By Giriraj Swami
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared on the full-moon day of the month of Phalguna in Sri Navadvipa-dhama in western Bengal. He manifested His pastimes on earth for forty-eight years. For the first twenty-four years, in Navadvipa, He played the role of a child, then of a youth, and then of a married man; for the next six years He traveled throughout India and preached; and for the final eighteen years He resided in Jagannatha Puri. Every year at the time of caturmasya, the four months of the rainy season, devotees from Bengal used to come to Puri to associate personally with the Lord and to observe the Ratha-yatra ceremony. And the Lord would always reciprocate with the devotees who came to meet Him.
For three years two devotees named Ramananda Vasu and Satyaraja Khan submitted a question at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and each year Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave the same reply. The question was “What is our duty, and what is the method of spiritual advancement for ordinary people like us?” And each year Lord Caitanya gave the same answer: “Continuously chant the holy names of Krsna and serve the devotees of Krsna.”
Then Satyaraja would ask, “Who is a devotee of Krsna, and how do we recognize him?” Each year Lord Caitanya gave a slightly different answer. The first year He replied, “One who chants the holy name of Krsna once is a devotee.” The next year He responded, “One who continuously chants the holy name of Krsna is a devotee.” And the year after, He said, “One whose mere presence inspires others to chant is a devotee.”
Srila Prabhupada explains that each year, Lord Caitanya described a devotee on a more advanced platform of Krsna consciousness. The first year Lord Caitanya described the neophyte devotee who is just beginning to chant the holy name. The next year He described the advanced devotee who is accustomed to chanting the holy name and takes pleasure in it. And the year after that He described the perfect devotee whose mere presence inspires others to chant.
So, we will begin with the questions and answers from the first year.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, Chapter 15:
Satyaraja Khan said, “My dear Lord, being a householder and a materialistic man, I do not know the process of advancing in spiritual life. I therefore submit myself unto Your lotus feet and request You to give me orders.”
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami:
Of course, Satyaraja Khan and Ramananda Vasu were actually great devotees of Lord Caitanya. We should not misunderstand that because they presented themselves in such a humble way they were actually materialistic persons. Rather, when one approaches the spiritual master or the superior authority, he or she must do so in all humility.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied, “Without cessation continue chanting the holy name of Lord Krsna. Whenever possible, serve Him and His devotees, the Vaisnavas.”
Upon hearing this, Satyaraja said, “How can I recognize a Vaisnava? Please let me know what a Vaisnava is. What are his common symptoms?”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied, “Whoever chants the holy name of Krsna just once is worshipable and is the topmost human being.”
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says that a person who simply chants the holy name of Krsna once becomes perfect and should be regarded as a Vaisnava. This is confirmed by Srila Rupa Gosvami in his Upadesamrta (5): krsneti yasya giri tam manasadriyeta. With such faith in the holy name one may begin a life of Krsna consciousness. But an ordinary person cannot chant the holy name of Krsna with such faith. One should accept the holy name of Krsna to be identical with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Transcendence Himself. As the Padma Purana states, “The holy name of Krsna is identical with Krsna and is like a cintamani gem, a touchstone. That name is Krsna personified in sound and is therefore perfectly transcendental and eternally liberated from material contamination.” Thus one should understand that the name “Krsna” and Krsna Himself are identical. Having such faith, one must continue to chant the holy name. When one is situated on the neophyte platform, one cannot understand the devotional ingredients of a pure, unalloyed devotee. However, when the novice engages in devotional service–especially in Deity worship–and follows the order of a bona fide spiritual master, he is a pure devotee. Anyone can take advantage of hearing about Krsna consciousness from such a devotee and thus gradually become purified. In other words, any devotee who believes that the holy name of the Lord is identical with the Lord is a pure devotee, even though he may be in the neophyte stage. By his association, others may also become Vaisnavas.
One is known as a materialistic devotee if he simply worships the Deity of Hari with faith but does not show proper respect to the devotees and to others. This is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.47):
arcayam eva haraye pujam yah sraddhayehate na tad-bhaktesu canyesu sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah
Yet even by associating with such a neophyte devotee, one can become a devotee also. When Lord Caitanya was teaching Sanatana Gosvami, He said:
sraddhavan jana haya bhakti-adhikari ‘uttama’, ‘madhyama’, ‘kanistha’–sraddha-anusari
yahara komala-sraddha, se ‘kanistha’ jana krame krame tenho bhakta ha-ibe ‘uttama’
“A person who has attained firm faith is a real candidate for advancing in Krsna consciousness. According to the faith, there are first-class, second-class, and neophyte devotees. One who has preliminary faith is called a kanistha-adhikari, or a neophyte. The neophyte, however, can become an advanced devotee if he strictly follows the regulative principles set down by the spiritual master. Therefore it is on the basis of faith and attachment to Krsna that one can judge who is a madhyama-adhikari or an uttama-adhikari.” (Cc Madhya 22.64, 69, 71)
It is thus concluded that even a neophyte devotee is superior to the karmis and jnanis because he has full faith in chanting the holy name of the Lord. A karmi or a jnani, regardless of his greatness, has no faith in Lord Visnu, His holy name, or His devotional service. One may be advanced religiously, but if he is not trained in devotional service, he has very little credit on the transcendental platform. Even a neophyte devotee engaged in Deity worship in accordance with the regulations set forth by the spiritual master is in a position superior to that of the fruitive worker and speculative philosopher.
LECTURE by Giriraj Swami
Here Lord Caitanya gives His basic instruction to all devotees: “Chant the holy names of Krsna and serve the devotees of Krsna.” Lord Caitanya said that one who chants the holy name of Krsna even once is worshipable and is the topmost human being. In his purport, Srila Prabhupada quotes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati that one should respect someone who chants the holy name of Krsna just once. What is the great benefit of chanting the holy name of Krsna once? Srila Prabhupada explains, “If one has faith in the holy name–that the holy name is Krsna Himself, and that just by chanting the holy name one will get all spiritual benefit–one is considered a pure devotee.” In his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Srila Rupa Gosvami explains, adau sraddha: devotional service begins with faith, or sraddha. Sraddha is defined as the firm conviction that just by chanting the holy name of Krsna or engaging in devotional service one can achieve all perfection, without engagement in any other process.
So sraddha is the beginning of bhakti. Thus we can say that one who has sraddha has bhakti. One who has sraddha, faith, that just by bhakti, devotional service, one can achieve all perfection is considered a pure devotee. Therefore pure devotees engage in continuous devotional service without being diverted to any other process such as karma, jnana, tapasya, or whatever. They are considered pure devotees even though they may be in the neophyte stage. And because such neophytes do have faith, they will continue to chant the holy name and they will continue to receive instructions from the spiritual master and follow them, and so their faith will increase. In other words, their devotion will increase and they will gradually progress from kanistha to madhyama to uttama. One must simply be faithful, sraddhavan. Those who chant the holy name of Krsna once with such faith are pure devotees, and in due course they will become advanced devotees and perfect devotees. And they should be worshiped. Even neophyte devotees who have full faith in the holy name of Krsna should be worshiped.
Here is a very important instruction from Lord Caitanya: We are meant to worship and serve devotees. As long as devotees have full faith in the holy name of Krsna and are fully engaged in the service of the holy name, they should be respected and served. Once, a disciple asked Srila Prabhupada, “How many pure devotees are there in the world?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “How many devotees are there in ISKCON?” He explained that an unripe mango is still a mango, just as much as a ripe mango is a mango. From the beginning stage of sraddha to the perfect stage of prema, there is a gradual maturation of the same entity, which is the bhakti in the heart of the bhakta. Bhaktya sanjataya bhaktya: “Bhakti comes from bhakti.” (SB 11.3.31) In other words, prema-bhakti comes from sadhana-bhakti, and if devotees have faith in the holy name and in the service of the Vaisnavas, their faith will naturally mature and they will gradually progress from kanistha to madhyama to uttama. Such devotees are worshipable.
Srila Prabhupada also remarks that if one has full faith in the holy name of Krsna, he or she–even though in the neophyte stage–can awaken Krsna consciousness in others. Bhakti is contagious. If you have bhakti, you can give it to others, just like if you have the flu you may give it to someone. If you have bhakti, you can give bhakti to someone else. And as bhakti begins with sraddha, if you have just sraddha you can give bhakti to someone else, even if you are in the neophyte stage.
So Srila Prabhupada engaged his pure devotees in preaching and spreading Krsna consciousness, because if they have the simple qualification of faith, they can serve to awaken faith in others, to awaken others to Krsna consciousness. So we should be very respectful of the preachers, the devotees.
Generally, at least in the old days, when we first came to Krsna consciousness, we were very respectful of the devotees. We saw that the devotees were pure. But after some time, we may begin to see faults in the devotees. We may become familiar, and familiarity can breed contempt. Then we don’t see them as devotees anymore. We know they are devotees, and we respect them as devotees, but actually we see their faults, and our mind dwells on their faults. Such faultfinding with devotees, thinking ill of them and speaking badly about them, implicates us in offenses. If we just chant the holy name and serve the devotees without offense, we can make very quick progress. As Srila Prabhupada says, we can progress from kanistha to madhyama to uttama. But when we commit offenses, we don’t make much progress. We more or less stay in the same position, like treading water, and sometimes we actually go down. Therefore Lord Caitanya has given the instruction that anyone who chants the name of Lord Krsna with faith, even once, is a devotee and should be respected.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has discussed the first offense against the holy name, sadhu-ninda, or vaisnava-aparadha. He explains that although a devotee is described as having twenty-six qualities, if one has the one qualification of krsnaika-saranam, of being fully and exclusively surrendered to the holy name of Krsna, he or she is a devotee, even without having the other twenty-five qualities. If we find fault in such a surrendered devotee for not having one or any number of the other twenty-five qualities, we commit an offense.
On the other hand, even if someone has the other twenty-five qualities but does not have the one quality of krsnaika-saranam, being totally surrendered to Krsna, the other twenty-five qualities are of no particular value from the spiritual point of view. Therefore Srila Prabhupada comments that even a neophyte who has faith in the holy name is considered better than a karmi or jnani or anyone else, because even though karmis and jnanis may appear to have good qualities, they are not devotees of Krsna. From the spiritual point of view, they are not considered as advanced as a pure devotee who may be a neophyte but has full faith in the holy name of Krsna.
Sometimes we hear devotees say that they have experienced worse things in Krsna consciousness than they ever experienced before they joined. Why is that? Here we are reading that the devotee is the best of all persons, so how is it possible that in the society of devotees we may feel we are having worse experiences than we had before we met the devotees? The reason is that we do not always deal with each other as devotees, always follow Lord Caitanya’s instruction to worship even the neophyte devotee who has faith in the holy name. So, we should be very careful when we deal with actual devotees, to see them as devotees and to respect them as such. We may not develop intimate relationships with every devotee–if we develop an intimate and loving friendship with even one devotee we may be fortunate–but we should respect all devotees. And we should serve them according to our position and capacity. That will please Srila Prabhupada and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and enable us to chant the holy name constantly.
Many times we have heard the verse trnad api sunicena: “Be humbler than a blade of grass.” In the same verse, Lord Caitanya instructs, kirtaniyah sada harih: “Always chant the holy name.” Only if we are humble and respectful to devotees can we continuously chant the holy name. Only if we are ready to offer respects to others and not demand respect for ourselves, only if we are humble, seeing the others as devotees and respecting them as devotees, can we follow the instruction to constantly chant the holy name. But if we are proud, thinking, “We are the real devotees; why are people not recognizing us, why are people not worshiping us, why are they not serving us?” then we cannot chant the holy name continuously. If we are not humble before devotees, we cannot engage in continuous devotional service, and we are bound to become involved in offenses and material pursuits and mental speculation. The offenseless chanting of the holy name and the humble mood of service to devotees go together.
So, on the auspicious occasion of this Gaura-purnima festival, in this auspicious abode of Sri Panca-tattva, Sri Navadvipa-dhama, we should take the instructions of Lord Caitanya, as given to us by Srila Prabhupada, deep into our hearts. We should make their words one with our hearts. Guru-mukha-padma-vakya, cittete koriya aikya, ar na koriho mane asa: We should make the order of the spiritual master one with our hearts, and we should not desire anything else. And here is the order: “Constantly chant the holy name of Krsna and serve the devotees of Krsna.” We should take it into our hearts.
You may know that Srila Prabhupada was a chemist, or pharmacist, when he was a grhastha. Later, one of his godbrothers asked him, “You are a chemist, and you know so many formulas. Do you know the formula for developing love of God?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “Yes, I do.” “What is it?”
“trnad api sunicena taror api sahisnuna amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih”
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (Siksastakam 3)
So if we chant the holy name only once with such faith and humble submission to the holy name and the devotees, we can progress step-by-step to the perfect stage of chanting and loving and serving Krsna.
Of course, it was also Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s desire that we encourage others to chant the holy name as well. If one is actually chanting the holy name properly, he or she will naturally feel happiness and compassion for others. Such a blissful devotee will want everyone to experience the same happiness, and think of ways and means to induce them also to chant the holy names of Krsna. But the first instruction is to chant the holy name and serve the devotees. Thus, as Srila Prabhupada said, “It is more important to maintain a devotee than to try to convince others to become devotees.” So if the devotees come together and chant the holy names nicely and deal with each other nicely, they will stay and continue with the process and make advancement. Then, with the strength of unity, on the strength of loving, humble service to the devotees, we can go out and preach. And people will be attracted and want to come to our association and stay in our association. Then the sankirtana movement will really spread in a very consistent, steady, and wonderful way, as desired by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada.
Phalguna dasa: Thank you, Maharaja, for a very nice class. Sometimes we get caught up in the routine of practicing Krsna consciousness and chanting the holy name, and then we relate in not such a respectful way with devotees who are not following everything we do. How can we bring them to the right standard and help them?
Giriraj Swami: Phalguna Prabhu says that sometimes we are very busy in devotional service and do not encourage devotees who are weak. So how can we remember to encourage them? Again we come to the point of humility. After some time we may become impressed with the importance of our service–and certainly our service is important–but what is the goal of our service?
ISKCON is a preaching mission: Our goal is to become Krsna conscious and help others become Krsna conscious. Srila Prabhupada gave the example of Alexander the Great. Alexander would advance with his army and very quickly conquer new territories. But he wouldn’t consolidate the territories he had already conquered, and while he was going ahead to new territories, he would lose some of the old territories he had conquered. So Srila Prabhupada said, “Don’t make me Alexander the Great.” In other words, preserve what I have done, and in the name of rushing ahead to conquer new frontiers, don’t lose what is already there. As Srila Prabhupada said, “It is better to maintain a devotee than to try to convince others to become devotees.” With so much effort we get a devotee to join, and then if he or she leaves, it is a great loss. Devotees may get married, or go out and work, but still they can be devotees and serve Srila Prabhupada. We should see first if they are devotees, and if they are, we should, in a mood of humble service, encourage them. We should not think we are too busy and too important to help them.
In India we used to see a nice statement about the customer: “The customer is not an interruption to our work; the customer is the reason for our work.” So, devotees are not an interruption to our work; devotees are our work. We should take care of them and engage them. And if some devotees feel the need to marry or live outside the temple and engage in service from there, still we should encourage them. They are devotees. In fact, they may need more encouragement, because they have less association and less opportunity for direct service. So we should encourage such devotees and not be envious of them.
Svavasa dasa: I was reading in the Caitanya-caritamrta that Prabhupada says one may even understand that he is the spirit soul and one may even be chanting the holy name of the Lord, but if one is not engaged in devotional service, he will not develop love of God. This is in the purport where Lord Caitanya was speaking to the Mayavadi sannyasis in Benares. Sometimes devotees come to Krsna consciousness and they realize, to some degree, that they are not this body and they chant Hare Krsna. But when they get married or do other things, they practically lose the opportunity to perform devotional service, in the sense that when you are living in the temple you are doing so much direct service to the Deity and to the Vaisnavas. So we find that this is a problem, and from this problem we see that discord tends to flare up. So what do we do? How do we engage these persons in devotional service? There are only so many pots to wash, only so many floors to clean, so many people that can go on the altar. So what do we do with the masses of devotees who come to Krsna consciousness and find themselves in this predicament?
Giriraj Swami: Service is essential. That is what Lord Caitanya said: “Chant the holy name and serve Krsna and His devotees.” So service is very important, and Srila Prabhupada is the greatest example. Srila Prabhupada was always doing great service, and he wanted us to be in the same mood.
How can so many devotees be engaged in service when there are only so many pots to wash in the temple? I recall vividly one lecture Srila Prabhupada gave in Los Angeles. He asked, “What is the difference between a temple and a house? The temple is made of bricks and stone and plaster, and the house is made of bricks and stone and plaster. So what is the difference?” He said that the difference is that in the temple, Krsna is the center, and everyone is engaged in Krsna’s service. And in an ordinary house, the family, or sense gratification, is the center. Srila Prabhupada said he dreamed of the day he would walk down Watseka Avenue and hear in every house the ringing of the arati bell. In other words, every house would become a temple. So, if a couple has a Deity at home, and the Lord is the center of their lives, and they and their family engage in service to the family Deity and the devotees and the public according to their capacity, they are also doing service.
Then again, Srila Prabhupada gave the utmost importance to becoming Krsna conscious and preaching, and he established ISKCON as the vehicle to spread Krsna consciousness. So he especially appreciated service to ISKCON. And I believe that the devotees who do continue to serve ISKCON, even after moving outside the temple, all other factors being equal, can please Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya more.
But maybe you can comment.
Svavasa dasa: I guess the biggest problem we have, generally speaking, is that this is not what happens. Sometimes, despite the training or the realizations of the devotees, by the time they leave a temple it seems they are not really inclined toward that type of activity any more. In other words, they can be in the temple for some period of time, getting some training, associating with devotees, but it seems that when they leave the temple, it is kind of like they left Krsna on Watseka Avenue. And they are now living on La Brea, where Krsna is not so much the center. So I think you did answer by saying that the house should be like a small temple.
Giriraj Swami: Well, everyone has free will. One can make a house into a temple or a temple into a house. It depends on how one uses one’s free will.
Svavasa dasa: On that point, we have the BBT. People who are working outside can always buy books from the BBT and distribute them, and that supports the BBT and helps spread Krsna consciousness.
Revati dasi: Although it is more important to maintain a devotee, sometimes a devotee, because of offenses, is not inclined to do service. Maybe due to political differences or things that don’t have anything to do with pure devotional service, he is not inclined to offer service at the temple. And he is quite adamant on that point. So, how do you encourage a devotee in that position, who is not willing to offer service but is still chanting Hare Krsna? He still considers himself a devotee, and he wants to be a devotee, but he doesn’t want to offer service at the temple.
Giriraj Swami: Well, we can encourage him to buy books from the BBT; the BBT is not a temple. And there are so many temples. There’s Laguna Beach, if one doesn’t like Los Angeles. And if someone doesn’t like those, he may like San Diego . . .
Badrinarayana dasa: There is also a preaching center in Tijuana; they can just keep on going.
Giriraj Swami: And don’t forget Mayapur, Vrndavana, Jagannatha Puri. There are so many holy places to serve. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura has remarked that if one serves the dhama, he will gain attraction for the holy name of Krsna and lose attraction for gramya-katha, ordinary gossip. So there are many opportunities for service. And again, one can turn one’s home into a temple: one can invite people home, have kirtana, preach, and distribute prasada.
The best way to encourage such devotees is to be nice to them–not to be too harsh or heavy with them. Sometimes we see that devotees may drift away for a while, but then, at the end of their lives, when they become very sick, they remember Srila Prabhupada. They remember their connection with Srila Prabhupada, and they resume their Krsna consciousness. So, whatever they have done is not lost. It may be covered if they have committed offenses or engaged in sinful activities, but then Srila Prabhupada manifests in their hearts, and other devotees come and encourage them, and they give up their bodies in Krsna consciousness. Sometimes we just have to give devotees time and space and let Krsna do what He has to do.
Thank you very much. Hare Krsna.
Sri Sri Panca-tattva ki jaya!
March 6, 1999 Sri Sri Panca-tattva Temple Laguna Beach, California