The glory of the Lord’s holy name is confidential knowledge that must be passed on to others with care.
This article discusses the offense of telling faithless persons the glories of the holy name.
Among the many presents I received for my sixth birthday were several pairs of heavy red stockings. Like most children, I preferred toys to clothes-especially duplicate clothes. So I ran to my room and pouted. Like any good mother, mine told me to return to my guests, smile, and say, “Thank you,” regardless of how I felt about the gifts.
We commonly show what value we place on things by how we treat them. If I respect the gift or the giver, I place the object in a position of honour or give it to someone I care for. Giving what I have received to an unworthy person or throwing it carelessly into storage shows my lack of regard for it and may invoke the displeasure of the giver.
There’s an example of this in the scriptures. While the sage Durvasa was passing on the road, he saw Indra, chief celestial administrator, riding on the back of his elephant. Durvasa was pleased to offer Indra a garland from his own neck. But proud Indra took the garland and, without respect for Durvasa Muni, placed it on the trunk of his elephant. Being an animal, the elephant couldn’t understand the value of the garland and threw it between its legs and smashed it. Seeing this insulting behavior, Durvasa cursed Indra to become poor. (Srimad-bhagavatam 8.5 .15 – 16, Purport}
The fact that Indra was willing to part with a gift is laudatory. Giving in charity our possessions, whether earned or bestowed, is purifying even for saints. Indra’s problem was that he gave in charity to an animal. Krsna teaches in Bhagavad-gita that charity should be given to a worthy person , at an appropriate time and place, without expecting return. If charity is given to some one who will misuse it, or if it is given disrespectfully, the giver becomes involved with the illusion of ignorance instead of advancing either materially or spiritually.
The greatest treasure is the holy name of the Lord, Krsna. It is more precious than an alchemist ‘s touchstone, which turns iron to gold. Our having received the holy name shows the love of those who gave it to us as well as our determination to know and love the Supreme Lord. To know of the glory, power, and love of the maha-mantra-Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare-is to know the essential intimate truth of all existence. Certainly when we have the fortune of the holy name we should also give it in charity.
Yet this treasure of Krsna’s name, which is identical to Krsna, exhibits its full pleasure and peace only to one who honours it. One of the prime ways to show this honour is to use discretion when revealing the details of the name’s glories. If we tell of the name’s grandeur and sweetness to someone who then becomes blasphemous, we are also responsible for offending the holy name, and our spiritual advancement is impeded.
Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet , and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) In a similar way, Krsna tells Arjuna, “This confidential knowledge [of surrender to Krsna with love] may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.” (Bhagavad- gita 18.67)
SHARING THE NAME
Is the solution to keep spiritual knowledge to ourselves? No. For if out of fear of giving the holy name to swine- like envious people we refrain from sharing our spiritual wealth, we become envious as well. Srila Prabhupada told one of his disciples, an expert cook, that to avoid envy she should teach her skills to others. An envious person wants to either take away what others have or prevent them from having access to his own opulence. Instead, we should want others to become as spiritually wealthy and fortunate as we are, or more so. In addition , by giving the charity of Krsna consciousness to a worthy person , we evoke Krsna’s pleasure, thereby increasing our own happiness in chanting.
To share the holy name and the astonishing brilliance of Lord Krsna’s form, qualities, and activities with faithful, honest persons brings great joy and satisfaction. The reciprocation of wisdom and elation both between the people who exchange understanding and between them and Krsna is so thrilling as to be almost indescribable. Krsna says, “For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.68-69)
How to discern where and with whom to share the name? The Lord Himself in His incarnation as Caitanya Mahaprabhu would chant on the public streets with His devotees, leaving it up to the hearers to take advantage or not. But He was cautious about discussing intimate details of spiritual life with those who would be critical. Before we share more than the sound of the hoIy name with someone, we should try to find at least a spark of faith, for faith is the only real qualification for taking up the chanting of Krsna’s name.
For several years, a group of devotees of Krsna traveled around America with two sannyasis Visnujana Swami and Tamal Krsna Goswami. Visnujana Swami would sweetly sing the Hare Krsna mahamantra while devotees would give out free plates of prasadam. Tamal Krsna Goswami told his friend Ravindra Svarupa Dasa that he would walk up to those who were eating and listening and ask, “Do you like the food and the music?” If they showed some enthusiasm, he would introduce them to Prabhupada’s books or discuss philosophy with them. If they had little or no attraction to the chanting or the meal, he spent no further time with them.
In other words, the faith of people will show in their eagerness. Jesus speaks again of the Lord’s glory in terms of a pearl: “The kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matth ew 13:45-46) Rupa Gosvami similarly explains, “Pure devotional service in Krsna consciousness can be attained only by paying one price-that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.” (Padyavali 14)
But practising discretion in sharing the truth is more than a blanket categorization of two kinds of people- faithful and faithless. The reality is that there are few people with whom one can share either everything or nothing. The key to avoiding the offense of teaching the faithless, while at the same time benefitting ourselves and others, is to develop fine judgment regarding appropriateness. Lord Krsna gives four guidelines for spiritual communication: the message must be true, pleasing, backed by scriptural authority, and beneficial to both parties. For a specific message to be beneficial’ one needs to determine its appropriateness. For example, many truths of spiritual life seem bitter to someone with material attachments. Transcendent realization involves not only the wonderful and exciting revelation of Krsna’s name, form, and activities, but also the fact that in our separation from Krsna we are voluntarily in an illusion of selfish, greedy ugliness . To progress in understanding our eternal nature, we must face the unpleasant truth that trying to enjoy a temporary, miserable material body and mind is at best a great embarrassment for us, the soul.
Although an understanding of the awkward situation of a soul in the world is undoubtedly ultimately beneficial for everyone, there should be a type of contract before such instruction is given. Otherwise, if the intended recipient becomes angry there is no benefit , and there may be harm, for him or her as well as for the giver of the message, Therefore, Prabhupada says, “One should not speak in such a way as to agitate the minds of others. Of course, when a teacher speaks, he can speak the truth for the instruction of his students, but such a teacher should not speak to those who are not his students if he will agitate their minds.” In other words, however true our instruction, a person should formally or informally accept us in the role of teacher for it to have true benefit. Of course, being pleasing is also important. Our presentation should be civilized and polished.
The principle that our hearers must in some regard be our students before we can speak bitter truth or advanced topics holds true even when we share Krsna consciousness with faithful people. For example, readers of this article have agreed to hear something from me. When someone gives a public lecture, the audience takes at least the temporary position of students. The same is true when people take the initiative to ask for advice: they are to some extent approaching us as an authority, giving us the right to say something that will benefit them, even if sometimes unpleasant. Without such a contract, whether formal or understood, we’re not justified in communicating whatever we want in the name of truth. To do so on spiritual topics is to offend the name, and if done with a devotee of Krsna, may be an offense to the Lord’s servant as well.
In his book Harinama Cintamani, Bhaktivinoda Thakura especially explains the offense of teaching the holy name to the faithless in regard to those who act as gurus. Whether initiating disciples into the chanting, or having a formal relationship as an instructing spiritual master, there is sometimes a temptation to accept disciples for personal wealth or prestige. Such a problem occurs in ordinary schools. Universities sometimes admit students not solely because of their academic qualifications, but because they come from families that will give generously of their money, name, or both. It’s no secret that the most selective universities give preference to such “legacy students.” They openly say that favouring the legacy candidate saves other students’ tuition costs because of the donations received.
Perhaps such a policy makes financial and practical sense to a school of engineering or law, but it runs counter to Krsna’s desire and the whole mood of devotional service to Him. A guru can suffer if he considers a disciple’s qualification in terms other than faith.
Sometimes, of course, we imperfect beings may be deceived by the apparent sincerity of someone who shows interest in Krsna’s service. A merciful devotee of Krsna wants to give a chance to everyone, fanning even a small spark of curiosity into a blaze of loving devotion. If by accident we take as a student or disciple someone who later becomes blasphemous, we should publicly renounce that person so that both of us do not fall from the Lord’s shelter.
If we wish our chanting of Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare to have the full effect, we must treat the holy name and all transcendent knowledge and practise with love and care. We honour the Absolute Truth through scrupulously giving the blasphemous little opportunity to find fault, teaching only what will benefit faithful persons who agree to hear from us, and finding great satisfaction and bliss always sharing the holy name with those eager to enter its mysteries.