Gita Jayanti: The Advent of the Bhagavad-gita—Some Practical Guidance
Today is the auspicious occasion of Gita Jayanti, the day Lord Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the day of Moksada Ekadasi. To begin, we shall read from Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Chapter Nine, “The Most Confidential Knowledge,” two verses that can provide us with guidance for our lives:
api cet su-duracaro
bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah
api—even; cet—if; su-duracarah—one committing the most abominable actions; bhajate—is engaged in devotional service; mam—unto Me; ananya-bhak—without deviation; sadhuh—a saint; eva—certainly; sah—he; mantavyah—is to be considered; samyak—completely; vyavasitah—situated in determination; hi—certainly; sah—he.
Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
The word su-duracarah used in this verse is very significant, and we should understand it properly. When a living entity is conditioned, he has two kinds of activities: one is conditional, and the other is constitutional. As for protecting the body or abiding by the rules of society and state, certainly there are different activities, even for the devotees, in connection with the conditional life, and such activities are called conditional. Besides these, the living entity who is fully conscious of his spiritual nature and is engaged in Krsna consciousness, or the devotional service of the Lord, has activities which are called transcendental. Such activities are performed in his constitutional position, and they are technically called devotional service.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
Following Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Prabhupada is explaining that because devotees are living in the material world, they also have activities that they must perform in relation to material existence, in relation to society, state, and so on. Such activities cannot be avoided, because we are in the material world. We have to live in society. We have to live in a country. In the grihastha ashrama, one has to earn a living and pay taxes. We have to do so many things, and those activities are performed in the material world. When we go to the spiritual world, we won’t have to go to the office, pay taxes, or perform social functions, but for now we must.
There are, of course, constitutional activities that one performs both here and in the spiritual world. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam. We hear about Krishna. We chant about Krishna. We remember Krishna. And when we go to the spiritual world, we will engage in these same activities.
Now, in the conditioned state, sometimes devotional service and the conditional service in relation to the body will parallel one another. But then again, sometimes these activities become opposed to one another. As far as possible, a devotee is very cautious so that he does not do anything that could disrupt his wholesome condition.
A person may be engaged in some work, some business, and to do his business he has to associate with nondevotees. In shastra, associating with nondevotees is discouraged and associating intimately with them is forbidden. But because the person has to earn his livelihood, he has to mix with all sorts of people, some of whose association is contaminating. This is an example of when conditional activities run opposite to one’s constitution.
If one is fortunate, one’s work can be done in the association of devotees. Srila Prabhupada encouraged the devotees to have businesses that would engage other devotees so that they wouldn’t have to associate extensively with nondevotees. And even better is to live in a self-sufficient community of devotees. Then you don’t have to go to an office or a shop at all. You don’t have to interact so much with the material world. You grow food, keep cows and get milk, and depend on nature and the cows. You don’t have to be involved with materialistic civilization.
So, sometimes the conditional activities run parallel to devotional service and sometimes they run opposite, and a devotee is very careful not to do anything that will disrupt his wholesome condition. He is aware that to some extent he has to interact with materialistic people in the course of his work, but he is careful not to interact with them beyond a certain point, because if he does, their association will affect his Krishna consciousness and disrupt his wholesome condition.
He knows that perfection in his activities depends on his progressive realization of Krsna consciousness. Sometimes, however, it may be seen that a person in Krsna consciousness commits some act which may be taken as most abominable socially or politically. But such a temporary falldown does not disqualify him. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that if a person falls down but is wholeheartedly engaged in the transcendental service of the Supreme Lord, the Lord, being situated within his heart, purifies him and excuses him from that abomination. The material contamination is so strong that even a yogi fully engaged in the service of the Lord sometimes becomes ensnared; but Krsna consciousness is so strong that such an occasional falldown is at once rectified. Therefore the process of devotional service is always a success. No one should deride a devotee for some accidental falldown from the ideal path, for, as explained in the next verse, such occasional falldowns will be stopped in due course, as soon as a devotee is completely situated in Krsna consciousness.
These two verses give two types of instructions—one is about what happens to a devotee who falls down, and one is about how others should regard a devotee who falls down.
The devotee who falls down, if he is fully engaged in devotional service . . . What is the purport of “fully engaged”? We have already discussed that as long as the devotee is in the material world, he has to perform conditional activities, but otherwise he is fully engaged in devotional service. He uses all his available time for chanting and hearing about Krishna, remembering Him and serving Him in different ways. Such a person is to be considered saintly even if he falls down. Generally, falling down involves lapsing into sinful activity. But to deride a devotee comes in another category, worse than sin. It comes in the category of aparadha—vaisnava-aparadha. Vaisnava-aparadha is much worse than a fall into sinful activity, and by such offenses our devotional service can become severely disturbed.
If we see a fault in a devotee and deride the devotee, or if we talk in a negative way about him or her, those acts come in the category of nama-aparadha, sadhu-ninda, vaisnava-aparadha. That is much more serious and harmful than a lapse into sense gratification. We may think that we are superior and criticize the devotee—“Oh, that devotee fell into sense gratification; that devotee failed to live up to the standard”—but such criticism of a devotee may be more serious than the failure of the devotee to live up to a certain standard. And we tend to criticize all the time. So we don’t make much progress. We are constantly finding fault with devotees, criticizing devotees, and therefore even though we chant rounds, read the Bhagavad-gita, go to the temple, and do service, because we constantly belittle devotees, even casually—we may not even be conscious that we are doing it—we don’t make progress. In fact, we could be losing our standing in devotional service. So, this is a very important lesson from Srimad Bhagavad-gita.
Therefore a person who is situated in Krsna consciousness and is engaged with determination in the process of chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare should be considered to be in the transcendental position, even if by chance or accident he is found to have fallen. The words sadhur eva, “he is saintly,” are very emphatic. They are a warning to the nondevotees . . .
Nondevotees are expected to deride devotees. But actual devotees, true Vaishnavas, appreciate other devotees, even if those devotees happen to stumble on the path. Unfortunately, neophyte devotees have some characteristics in common with nondevotees, so they may also criticize. But nondevotees are expected to do it, and therefore Srila Prabhupada says that this warning is meant for them.
They are a warning to the nondevotees that because of an accidental falldown a devotee should not be derided; he should still be considered saintly even if he has accidentally fallen down.
This term, “neophyte devotee,” is often expressed in Sanskrit as bhakta-praya, “almost a devotee,” because neophytes are on the material platform. They are chanting and trying to make progress, but because they are on the material platform, they are not considered actual devotees in the proper sense. So, from my side, as an introspective devotee, when I read this I should think, “Oh, I am like a nondevotee.” But others, from their side, should not fall into the conception that “they are bhakta-prayas, almost devotees; they are not real devotees, so I can criticize them,” because neophytes, although still more or less on the material platform, if engaged in the process of bhakti-yoga are in the category of sadhu. They should be considered saintly. And to deride them is an offense. So, we must be careful.
Internally, we should feel that we are not devotees. In fact, it is ironic, but the neophytes are the ones who generally think themselves to be devotees, good devotees, and it is the advanced devotees who feel they are not devotees. Like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—He said that He didn’t have even a drop of love for Krishna. He was crying day and night for Krishna, in the mood of Radharani in separation from Krishna, but He said, “I don’t have a drop of love for Krishna.” “Why?” one could ask. “You are always crying for Krishna.” “That is just a show, to impress others. If I actually had love for Krishna, I could not live. The fact that I am living without Him proves that I have no love for Him.” So, when one is in the highest stage, maha-bhagavata—of course, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was more than that—he feels that he is not a devotee and sees that everyone else is a devotee. And the neophyte thinks, “Oh, I am a devotee. These others, they are not real devotees.” They think that they are devotees and that others are not. They think that they themselves are up to the standard but that others are not. We have to go beyond that stage. That is why we have the instructions of the Bhagavad-gita, to elevate us.
They are a warning to the nondevotees that because of an accidental falldown a devotee should not be derided; he should still be considered saintly even if he has accidentally fallen down. And the word mantavyah is still more emphatic. If one does not follow this rule, and derides a devotee for his accidental falldown, then one is disobeying the order of the Supreme Lord. The only qualification of a devotee is to be unflinchingly and exclusively engaged in devotional service.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, which is based on Srimad-Bhagavatam and Srimad Bhagavad-gita, lists twenty-six qualities of a devotee, one of which is krsna-eka-sarana, “exclusively surrendered to Krishna.” That is what the Bhagavad-gita means here by bhajate mam ananya-bhak, “engaged in devotional service without any deviation.” Srila Prabhupada explains in the purport, “The only qualification of a devotee is to be unflinchingly and exclusively engaged in devotional service.” That is krsna-eka-sarana. That is the only qualification. What about the other twenty-five? If one has the single qualification of krsna-eka-sarana, even if he doesn’t have the other twenty-five, he is still considered a devotee. And if someone has the other twenty-five but not the one of being wholly and solely engaged in devotional service, he is not considered a devotee, even if he has all the other qualities. So, we cannot conclude, for example, that because one of the qualities of a devotee is to be humble and we see that some devotee lacks it, that “Oh, this devotee is not humble; this person is not humble, so he is not a devotee.” If he is wholly and solely engaged in the service of the Lord, he is a devotee. He might not have that quality yet—it will develop as he continues with the process—but if we think, “Oh, he is not a devotee. He is not humble. He didn’t offer me respect. He is not a devotee,” then we are committing an offense.
In the Nrsimha Purana the following statement is given:
bhagavati ca harav ananya-ceta
bhrsa-malino ’pi virajate manusyah
na hi sasa-kalusa-cchabih kadacit
timira-parabhavatam upaiti candrah
The meaning is that even if one fully engaged in the devotional service of the Lord is sometimes found engaged in abominable activities, these activities should be considered to be like the spots that resemble the mark of a rabbit on the moon. Such spots do not become an impediment to the diffusion of moonlight. Similarly, the accidental falldown of a devotee from the path of saintly character does not make him abominable.
We see that the moon has marks that look like a rabbit. But nobody criticizes the moon because it has marks. And the cooling, soothing light of the moon is not hampered by those marks. In the same way, a devotee who is fully engaged in the service of the Lord in transcendental bliss is not impeded in his service by his accidental falldown. He has had a fall, but he remains fully engaged in the service of the Lord. And if we find fault with him, we create obstacles in our own path.
On the other hand, one should not misunderstand that a devotee in transcendental devotional service can act in all kinds of abominable ways; this verse only refers to an accident due to the strong power of material connections.
In other words, if one thinks, “I am a devotee—I am chanting Hare Krishna—so I can do any nonsense and I won’t have to suffer the reaction,” that is another offense, nama-aparadha, sinning on the strength of chanting (namno balad yasya hi papa-buddhir). A devotee may accidentally fall down, but he repents for it. He repents severely and resolves to be careful in the future. And he does whatever he can to protect himself from falling down again. Even then, he might fall down again, as Srila Prabhupada explains:
Devotional service is more or less a declaration of war against the illusory energy. As long as one is not strong enough to fight the illusory energy, there may be accidental falldowns. But when one is strong enough, he is no longer subjected to such falldowns, as previously explained. No one should take advantage of this verse and commit nonsense and think that he is still a devotee. If he does not improve in his character by devotional service, then it is to be understood that he is not a high devotee.
Again, there are two points of view. The devotee who falls down should repent and make every effort to rectify himself and avoid further falldowns. And the person who is viewing him should consider, “He is saintly. He is engaged in devotional service. Krishna Himself says that he should be seen as a sadhu. If I deride him, I am going against Krishna’s instruction and I am spoiling my spiritual life, engaging in sadhu-ninda. To deride him is sadhu-ninda, nama-aparadha. That is worse than falling into sense enjoyment.”
In the purport, Srila Prabhupada referred to the next verse:
ksipram bhavati dharmatma
na me bhaktah pranasyati
He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
This should not be misunderstood. In the seventh chapter the Lord says that one who is engaged in mischievous activities cannot become a devotee of the Lord. One who is not a devotee of the Lord has no good qualifications whatsoever. The question remains, then, How can a person engaged in abominable activities—either by accident or by intention—be a pure devotee? This question may justly be raised.
Now here is the answer.
The miscreants, as stated in the seventh chapter, who never come to the devotional service of the Lord, have no good qualifications, as is stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.18.12), harav abhaktasya kuto mahad-guna: one who is not a devotee has no good qualities. Why? Manorathenasati dhavato bahih: he is on the mental platform, not the spiritual platform, and is bound to be attracted to the Lord’s external energy. So he can fall down at any time. Srila Prabhupada compared mental speculators—especially Mayavadis—to vultures. Vultures fly high in the sky, but as soon as they see some rotting flesh on the ground, they swoop down to peck at it. Similarly, Mayavadis may soar very high with their mental speculations, but as soon as they see an opportunity for sense gratification, they swoop down like vultures. So, the position of nondevotees, miscreants, is different from that of devotees—even those who fall down.
Generally, a devotee who is engaged in the nine kinds of devotional activities is engaged in the process of cleansing all material contamination from the heart. He puts the Supreme Personality of Godhead within his heart, and all sinful contaminations are naturally washed away.
How does a devotee put the Supreme Personality of Godhead in his heart? By sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam, chanting and hearing Lord Krishna’s holy names and glories. When one does so, Krishna in the form of transcendental sound enters the heart and cleanses it of material contamination.
srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
hrdy antah stho hy abhadrani
vidhunoti suhrt satam
“Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.” (SB 1.2.17) Hearing krsna-katha (srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah) is itself pious activity (punya-sravana-kirtanah), and by such hearing and chanting, the dirty things (abhadra) within the heart are cleansed (vidhunoti). Krishna Himself acts to cleanse the heart of the eager devotee who hears and chants His messages. Ceto-darpana-marjanam. By sri-krsna-sankirtana, chanting the glories of Lord Krishna, the dust is cleansed from the mirror of the mind. That is the process.
He puts the Supreme Personality of Godhead within his heart, and all sinful contaminations are naturally washed away. Continuous thinking of the Supreme Lord makes him pure by nature.
That is our process—sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam. And that is Krishna consciousness, to always think of Krishna. Just thinking of Krishna cleanses the heart and purifies the mind, because Krishna is all-pure. He is like the sun; His presence eradicates all darkness.
krsna-surya-sama; maya haya andhakara
yahan krsna, tahan nahi mayara adhikara
“Krsna is compared to sunshine, and maya is compared to darkness. Wherever there is sunshine, there cannot be darkness. As soon as one takes to Krsna consciousness, the darkness of illusion (the influence of the external energy) will immediately vanish.” (Cc Madhya 22.31)
Krishna is light, and maya is darkness. Where there is Krishna—the sunshine of Krishna consciousness—there can be no maya, no darkness. So we don’t have to try to drive away maya by separate endeavor. We just have to bring in Krishna, and maya will automatically go. When the sun rises, the darkness automatically goes away. Similarly, when the sun of Lord Krishna’s holy name rises, the darkness of sinful activities, anarthas, and offenses goes away.
amhah samharad akhilam sakrd
udayad eva sakala-lokasya
taranir iva timira-jaladhim
jayati jagan-mangalam harer nama
“As the rising sun immediately dissipates all the world’s darkness, which is deep like an ocean, so the holy name of the Lord, if chanted once without offenses, dissipates all the reactions of a living being’s sinful life. All glories to that holy name of the Lord, which is auspicious for the entire world.” (Padyavali 16, quoted as Cc Antya 3.181)
According to the Vedas, there is a certain regulation that if one falls down from his exalted position he has to undergo certain ritualistic processes to purify himself.
This is called prayascitta—for a particular sin there is a particular atonement. If you commit this sin, you must perform this atonement to become free from the reaction.
But here there is no such condition, because the purifying process is already there in the heart of the devotee, due to his remembering the Supreme Personality of Godhead constantly.
Prayascitta, which comes in the category of karma-kanda, is inferior to bhakti-yoga. For a devotee to engage in such ritualistic activity is itself a sort of falldown. The real process of purification is sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam. So the devotee who accidentally falls down has only to continue that process, which cleanses the heart and frees the devotee of all contamination.
Therefore, the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare should be continued without stoppage. This will protect a devotee from all accidental falldowns. He will thus remain perpetually free from all material contaminations.
This is our process, and if a devotee pursues it, he is to be considered saintly (sadhur eva sa mantavyah). One should not deride him.
A related topic is kutinati, faultfinding, which is sometimes associated with jiva-himsa, envy of other living beings. Envy and faultfinding go together. We are envious of someone, so we find fault. The fault may or may not be there, but out of envy we want to find some fault. We are looking for some excuse to criticize. And the nature of every conditioned soul is to be envious. It is actually envy that brings us into the material world and keeps us here. So, envy must be abandoned.
Other things—lust, anger, greed—can be dovetailed in the service of the Lord, but not envy. Envy must be given up. Of course, the hearing and chanting process is meant to cleanse the heart of envy. At the same time, we must understand that faultfinding is forbidden. Although we may have an envious feeling, we should understand that it is our defect; it is our fault that we feel envious. We should consider, “Envy is like an ugly demon that has entered my heart, and I have to somehow subdue it.” We must avoid faultfinding, which is an anartha and can lead to offense.
Sometimes we can’t really tell what’s in the heart of another person, whether the person is actually at fault or not. Once, when there was a lot of faultfinding going on in a temple, some devotees informed Srila Prabhupada, and in response he told the story from scripture about the brahman and the prostitute. On one side of a lane lived a brahman, and on the other side lived a prostitute. The brahman would always sit in front of his window with the Bhagavad-gita, and the prostitute across the street would do her business as a prostitute. One day, some calamity took place, and both the brahman and the prostitute died. And both Yamadutas and Visnudutas came to the scene. The Visnudutas came to claim the soul of the prostitute, and the Yamadutas came to claim the soul of the brahman. The brahman protested, “Wait, you are making a mistake. You are supposed to be coming for the prostitute. The Visnudutas should be coming for me.” But the Yamadutas replied, “No, we are not making a mistake. All the time you were sitting with your Bhagavad-gita in front of you, you were looking out the window at the house of the prostitute. You were thinking, ‘Oh, now some customer has come. Now they are doing this; now they are doing that.’ In your mind, you were thinking what she was doing, and by your consciousness you are fit to be taken to Yamaraja to be punished. The prostitute, although she was engaged in her occupation, was looking out the window and thinking, ‘Oh, that pious brahman, he is reading the Bhagavad-gita. I wish I could spend my time reading the Bhagavad-gita.’ And she would think of Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and all the wonderful instructions that Krishna gave Arjuna and the loving relationship between them. By her consciousness, she is fit to go back to Godhead.”
Srila Prabhupada told this story to illustrate the fact that we may not be able to tell, by external appearances, what is in another person’s heart. Therefore, we should not find fault, because we don’t know what the consciousness is. There is a saying that if Lord Nityananda enters a liquor shop, you should understand that He is going for service. Someone may think, “Oh, He went into a liquor shop. Sadhus don’t go into liquor shops.” But if Nityananda Prabhu or the spiritual master goes into a liquor shop, you should understand it is for some spiritual purpose, for some service.
Because we are in Kali-yuga and people are fallen and prone to find fault, we try to act in such a way as to not give them room to find fault. Someone in Bombay related a relevant incident to me. A devotee was seen eating in a restaurant that prepared food with onions. That the devotee was eating in the restaurant was bad enough, but that the food had onions was even worse. And another person eating there, who had some association with ISKCON, challenged the devotee, “Why are you eating food with onions?” The devotee retorted, “But you are, too.” The man replied, “True, I am. I know the standard, and I am not up to it. But you are presenting yourself as an authority. You are preaching to others, ‘No onions or garlic.’ So if you do it, it is different.” The point I want to make here is that when one is a preacher one should act in an exemplary way and not give ambien people a chance to criticize—for their sake.
Still, the principle is that if Nityananda Prabhu goes into a liquor shop, it should be understood that He is going for a good purpose. Sometimes Nityananda Prabhu or the spiritual master has a purpose that he can’t allow to be hampered or stopped for fear of neophytes who may find fault or misunderstand. For example, there is a rule that forbids brahmana from crossing the ocean, because if they cross they will be contaminated. Before Srila Prabhupada, no prominent acharya in our line had ever crossed the ocean, but he did. And orthodox brahmans criticized. They criticized even Srila Prabhupada. And even now, the pandas at the Jagannatha temple in Puri sometimes prevent ISKCON devotees even of Indian origin from entering the temple. They say that because they have associated with mlecchas and yavanas from outside India—although they are Hindus of Indian origin—they can’t enter, because they have been contaminated by association.
The acharya can’t stop his mission to suit the whims of envious or rigid people—or even neophyte devotees who cannot understand or appreciate what he is doing. Therefore, although we act in exemplary ways—we set a proper example for others to follow, and we don’t want to give them a chance to criticize—when it comes to our mission or service, we may have to forge ahead, even in unorthodox ways. As Srila Prabhupada often said, “The dogs may bark, but the caravan will pass.” We have to go ahead anyway. Let the dogs bark. It doesn’t matter. We are going to push on. Sometimes we may adopt that attitude, but not for sense gratification—only for a higher cause.
Once, in answering a question from me, Srila Prabhupada gave the example of Govinda, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s personal servant in Puri. As a rule, after His lunch, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would lie down to rest and Govinda would come to massage His legs; then Govinda would go to honor the remnants of food He had left. One time when the Lord lay down, He blocked the entrance to the room and there was no way Govinda could massage Him other than to step over His body. Some time later, when Mahaprabhu awoke, He saw Govinda still sitting there, and He asked, “Why did you stay so long? Why did you not take prasada?” Govinda replied, “You were lying down, blocking the door, and there was no way for me to go.” Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu asked, “But then how did you come in the room?” Govinda thought, “For the sake of the Lord’s service I could cross, but not for my own sake.” Srila Prabhupada concluded, “For the sake of service we may sometimes transgress a rule, but not for our sense gratification.”
On occasion, we may sacrifice a lesser principle for a greater purpose, but we should not sacrifice any principle, big or small, for our sense gratification. For a mission, for a cause, for a service, we may. And if you believe that someone has transgressed some principle, you should consider that it might have been for a higher cause—and refrain from faultfinding and unnecessary criticism.
Are there any questions or comments?
Somaditya Chakraborty: You were saying that we have got two types of duties: one is conditional, and one is constitutional. Sometimes, due to our conditional activities, such as working at a job or whatever we do, we are not able to accept things that are favorable for devotional service and reject things that are unfavorable. Does our conditional duty then hamper our surrender to Krishna—because accepting things favorable for devotional service and rejecting things that are unfavorable is part of surrendering to Krishna?
Giriraj Swami: Would you like to introduce yourself?
Somaditya Chakraborty: I am Lieutenant Commander Somaditya Chakraborty. I work in the Indian navy.
Giriraj Swami: Somaditya comes from the sacred city of Calcutta, where Srila Prabhupada appeared, where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura disappeared, and where all three walked and preached and served.
Life on the ship means that one has to associate with nondevotees, and one may have to take food prepared in a kitchen that is not to the Vaishnava standard. One could say that one should accept what’s favorable and reject what’s unfavorable and that one should therefore reject this association, reject this food, reject this situation. But then again, you have to earn a living, and somehow you got into this line. It happens. Sometimes people get into a career before they know much about Krishna consciousness and only later realize that their career has elements that are unfavorable to their spiritual development. Of course, practically, there are considerations of time, place, and circumstance, whether one should leave one’s particular work or not. On my first visit to Houston, a very nice devotee, not yet initiated, drove me to the airport. He owned a motel and was very concerned because customers would come there and break the regulative principles. He didn’t have a restaurant or sell meat or liquor. But people were coming and using the premises to consume alcohol and flesh and indulge in illicit sex. In his case, he gave it up. He sold the motel and went into the jewelry business. Of course, every endeavor is covered with some fault. But selling jewelry is an accepted occupation that does not directly involve sinful activities.
Sometimes a person in an awkward situation may think, “Somehow I am in this work. It would be hard for me at this stage to start all over again in some other line. Maybe I should just continue and earn enough money and then retire and go to Mayapur.” Then it becomes a question of what is more favorable and what is less unfavorable. In that situation it may be more favorable to stay in the job, earn well, retire early, and go to Mayapur, or travel all over the world and preach. It may be worse to leave the job, have to start all over again, struggle, wonder how the money will come to pay the bills, and in the end just struggle for the rest of your life to pay the bills.
What you say is true in principle—we should accept what is favorable and reject what is unfavorable—but practically we may have to accept the more important principles that are favorable and neglect lesser ones that are also favorable but just less important. In this world no situation is ever completely favorable. For example, to preach is favorable; preaching is the best service. But to preach you have to go out on the street, and then you see billboards and men and women and other things that are unfavorable. But if you decide, “Okay, I am not going to go out, because then I will see the billboards that may be unfavorable; I will just stay where I am,” that may be giving more emphasis to a lesser principle as opposed to a greater one. Rather, we give preference to the more important principle, to preaching, even at the expense of less important principles.
At the same time, we must realistically assess how much risk we can take for the higher principle, for preaching. As Srila Prabhupada said, “We must know how to catch the big fish without getting wet.”
Still, preaching is such an important activity that devotees do take risks. Srila Prabhupada said, “When we preach we take risks.” Crossing the ocean and going to the West was taking a risk. Living on the Bowery and staying with hippies was taking a risk. Any time you venture out into the world and approach people, you take a risk, but you have to do it; otherwise you can’t preach.
Before we got the Juhu property, when we had a rented apartment on Warden Road, one of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples who had been serving there went to South Africa to preach. In time, Srila Prabhupada received reports that the devotee was becoming weak for want of association. According to the reports, South Africa had beautiful beaches and nice weather, and the devotee was spending most of his time at the seaside. When Srila Prabhupada received the reports, he was concerned. He said that whenever he sent out a preacher, he felt anxiety, because there was always a chance that the preacher would fall down. But preaching was so important, he said, that Krishna Himself came to the material world to preach.
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge
[Lord Krishna says:] “To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Gita 4.8)
If we don’t send out preachers, our mission— Krishna’s mission—won’t spread. People won’t get the chance to become Krishna conscious. And Prabhupada explained that because there is such risk in preaching, Krishna considers the preacher to be His dearmost servant. There is none more dear to Him than he, nor will there ever be. And Krishna guarantees that in the end the preacher will come back home, back to Godhead. That is Krishna’s final instruction in the Bhagavad-gita:
ya idam paramam guhyam
bhaktim mayi param krtva
mam evaisyaty asamsayah
“For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.” (Gita 18.68)
na ca tasman manusyesu
kascin me priya-krttamah
bhavita na ca me tasmad
anyah priyataro bhuvi
“There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Gita 18.69)
And what is “this supreme secret”? It is the most confidential knowledge of the entire Bhagavad-gita:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo ’si me
“Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me, and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” (Gita 18.65)
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Gita 18.66)
Such instructions are most confidential. And Srila Prabhupada said, “Confidential means that people won’t like it.”
So, we do take risks when we preach. And when we preach we can’t always follow all the rules and regulations perfectly. Sometimes we can’t even follow our diet when we preach. At home we can follow our diet, but when we preach sometimes we can’t. For the sake of preaching, we sometimes have to break our strict diet, but we do it—and depend on Krishna. The ultimate consideration is what is most favorable for devotional service, what pleases Krishna most.
Mahaprabhu dasa: I understand this devotee’s situation and that a devotee, even if he commits a mistake, should not be criticized if he is fixed in devotional service. That is a different point. My point relates to Prabhuji’s question. Prahlada Maharaja says that whatever we are going to get is already destined. Then why should we compromise our spiritual life, which is our opportunity only in this human form of life—which is not available in any other form? Once we understand the Gita and are involved in Krishna consciousness and are working toward initiation, then why should we compromise our spiritual life? Krishna will provide. What we are going to get is already predestined. And Krishna promises, “You surrender to Me and I will take care of you.” Na me bhaktah pranasyati. That is surrender. Once we are devotees, Krishna will take care of us. Then why should we worry?
Giriraj Swami: I agree. First, you spoke about destiny, that we get what we are destined to get. But maybe his destiny is to become a lieutenant commander in the Indian navy and get whatever he is getting there. Even in Vedic culture there are kshatriyas. And this is the point, that every endeavor is covered with some fault. Ksatriyas sometimes go and shoot animals to practice their archery. But someone has to defend the citizens, the nation. He is doing that.
saha-jam karma kaunteya
sa-dosam api na tyajet
sarvarambha hi dosena
“Every endeavor is covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work born of his nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault.” (Gita 18.48)
As for Krishna taking care of His devotees, He does. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t earn our living. A man may have enough money to retire and live off the income from his savings and investments. He doesn’t have to work. He is free to serve Krishna. Someone could argue, “Why are you keeping the money in the bank and in shares? You should give it to Krishna consciousness and let Krishna take care of you.” But for the man to ask Krishna to take care of him may be seen as him taking service from Krishna—not depending on Krishna but taking service from Him. The Bhagavad-gita says that we should work to the best of our capacity and depend on Krishna for the result—not that we do nothing and just depend on Him. In any case, the main factor is the consciousness, the intention, the mood of service.
Practically, to live under a tree now and depend on nature or charity is not as easy as it was in previous times. Still, it is true that if a devotee is very advanced and always absorbed in Krishna consciousness without deviation, Krishna personally takes care of him.
ananyas cintayanto mam
ye janah paryupasate
yoga-ksemam vahamy aham
“But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form—to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.” (Gita 9.22)
Mahaprabhu dasa: But what if our work is coming in the way of our following the four regulative principles?
Giriraj Swami: That is something else. When it comes to selling meat or alcohol or something similar, we may give it up—like the example of the motel owner. That is true.
Nityananda dasa: Guru Maharaja, how can we minimize or diminish the mentality of envy?
Giriraj Swami: Once, in the holy city of Surat, where Srila Prabhupada and his devotees got their best reception, I asked him about envy. I was suffering from it, and it was disturbing me, disturbing my chanting, and disturbing my relationships with devotees. My policy was to not ask Srila Prabhupada a question if I could answer it myself. Unless I had really thought about it deeply and tried to answer it by some other means—by introspection, by reading, by consulting with other devotees—I would not ask. But here I could not get any solution to make the envy go away. I knew that it was harmful to me, and I wanted it to go away, but I didn’t know how.
So, I asked Srila Prabhupada. First he said, “Can you think of any reasons not to be envious?” I had thought of many reasons. It was disturbing my chanting and my relationships, and further, I had reasoned that Krishna was unlimited and that His service was unlimited—so why should I be envious if someone had a particular service? It was not going to deprive me of service, because Krishna’s service was unlimited. He could have his service, and I would have mine. Why should I be envious? So, when Prabhupada asked, “Can you think of any reasons not to be envious?” I said, “Yes.” He continued, “All right. Being envious means you don’t like someone. Now, that not-liking should be directed against the demons, who create so much havoc in the world. It should be directed toward nondevotees.”
Our problem is that we direct our not-liking toward devotees. Sometimes we even hear people say, “If this is what a Krishna conscious person is like, I don’t want to be Krishna conscious.” “If this is what it means to be a devotee, I don’t want to be a devotee.” It is the reverse. Of course, because we interact more with devotees, it may happen that we get hurt more by devotees, and that disturbs us. But really, the tendencies to not like or find fault or speak against should be directed toward the demons, not the devotees. And if we go out and preach more, and see what the nondevotees are actually like, we will appreciate the devotees more. Faultfinding among devotees, envy among devotees, although it may be anywhere, is more common among neophytes who don’t preach that much. But when you go out and preach and see what people out there are really like, you come to appreciate devotees more. When you are with only devotees, you may find all these little faults: “They did this; they did that. They didn’t do this; they didn’t do that.” But when you go and see what is out there, what the people are actually like, and then come back, you appreciate the devotees.
Radha Charan dasa: We understand that all qualities originate in Krishna (janma-adi yasya yatah). We have all the qualities of Krishna, and we have envy. Does that mean Krishna has envy?
Giriraj Swami: Krishna has all the qualities that we have but in unlimited quantity and in perfection. So, yes, Krishna also has envy. He manifests different types of personalities, and one of them is dhiroddhata. The Nectar of Devotion (Chapter 23) states that a person who is envious, proud, easily angered, restless, and complacent is called dhiroddhata. The same passage continues: “Such qualities were visible in the character of Lord Krishna, because when He was writing a letter to Kalayavana, Krishna addressed him as a sinful frog. In His letter Krishna advised Kalayavana that he should immediately go and find some dark well for his residence, because there was a black snake named Krishna who was very eager to devour all such sinful frogs. Krishna reminded Kalayavana that He could turn all the universes to ashes simply by looking at them.
“The above statement by Krsna seems apparently to be of an envious nature, but according to different pastimes, places, and times this quality is accepted as a great characteristic. Krsna’s dhiroddhata qualities have been accepted as great because Krsna uses them only to protect His devotees. In other words, even undesirable traits may also be used in the exchange of devotional service.”
Kesava dasa: There are nine forms of bhakti, devotional service. If someone says, “I will attain devotional service by doing one of them” and does not chant, is that possible?
Giriraj Swami: Good question. There are nine kinds of devotional service, and one can attain perfection by engaging in any one of them perfectly. The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.1.11) gives the basic definition of pure devotional service:
silanam bhaktir uttama
Anusilanam means that it must be continuous. For most devotees], it is not possible to engage continuously in only one of the nine processes. Maharaja Pariksit attained perfection by hearing. He sat down on the banks of the Ganges and heard Srimad-Bhagavatam for seven days continuously without eating or sleeping. He attained perfection. Can we do that? Sukadeva Gosvami attained perfection by chanting Srimad-Bhagavatam. He recited Srimad-Bhagavatam for seven days continuously without eating or sleeping. So, it is true that if one is able to continuously engage and absorb himself in only one of the items, he can attain perfection. But he has to be engaged continuously, because that is the basic qualification. And if we are not able—and very few of us are—then we have to vary our activities in order to keep up our interest, keep up our enthusiasm. Therefore Srila Prabhupada gave us a program that includes all the nine items. We go to the arati, we recite prayers—Nrsimha prayers, tulasi prayers—we water the tulasi plant. These are all different items of devotional service. We chant Hare Krishna. We hear Srimad-Bhagavatam. We take krsna-prasada. Somehow or other, we must stay engaged in devotional service. That is the principle. It may be one or two or three or all nine. But in general, we require variety, and so Srila Prabhupada gave us a program that includes all different items.
Still, as Srila Prabhupada wrote in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22.113), “There are many regulative principles in the sastras and directions given by the spiritual master. These regulative principles should act as servants of the basic principle—that is, one should always remember Krsna and never forget Him. This is possible when one chants the Hare Krsna mantra. Therefore one must strictly chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra twenty-four hours daily. One may have other duties to perform under the direction of the spiritual master, but he must first abide by the spiritual master’s order to chant a certain number of rounds. In our Krsna consciousness movement, we have recommended that the neophyte chant at least sixteen rounds. This chanting of sixteen rounds is absolutely necessary if one wants to remember Krsna and not forget Him. Of all the regulative principles, the spiritual master’s order to chant at least sixteen rounds is most essential.”
Ajay Jajodia: A relative asked me, “Why is your family so attached to ISKCON? What is so special about it?” Though I was not in a position to reply, I said that we follow one principle, and that is taught by Srila Prabhupada. Then she asked, “What is so special about Srila Prabhupada? Why did you choose to follow only him?” I could only quote one verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam—tava kathamrtam tapta-jivanam. That is why Prabhupada is so special, because he spread hari-nama worldwide. That was all I could say. So, what is so special about Prabhupada and ISKCON?
Giriraj Swami: I think your answers were perfect. The first question was “Why is your family so attached to ISKCON? What is so special about ISKCON?” The answer is Prabhupada. And the second question was “What is so special about Prabhupada?” And the answer is that he spread Krishna consciousness all over the world. Krsna-sakti vina nahe tara pravartana—unless one is especially empowered by Krishna, one cannot spread the sankirtana movement all over the world. Kali-kalera dharma—krsna-nama-sankirtana—this sankirtana movement is the yuga-dharma for the present age. You gave the right answer. Now you should go out and preach. You have passed the test. You are qualified.
Ajay Jajodia: I am not at all qualified.
Giriraj Swami: To be able to preach in a sustained way and actually influence people’s hearts, one must chant the holy name and follow the regulative principles. Otherwise, one won’t have the power to preach. Preaching is not some external, mundane activity. It requires spiritual strength. And one gets that strength from chanting sixteen rounds, following the regulative principles, and engaging in devotional service.
Ajay Jajodia: I try to chant, but I cannot chant properly. My mind is always distracted by my problems and environment, and I lose hope.
Giriraj Swami: But if you preach, you will be forced to chant attentively. Srila Prabhupada said our service should be a fresh challenge that we enthusiastically rise to meet; and to meet it, we enthusiastically chant and hear and follow the regulative principles. Now your life is too comfortable. Whether you chant with attention or not, it doesn’t matter. You will get your dal and chapatis. Whether or not you chant all your rounds, you will still get your dal and chapatis. But when you are on the front-line preaching, you have to be spiritually fit. Preaching is declaring war on maya. You have to be in good shape. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the opposing forces. Preaching will impel you to become spiritually strong.
Ramai Pandita dasa: Maharaja, when your guru maharaja is present in the physical world, you can come to know whether or not he is happy with your service. He is there to tell you if he is happy with your service or not. You can always go to him and take his advice. But when he is not physically present, how do you come to know whether he is happy or unhappy with your service or whatever you are doing?
Giriraj Swami: There are two ways. If you are pure enough, you can know from within your heart whether he is pleased or not. Or, you can approach devotees who have a sense of what would please or displease him. You can ask them, and they may give you an idea of whether your activities are pleasing or not. Sadhu, shastra, and guru. Basically, like Prabhupada, your guru maharaja wants you to be Krishna conscious and spread Krishna consciousness.
Ramai Pandita dasa: You said that envy results in faultfinding, finding faults in devotees. So, should we cultivate the art of forgiving others? If we start forgiving others, then we may not fall into envy and faultfinding.
Giriraj Swami: Yes. Forgiving is most important. Forgiveness (ksama) is one of the qualities of a devotee. We must forgive. If we don’t, it means we have something in our heart, and if we keep it in our heart, it will disturb our Krishna consciousness. Also, if we don’t forgive, it may disturb the person whom we are not forgiving. It may cause distress to the other person—and distress to us. In fact, causing distress to the other person increases our own distress. So, we have to forgive. Forgiveness is the main qualification of a brahman.
ksamaya rocate laksmir
brahmi sauri yatha prabha
ksaminam asu bhagavams
tusyate harir isvarah
“The duty of a brahmana is to culture the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, is pleased with those who are forgiving.” (SB 9.15.40)
The main fault of a brahman is pride, and the main virtue of a brahman is forgiveness. Throughout the Bhagavad-gita, the quality of forgiveness is glorified.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Gita Jayanti ki jaya!
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Gita Jayanti, December 20, 2007, in Juhu, Mumbai]