Part Two – The Practice of Pure Devotional Service, Chapter 11 – Vaiṣṇava Aparādha
“The pure devotee cannot recognize an offense against himself and therefore the only way to get free from an offense committed to a pure devotee is to fall in the dust of his lotus feet and beg forgiveness. Śrīla Viśvanātha says that the dust at the feet of the pure devotee remembers the offense that one has committed and therefore only the dust can give forgiveness.”
Devotee: It is said that a Vaiṣṇava is fearless. Is this actually a fact or does the Vaiṣṇava also have some fear?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Yes. A Vaiṣṇava is fearless in all circumstances because he knows that Kṛṣṇa will always protect him. Yet, if we examine the mood of the great souls, the sādhus and the ācāryas, we can detect that a Vaiṣṇava is fearful of only one thing—Vaiṣṇava aparādha. Not only a Vaiṣṇava, but the Supreme Lord Himself is also afraid of Vaiṣṇava aparādha, not for Himself but for the benefit of His devotees, and He therefore cautions His devotees accordingly.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu descended to this world to bestow the greatest boon of love of Kṛṣṇa upon all living entities. While instructing and empowering Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī at Prayāga to distribute the mellows of bhakti-rasa the Lord cautioned against offenses committed at the lotus feet of a Vaiṣṇava.
“If the devotee commits an offense at the feet of a Vaiṣṇava while cultivating the creeper of devotional service in the material world, his offense is compared to a mad elephant that uproots the creeper and breaks it. In this way the leaves of the creeper are dried up.” (C.c. Madhya-līlā 19.156)
There are many incidents of Vaiṣṇava aparādha recorded in the revealed scriptures, as a reminder to all aspiring devotees about the serious consequences of offenses committed at the feet of a pure Vaiṣṇava. When a non-devotee makes an offense against a pure Vaiṣṇava, as in the case of Gopāla Cāpāla, who offended Śrīvasa Paṇḍita by placing the paraphernalia for worshipping the Goddess Bhavānī outside his door—the usual reaction is that the offender is stricken with a horrible disease such as leprosy or even death.
Gopāla Cāpāla was a brāhmaṇa, but he was envious of Śrīvasa Paṇḍita, a great devotee of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Gopāla Cāpāla’s offense was envy—envy of the Vaiṣṇavas. Greater than the sin of killing a cow; greater than the sin of killing a brāhmaṇa, a woman, or even killing children, is the sin of envying a Vaiṣṇava. That is the ultimate sin.
In the case of Gopāla Cāpāla, he was immediately stricken with leprosy due to his offense to Śrīvasa Paṇḍita and his face and other extremities of his body began to melt away. After sometime he met Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu along the way to the Ganges and he begged the Lord to please forgive him and deliver him from his miserable condition. Hearing the man’s plea to be delivered, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu became furious with anger, “You sinful wretch!” said the Lord, “Why do you blaspheme the Vaiṣṇavas? All the living entities in material existence are My friends. However, I am completely inimical to one who is envious of a Vaiṣṇava. Even after suffering for ten thousand lifetimes still you won’t be released from your offense against a Vaiṣṇava. I can forgive an offense against Myself, but a fool who commits violence to a Vaiṣṇava is lost forever. Such an envious sinner goes straight to hell. O most sinful man, you will never see the end of your suffering.”
That man did not die immediately but continued to suffer for many years and was eventually delivered, when at last he fell in the dust of the lotus feet of Śrīvasa Paṇḍita and begged for his mercy. The Lord easily forgives an offense against Himself, but he never forgives an offense committed against His pure devotee. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravatī Ṭhākura says that the pure devotee cannot recognize an offense against himself and therefore the only way to get free from an offense committed to a pure devotee is to fall in the dust of his lotus feet and beg forgiveness. Śrīla Viśvanātha says that the dust at the feet of the pure devotee remembers the offense that one has committed and therefore only the dust can give forgiveness.
The non-devotee offender certainly suffers miserable disease and even death as a result of his offense to a Vaiṣṇava but there are examples also where even a great devotee, a pure devotee, accidentally committed some offense to another Vaiṣṇava. Knowing that if one Vaiṣṇava offends another Vaiṣṇava, the offender can never experience love of Kṛṣṇa, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu becomes very anxious that the offense be removed, so that His devotee can taste kṛṣṇa-prema.
An example of this is Mother Śacī, the mother of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Mother Śacī was thinking that due to the influence of Adwaitācārya her eldest son Viśvarūpa had left home, taking up the renounced order of life. Mentally, Mother Śacī harboured this apprehension about Śrī Advaita Ācārya, thinking that He might similarly be a bad influence on her younger son Nimāi. She never said anything directly to Advaitā Ācārya, she only thought like that.
Being the omniscient Supreme Personality of Godhead, Caitanya Mahāprabhu knew the mind of Mother Śacī. Thus considering the exalted position of Advaita Ācārya the Lord proclaimed that Mother Śacī had made Vaiṣṇava aparādha to Advaita Ācārya. Mahāprabhu then called for Advaita Ācārya who could hardly believe his ears when he was informed that Mahāprabhu had declared that Mother Śacī had made Vaiṣṇava aparādha against him. On the way to Mother Śacī’s house Adwaitācārya incessantly chanted the glories of Mother Śacī. To conceive that Śacī had made an offense to him was not within Advaita’s thinking capacity, he was so devoted to Śacī Devī.
When Advaita Ācārya entered the house of Mother Śacī he fell to the floor in a faint of love of God. Mahāprabhu knew that the Ācārya would never allow Śacī to touch his feet, therefore when Advaita lay on the floor in a faint He requested His mother to touch Advaita Ācārya’s lotus feet. Mother Śacī did this and got release from the offense. She was then able to taste the pure nectar of kṛṣṇa-prema.
We should consider—if Vaiṣṇava aparādha was possible even for Mother Śacī then what about me. “I am the king of fools. What offenses I must have committed against the Vaiṣṇavas—knowingly or unknowingly. What is my position? How shall I redeem myself with the Lords devotees?”
Only our sincerest humility, mixed with the dust of the Vaiṣ-ṇava’s lotus feet, can help us to be forgiven for our offenses and avoid Vaiṣṇava aparādha in the future. Our best safeguard against Vaiṣṇava aparādha is humility. Not a calculation of humility, “O here is a Vaiṣṇava. Let me be careful—I shall be humble and show respect to him.” No. Not a show of humility by calculation. That will not help us much. What is required is a flow of real humility from the heart—which is free from envy. Not that I envy the Vaiṣṇavas and therefore I am calculative in all my dealings with them. Envy means calculation and this certainly leads to offenses.
We have seen that sometimes a neophyte devotee tries to see the words and deeds of a venerable Vaiṣṇava in a calculative way. Thinking that the Vaiṣṇava poses a threat to his position or reputation, the neophyte begins a slander campaign against the pure Vaiṣṇava. The venerable Vaiṣṇava is always the well-wisher of the aspiring devotees in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but when the neophyte allows his previous material conditioning of fear, duplicity, apprehension, and envy to adulterate his vision, he calculates that the Vaiṣṇava has become his enemy. In that state of consciousness the neophyte unfortunately makes many offenses to the pure devotee. Unless by the grace of God, the offender comes to his senses and surrenders to the dust of the Vaiṣṇava’s lotus feet, unfortunately his Kṛṣṇa consciousness is destroyed.
In the second verse of Śikṣāṣṭakam Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has written,
“O My Lord, in Your holy names there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names such as Kṛṣṇa and Govinda, by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offense while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting.”
Even though we may have embraced the chanting of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa for millions of lifetimes, if there is offense, and especially if there is offense to a Vaiṣṇava, we cannot develop attachment for the holy name. This, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu indicates, is due to offenses. In the next verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka the Lord indicates the proper way of chanting which will help one to avoid Vaiṣṇava aparādha.
tṛṇād api sunīcena taror api sahiṣṇunā amāninā mānadena kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
“One who thinks himself lower than a blade of grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honour, yet is always prepared to give all respect to others, can very easily constantly chant the holy name of the Lord with attachment.”
The Caitanya-caritāmṛta advises that we should wear this verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka—tṛṇād api sunīcena, strung on the thread of the holy name, around our neck for continuous remembrance. It is so important to maintain proper humility—without humility we will not be able to have offenseless dealings with the Vaiṣṇavas.
Our humility must be genuine. We must be really sincere in our vision of the Vaiṣṇavas. What is that? The Vaiṣṇavas are my masters. I am their servant and the servant of their servants. The Vaiṣṇava is not my servant. He is not my order supplier. I should not think that if he does not satisfy me I will become angry with him. Such thinking will always put us in an offensive mentality. It is always better to conceive of one’s self as the servant, of the servant, of the servant, of the Vaiṣṇava. That is our true position according to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
gopī bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ
“Our position is that of the servant, of the servant, of the servant, of the followers of the Vaiṣṇavas (gopīs).”
By uttering “gopī-bhartuḥ” Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has indicated the topmost devotees and the prescribed mood of worship in which we should follow in order to understand His conception. Amongst all the Vaiṣṇavas the gopīs are the topmost. Mahāprabhu has stated this and Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has shown this in his Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta. The topmost servants in love of Godhead are the cowherd girls of Vṛndāvana. And among the cowherd maidens of Lord Kṛṣṇa at Vṛndāvana, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī stands supreme. This is proclaimed by the Bhāgavatam in the verse “anayārādhito nūnaṁ” in which Śrī Candrāvalī has said, “no one but Rādhārāṇī can fully satisfy Kṛṣṇa.”
From the word arādhitam the name of Rādhārāṇī is understood just as in the verse spoken by Lord Śiva to Pārvatī in PadmaPurāṅa, ārādhānāṁ sarveṣāṁ viṣṇor ārādhanaṁ param, the word ārādhānāṁ, the best worshiper, indicates Rādhārāṇī. So, it may also be conceived that aparādha, an offense, means that which is displeasing to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Love for Kṛṣṇa is not possible without the grace of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and therefore if one commits offenses to the Vaiṣṇavas it is not possible to get Her grace.
Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the original devotee. In the words of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, “Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Predominating Moity and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the Supreme Predominated Moity of the Absolute Truth.” All devotional service to Kṛṣṇa must first pass through Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. In the words of Śrīla Prabhupāda, “Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the Mother of Devotion.” Mother means one who gives birth. So the energy of devotion is born from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. It is not the energy of the living entity, jīva-tattva, which serves Kṛṣṇa directly. There must be a connection with the source of the devotional flow, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, then the jīva can perform his normal and natural function in relationship to Kṛṣṇa.
The venerable Vaiṣṇavas are the representatives of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and as such no one can get Her blessings without first satisfying the Vaiṣṇavas. Therefore, our śikṣā-guru Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja gave much stress to the service of the Vaiṣṇavas. The Vaiṣṇavas are like the kalpa-vṛkṣa, the wish fulfilling trees of Goloka Vṛndāvana who can fulfil all our spiritual desires. By the grace of a Vaiṣṇava all our cherished desires to serve Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa will be fulfilled or by their displeasure all is lost.
Vaiṣṇava aparādha is such a grievous thing, yet we are so unfortunate that we deal with the Vaiṣṇavas in a most ordinary way, as though they were common street people or worse. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (7:3):
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavour for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.”
The devotee of Kṛṣṇa is so rare—no one is more dear to Kṛṣṇa on this earth than the pure devotee. Our Guru Mahāraja, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda, stressed this point literally hundreds of times—beware of Vaiṣṇava aparādha—“it is most grievous.” Perhaps our greatest defect as Westerners is that we come to deal with the highest conceptions of divinity, with the Supreme Lord and His dearest devotees, but we bring with us our mundane pride and our arrogance.
During the lifetime of Śrīla Prabhupāda, he earnestly requested the Vaiṣṇava community in India to kindly accept his disciples as genuine Vaiṣṇavas and sannyāsīs. And by his grace we were accepted. However, regrettably, after the departure of Śrīla Prabhupāda we foolishly began to consider that, “our guru was the only guru and we in turn are the only Vaiṣṇavas.” Thus, many unnecessary offenses were committed against humble and venerable Vaiṣṇavas in India. It is nothing to be proud of, but it is a fact. Many offenses have been committed against some of Kṛṣṇa’s dearest devotees—many have had to suffer on account of that. Should we have learned our lesson by now? One would think so, but again, regrettably the offensive mentality toward the Vaiṣṇavas still exists in many of us today. We are so unfortunate.
As neophytes we may sometimes wrongly consider, “My guru is the topmost devotee of Kṛṣṇa and by his grace I have become advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and am preaching all over the world. Therefore, I can do anything and everything and nothing can check me.” This is a grave mistake. In the name of my guru I may also commit Vaiṣṇava aparādha—if so, even he may not be able to save me from the reaction.
By accepting the service of a liberated soul and taking shelter at his lotus feet one very quickly becomes qualified in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But, due to Vaiṣṇava aparādha, one may again fall down into illusion and material suffering. Once upon a time there lived a devotee by the name of Rūpa Kavirāja (not to be confused with Rūpa Gosvāmī) who had taken shelter at the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa-caraṇa Cakravartī (the parama-guru of Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura and Raṅga Mañjarī in kṛṣṇa-līlā). Due to the association and blessings of his guru, Rūpa Kavirāja became celebrated as a great devotee, advanced in the mellows of vraja-bhakti and very learned in the bhakti-śāstras. Later on, after the departure of his guru, envy of the Vaiṣṇavas manifest in the heart of Rūpa Kavirāja and he fell down.
At Rādhā-kuṇḍa this Rūpa Kavirāja used to recite the Śrīmād Bhāgavatam and many respectable Vaiṣṇavas would come to hear him. One day a certain Vaiṣṇavī named Śrīmatī Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇi came to sit and listen to the discourses on Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇī was very dear to all the devotees because she constantly chanted the holy names of Kṛṣṇa in a humble state of mind. While listening to Rūpa Kavirāja deliver his discourse the lips of Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇī ever so softly vibrated the holy names.
Suddenly, Rūpa Kavirāja stopped speaking and addressed Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇī, “How is it that you are able to do two things at once. I am speaking the Bhāgavatam and you continue your chanting. Have you no respect?” Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇī replied, “It is not that I chant purposefully but my tongue and lips uncontrollably chant the holy name of Kṛṣṇa even without my wanting to do so.” When Rūpa Kavirāja heard this reply he became furious with Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇī and angrily chastised her in the assembly of Vaiṣṇavas. Everyone was very sad to hear his cruel words hurled upon the humble person of Kṛṣṇa-priyā Ṭhākurāṇī.
Rūpa Kavirāja immediately fell down from his position and he lost all potency to speak the Bhāgavatam. People stopped attending his discourses and soon he was stricken with leprosy. He left Vṛndāvana and tried to get shelter in other Vaiṣṇava communities elsewhere in India but the news of his having grievously offended a pure Vaiṣṇava spread to wherever he tried to hide. Lastly he died in exile somewhere in Orissa.
What could be done? Rūpa Kavirāja had a guru of the highest calibre, but due to envy of a pure devotee, he unfortunately committed Vaiṣṇava aparādha and was vanquished forever. Even having such a high type of guru could not save him from the reaction to his misdeed. This unfortunate incident is mentioned in the biography of Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravatī Ṭhākura.
Another example of offenders is that of Jagāi and Mādhāi. These two fallen souls from a brāhmaṇa family lived in Navadvīpa town during the time of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Mostly we have heard that they were drunkards and were delivered by Mahāprabhu, but they were much more than just drunkards. The Caitanya-bhāgavata by Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura states that these two brothers were so sinful that it is not possible to account for the unlimited sins they had committed. Not only were they drunkards but they were murderers of cows, brāhmaṇas, and even women. No one could count the number of innocent persons that they murdered. They were so mean and nasty that everyone in Navadvīpa was deathly afraid of them.
When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave His order to take the holy name of Kṛṣṇa to every home in Navadvīpa the Lords chief assistants said that as long as Jagāi and Mādhāi were present it would not be possible, as these two brothers repeatedly stopped the chanting of the holy names and threatened to kill the devotees. The Lord then organized a saṅkīrtana party and in a joyous mood he led the saṅkīrtana party to the house of Jāgai and Mādhāi who were fallen down in a drunken stupor.
After sometime the brothers were awakened by the tumultuous sound and the banging of drums and the ringing of karatālas. What is this they thought, “Who dares to disturb our peaceful sleep? Catch them! Catch them!” Picking up clubs to beat the devotees the two brothers ran to the street where they saw the Lord amidst his favourite devotees; Nityānanda Prabhu, Advaita Ācārya, Murāri, Mukunda Datta, and many others dancing and chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa in great ecstasy. With nasty words and in an angry tone Jāgai and Mādhāi tried to rebuke Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His devotees but when all else failed the brothers became completely mad and in a frenzy of anger they struck Lord Nityānanda in the head with a piece of earthen pot.
Seeing this, Mahāprabhu summoned His sudarśana-cakra which then sped toward Jāgai and Mādhāi to cut their heads from their shoulders. Lord Nityānanda, the most merciful to the fallen souls, stopped the sudarśana-cakra and petitioned Lord Caitanya to kindly show these sinners His mercy by delivering them. The scene of Lord Nityānanda pleading with Lord Caitanya to spare the two brothers, melted the stone-like hearts of Jāgai and Mādhāi.
Later, Jāgai and Mādhāi came before the Lord with folded hands. Lord Caitanya then requested the brothers to give the Lord a tulasī leaf saying, “I will take your sinful reactions. Give them all to Me.” At first the brothers refused saying, “O Lord, You do not know how sinful we are. We cannot do it.” The brothers reminded the Lord that they had killed many cows, brāhmaṇas, women, and given trouble to countless innocent persons. But the Lord insisted and finally it was done. When Lord Caitanya received the sins of Jāgai and Mādhāi the Lord lost his golden complexion and He immediately became black. At this moment the Lord said, “Whoever offends a Vaiṣṇava will have to accept the sinful reactions of Jāgai and Mādhāi.” The Lord then resumed His original golden colour. This story is narrated in the Caitanya-bhāgavata and the Caitanya-maṅgala.
So we are to deal with the Lords devotees in a most sincere and humble way. We should not allow a trace of envy or pride or duplicity to enter our dealings with the Vaiṣṇavas. Among all the living entities, the Vaiṣṇava and especially one who broadcasts His message, is the most dear to Lord Kṛṣṇa.
na ca tasmān manuṣyeṣu kaścin me priya-kṛttamaḥ bhavitā na ca me tasmād anyaḥ priyataro bhuvi
“There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he who preaches this message to the devotees, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Bhagavad-gītā 18.69)
There is no consideration about a Vaiṣṇava’s birth, caste, nationality, gender, age, or race. These are all external designations of the material body and these should not be considered as very important when trying to understand who is a Vaiṣṇava. Similarly, it is of little consequence as to what spiritual society a Vaiṣṇava does or does not belong to. When approaching a Vaiṣṇava, if we allow our consciousness to focus on so many external designations, then we are sure to make offenses at his lotus feet. Actually, it is a fact that excessive consideration about the society a pure Vaiṣṇava belongs to or doesn’t belong to, has perhaps become the single greatest cause of committing Vaiṣṇava aparādha since the time of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. It is also a fact that instead of preaching love of Kṛṣṇa all over the world and glorifying the Lords dearmost servants, we all too often fall prey to preaching society consciousness and sometimes oppose the pure devotees, thus perpetuating an offensive mentality in the minds of the newcomers in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Once Śrīla Prabhupāda was asked how we can tell who is a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa, to which he replied, “It takes one to know one.” So, in the meantime let us try to remember the Lords instruction to always remain in a humble state of mind while constantly chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa. The Vaiṣṇavas are kṛpā-sindhu, an ocean of mercy, and we the fallen souls are in great need of coming in contact with that ocean of mercy. The Vaiṣṇavas are the only saviours for the down-trodden and fallen souls of this material world (patita-pāvana). Therefore, all unhealthy mentalities leading to Vaiṣṇava aparādha should be totally abandoned and given up immediately.
With the following prayer let us bow our heads in the dust of our gurus’ lotus feet and always beg to remain as a humble servant of the Vaiṣṇavas, and to always be gentle and gracious in our dealings with all those Vaiṣṇava devotees of the Lord who have embraced the lotus feet of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and who are the only shelter and life-giving nectar for the surrendered souls.
vāñcā-kalpa-tarubhyaś ca kṛpā-sindhubhya eva ca patitānāṁ pāvanebhyo vaiṣṇavebhyo namo namaḥ
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