaisnavas, for he sees all jives as servants of Krsna. This means that only madhyama Vaisnavas offer respect to Vaisnavas, and render service to them. A madhyama Vaisnava must serve the three kinds of Vaisnavas – those who chant krsna-nama even once, those who chant krsna-nama constantly,
and those whose mere sight automatically causes krsnanama to dance on one’s tongue. A Vaisnava may be considered a Vaisnava, a superior Vaisnava, or a superlative Vaisnava, according to his degree of advancement. A madhyama-bhakta should serve Vaisnavas according to their status. Only an uttama Vaisnava will conclude that it is improper to consider whether a Vaisnava is kanistha, madhyama, or uttama. If a madhyama-adhikari Vaisnava thinks in this way, he will become an offender. Sriman Mahaprabhu indicated this to the residents of Kulina-grama, and His instructions are to be revered even more than the Vedas by all madhyama Vaisnavas. And what are the Vedas, or sruti? They are the orders of Paramesvara.
Having said this much, Haridasa Babaji became silent for a moment. At this time, Nityananda dasa Babaji of Baragachi folded his hands and said, “May I ask a question now?”
Haridasa Babaji replied, “As it pleases you.”
“Babaji Mahasaya, to which category of Vaisnavas do you think I belong? Am I a kanistha or a madhyama Vaisnava? I am certainly not an uttama Vaisnava.”
Haridasa Babaji Mahasaya smiled a little and said, “Brother, can one who has received the name Nityananda dasa be anything other than an uttama Vaisnava? My Nitai is very merciful. Even when He is beaten, He gives prema in return. So if one takes His name and becomes His dasa, need anything more be said?”
Nityananda dasa: I sincerely want to know my actual position.
Babaji: Then tell me your whole story. If Nitai empowers me to speak, I shall say something.
Nityananda dasa: I took birth in a low-caste family in a small village on the bank of the Padmavati River. I was very simple and humble by nature from childhood, and I always used to stay far away from bad company. I was married at an early age, but after some days my parents died, and my wife and I remained alone in the home. We did not have so much wealth, so we worked every day to maintain ourselves. Our days passed happily in this way, but this happiness did not last for long, for after a while, she also left her body. Because of my separation from her, thoughts of detachment awakened in my mind. Near my village were many Vaisnavas who had renounced household life, and I saw that the people of Baragachi offered them great respect. I hankered for that respect very strongly, and because of the temporary feelings of detachment brought on by the death of my wife, I went to Baragachi and accepted the dress of a Vaisnava
mendicant. However, after a few days, my mind became fickle; it was possessed by wicked thoughts, and it became very difficult for me to control, but by great fortune, I received the association of an excellent Vaisnava who is pure and simple. At present, he is performing bhajana in Vraja. With deep affection, he gave me profound advice, kept me in his association, and purified my mind.
Now my mind is no longer disturbed by mischievous thoughts. I have developed taste for chanting a hundred thousand names of hari-nama every day. I understand that there is no difference between Sri Hari and sri-nama, and that both are fully spiritual. I observe the Ekadasi fast according to sastra and offer water to Tulasi. When the Vaisnavas perform kirtana, I also join with rapt attention. I drink the water that washes the feet of pure Vaisnavas. I study the bhakt-isastras every day. I no longer desire to eat palatable food or dress nicely. I have no taste to hear or participate in mundane talks. When I see the Vaisnavas’ ecstatic moods, a desire comes into my mind to roll on the ground at their feet, and sometimes I do so, but it is out a desire for prestige. Now please give your verdict: To which class of Vaisnava do I belong, and how should I behave?
Haridasa Babaji looked at Vaisnava dasa Babaji with a smile and said, “Tell us to which class of Vaisnava does Nityananda dasa belong?”
Vaisnava dasa: From what I have heard, he has surpassed the kanistha stage and has entered the madhyama stage.
Babaji: That is my feeling also.
Nityananda dasa: How wonderful! Today I have come to know of my true position from the mouths of Vaisnavas. Please bestow your mercy upon me, so that I may gradually come to the stage of an uttama Vaisnava.
Vaisnava dasa: At the time that you accepted mendicancy, there was a desire for honor and prestige in your heart, so you were not actually qualified to enter the renounced order, and therefore your acceptance of mendicancy was tainted with flaw of unauthorized consideration. In spite of this, you have attained genuine auspiciousness by the mercy of the Vaisnavas.
Nityananda dasa: Even now I have some desire for honor. I think that I may attract others and win tremendous respect if I am seen weeping profusely and displaying ecstatic emotions.
Babaji: You must endeavor to give this up, otherwise there is a serious danger that your bhakti will be eroded and you will have to descend to the kanistha platform again. Although the six enemies of lust, anger, greed, envy, pride and illusion may have departed, the desire for honor remains. This desire for fame is the most pernicious enemy of the Vaisnavas, and it does not easily agree to leave the sadhakas. Moreover, a single drop of genuine spiritual emotion is far superior to an imitative display of emotion (chaya-bhavaabhasa).
“Please give me your mercy,” said Nityananda dasa, and reverentially placed the dust from Haridasa Babaji’s lotus feet on his own head. At this, Babaji became unsettled. He quickly got up, embraced Nityananda dasa, seated him by his side, and patted him on the back. How extraordinary is the effect of touching a Vaisnava! Tears immediately began to stream from Nityananda dasa’s eyes, and Haridasa Babaji could not check his own tears, although he tried to do so. A wonderful atmosphere was manifest, and tears came to the eyes of all the assembled Vaisnavas. At that moment, Nityananda dasa accepted Sri Haridasa in his heart as his guru, and his life became successful. Within a short time the emotion subsided, and he inquired, “What are the primary and secondary characteristics of a kanistha-bhakta in regard to bhakti?”
Babaji: The two primary characteristics of a kanistha Vaisnava are his faith in the eternal form of Bhagavan, and his worship of the Deity. His secondary characteristics are the devotional activities that he performs, such as hearing, chanting, remembering, and offering prayers.
Nityananda dasa: One cannot be a Vaisnava unless he has faith in the eternal form of Bhagavan and worships the Deity according to the regulations of sastra, so I can well understand why these two are primary symptoms. However, I cannot understand why hearing, chanting, remembering, and other such activities are secondary.
Babaji: The kanistha Vaisnava is not acquainted with the intrinsic nature of suddha-bhakti, of which hearing, chanting, and so on are angas (limbs). Consequently, his hearing and chanting do not assume their primary identity, but are manifest in a gauna (secondary) form. Furthermore, whatever arises from the three gunas –sattva (goodness), rajah (passion), and tamah (ignorance) – is known as gauna. When these activities become nirguna, free from the influence of the material modes, they are angas of suddhabhakti, and one has attained the madhyama stage.
Nityananda dasa: How can the kanistha Vaisnava be called a bhakta when he is contaminated with the faults of karma and jnana,and his heart is filled with desires for things other than bhakti?
Babaji: One becomes eligible for bhakti once he has attained sraddha,which is the root of bhakti; there is no doubt then that he is situated at the doorway to bhakti. The word sraddha means visvasa, belief. When the kanistha-bhakta awakens belief in the divine Deity, he becomes eligible for bhakti.
Nityananda dasa: When will he obtain bhakti?
Babaji: The kanistha-bhakta becomes a suddha-bhakta at the madhyama level when his contamination of karma and jnana is dissipated, and he desires nothing other than ananya-bhakti (exclusive bhakti). At that point, he understands that there is a difference between service to guests and service to bhaktas, and thus he awakens taste for serving the bhaktas, which is favorable to bhakti.
Nityananda dasa: Suddha-bhakti appears along with sambandhajnana. When is that knowledge awakened by which one becomes eligible for suddha-bhakti?
Babaji: True sambandha-jnana and suddha-bhakti are manifest simultaneously when knowledge contaminated by Mayavada conceptions has been dispelled.
Nityananda dasa: How long does that take?
Babaji: The stronger a person’s sukrti from past activities, the sooner he will attain it.
Nityananda dasa: What is the first result attained by past sukrti?
Babaji: One attains sadhu-sanga.
Nityananda dasa: And what is the progression that evolves from sadhu-sanga?
Babaji: Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.25.25) describes the systematic evolution of bhakti very succinctly:
satam prasangan mama virya-samvido
bhavanti hrt-karna-rasayanah hathah
taj-josanad asv apayarga-vartmani
In the association of suddha–bhaktas, the recitation and discussion of My glorious activities and pastimes are pleasing to both the heart and the ears. By cultivating knowledge in this way, one becomes established on the path of liberation and progressively attains sraddha, then bhava, and finally prema-bhakti.
Nityananda das: How does one attain sadhu-sanga?
Babaji: I have already said that sadhu-sanga is attained by sukrti acquired in previous births. This is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.51.53)
bhavapavargo bhramato yada bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samagamah
sat-sangama yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
paravarese tvayi jayate ratih
O Acyuta, the jiva has been wandering in the cycle of birth and
Death since time without beginning. When the time for his release
From this cycle approached, he obtains sat-sanga. From that moment,
He become firmly attached to You, who are the controller of both spirit
And matter, and the supreme goal of attainment for the sadhus.
Nityananda das: It is only by sadhu-sanga that a kanistha-bhakta awakens an inclination for worshipping the Deity, so how can it be said that he doesn’t render any service to sadhus?
Babaji: When one obtains sadhu-sanga by good fortune, visvasa, or belief in the divinity of the Deity awakens. Nonetheless, worship of the Deity must be accompanied by service to the sadhus themselves. Until this type of faith develops, one’s sraddha is incomplete, and one remains ineligible for ananya-bhakti.
Nityananda dasa: What are the stages of progress for a kanisthabhakta?
Babaji: Suppose that a kanistha-bhakta worships the Deity form of Bhagavan every day with faith, but is not yet free from the contaminations of karma, jnana, and extraneous desires. By chance, some guests come to him who happen to be bhaktas, and he welcomes and serves them, just as he would any other guests. The kanistha-bhakta observes the activities and behavior of the bhaktas and gets a chance to hear their discussions of spiritual topics based on the sastra. In this way, he begins to develop great respect for the character of the bhaktas.
At this point, he becomes aware of his own defects. He begins to follow the behavior of the sadhus and to rectify his own behavior. Gradually, his defects of karma and jnana begin to fade, and as his heart becomes purified, he becomes increasingly free from extraneous desires. He studies the sastra by regularly hearing narrations of Bhagavan’s pastimes and the fundamental, ontological truths about Bhagavan. His sambandha-jnana becomes progressively firmer as he accepts the transcendental nature of Bhagavan, sri-nama, and the angas of bhakti such as hearing and chanting. When his sambandha-jnana becomes complete, he attains the stage of a madhyama Vaisnava. It is at this point that he truly begins to associate with bhaktas. He can then perceive that bhaktas are vastly superior to ordinary guests, and he can begin to regard them on the level of guru.
Nityananda dasa: Why is it that many kanistha-bhaktas do not progress?
Babaji: If the kanistha-bhakta associates mainly with people who are inimical, his immature level of eligibility for bhakti quickly fades, and his eligibility for karma and jnana becomes prominent. In some cases, eligibility neither increases nor decreases, but remains exactly the same.
Nityananda dasa: When does that happen?
Babaji: When he associates equally with bhaktas and inimical people.
Nityananda dasa: Under what circumstances can his advancement be assured?
Babaji: When his association with bhaktas becomes prominent and his association with the inimical becomes minimal, his advancement is rapid.
Nityananda dasa: What is the nature of the kanistha-adhikari’s inclination towards sinful and pious activities?
Babaji: In the preliminary stage, his inclination for sinful and pious activities will be like that of the karmis and jnanis, but as he progresses in bhakti, these propensities will be dispelled, and his inclination to please Bhagavan will become prominent.
Nityananda dasa: Dear master, I have understood the situation of kanistha-adhikaris. Now kindly describe the primary symptoms of the madhyama-adhikari bhaktas.
Babaji: The madhyama-bhakta has ananya-bhakti towards Krsna. His friendship with the bhaktas consists of four attitudes: he considers bhaktas to be more dear than his very self (atma-buddhi); he feels great possessiveness towards them (mamata-buddhi); he considers bhaktas as worshipable (ijya-buddhi); and he considers them to be a place of pilgrimage (tirtha-buddhi). The madhyama-bhakta also bestows mercy on those who are ignorant of spiritual truth, and he neglects the inimical. These are the primary characteristics of the madhyama-bhakta.
When one develops sambandha-jnana and practices bhaktisadhana, which is the means (abhidheya), one attains the goal of prema (prayojana). This is the methodology of the madhyamabhakta. It is generally observed that madhyama-bhaktas perform harinama, kirtana, and other such activities in the association of bhaktas, free from any offense.
Nityananda dasa: What are the secondary symptoms of the madhyama-bhakta?
Babaji: The secondary symptom of the madhyama-bhakta is the way in which he lives his life. His life is completely surrendered to the will of Krsna, and is favorable to bhakti.
Nityananda dasa: Can he still commit sins or offenses?
Babaji: Some tendency to commit sins or offenses may remain in the beginning stage, but gradually these will disappear. Whatever sins or offenses are still present at the beginning of the madhyama stage are like chick-peas that are just about to be ground to a pulp; they are still seen as small lumps, but within a few moments they will be crushed and will cease to exist. Yukta-vairagya (appropriate renunciation) is the life and soul of the madhyama-bhakta.
Nityananda dasa: Does the madhyama-bhakta have any trace of karma, jnana or extraneous desires?
Babaji: In the initial stages a faint trace of these things may remain, but finally they are uprooted. Whatever vestiges of karma and jnana remain in the beginning of the madhyama stage occasionally make themselves visible, yet these gradually fade into oblivion.
Nityananda dasa: Do such bhaktas even desire to live, and if so, why?
Babaji: Actually, they have no desire to live or die, or to attain liberation. They desire to live only to attain consummation of their bhajana.
Nityananda dasa: But why don’t they long for death? What happiness can come from remaining in this gross material body? When they die, will they not obtain their spiritual forms and identities
by Krsna’s mercy?
Babaji: They have no independent desires. All their desires are solely dependent on Krsna’s will, because they are firmly convinced that everything is happening by His will and that whatever happens is only because of His desire. They have, therefore, no need to aspire for anything independently.
Nityananda dasa: I have understood the symptoms of the madhyama-adhikari. Now, please tell me about the secondary symptoms of the uttama-adhikari.
Babaji: Their secondary symptoms are their bodily activities, but even these cannot actually be viewed separately as secondary symptoms, because they are so much under the control of prema, which is beyond all influence of the material modes.
Nityananda dasa: Prabhu, there is no provision in sastra for the kanistha-adhikaris to renounce household life, and madhyamaadhikaris may live either as householders or renunciants. Is it possible that some uttama-adhikaris may live as householders?
Babaji: One’s level of eligibility cannot be determined by whether one is a householder or a renunciant; the only criterion is one’s advancement in bhakti. There is certainly no harm if an uttamaadhikari bhakta remains a householder. All the grhastha-bhaktas of Vraja were uttama-adhikaris. Many grhastha-bhaktas of our Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu were uttama-adhikaris; Raya Ramananda is the foremost example of this.
Nityananda dasa: Prabhu, if an uttama-adhikari bhakta is a grhastha, and a madhyama-adhikari bhakta is in the renounced order, how should they behave towards each other?
Babaji: The person who is less qualified should offer dandavatpranama to the person who is more qualified. This stipulation is only for the benefit of the madhyama-adhikari, because the uttamaadhikari bhakta does not expect respect from anyone. In all living beings he sees the presence of Bhagavan.
Nityananda dasa: Should one bring many Vaisnavas together and hold festivals for distributing bhagavat-prasada?
Babaji: From the spiritual point of view, there is no objection if many Vaisnavas gather together for some particular occasion and a madhyama-adhikari grhastha-bhakta wants to honor them by distributing the bhagavat-prasada. However, it is not good to make a pompous display of serving the Vaisnavas, for then this activity will become adulterated with the mode of passion. One should distribute prasada to the assembled Vaisnavas with great care and attention. This is one’s duty. If one wishes to serve the Vaisnavas in this way, he should only invite pure Vaisnavas.
Nityananda dasa: A new caste has emerged in Baragachi consisting of people who refer to themselves as descendants of Vaisnavas. Kanistha-adhikari householders invite them and feed them in the name of Vaisnava seva. How is this to be viewed?
Babaji: Have these descendants of Vaisnavas taken up suddhabhakti?
Nityananda dasa: I don’t see suddha-bhakti in any of them. They only call themselves Vaisnavas. Some of them wear kaupinas (loincloths).
Babaji: I cannot say why is this type of practice is in vogue. It should not be done. I can only surmise that it is going on because kanistha Vaisnavas have no ability to recognize who is a true
Nityananda dasa: Do the descendants of Vaisnavas deserve any special regard?
Babaji: Honor is due for those who are actually Vaisnavas. If the descendants of Vaisnavas are pure Vaisnavas, they should be honored in proportion to their advancement in bhakti.
Nityananda dasa: What if the descendant of a Vaisnava is only a worldly man?
Babaji: Then he should be considered as a worldly man and not as a Vaisnava; he should not be honored as a Vaisnava. One should always remember the instruction given by Sriman Mahaprabhu (Siksastaka 3):
trnad api sunicena taror api sahisnuna
amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih
One can chant sri-hari-nama in a humble state of mind, thinking himself
more insignificant than the straw in the street and more tolerant than the
tree.One should be devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer
all Respects to others. In such a state of mind, one can chant sri- hari-nama
One should be free from pride and should offer appropriate respect to others. One should offer Vaisnavas the respect due to a Vaisnava, and he should offer those who are not Vaisnavas the respect that befits any human being. If one does not offer respect to others, he does not acquire the necessary qualification to chant sri-nama.
Nityananda dasa: How can one be free from pride?
Babaji: One should not proudly think, ”I am a brahmana,” ”I am wealthy,” ”I am a learned scholar,” ”I am a Vaisnava,” or ”I have renounced family life.” People may well offer respect because one has such qualities, but one should not want to be honored by others out of such egoistic pride. One should always think oneself to be worthless, insignificant, destitute, and lower than a blade of grass.
Nityananda dasa: It seems from this that one cannot be a Vaisnava without humility and compassion.
Babaji: That is quite true.
Nityananda dasa: Then does Bhakti-devi depend on humility and compassion?
Babaji: No, bhakti is completely independent. Bhakti is the personification of beauty and she is the supreme ornament; she does not depend on any other good quality. Humility and compassion are not separate qualities, but are included within bhakti. “I am a servant of Krsna,” “I am destitute,” “I have nothing,” “Krsna is my allin- all‚” – the bhakti that is expressed in these attitudes is itself humility (dainya).
The tenderness of heart experienced towards Krsna is known as bhakti. All other jivas are servants of Krsna, and tenderness of heart towards them is compassion (daya). Therefore, compassion is included within bhakti.
Ksama (forgiveness) is the bhava situated between humility and compassion. “When I am so wretched and insignificant myself, how can I inflict punishment upon others?” – when this attitude is combined with compassion, forgiveness automatically appears. Forgiveness is also included in bhakti.
Krsna is satya, real. The fact that the jivas are servants of Krsna is also real, as is the fact that the material world is only a boarding house for the jivas. That means that bhakti is also real, because these truths are based on the jivas’ relationship with Krsna, which is itself bhakti. Truth, humility, compassion, and forgiveness are four special qualities that are included in bhakti.
Nityananda dasa: How should a Vaisnava behave towards the followers of other religions?
Babaji: The instruction of Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.26) is:
narayana-kalah santah bhajanti hy anasuyavah
Those who are free from the propensity to slander others and who are
fully peaceful worship Sri Narayana and His plenary portions.
There is no dharma other than vaisnava-dharma. All other dharmas that are or ever will be propagated in the world are either steps on the staircase of vaisnava-dharma, or else distortions of it. Those dharmas that are steps leading to bhakti should be respected in proportion to their degree of purity. One should not bear any malice towards dharmas that are distortions of bhakti, but one should focus exclusively on the cultivation of one’s own devotional truths. One should not maintain any animosity towards the followers of other religions. When the time is ripe, the followers of various other dharmas will become Vaisnavas easily. Of this there is no doubt.
Nityananda dasa: Is it our duty to preach Vaisnava dharma or not?
Babaji: Certainly it is. Our Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has given everyone the responsibility of spreading this dharma:
naco, gao, bhakta-sange kara sankirtana
krsna-nama upadesi’ tara’ sarva-jana
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila (7.92)
Dance, sing, and perform sankirtana in the association of bhaktas. You should
deliver everyone by instructing them to chant sri-krsna-nama.
ataeva ami ajna dilun sabakare
jahan tahan prema-phala deha’ yare tare
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila (9.36)
Therefore, I am ordering everyone to distribute the fruits of prema wherever
they go and to whomever they meet.
However, one must remember not to give sri-krsna-nama to unqualified people. Such people should first be given the necessary qualification; only then can they be given hari-nama. Furthermore, these statements of Sriman Mahaprabhu do not apply when neglect (upeksa) is appropriate, for instance, when dealing with inimical people. Trying to enlighten such people only presents obstacles to one’s preaching.
When Nityananda dasa had heard Haridasa Babaji Mahasaya’s ambrosial words, he rolled on the ground at his feet in great love. The grove reverberated with the Vaisnavas’ loud exclamations of sri-hari-nama, and everyone offered dandavat-pranama to Babaji Mahasaya. The day’s meeting in that secluded grove came to an end, and everyone returned to their respective places.
THUS ENDS THE EIGHTH CHAPTER OF JAIVA-DHARMA,
“NITYA-DHARMA & VAISNAVA BEHAVIOR”