And the list of mahajanas is given in Srimad Bhagavatam 6.3.19-20 : Brahma, Narada, Siva, four Kumaras, Kapila son of Devahuti, Svayambhuva Manu, Prahlada, Janaka, Bishma, Bali, Shukadeva Goswami and Yamaraja.
Although out of your concern not to criticize or undermine any follower of spiritual path,People often quote, “ekam sad viprah bahuda vadanti”, it is a open fact that there are difference in opinions and arguments as quoted from Mahabharata. Even Arjuna raised this issue in Bhagavad gita (refer chapter 12, slokas 1,2 and 3) and Lord tells Him, “mayya vesya mano ye mam…” “one who worships Me with unflinching devotion is the topmost”.
To understand `ekam sad…’ one has to keep head cool, give up a belligerant or sarcastic approach to `tit for tat’, throw away the idea of `I know’, consider oneself insignificant and in a submissive mood surrender to a spiritual preceptor and hear. Then there is some possibility of beginning to understand the Absolute Truth.
According to Vaishnava line (Ramanuja, Madhva, Caitanya etc), the Absoute Truth is a Person endowed with inseparable attributes and qualities, just as a blue lotus and its blue color are inseparable. And Brahmajyoti is the personal bodily effulgence of that Supreme Purusha. In Ishopanishad, Mantra 15, `hiranmayena patrena satyasya apihitam mukham’ a devotee prays, “O Lord, please remove the golden dazzling effulgence that covers your beautiful face, so that I can behold your beauty”.
The Svetaswetara Upanishad (6.8, 3.8, 3.9) declare that `there is no Truth superior to that Supreme Person. One can completely surpass death only by surrendering to That Person.’ Thus devotees aspire to meet the Supreme Lord face to face and render personal service to Him eternally in the spiritual sky. According to them, the Puranas and Itihasas give us a glimpse of spiritual world and are like the tourist manuals that inspire a person to get a desire to go to the actual place. Thus Krishna in Bhagvat or Mahabharata and Rama in Ramayan display heart-rending pastimes to invite us back to the spiritual world so that we can join them in eternal service at Their lotus feet. Thus Vaikuntha or spiritual world is ultimate. Real variety lies in the spiritual world and variety in the material world is just a perverted reflection to allure the envious living beings who want to be separate from the Supreme Lord.
Thus the goal of devotees is KRISHNA PREMA and ETERNAL SERVICE in Lord’s abode. The demigods are highly empowered jivas, who should never be offended as they are parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, but should be given due respect. A MLA deserves respect, but when he is standing with PM, then the garland has to be put on PM’s neck. That will please both of them. Putting garland on MLA’s neck will embarrass both of them. Similarly devotees, respect demigods understanding their position, but they know Krishna is Supreme as He declares in Bhagavad gita, `aham adir hi devenam’ `I am the source of all demigods’. This path of pure devotional service is called `ananya bhakti’ that is devoid of motivation and interruption.
According to Impersonalists line (Shankara, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Sivananda, Cinmayananda, Ramana etc ) the Absolute Truth is impersonal brahman devoid of any qualities or attributes. They believe that `everything is brahman; maya does not exist’. There is neither spiritual variety nor material variety; in fact, variety bewilders one to identify with matter. The moment one realises, `I am brahman’ he is liberated. According to them, there is only impersonal brahman and nothing else. This realisation is their aspiration and in order to achieve that, they use bhakti also as a means. Such followers don’t aspire for service to the Supreme Lord, because they don’t believe in the eternal existence Personality of Godhead. They feel Rama, Krishna, or even demigods and other avataras are all `great souls’ or liberated souls – different manifestations of the one Brahman. There is no difference which form of demigod you worship, because forms are just a symbol, but ultiamate truth is impersonal. And they feel that they also can become like Rama or Krishna when they are liberated. But now conditioned by maya. They want to achieve peace, `om shanti shanti shantih’.
Thus there are 3 categories of people :
- Bhaktas who practice bhakti and asire to perform bhakti eternally. They give their body, mind and words to Lord’s service and aspire for unmotivated uninterrupted devotional service in whatever ashram they may be – brahmacari/grihasta/ vanaprastha/sannyasa. They know that they are one with God only in quality or sac-cid-ananda or consciousness, but they maintain their individuality eternally and continue service to the Lord
- Jnanis who give up all external formularies and declare themselves as impersonalists and prefer living austere lives in Himalayas. They consider that bhakti is for sentimentalists who have no better way to approach God due to their emotional nature. And they feel that such bhakti may offer the masses some piety and advancement, but if one wants moksha then one has to take sannyasa like them and go to Himalayas.
- Jnanis who take help of bhakti to anybody – Krishna, Siva, Ganesha etc, look like bhaktas but hold opinion that the ultimate truth is impersonal and bhakti is only a stepping stone. Some impersonalists who `look’ like devotees get exposed when they openly declare their siddhanta : `caitanya path shankara math’ which means `we follow the sweet path of unflinching devotion to Lord Hari as taught by Lord Caitanya because it keeps us immune from our bestial natures and keeps heart pure, but we adopt the opinion of Shankara that we will merge into brahman after liberation and achieve shanti’.
India is a land of saints falling in all the three categories. People who want to be pious and not find fault with any saints are like people who stand at the shore of a ocean and do not want to dive deep into the ocean to get pearls. But if someone at all wants water (deep spiritual realisation) then he should be ready to plough deeper in one path and not dig superficially in ten places. We can argue for millions of years ; but the Truth will remain concealed. The Truth cannot be realised by scholarship, intelligence, arguments, Vedic learning etc : “nayam atma pravachanena labhyo na medhaya na bahuna srutena…” [both in Mudaka Upanishad 3.2.3. and Katha Upanishad 1.2.23) ] “The Supreme Lord is not attained by expert explanations, by vast intelligence, nor even by much hearing. He is attained only by one who He Himself chooses. To such a person He manifests His own form.”
Arguments make our hearts dry and hard; but following a particular sadhana program sincerely day after day, month after month, year after year softens the heart and makes it a fertile ground for the seed of devotion given by guru to sprout and grow into a bigger and bigger tree to ultimately produce the fruit of Krishna prema. In my personal life, I was first in the 2nd category hating bhaktas, then I came to 3rd category and at last now I am following the 1st category.
The devotees consider merging into brahman to be worst than going to hell because there is only `shanti’ there, but no loving service to Lord. Which is superior ? Love or peace. A quarrelsome couple may desire separation and silence for sometime but can enjoy life only if they become united again in love. Although silence gives relief from the suffering of fights and heart burning between them, silence is not a lasting solution. Similarly achieving `moksha’ from this world and merging in Brahman gives relief for the souls from the pangs of the material world, but it is only a metastable state from where they fall back after millions of years in want of service. (SB 10.2.32) The nature of the soul is to be active – either in Lord’s service or in maya’s service. Here in material world we are active in maya’s service and in spiritual world everyone is active in Lord’s loving service. In Brahman, one tries to become inactive.. `shanti shanti shanti’ which is not a stable state. If Brahman is like origin (0,0), then spiritual world is +ve axis and material world is –ve axis.
Brahman is a stage where one has become free from false ego, but has not achieved the true ego of knowing one’s true identity as a loving associate and servant of the Lord. They know what they are not, but they don’t know what they are. They speak a lot about how this material world is `mithya’ or illusion, we are not matter, but about `brahman’ they do not know anything beyond the fact that it is `The Greatest Truth’. They have no information of the details of brahman. They are like a man admitted in the hospital who has become free from sickness but is still in hospital bed and has not yet been discharged from the hospital to engage dynamically in his services. Such jnanis become pure bhaktas understanding that `Vaasudeva or Krishna is all that is’ after many many lifetimes as told by Lord Sri Krishna in Bhagavad gita : `bahunam janma namante….’ [BG 7.19].
While devotees consider merging in Brahman as hellish, jnanis consider returning back to Godhead a myth – fights become inevitable. Pure devotees have spiritual emotions springing from their heart for Sri Krishna and they feel very sorry if one turns into a proud impersonalist and ignores loving service to the Lord. Lord Caitanya felt great joy in converting hard-hearted logician impersonalist Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya into a sweet devotee constantly chanting Krishna’s names. Even 6 goswamis are called by Srinivasa acharya as `kaivalya nistaarakau’ `the goswamis who save the souls from the deadly path of impersonalism and send them to Krishna’s abode’.
Though the path of impersonalism kills one’s tender feelings of loving devotion to Krishna, still, mature and evolved devotees avoid unnecessary fights. When Srila Prabhupada went to America, he met one Ramakrishna math saint, Sriman Nikhilatmananda who told him that Americans are good candidates for accepting bhakti and that Prabhupada will certainly be successful in his efforts. Prabhupada thanked and appreciated him. Srila Prabhupada was never sectarian in his relationship with Bhaiji Hanuman Prasad Poddar, as Prabhupada openly appreciated him as quoted by you. But while Prabhupada was broadminded on one hand he could not be unchaste to the siddhanta of his sampradaya – pure devotional service. Now the question is – Is Bhaiji Hanuman Prasad Poddar a advocate of 1st category, 2nd category or 3rd category? From Srila Prabhupada’s letter to his disciple, Satsvarupa warning him not to depend on upon writings from unauthorised sources, I understand that Bhaiji could be in the 3rd category, where one accepts devotional service as a temporary means to achieve impersonal brahman.
I have no comments about revered Bhaiji, but I can confidently say about how fallen I was : before I accepted the path of pure devotion (1st category), I was in the same boat. I was under the grand illusion that the activities of bhakti are just meant to make me pure and pious, but ultimately `I am God’ or at least `I will become God.’
Out of sentiment and appreciation, we can call even impersonalists as `purest devotee in all the strict sense of Vaishnava philosophy’ based on their valuable contribution to society or even the greatest heights they have achieved in self-realisation. But an acarya like Prabhupada, certainly knows how to be friendly with such people in 3rd category and at the same time protect the disciples from falling astray from the path of pure devotion. This I feel is a tug of war between broad mindedness and chastity. And I feel you should give a benefit of doubt to Prabhupada rather than declaring him to have `double standard’.
In reality impersonalists who adopt bhakti as only a means have double standard. Because they use bhakti as a ladder to go to terrace and then kick it off. They want to ascend to Brahman through bhakti and then give up bhakti and become God ! They indeed admit that they have a double-tier system.
As far as Prabhupada defending his disciple is concerned I feel it not much different from a man restraining his wife in becoming too familiar with his colleagues, lest it could lead to disaster.
If you want to know how broad minded was Srila Prabhupada, please refer to SB.5.5.2. There Prabhupada translates as follows : “One can attain the path of liberation from material bondage only by rendering service to highly advanced spiritual personalities. These personalities are impersonalists and devotees. Whether one wants to merge into the Lord’s existence or wants to associate with the Personality of Godhead, one should render service to the mahatmas….” At the same time Prabhupada warned his disciples of great persons who `pose’ as devotees but have a different goal so that they may not get contaminated by monistic approach and adulterate their devotion to Krishna.
In a fit of anger, we may speak or write things not befitting our position and wisdom; when we become overtaken by attachment, pride, anger or avarice, we should not speak or write. We should resort to silence and prayer to come down from that wrong excited state. Else we can damage ourselves and many others.
I see Prabhupada as my saviour; at the same time I see Bhaiji and many others in whatever category they may be as transcendentalists treading an auspicious path and working for the welfare of all humanity. If Bhaiji would laugh at me for my innocent faith in the existence of a spiritual world which I want to attain after death, I would still respect him for his saintliness; but I would not budge one inch from my path. If impersonalists would call me a sentimentalist for chanting and dancing, I would still beg them to chant `Hare Krishna’ at least once, hoping that some day they will also get entrance in the path of pure devotional service. I would never call their path `incorrect’ but I know that their goal is `incomplete’ without Bhagavan Sri Krishna – reservoir of all transcendental mellows, as the ultimate shelter of everyone. Why should I criticise them out of aversion? Then I will generate enemies and will lose the sight of understanding every living being on a equal platform. I would not criticise them out of self-aggrandizement but I would certainly teach whoever follows me to be aware of the differences in siddhanta between personalists and impersonalists.
I was myself once upon a time a hard-hearted argumentative blasphemous impersonalist. I have committed unlimited offences by finding fault with great personalities like Srila Prabhupada thinking of him to be my enemy. I come in the family of south Indian shaivites who accept Shankara as family guru. But by the unlimited causeless mercy of Sri Krishna, Prabhupada, guru and vaishnavas, now I am engaged in some insignificant service at the Lord’s lotus feet in the company of flower-like vaishnavas.
Raghav, as far as your working for other organisations is concerned, I have no problem; I would only request you to be well informed about the ultimate goal. We are not just social welfare workers meant to provide food, build hospitals, give some education about patriotism and good habits; but we are sincere deep seekers of ultimate Truth, understanding which can make us so pure and saintly that we can touch and rectify the suffering situation in the lives of thousands and millions.
If we achieve love for Krishna that will precipitate as love for every living being. If we distribute that love, whole world will turn into Vaikuntha. When world turns into Vaikuntha, nobody will want to store things for themselves, but give give give give to others! When everyone gives, then there is no scarcity of food or facilities. Then there is no more suffering… `vishwam poorna sukhayate’ said Prabhodananda Saraswati. For a devotee this world becomes Vaikuntha—a happy place where he simply practices and preaches pure devotional service.
Raghav, I have made things clear to the best of my ability. If you still have doubts ligering in your heart, please write to me. To clarify the stand of sastras and call all people back to godhead on behalf of the Lord is my dharma. I will surely reply to your questions; only it may take a week’s time for me to reply.
May Lord Sri Krishna, often addressed as Madhusudan, killer of Madhu demon, destroy all the doubts in our heart and fill our hearts with pure devotion to Him. Hare Krishna.