By Rathish das
As we discussed in Respect, the Basis of Civilisation, Vedic Culture is based on respect and this respect is expressed through specific codes of conduct or etiquette. In this section, we will go a little more in detail about the principles and practices of Vaisnava etiquette.
…it is the characteristic of a devotee to observe and protect the Vaisnava etiquette. Maintenance of the Vaisnava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee. …By observing the etiquette, you have satisfied My mind. Who else but you will show this example? (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya Lila 4.130, 132)
Nothing can be successful without sadacara (etiquette). Every activity should be performed with the right attitude. A saint’s heart is free from all impurities. Thus the way a saint acts is the right behaviour known as sadacara. (Hari Bhakti Vilasa)
Important Points About Etiquette
· Etiquette means external manners and conduct.
· Etiquette helps us become free from our original envy and desire to be enjoyers and controllers.
· A faultless etiquette increases ones fame, wealth, longevity, and destroys everything inauspicious.
· Proper Vaisnava etiquette purifies the heart and consciousness.
· Etiquette is the ornament of the Vaisnava.
· Practicing etiquette is action in the mode of goodness.
· A devotee’s advancement can be seen by how humble he is, how well he behaves, and how disciplined and cultivated he is.
The Glories of the Devotees
Understanding the glories of the devotees helps us to appreciate the importance and value of dealing with devotees with proper respect. The following are all quotes from the scriptures.
O great sage, among many millions who are liberated and perfect in knowledge of liberation, one may be a devotee of Lord Narayana, or Krishna. Such devotees, who are fully peaceful, are extremely rare. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.14.5)
My Lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.13.10)
All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord’s external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man? (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.18.12)
I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord. They can fulfill the desires of everyone, just like desire trees, and they are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls. (Sri Vaisnava Pranama)
Kirta, Huna, Andhra, Pulinda, Pulkasa, Abhira, Sumbha, Yavana, members of the Khasa races and even others addicted to sinful acts can be purified by taking shelter of the devotees of the Lord, due to His being the supreme power. I beg to offer my respectful obeisances unto Him. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.4.18)
Sri Caitanya Mahprabhu then asked Ramananda Raya, “Out of all glorious activities, which is the most glorious?” Ramananda Raya replied, “That person who is reputed to be a devotee of Lord Krishna enjoys the utmost fame and glory.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya Lila 8.246)
In this Age of Kali, the fame of one who is known as a great devotee is very rare. However, such a position is superior to that of the great demigods like Brahma and Mahadeva. This is the opinion of all spiritual masters. (Garuda Purana)
After many, many births, when a person realizes that he is the eternal servant of Vasudeva, he can deliver all the worlds. (Itihasa-samuccaya; Narada tells Pundarika)
At the time of initiation, when a devotee fully surrenders to the service of the Lord, Krishna accepts him to be as good as He Himself. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Antya Lila 4.192)
It is said that out of thousands of brahmanas, one is qualified to perform sacrifices, and out of many thousands of such qualified brahmanas expert in sacrificial offerings, one learned brahmana may have passed beyond all Vedic knowledge. He is considered the best among all these brahmanas. And yet, out of thousands of such brahmanas who have surpassed Vedic knowledge, one person may be a Visnu-bhakta, and he is most famous. Out of many thousands of such Vaisnavas, one who is completely fixed in the service of Lord Krishna is most famous. Indeed, a person who is completely devoted to the service of the Lord certainly returns home, back to Godhead. (Garuda Purana)
After much hard labor, a person highly learned in Vedic literature certainly becomes very famous. However, one who is always hearing and chanting the glories of the lotus feet of Mukunda within his heart is certainly superior. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.13.4)
I do not aspire to take birth as a Brahma if that Brahma is not a devotee of the Lord. I shall be satisfied simply to take birth as an insect if I am given a chance to remain in the house of a devotee. (Narayana-vyuha-stava)
Although the Supreme Personality of Godhead is self-sufficient, He becomes dependent on His devotees. He does not care for the goddess of fortune, nor for the kings and demigods who are after the favours of the goddess of fortune. Where is that person who is actually grateful and will not worship the Personality of Godhead? (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.31.22)
Lord Siva said: “I do not know the truth about Krishna, but a devotee of Lord Krishna knows all the truth. Out of all the devotees of Lord Krishna, Prahlada is the greatest.”
The qualities of one engaged in the service of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu-such as reputation, austerities, penances and knowledge-are not to be compared to the good qualities of others. Such is the perfection of a devotee always engaged in the service of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. (Caitanya-candramrta 26)
The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya Lila 22.54)
Some Points to be Followed
· Learn how to properly offer obeisances and respect.
· Never use unpleasant words.
· Never lie.
· Don’t speak badly of others. We shouldn’t look at the faults. We should try to see the good qualities in others.
· Don’t laugh too loudly.
· Don’t tease people who are dumb, mad, in need, ugly, lame or fallen.
· Don’t reprimand anyone except your children or students.
· Don’t blow your own trumpet.
· Association—Don’t develop friendship with people who are envious, fallen, mad, debauched, liars, unscupulous, have illicit connection with the opposite sex, or with the unchaste.
· If someone insults you, leave the place quietly.
· We should always try to give service to the Vaisnavas. Worshiping Krishna must be accompanied by service to His devotees. Service to devotees is higher than service to Visnu.
· Never take sides in a dispute between devotees.
· We are servants; therefore we address others as prabhu (master).
· Everyone has something better than you; you can always learn something from everyone.
· If you engage your godbrothers and godsisterrs as your servants, you will fall down.
· By offering obeisances one can get free from sinful reactions, one gets purified and can attain the lotus feet of Sri Hari.
· The godbrothers of the guru should be respected just as the guru himself.
· Devotee always looks for reasons to give respect to others.
Relating to Seniors, Juniors, and Peers
Seniority is determined in five different ways
Varna (social position)
Asrama (stage of life)
Diksa (time of initiation)
Generally, among ISKCON devotees the position of seniority is determined by diksa, but other factors may take precedence depending on the circumstances. If a younger devotee has a position of authority over an older devotee, he must instruct the older devotee but still he must do so with due respect regarding the older devotee’s seniority by initiation. Age is another factor. An older person who is new to Krishna consciousness must still be offered due respect because of his or her age even if a younger devotee is senior by initiation.
But above and beyond all of these considerations is the overriding element of spiritual advancement. If a devotee is clearly far superior by spiritual advancement, he is given all respect. Sukadeva Goswami is the classic example. When he arrived at the bank of the Ganges where Maharaja Pariksit was seated among all the sages from all over the universe, the sages were trying to determine who was the most qualified to speak to Maharaja Pariksit. Sukadeva was only sixteen-years-old. He was probably the most junior person present by all other considerations. But all the sages unanimously chose him, even above his father, Vyasadeva, because of his superior spiritual realisation.
· Seniors offer respect and service
· Juniors offer affection and care
· Peers offer friendship
Among materialists, an atmosphere of envy predominates: superiors are envied and dragged down, juniors are trodden on and exploited, and peers are competed with. See Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.8.34.
Receiving A Guest
· The householder should make a guest so welcome that he will never want to leave.
· Even if the guest is an enemy, he should be treated so well that he forgets that his host is an enemy. See the example of Bhima and Jarasandha (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.18.28 purport)
· Even if a guest turns up uninvited, he must be offered a warm welcome and treated with all respect.
· Even if the host is poor, he must at least offer a sitting place, a drink of water, and some sweet words. (see also Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.16.6 purport and Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.22.10 purport)