Devotee: Today is my birthday. According to the almanac, it is the most inauspicious day of the year.
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: No. This is the happiest and most fortunate day, because on this day you came to Guru and Krishna. Many birthdays have already passed, but this birthday has brought you in connection with Krishna. So this day should be respected not only by your disciples, friends, and relatives; you should also have respect for this day. Krishna has blessed you.
Time is also described in the Chaitanya-charitamrta in a verse recorded by Ramananda Ray: ye kale va svapane dekhinu Vamsi-vadane. Srimati Radharani says, «When in My trance, I came to have a divine vision of Krishna, two enemies suddenly appeared: ecstasy, and also a feeling which is corresponding to extreme love in complete self-surrender. In that state, I could not see Krishna very clearly. These two enemies disturbed Me. Ecstasy was My enemy, for it made Me self-forgetful, and My greed for His touch was another enemy. They did not allow Me to have a clear vision of Krishna, so My thirst for seeing Him was unquenched.
«If by good fortune I have another chance to have His darsan, divine vision, then what should I do? Avoiding Krishna, I shall instead try to worship time. I shall worship that moment, that minute, that second in which I have the divine vision of Krishna. I shall try to propitiate time, so that time itself may stay for some time. With garlands, sandalwood paste, and jewels, I shall try to worship time and not Krishna. If time stands still, being propitiated with My respectful behaviour, then Krishna will remain. In this way, I shall try to fix the time, ‘You please stay here for some time. Krishna is showing Himself — Time, you be eternal here.’ Otherwise, like lightning, Krishna comes and vanishes.»
We worship the time, the land, the place, the paraphernalia of Krishna. Anything in connection with Krishna is chinmay, transcendental. The paraphernalia of Krishna is worthy of our worship. In fact, we shall have to honour Krishna’s paraphernalia even more than Krishna Himself. That is the clue to success. Krishna’s abode, His paraphernalia, and His devotees have a relationship with Krishna, Krishna-sambandha. They are Krishna’s devotees, and He is at their disposal. So, if we can propitiate them, they will take interest in us and take us up into that realm. Otherwise we are helpless. In the Padma-purana, it is said:
aradhananam sarvesam visnor aradhanam param
Once, Parvati Devi asked Lord Siva, «Of all kinds of worship, whose worship is best?» Lord Siva told her plainly, «The worship and devotional service of Lord Narayan, Visnu, is the highest.» Parvati became a little mortified and disappointed, thinking, «But I am serving Siva, so I hold a lower position.» Then the next line came:
tasmat parataram devi tadiyanam samarchanam
«But higher than the worship of Narayan is worship of the devotees of Lord Narayan. That is even greater than devotion to the Lord Himself.» Then Parvati smiled, thinking, «I am serving the devotee of the Lord. Siva is a devotee: Vaisnavanam yatha Sambhuh. So, I am doing the best thing.» This is also confirmed by Krishna, in the Adi-purana:
ye me bhakta-janah partha na me bhaktas cha te janah
mad-bhaktanam cha ye bhaktas te me bhaktatama matah
«Those who worship Me directly are not real devotees; real devotees are those who are devoted to My devotees.» And this principle is true in our own experience. It is said, «If you love me, love my dog.» How intense one’s love for his master must be if he can love the master’s dog. And he loves the dog only because it is his master’s dog; not that he wants to take away the dog for himself. He loves it not with the idea of independent love for the dog, but because it is the master’s dog.
This is a higher test of our love than simply to love the master. This will test whether we are really lovers. Krishna is more pleased if He sees that His servant is being served. Why? Because His servant always serves Him, but he won’t take anything in return from Krishna. Krishna tries to give His devotees something, but they won’t take it. They have no aspiration to fulfil, no petition to enter in the course of their service. They want only cent per cent service. There is no possibility for Krishna to award any remuneration there; He can’t find the slightest hole in their devotional service through which some remuneration can be pushed. His devotees are wholesale servants, and nothing but.
Krishna tries His best to give something to His devotees in return for their service, but He fails. So, when Krishna sees that His desired aim of rewarding His servants is being done by someone else, He becomes indebted to that person thinking, «What I wanted to do for My servant, he is doing. I wanted to do that, but failed; it was not accepted. But now someone else is doing the same thing I wanted to do.» Krishna is more favourable to the devotee who serves His servant. Then Krishna comes to serve him. That is the underlying purpose of His saying «Those who are devotees of My devotee, they are the real devotees of My heart.» So bhakta-puja, worship of the devotees, is the best kind of worship. This statement is confirmed in the Srimad Bhagavatam, in the Vedas, and by Vrndavan Das Thakur in the Chaitanya-bhagavat:
amara bhaktera-puja — ama haite bada
Bhakta-puja, worship of the devotees, is advocated everywhere. At the same time we should try to understand who is a devotee. That is also to be ascertained. What is the sign of a real devotee?
Krishna says, «Those who say they are directly devoted to Me are not devotees proper; those who are devotees of My devotees are My real devotees.» We should try to follow the principle of this saying. This is not a perverted remark, but there is some genuine reality in it. If we look for its inner meaning, we will reach the conclusion our Guru Maharaj has announced. He said, «We are suddha-sakta, worshippers of the pure potency, not the mundane potency.» We worship the potency who is wholesale dedicated to the potent without retaining Her individual independence as a separate entity at all, who is cent per cent dependent on Krishna. Such a potency as this is very, very rarely to be conceived.
The direct approach to Krishna is improper. One must approach Him through the proper channel, through the devotees. That is the real approach. Therefore, Gaudiya Math eliminates Mirabai and so many other apparently great devotees from the category of real devotees because, although they are mad in praise of Krishna, they have little regard for the real devotees of Krishna.
Krishna is not alone. A king is always present with his entourage, his great establishment. If one is really to approach the king, it must be done through the proper channel. Krishna is always surrounded by a big hierarchy, a big bureaucracy, and one cannot approach Krishna directly. He whose approach is real must select a proper channel. He cannot but praise those devotees and revere them for their magnanimity. It is only by their help that we can get the nearness of Krishna. Should we think it possible that one can take a jump across the whole system and approach the king? It is unreal.
Someone may be externally engaged in such a way that apparently he is a great devotee of Krishna, but if he eliminates the devotees, that devotion has not taken real shape; it is a vague thing. He is far away from Krishna. Suppose we take as an example the highest peak in the Himalayas, Mount Everest. We can see Mount Everest from far off. But to approach Mount Everest, we must pass through so many closer mountain peaks. When our approach to Mount Everest is genuine, we cannot avoid discovering the name and characteristic of other peaks surrounding Mount Everest. But from far off we can see only Mount Everest and not the other peaks surrounding it. So, when we say that our connection is with Krishna alone, then we are far off. If we are to actually approach the king, we must approach him through his entourage. If we are actually to approach Everest, we cannot but have a connection with the nearer peaks surrounding that highest peak. So, if we are practically engaged in approaching Krishna, our approach will be realistic only when we are engaged with the many devotees in different departments of service to Krishna.
I noted when we were preaching in South India, that whenever any gentleman who was a renowned devotee in a particular place approached our Guru Maharaj, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad, he used to ask such men, «Under whose guidance does your devotional service to Krishna go on?» Generally they used to say, «No, no, I am directly concerned with Lord Krishna and Lord Rama.» Then, when they went away, we heard our Guru Maharaj say, «He has no devotion.» That person was dismissed as an imitation devotee. That is a vague kind of devotion. It has not taken any particular shape because he is ignoring the asraya, the shelter-giving devotees in the positions surrounding the Lord. That is the great test of devotion.
Otherwise, without taking shelter of a devotee, if one shows great devotion, what is his motive? Generally they think, «We want liberation, not the service of Krishna. To earn liberation, we are accepting the devotion of Krishna.» That is a lower form of worship — worldly worship — not real worship in the transcendental plane. That is not eternal, but temporary. Devotion to the Lord must not be subservient to any other aim of life. The desire for liberation is one criterion of an imitation devotee, and another criterion is the neglect of elevated devotees. When the Lord alone is being worshipped, that is also false. These two kinds of apparent devotional practices which are generally seen in the world may be dismissed. But the world does not get any news of all these things.
Devotee: So, the Spiritual Master is sometimes called the Asraya-vigraha, the personality of whom one must take shelter?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Yes. Just as in the beginning one sees the forest from a distance, but in the end he enters the inner circle of the forest, so from far off Krishna alone appears to be the asraya, the giver of shelter, but when we approach Krishna more closely, we will find our shelter among his devotees. Our real shelter is found within His inner circle of servitors, not with Krishna directly.
We are of a vitiated nature, but there are those who under no circumstances deviate from Krishna. They are the eternal paraphernalia of the Lord. They are not like us; they are eternally connected with Krishna, but we are sometimes coming and going away; we are unreliable servitors. That is our position, so we cannot claim the same position as the absolute servitors of the Lord. Under their guidance we can be given the chance of service, so we must accept that position. We are recruits, we are not amongst the permanent servitors of Krishna. We must perform our service under a bona fide superior. The new followers must be gradually accommodated under some bona fide, permanent servitors in the land of Krishna.