One Must Correctly Identify a Vaishnava
The mercy of Sri Guru and the Vaishnavas is the one and only means by which a jiva can attain the ultimate goal of life. Only by their mercy is it possible for him to obtain the merciful, sidelong glance of the most compassionate Sri Bhagavan. This we have heard repeatedly.
We have also heard that the mercy of Sri Guru and the Vaishnavas is causeless. It is never brought about by anything of this world, nor by the impersonal, undifferentiated state of any such thing. We fail to grasp the nature of that mercy as independent of any material cause, and therefore we often ascribe imagined characteristics to it. We may think that there is no need for us to serve with resolute determination and careful, ardent endeavour; we can simply continue following our own fancies and, by the grace of Sri Guru and the Vaishnavas, all our cherished desires will one day suddenly come true. We may even think that to earnestly apply oneself in devotional service is but another expression of the mood to enjoy and a whimsical pursuit. Alternatively, we may imagine that bound jivas like us can realise our cherished desires independently, without the mercy of sadhus and Sri Guru.
Those who hold such opinions are unable to understand that the mercy of sadhus and the jiva’s intent desire to serve are one and the same. Their deceitful words reveal that they are not truly yearning, with a heart full of remorse, to receive the mercy of sadhus.
Why Identify the Level of a Vaishnava?The mahajanas, great realised souls, have explained the method to obtain the mercy of the Vaishnavas:
ye yena vaishnava, ciniya laiya adara kariba yabeOne who has become qualified to discern the level of eligibility (adhikara) of those who have taken to the path of devotion and to thereby differentiate between the kanishtha-bhakta (novice devotee), madhyama-bhakta (intermediate devotee) and uttama-bhakta (advanced devotee), is duty-bound to honour those three types of Vaishnavas appropriately. This is the meaning of the words ye yena vaishnava.
It is improper to honour a kanishtha-adhikari in a way that befits only an uttama-adhikari, or to deal with a madhyama-adhikari as if he were a kanishtha-adhikari. Only when we respect Vaishnavas in a manner befitting their respective qualification can we become free from knowingly or unknowingly committing vaishnava-aparadha. Only then can we realise the transcendental, merciful form of the Vaishnavas, which bestows all desired perfection.
Therefore, the ability to correctly identify a Vaishnava is indispensable. Simply by doing so, we are automatically filled with honour and affection for him. Upon recognising your brother, you are at once overcome by brotherly affection that is incomparably sweet. Our exclusive aim is to be able to recognise a Vaishnava and consider him our property, our own dear well-wisher, and to develop an affectionate bond with him.
It is insufficient merely to dwell on how much the Vaishnavas love us or consider us to be their own. This is because the personal satisfaction that comes from thinking we are loved by the Vaishnavas is nothing but an external symptom of the desire for sense gratification, which lurks in the deepest region of our hearts. If, instead, we begin to measure how much we have become bound in affection to the Vaishnavas, it indicates that we are on our way to attaining the very perfection of all desires. Until we can identify Vaishnavas and develop an intimacy with them in which we regard them as our bosom friends, we will be unable to realise the true nature of their affection for us.
Divine and Mundane QualitiesBut before we can begin identifying Vaishnavas or developing close affection for them, there are many issues we need to examine first. While trying to classify a Vaishnava, we will discern, from the mundane perspective, many fine qualities in him, just as we will also chance to see his faults. Commonly, we are attracted by a Vaishnava’s modesty, affection, natural forbearance and generosity. We tend to assess someone’s eligibility as a Vaishnava solely by noting these virtues, which attract us and arouse in us a semblance of affection for him.
It is important, and appropriate, for us to analyse and reflect upon the nature of these “external” virtues. By doing so we can determine whether or not we actually have darsana of a Vaishnava by observing such qualities in him and, as a result, becoming attached to him and showing him honour. A Vaishnava should be identified and honoured on the basis of his vaishnavata, or quality that best defines a Vaishnava. This quality is the Vaishnava’s exclusive dedication to the service of Sri Vishnu, and it is this that comprises his real nature. If we want to identify a Vaishnava, we need simply measure how dedicated he is to serving Sri Vishnu. Srila Kaviraja Gosvami Prabhu has listed the twenty-six qualities of a Vaishnava, among which the intrinsic characteristic (svarupa-lakshana) or defining quality is exclusive surrender to Sri Krishna (krishnaika-sarana). The remaining twenty-five qualities manifest under the shelter of this primary characteristic and further enhance its sweetness. These qualities will surely be present in Vaishnavas, along with their vaishnavata, or hallmark, exclusive surrender to Sri Krishna. One cannot find a Vaishnava who is not gentle and well-behaved; however, these virtues develop according to the strength of his vaishnavata.
The point here is that in enumerating these different qualities, Srila Kaviraja Gosvami is not referring to our usual conception of them. From our mundane perspective, we may also detect the qualities of a Vaishnava that are listed by Srila Kaviraja Gosvami in persons who are not Vaishnavas, such as the followers of varnasrama-dharma. In truth, however, it is impossible for a non-Vaishnava to possess the qualities of a Vaishnava. Whatever is synonymous with the word vaikuntha, which denotes the abode of the Supreme Lord, is not limited, temporary and gross like the objects of this world. But everything else indicated by the words of this world is entirely worthless. Therefore, only extremely superficial observers will think that the qualities of a Vaishnava can also be found in non-Vaishnavas.
For instance, Srila Kaviraja Gosvami has listed magnanimity (vadanyata) as a Vaishnava quality. An ordinary person can be “magnanimous” according to the conventional meaning (ajna-rudhi-vritti) of the word. But this adjective cannot be applied to anyone except a Vaishnava when it is given its truest and most profound sense (vidvat-rudhi-vritti).
Our Misguided VisionBut who will look out for the superlative quality of a Vaishnava? Only he who has realised its supremacy. In other words, only that person who has himself developed a service attitude will appreciate the importance of honouring this defining characteristic of a Vaishnava. Only to he who has surrendered without duplicity are all the virtues of a Vaishnava revealed in their true aspect. Such a person alone beholds the transcendental and extraordinary qualities of a Vaishnava, without likening them to mundane qualities and thus inviting offences.
But we are devoid of a service attitude; and therefore we cannot comprehend this secret of recognizing a Vaishnava by his vaishnavata. All too often we are attracted by a Vaishnava’s other qualities, like his ample affection. We praise his patience, tolerance and other “external” virtues, but we should bear in mind that a Vaishnava’s qualities are not objects for our sense gratification. If the qualities I detect in a Vaishnava, like affection and patience, do not inspire me to engage in the service of Sri Vishnu and the Vaishnavas, and do not lead me to become attracted to his vaishnavata, then it should be understood that I have been unable see their true aspect. In other words, I have simply been trying to satisfy my senses.
All the qualities of a Vaishnava are certainly present in every Vaishnava. If according to our material vision we conclude that Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami Prabhu was a poet, but that Sri Sivananda Sena or Sri Govinda, the servant of Sriman Mahaprabhu, were not all that poetic, then we have not properly understood the Vaishnava’s quality of being poetic (kavitva). Rather, by considering Srila Kaviraja Gosvami to be an ordinary author, we merely see in him a rare and exceptional material talent – the gift of poetry.
Those with material intelligence are unable to judge a Vaishnava by his exclusive surrender to Sri Krishna (krishnaika-sarana). They consider him an ordinary person, and end up seeing his faults and assessing his vaishnavata by looking at what is merely a semblance of his virtues. When they see the grave disposition of a particular Vaishnava, they will liken it to the gravity of a common man and praise him, considering this virtue to be the sole benchmark of his vaishnavata. But if another Vaishnava conceals his gravity, they will not consider him to be a Vaishnava or, even if they do, they will say that he is not as grave as that first Vaishnava. Their words are as meaningless as the statement “a stone container made of gold”.
I begin my journey to hell by being envious of a Vaishnava, seeing in him the semblance of faults, which are unpleasant to my senses. And I suffer equally by being affectionate to a Vaishnava upon seeing in him the semblance of good qualities, which are pleasing to my senses. In both cases, my vision is limited to the mundane realm, and I am not fortunate enough to be able to recognise the transcendental Vaishnava. Hence, in trying to find a Vaishnava, we should not simply end up selecting someone who possesses mundane qualities or who is devoid of them.
A ConcernThe mahajanas have stated: “vaishnava cinite nare devera sakati – it is impossible even for the demigods to properly identify a Vaishnava.” This may lead me to wonder how I – a helpless and feeble being who is ignorant and foolish – can ever hope to recognise a Vaishnava? How will I be able to understand his vaishnavata? As long as I remain ignorant of sambandha-tattva, the principle of one’s relationship with Sri Krishna, and continue to lack faith in the mercy of the Vaishnavas, I will be subject to various types of misgivings and be deprived of this mercy.
One Vaishnava has given a very beautiful and remarkably logical answer to this question. It is indeed true, he said, that the demigods themselves are unable to recognise a Vaishnava, but why should this be cause for concern. The emperor may be unable to recognize my mother, but that will hardly prevent me from being able to recognise her, even if I were but a tiny baby.
When I was an infant, I did not understand what relationship my mother had with me, nor was I able to realise her deep love and affection for me. Although I was ignorant, it does not follow that my mother was not my mother at that time or that I was deprived of her affection. I always remained related to her and did not forego her maternal affection, despite being unable to understand who she is. Nourished by her love I have now attained adulthood and am able to appreciate how she is related to me and what maternal affection is. During infancy, I did not understand my mother; therefore, I could not realise the sweetness of her affection, although she showered me with it. But I have now grown into an adult through her love and nurturing. By her affection and mercy, I am now able to realise who she is and have now developed a feeling of possessiveness (mamata) towards her.
When the practising devotee attains madhyama-adhikara, he is able to ascertain the eligibility of a Vaishnava and show him due affection. Only then is he able to receive the mercy of the Vaishnavas. It is also by the mercy of the Vaishnavas that one reaches the madhyama stage. Indeed, their mercy is at play at all times. Only by the compassion of the Vaishnavas does the jiva who is averse to Bhagavan and full of anarthas develop the tendency to chant the holy name of Bhagavan in the kanishtha level. But the kanishtha-adhikari is unable to realise this, and this is what makes him a kanishtha devotee.
The Vaishnavas shower their mercy upon the kanishtha-adhikari without his knowing it, and this mercy covertly and imperceptibly elevates him to the madhyama level. Then, only by the mercy of the Vaishnavas does he develop the ability to discern what level a Vaishnava is on and offer him due respect. We do not need to create our relationship with the Vaishnavas, for it is eternal. Our objective is simply to realise that relationship, and this is possible only by the strength of their mercy. Why, then, should we have any concern about being unable to identify Vaishnavas.
We Really Made the Vaishnavas Our Own?The degree to which I have been able to make a Vaishnava my property and honour him can be measured by one criteria only: how indifferent or apathetic I have become towards non-Vaishnavas, realising that they have no relation with me. Unless one is wholly indifferent towards non-Vaishnavas, that is, has no relationship with them at all, one has no hope of ever developing a sense of kinship with the Vaishnavas.
Our conviction that the Vaishnavas belong to us develops in proportion to our feeling that non-Vaishnavas are outsiders. This is not mere talk. If I really wish to be related to the Vaishnavas, I must first renounce my attachment to non-Vaishnavas. If my mother, father, brothers, friends and so-called close relatives become hostile to the service of the Vaishnavas and to the supreme conscious Entity, then I will have to become wholly indifferent to them, regarding them as unrelated to me in any true sense. This includes my very own body and mind. Until I attain such determination, to think of the Vaishnavas as my property is nothing but deceit. A person cannot have possessiveness towards or kinship with the Vaishnavas while considering non-Vaishnavas to be related to him – the two are mutually contradictory.
Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana
Kesava Goswami Page