Criticizing a Vaisnava

by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura Prabhupada

The Result of Blaspheming a Vaishnava

Among all the different types of offences a jiva (living being) can possibly commit, no offence is more severe than blaspheming a Vaishnava. It is therefore essential to contemplate the meaning of vaishnava-ninda according to the scriptures. It is written in the Skanda Purana:
nindam kurvanti ye mudha
vaishnavanam mahatmanam
patanti pitribhih sardham
hanti nindati vai dveshti
vaishnavan nabhinandati
krudhyate yati no harsham
darsane patanani shat
That foolish person who criticizes an exalted Vaishnava falls down to the hell known as Maharaurava, along with his forefathers. Whoever (1) kills a Vaishnava, (2) blasphemes him, (3) feels malice toward him, (4) does not properly greet him upon seeing him, (5) becomes angry with him or (6) does not feel joy upon seeing him, certainly becomes degraded as a result of these six types of misconduct.

It is written in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.74.40):

nindam bhagavatah srinvams
tat-parasya janasya va
tato napaiti yah so ’pi
yaty adhah sukritac cyutah
A person who does not promptly leave that place where blasphemy of Bhagavan or His dedicated devotee, the Vaishnava, is perpetrated, becomes bereft of all his previously accumulated spiritual merit (sukriti) and meets with degradation.

Different Categories of Jivas and Appropriate Conduct with Each

Having thus been forewarned about vaishnava-ninda, it is absolutely imperative to first ascertain what specifically designates one a Vaishnava, and then determine which acts result in vaishnava-aparadha (offences to Vaishnavas). All jivas fit into one of four categories: (1) ordinary jivas; (2) religious jivas; (3) brahmanas and those jivas who resemble Vaishnavas (vaishnavapraya jivas); and (4) vaishnava-jivas.

With the wisdom that Sri Krishna resides in the heart of all jivas, one should honour every living being. A deeper respect should naturally be shown to the religious jiva, and, beyond this, it is imperative to feel even deeper honour for the brahmana-jiva and the vaishnava-praya jiva. But above all, it is enjoined that one must worship and serve the lotus feet of a vaishnava-jiva.

If one fails to offer respect to the common jiva, special respect to the religious jiva, and befitting honour to the brahmana and vaishnava-praya jivas, then one incurs sin (papa). However, to disrespect or dishonour a vaishnava-jiva is actually an aparadha (an offence against divinity). There is no form of sin that cannot be destroyed by performing ordinary penances, but an aparadha committed against a Vaishnava is not easily eradicated. Sins affect the gross and subtle material bodies, whereas an aparadha specifically affects the jiva’s quest to establish himself in his constitutional position as a pure spirit soul, causing him to fall from his path. Therefore, those who wish to perform loving worship of the Supreme Lord (bhagavad-bhajana) must diligently protect themselves from committing aparadha.

Three Types of Vaishnavas According to Srimad-Bhagavatam: Kanishtha, Madhyama and Uttama

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, three specific categories of Vaishnavas are described in the following three verses:
The neophyte, or kanishtha, Vaishnava –
arcayam eva haraye
pujam yah sraddhayehate
na tad-bhakteshu canyeshu
sa bhaktah prakritah smritah

Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.47)
He who engages in worshipping the deity as Bhagavan Sri Hari, with ordinary faith received through some lineage of worldly teachers, but who does not engage in worshipping Sri Hari’s devotees, is a kanishtha Vaishnava, or neophyte Vaishnava. In other words, he is just beginning to enter into understanding the science of bhakti. The specific difference between worldly, traditional faith and faith based on the revealed scriptures (sastriya-sraddha) is that the former arises from mere conventional, worldly education, whereas in the latter, namely sastriya-sraddha, faith in the Vaishnavas arises from deep conviction in the words of the scriptures and is based on the evidence presented therein. It is only with the advent of sastriya-sraddha that the jiva becomes a madhyama Vaishnava, or intermediate Vaishnava.

Until sastriya-sraddha has arisen, the obligation of a sadhaka (a devotee in the stage of practice) perform karma does not wane. In this regard, Sriman Mahaprabhu has said:
suddha-vaishnava nahe, kintu vaishnavera praya

Such persons are not pure Vaishnavas, but they resemble Vaishnavas. Solely by genuine association with true Vaishnavas, the kanishtha Vaishnava, who is a vaishnava-praya jiva, can become a suddha Vaishnava (pure Vaishnava). The intermediate, or madhyama, Vaishnava –

isvare tad-adhineshu
baliseshu dvishatsu ca
yah karoti sa madhyamah

Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.46)
He who offers his love to the Supreme Lord, Sri Bhagavan; remains a sincere friend to all Vaishnavas; shows mercy to the innocent; and, through the most appropriate use of indifference, tolerance or even complete avoidance, neglects those who are envious of Bhagavan and the Vaishnavas, is a madhyama Vaishnava. In this way, the madhyama Vaishnava even shows fitting mercy to the envious, seeing them as ignorant. Only the madhyama Vaishnava is actually qualified to serve the Vaishnavas. Since the kanishtha Vaishnavas do not engage in such service, they cannot be called Vaishnavas; rather, they are known as vaishnava-praya (those who resemble Vaishnavas).

The topmost, or uttama, Vaishnava –

sarva-bhuteshu yah pasyed
bhagavad-bhavam atmanah
bhutani bhagavaty atmanyesha

Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.45)
He who experiences the revelation of his own cherished form of Bhagavan in the hearts of all jivas, including his own; who experiences that all jivas, their very existence resting in Bhagavan, are fully surrendered to that same Supreme Absolute Reality; and who perceives everyone in the whole world as a Vaishnava, is known as an uttama Vaishnava (topmost Vaishnava). Such a Vaishnava does not see the difference between a Vaishnava and a non-Vaishnava.

Three Classifications of Vaishnavas According to the Teachings of Sriman Mahaprabhu: Vaishnava, Vaishnava-tara and Vaishnava-tama The only conclusion to be drawn then is that when those who were in the kanishtha stage attain faith in the scriptures (sastriya-sraddha) and hence become eligible to serve the Vaishnavas, they are thereafter described simply as vaishnava (having vaishnava qualities) until the time when they attain the other qualities characteristic of a madhyama Vaishnava.

Correspondingly, madhyama Vaishnavas are described as vaishnava-tara (having vaishnava qualities to a profound degree) while uttama Vaishnavas alone, the topmost Vaishnavas, are described as vaishnava-tama (having vaishnava qualities to the superlative degree). It is necessary to deliberate upon the way in which Sriman Mahaprabhu introduces us to these three types of Vaishnavas:

One who is vaishnava –

“ataeva yanra mukhe eka krishna-nama
sei ta’ vaishnava, kariha tanhara sammana”

Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila (15.111)
One who chants the name of Krishna even once is vaishnava (possessed of vaishnava qualities). Therefore, you should show all respect to him.

One who is vaishnava-tara

‘krishna’-nama nirantara yanhara vadane
sei se vaishnavatara, bhaja tanhara carane

Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila (16.72)
One who incessantly chants Krishna’s name is vaishnava-tara (possessed of vaishnava qualities to a profound degree) and one should render service to his lotus feet.

One who is vaishnava-tama

yanhara darsane mukhe aise krishna-nama
tanhare janiha tumi ‘vaishnava-pradhana’
krama kari’ kahe prabhu ‘vaishnava’-lakshana-
‘vaishnava’, ‘vaishnavatara’, ara ‘vaishnavatama’

Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila (16.74–75)
One who inspires others to chant krishna-nama merely by being visible to them is vaishnava-tama (possessed of vaishnava qualities to the superlative degree) and is the topmost Vaishnava. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu thus explained the different grades of Vaishnavas in sequence – those who are vaishnava, those who are vaishnava-tara and those who are vaishnava-tama – in accordance with the symptoms they each exhibit.

According to these teachings of Sriman Mahaprabhu, one who merely utters [absolutely pure] krishna-nama is eligible to be described as a Vaishnava. Among the kanishtha bhaktas, those who are described as vaishnavapraya (resembling Vaishnavas), or else vaisnava-abhasa (the semblance of a Vaishnava) only chant namabhasa (a semblance of the holy name). They do not chant suddhanama (the absolutely pure holy name). However, those who are, in fact, able to chant suddha-nama, even once, have vaishnava qualities and are suddha Vaishnavas; those who incessantly chant suddha-nama are vaishnava-tara (possessed of Vaishnava qualities to a profound degree); and those who cause others to chant krishna-nama merely by being visible to them, are vaishnava-tama (possessed of Vaishnava qualities to the superlative degree).

One who chants suddha-krishna-nama even once is indeed a Vaishnava & Diksha (initiation) is unnecessary in terms of the existential reality (tattva) of sri nama. At this point, one more thing needs to be considered. Becoming a suddha Vaishnava does not depend on the process of taking diksha (ceremonial initiation). Diksha is the process whereby a person receives a mantra for the worship of Sri Hari’s deity form, and thus comes at least to the stage of vaishnava-praya. In terms of the existential reality of the holy name (nama-tattva), such diksha is unnecessary. As Sriman Mahaprabhu has said:

prabhu kahe,—“yanra mukhe suni eka-bara
krishna-nama, sei pujya,—sreshtha sabakara”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu answered, “He from whose mouth krishna-nama is heard even once is worshipful and is the best among human beings.
eka krishna-name kare sarva-papa kshaya
nava-vidha bhakti purna nama haite haya
“Even uttering Krishna’s name a single time destroys all of one’s sins. The nine-fold process of devotional service (navadha-bhakti) attains completeness only through nama.
diksha-purascarya-vidhi apeksha na kare
jihva-sparse a-candala sabare uddhare
“One is not required to undergo the process of receiving diksha or any preparatory regulative rites in order to chant krishna-nama. Simply by coming in contact with the tongue, krishna-nama delivers everyone, including even the most degraded class of men.
anushanga-phale kare samsarera kshaya
citta akarshiya karaya krishne premodaya

Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila (15.106–109)
“As a secondary result of chanting krishna-nama, one’s material entanglement is terminated. The primary result is that the mind and heart of the chanter become uncontrollably drawn to Krishna and finally krishna-prema awakens in his heart.
“ataeva yanra mukhe eka krishna-nama
sei ta’ vaishnava, kariha tanhara sammana”

Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila (15.111)
“One who even chants Krishna’s name a single time is described as a Vaishnava; therefore you should show him utmost respect.”

The Difference Between Sri Nama and Namabhasa & Those who Chant Namabhasa are not Vaishnavas

The difference between nama and namabhasa is not the topic of our present deliberation. This shall be discussed specifically at another time. Herein, this much can be said: when krishna-nama is chanted with sastriya-sraddha (faith in scripture), that is, with unalloyed surrender, then it is [pure] nama. When nama is chanted with desires unrelated to making Krishna happy (anyabhilashita), or when it is eclipsed by jnana (dry, impersonal knowledge), karma (rewardseeking action), vairagya (renunciation born of aversion) and so forth, it is namabhasa. Although the chanting of namabhasa can award any result, even up to emancipation from the material energy (mukti), the Vaishnava only chants suddha-nama and is never inclined to chant any form of namabhasa.

When nama is chanted by one who has knowledge of His actual svarupa, who understands that nama and nami (the name and the named) are non-different, and who has realized that nama only makes His appearance upon the pure transcendental senses of the jiva, only then is it [pure] nama. When that nama appears on someone’s tongue, even once, he becomes a Vaishnava. By the time nama appears, all of one’s fructified (prarabdha) and unfructified (aprarabdha) sins are destroyed. And along with the awakening of such nama comes love of Godhead.

The Vaishnava who chants suddha-nama is endowed with all good qualities, is free of sins and has no interest in pious or impious activities. A Vaishnava is naturally endowed with all good characteristics and is devoid of all vice. It is stated in Sri Caitanyacaritamrita:

sarva maha-guna-gana vaishnava-sarire
krishna-bhakte krishnera guna sakali sancare

Translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika Year 7, Issue 10
by the Rays of The Harmonist team.
Published in English for the first time in Rays of The Harmonist No. 20 Karttika 2009

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