Of all the various offences a jiva can commit, no offence is as severe than offending a Vaisnava. Thus it is crucial to deliberate upon the meaning of vaisnava-ninda according to the sastras. It is said in Skanda Purana:
ye mudha vaisnavanam mahatmanam
patanti pitribhih sardham maha-raurava-samjnite
hanti nindati vai
dvesti vaisnavan nabhinandati
krudhyate yati no harsam darsane patanani sat
"Those fools that blaspheme those great souls who are devoted to Visnu fall down into the hell known as Maha-raurava, along with their descendents. There are six types of behavior that result in such a fall down – killing a Vaisnava, blaspheming him, feeling malice towards him, not greeting him upon seeing him, becoming angry with him and not feeling happiness upon seeing him."
It is written in the Bhagavatam:
nindam bhagavatah srnvan tat-parasya
tato napaiti yah so ’pi yatyadhah sukrtacyutah
"One who, upon hearing blasphemy of the Lord or those who have dedicated their lives to Him, the Vaisnava, do not leave that place immediately, lose their sukrti and fall down."
Four Categories of Jivas
Having thus been warned about offending Vaisnavas, it is essential to first ascertain who is a Vaisnava, and understand which activities cause vaisnava-aparadha. All jivas belong to one of four categories – ordinary jivas, religious jivas, brahmanas and vaisnava-praya-jivas (those who resemble Vaisnavas) and vaisnava-jivas.
Sin and Aparadha
With the understanding that Sri Krsna resides in all beings, one should show respect to every jiva. Amongst them, some special honour should be shown to religious jivas. It is an essential duty to show honor to the brahmana-jiva and the vaisnava-praya-jiva and we are instructed to worship the feet of the vaisnava-jiva. If we neglect to show respect to the ordinary jivas, special honour to the religious jiva, and proper respect to brahmana-jivas and vaisnava-praya-jivas, then we invite sin upon ourselves. But to show disrespect or dishonour to a vaisnava-jiva is an aparadha. Performing ordinary penances can erase so many sins, but an aparadha is not dispelled so easily. Sins influence the gross and subtle bodies. Aparadha specifically affects the jiva’s very soul and causes him to fall down. Thus, whoever wishes to perform bhajana of the Lord must guard against committing aparadha (this is compulsory).
Three kinds of Vaisnavas
In the Srimad Bhagavata, there are three slokas that are found below that describe the categories of Vaisnavas as vaisnava, vaisnavatara and vaisnavatama (primary, greater and outstanding). The kanistha Vaisnava is described thus:
arcayam eva haraye pujam yah sraddhayehate
na tad-bhaktesu canyesu sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah
"One who accepts a mundane lineage and engages in worshipping the sri-murti of Hari, yet does not worship the devotees of Hari is a kanistha Vaisnava, which means he is just entering the science of devotion (bhakti-tattva)." (Bhag. 11.2.47)
The actual difference between the mundane faith of this world and faith based on the sastras (sastriya-sraddha) is that mundane faith only manifests from worldly education. Sastriya-sraddha, means that one develops faith in the words of the sastras, and with help of its pramanas (scriptural evidence), then faith in the Vaisnavas arises. When sastriya-sraddha arises, then the jiva becomes a madhyama-adhikari Vaisnava. Until the time that sastriya-sraddha appears in a sadhaka, his tendency to perform karma does not diminish. Thus, Sriman Mahaprabhu has said:
suddha-vaisnava nahe kintu vaisnavera praya
Such persons are not pure Vaisnavas, but they are similar to Vaisnavas. Only by genuine sadhu-sanga, can the kanistha Vaisnava, who is a Vaisnava-praya-jiva, become a pure Vaisnava. Then there is the madhyama Vaisnava:
isvare tad-adhinesu balisesu dvisatsu ca
prema-maitri-krpopeksa yah karoti sa madhyamah
"One who has love for the Supreme Lord, who is friendly to the Vaisnavas, kind to those who are inexperienced in bhakti-tattva, namely jivas who are vaisnava-praya and for living beings that are inimical or unfavorable towards the Lord and the Vaisnavas, he shows negligence. Thus he takes the position of indifference, tolerance or rejection." (Bhag.11.2.46)
Considering even the envious to be inexperienced in the field of bhakti, the madhyama Vaisnava gives them the opportunity to serve the Vaisnavas. Only a madhyama Vaisnava is qualified to serve the Vaisnavas. Because kanistha Vaisnavas do not engage in such service, they are known as Vaisnava-praya. They cannot be called Vaisnavas. Then there is the uttama Vaisnava:
sarva-bhutesu yah pasyed bhagavad-bhavamatmanah
bhutani bhagavaty-atmanyesa bhagavatottamah
He who experiences the presence of the Lord in all living beings, who perceives that all entities (including himself) are able to receive divine connection with the truth pertaining to Bhagavan (bhagavata-tattva), and that their very existence rests in Bhagavan, who sees everyone in the world as a Vaisnava and considers them all to be under His shelter – such a person is known as an uttama Vaisnava. Such a devotee sees no difference between a Vaisnava and a non-Vaisnava.
Thus it can be ascertained that when those who were at the stage of kanistha, that attain sastriya-sraddha and become qualified to serve the Vaisnavas, should be known thereafter as Vaisnavas until they attain the other symptoms of a madhyama Vaisnava. A madhyama Vaisnava is known as Vaisnavatara. The uttama Vaisnava is known as Vaisnavatama. Here, it is important to understand how Mahaprabhu has revealed these three types of Vaisnavas to us. It has been discussed in this way:
ataeva yara mukhe eka krsna-nama
seita vaisnava tara karaha sammana
"One who chants the Name of Krsna even once is Vaisnava. Therefore, you should show all respect to him." (Cc. Madhya 15.111)
krsna-nama nirantara yanhara vadane
sei se vaisnavatara, bhaja tahara carane
"One who constantly chants Krsna’s Name is Vaisnavatara and one should render service to his feet." (Cc. Madhya16.72)
yanhara darsane mukhe aise krsna-nama
tanhare janiha tumi vaisnava-pradhana
krama kari kahe prabhu vaisnava-laksana-
vaisnava vaisnavatara ara vaisnavatama
"One who inspires others to chant the Name of Krsna merely by their darsana is known as Vaisnavatama and is considered to be the topmost Vaisnava. Thus, Mahaprabhu explained the gradations of Vaisnavas and their qualities – Vaisnava, Vaisnavatara and Vaisnavatama." (Cc. Madhya16.74–75)
According to the instructions of Sriman Mahaprabhu, simply by uttering krsna-nama, one attains the platform of a Vaisnava. Amongst kanistha devotees, those who are considered as Vaisnava-praya, namely those who are considered as Vaisnavabhasa (possessing the external appearance of a Vaisnava) only chant namabhasa – not the real Name. Those that are able to chant suddha-nama, even once, are pure devotees. Those who constantly chant suddha-nama are Vaisnavatara. Those that make the Holy Name appear on the lips of others simply by their very presence are considered to be Vaisnavatama.
At this point, another observation needs to be made and that is that becoming a pure devotee does not depend upon taking formal diksa etc. It is said that diksa is the process where one is elevated to the position of Vaisnava-praya by accepting a mantra for worshipping the Deity of Hari. In terms of nama-tattva, diksa is not essential. As the Lord has said:
prabhu kahe yanra mukhe suni ekabara
krsna-nama sei pujya srestha sabakara
"Mahaprabhu said – One from whose mouth the Holy Name of Krsna is heard even once is considered to be worshipful and is the best amongst human beings." (Cc. Madhya 15.106)
nava-vidha bhakti purna nama haite haya
"Even uttering Krsna’s Name once destroys all sins. It is only through the Holy Name that one achieves perfection through the nine-fold process of bhakti." (Cc. Madhya 15.107)
apeksha na kare
jihva-sparse acandala sabare uddhare
"In order to chant the Holy Name, one is not required to undergo the process of diksa or the rite of purascarya. When it connects with the tongue, the Holy Name delivers everyone – even candalas." (Cc. Madhya 15.108)
kare samsarera ksaya
citta akarsaye kare krsne-premodaya
"Simultaneously, while chanting the Holy Name, the repeated cycle of birth and death is eliminated. Thus the heart is attracted to Krsna and divine love is awakened." (Cc. Madhya 15. 109)
ataeva yara mukhe
sei vaisnava kari tara parama sammana
"One who even chants the Holy Name even once is considered to be a Vaisnava. Therefore you should show him great honour." (Cc. Madhya 15.111)
Namabhasa and the Pure Name
There is no time to discuss the difference between the Holy Name and namabhasa here. That shall be specifically discussed at another time. However, concerning this point, this much can be said –when the Name of Krsna is chanted with sastriya-sraddha, which means with pure surrender (saranagati), then it is actually the Name proper. When the Name is chanted with various desires or when it is covered by jnana, karma, vairagya etc. it is namabhasa. The chanting of namabhasa can result in mukti, but namabhasa never appears from mouth of a Vaisnava. He only chants suddha-nama.
When the Holy Name is chanted by one who has knowledge of His intrinsic spiritual form (svarupa), who realises that nama and nami (the Name and the Named) are non-different, and who realizes that the Holy Name only manifests within the spiritual senses of the jiva, then it can be said to be the Name proper. When that Name manifests upon someone’s tongue even once, that person becomes a Vaisnava. When the Name does appear, all of one’s sins, both prarabdha and aprarabdha (manifest and unmanifest sins) are destroyed. Prema arises the instant the Holy Name appears. A Vaisnava is naturally decorated with all good qualities and is free of all faults. It is stated in the Caritamrta:
sarva maha-guna-gana vaisnava-sarire
krsna-bhakte krsnera guna sakali sancare
"All great qualities reside in the body of a Vaisnava and all the qualities of Krsna manifest in His devotees." (Cc. Madhya 22,76)
vidhi-dharma chadi’ bhaje krsnera carana
nisiddha papacare tara kabhu nahe mana
"Although a Vaisnava may neglect the regulative principles (vidhi-dharma) he worships Krsna’s lotus feet. Thus his mind is never tainted by the desire to perform sinful activities." (Cc. Madhya 22.142)
ajnane va haya yadi papa upasthita
krsna tanre suddha kare na karaya prayascitta
"However, if a Vaisnava somehow performs sinful activities, Krsna purifies him and that devotee does not have to go through any type of ritual atonement." (Cc. Madhya 22.143)
jnana-vairagyadi bhaktira kabhu nahe anga
ahimsa yama niyamadi bule krsna-bhakta-sanga
"Jnana and vairagya etc. are not limbs of bhakti. Non-violence, control over the mind and senses etc. automatically follow a devotee of Krsna. "(Cc. Madhya 22.145)
asat-sanga-tyaga ei vaisnava-acara
stri-sangi ekasadhu krsnabhakta ara
"It is the proper conduct of a Vaisnava to reject bad association such as those who associate with women, the unholy and those who are averse to Krsna." (Cc. Madhya 22.87)
From the very day that the Holy Name of Krsna manifests on a persons tongue even once, that jiva will lose all taste for sinful activities. What to speak of sinful activities, he will also lose taste in pious activities. The Vaisnava, Vaisnavatara and Vaisnavatama are without material contamination (niranjana), pure (nirmala) and sinless (nispapa). However, if it is seen that a person has an inclination towards performing sinful acts, then he should not to be counted amongst the Vaisnavas. Even kanistha Vaisnavas are not inclined towards pious or sinful activities. Pure Vaisnavas are faultless and therefore cannot be criticized. Those that do so spread lies about Vaisnavas and speak ill about them. Such wicked persons enviously criticize Vaisnavas in the following three ways –
Wicked persons discuss faults that were present in a person before suddha-bhakti manifested within him. However, when bhakti manifests in the heart, all faults quickly disappear.
During the short time that unwanted desires are being removed from the heart, wicked people criticize him for any faults that still remain within him.
The third topic of discussion for wicked people is that although a pure Vaisnava has no inclination towards faulty activities, sometimes (without any conceivable reason) some prohibitive habits manifest. Such faults never remain permanently within a Vaisnava. However, wicked people discuss these faults and consequently fall down due to the fault of blaspheming a Vaisnava. Therefore, in Nama-tattva-ratna-mala, it has been said:
prag bhakterudyad-dosah ksayavasista eva ca
daivotpannas ca bhaktanam naivalocyah kadacana
saduddesyamrte yastu mrsapavadameva ca
dosanalocayatyeva sa sadhu-nindakohadhamah
"One should not consider the faults of a devotee, especially those impurities that were there before devotion manifest within him, those that temporarily remain but are presently perishing through his practice of bhakti, and those that may appear in him by chance. One who reflects upon these faults is guilty of sadhu-ninda and is most fallen."
O readers! Any faults that were previously in a
Vaisnava before bhakti appeared
within him should never be
considered, unless there is some noble intention in doing so. A Vaisnava should
never be criticized for the insignificant residue of his previous faults, which
is why Sri Krsna has explained the following in Bhagavad-gita:
api cet suduracaro bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhureva sa mantavyah samyag vyavasito hi sah
ksipram bhavati dharmatma sasvacchantim nigacchati
kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranasyati
"Even if one is impious and has committed abominable acts, if he worships Me with one-pointed devotion, such a person should be considered saintly because his determination is perfect. He quickly becomes virtuous again and attains everlasting peace. O Kaunteya, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes." (Gita 9.30–31)
Through the influence of bhakti, all abominable activities that may have existed before the appearance of bhakt, which seemed to be one’s very own nature, are reduced day by day and are finally destroyed within a short time. Discussing the faults of a Vaisnava without a virtuous intention results in vaisnava-aparadha. If one sees some fault in a Vaisnava that appears due to divine providence, one should still not blaspheme that Vaisnava. In this regard, Karabhajana has said:
svapada-mulam bhajatah priyasya tyaktany-abhavasya harih paresah
vikarma yacchotpatitam kathancid dhunoti sarvam hrdi sannivistah
"One who gives up everything to engage in worshipping the lotus feet of Hari is very dear to the Lord. Even if somehow the tendency to perform sinful activities appears within him, the Supreme Lord, who resides within the heart, destroys the reactions to such sins." (Bhag.11.5.42)
Apart from well-intended discussions of those faults that may arise accidentally, one is liable to commit the offense of criticizing a Vaisnava. The fundamental point here is that slandering and blaspheming a Vaisnava, due to any of the three faults previously mentioned, leads to namaparadha, and if one commits namaparadha, then divine revelation (sphurti) of the Holy Name will never manifest. One cannot become a Vaisnava without such revelation of the Holy Name.
At this stage in our discussion, an opposing point of view may arise – would it be proper to deliberate on other types of faults found in a Vaisnava besides the three that have already been mentioned? The answer is that no other type of fault can exist within a Vaisnava apart from the three mentioned above. If someone has another type of fault that does not fit in with one of these three divisions, then, according to the sastras, they cannot be considered to be a Vaisnava. Actually, we should seriously consider the fact that without proper motivation, it is improper to reflect upon the faults of any jiva. To blaspheme a Vaisnava is an offence. Blaspheming other jivas is a sin. A Vaisnava has no desire to perform such sinful activities.
Yet if one has proper intentions in pointing out another’s faults, then sastra doe not consider that as an offence. There are three types of proper intention – if we expose someone’s sins in order that they ultimately attain auspiciousness, then such discussions are favorable. If we deliberate on a sinner’s vices in order to benefit the whole world, then this should be counted as an auspicious action. If such deliberations are for one’s own spiritual benefit, then such an aspect carries no fault.
When one reflects upon the histories concerning the previous life of Valmiki or the previous activities of Jagai and Madhai etc. then such deliberations are actually free of sin. When a disciple prays to the guru to indentify a true Vaisnava, the guru, desiring auspiciousness for the disciple and the whole world, may draw attention to a non-Vaisnava whose behavior is actually unholy as well as those who are saintly Vaisnavas. With the intention to guide others to accept shelter at the feet of real Vaisnavas, it is not sadhu-ninda or vaisnava-aparadha to reject the company of such deceitful dharma-dhvajis (religious pretenders). Even if criticism arises towards a specific person, it is still free from any fault. These are all examples of criticizing with a proper motivation.
O readers! You must think carefully upon this serious subject matter. According to proper devotional conclusions, you must show honor to true Vaisnavas and without any hesitation whatsoever, abandon the company of non-devotees. If one blasphemes a genuine Vaisnava, then the transcendental truth concerning the Holy Name (nama-tattva) will never manifest within one’s heart. In this way, the Bhagavata instructs us thus:
tato du˙sangam-utsrjya satsu sajjeta buddhiman
santa evasya cindanti mano-vyasangam-uktibhih
"It is for all these reasons that those who are intelligent reject the association of the wicked and associate with those who are saintly. This is because the instructions of such saintly persons cut through the excessive unholy attachments found within the mind." (Bhag.11.26.26)
Do not think that by considering oneself to be a sadhu, one can serve those that are asadhu and receive the same result as serving a genuine sadhu. As mentioned previously, it is essential for a madhyama-adhikari to serve a sadhu, because the kanistha does not serve sadhus and the uttama-adhikari is not able to distinguish the difference between a sadhu and a non-sadhu.
Since you are all madhyama-adhikaris it is mandatory for you to search for a sadhu, befriend him and also show mercy upon the non-devotees, or in some instances, disregard them. If you abandon your own adhikara, then you will be at fault. The Bhagavata’s instruction in regard to faults and virtue is this:
sve sve’dhikare ya nistha sa gunah parikirtitah
viparyayas tu dosah syad-ubhayor esa niscayah
"Steadiness in one’s own proper position is considered to be piety. The opposite is considered to be a fault. In this way, the two are clearly ascertained." (Bhag.11.21.2)
Even if unconsciously you come into bad association, you will still become an offender to bhakti. Thus the Bhagavata says:
sango yah sammrter hetur asatsu
sa eva sadhusu krto ni˙sangatvaya kalpate
"If, due to faulty intelligence, one unwittingly comes into bad company, this will still lead to one falling into material bondage. However, in the same way, if one accepts the association of sadhus, such association will easily lead one away from bad company." (Bhag. 3.23.55)
The glories of the great devotees (uttama-bhaktas), who see everyone as saintly, is declared in such devotional literatures as Bhakta-mala, Prapannamrta etc. – however, madhyama Vaisnavas should not imitate this. Such behavior leads to the fault known as anadhikara-carca (not acting according to one’s proper qualification) and they will fall down in no time. May the pure devotees mercifully consider our dissertation on all these subjects to have been properly motivated.
printed in the May-July issues of the 5th Volume of Sajjana-tosani, 1893"