Test, Taste, and Triumph

According to one’s sukrti, inner adaptability, and grace from above, the soul within will experience awakenment, emerge with some taste, and according to that taste, he will adjust himself with the environment. According to his internal taste, he’ll find, «These friends, this type of service, this company — these seem to be my own! This is tasteful, very, very tasteful.» According to his taste, he will take some particular type of ‘food’. Just as when animals are let loose, they will take food according to their own choice, so the awakened soul will be able to select a proper environment for himself. His inner taste will guide him: «This is very charming; this is attracting my heart. I feel helpless — I can’t control myself. So much attraction do I feel for this particular thing.» In that way, he will be guided. Intuition will direct him. In this world, we find intuition, and in the plane of divine life also there is intuition — the undiscovered tendency in the self — and that will perform the function of selection, elimination, and new acceptance. As we go on with our sadhana, with the process of realisation, elimination, and new selection will come gradually. Gradually, it will take us up.

Why have all of you from the Western countries come to Krishna consciousness? You were students of Christianity, mostly, so why has Krishna consciousness attracted your soul, your inner heart? You had some sort of religious conception, but why did you leave that, leaving so many traditional formalities and so many friends within that circle? Why have you left them to bring yourself here, in Krishna consciousness? For what have you come, taking such risk? The country, the society, the religious conception — you have left them all and come forward for Krishna consciousness and moreover as active preachers. That tendency will again push you into the selection of different departments of service in Krishna consciousness.

Our inner tendency, inner liking or hankering, will guide us. «This particular sort of service is very pleasing to me; I cannot but associate myself with this sort of service.» That will be the guide; cooperation with the Chaittya-guru, the Guru inside, the ‘dictator’ within. The Guru is outside and inside. When we cannot catch the dictation of the inner dictator Guru, then we must have some guidance from the Mahanta-guru outside and from scripture. We always want guidance along the path, and when we reach a certain stage, from there our ruchi may guide us. Our inner dictating tendency may guide us like intuition, just as birds and beasts are guided by intuition.

Weeds curtailing the bhakti creeper

Devotee: Then, Maharaj, in this connection, why is it that there are so many practitioners of Krishna consciousness who, for whatever reasons, have given up their previous devotional association?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: From a general perspective, the life of wholesale dedication is not a very easy thing to swallow. So many difficulties are in the way: previous tendencies, and also the possibility of offences in the choice of thought, speech, and behaviour due to our free will. The defect is there; it is not a perfect thing. Our free will is very weak and limited. Sadhana means elimination and new acceptance, and within that also so many difficulties and disturbances may come from our past tendencies which do not allow us to progress smoothly. Though I know that what I see is a higher form of service, my previous tendencies won’t allow me to accept that and to undergo the austerities and challenges that are necessary for that service. There are so many difficulties, like weeds. This is described in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta:

brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
kintu yadi latara sange uthe ‘upasakha’
bhukti-mukti-vanchha, yata asankhya tara lekha
‘nisiddhachara’, ‘kutinati’, ‘jiva-himsana’
‘labha’, ‘puja’, ‘pratisthadi’ yata upasakha-gana
seka-jala pana upasakha badi’ yaya
stabdha hana mula-sakha badite na paya
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Madhya-lila, 19.151, 158-60)

«According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets the opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.

«Unwanted weeds growing with the bhakti creeper are forbidden acts, violence, duplicity, mundane profiteering, adoration and popularity, etc. All these are weeds. If one does not distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper and the weeds, then the sprinkling of water in the form of devotional practices such as hearing and chanting is misused because the weeds are nourished while the bhakti-lata creeper is curtailed.»

The creeper of devotion becomes a sprout and gradually grows. Srila Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami says here that along with the main creeper of devotion there are also many weeds, and when the creeper receives watering and nourishing, those weeds also grow up as well. Labha means gain — the apparent gain of something, mainly position. But that position and puja — appreciation — which the sadhaka receives may then create so many other enemies within him. From the previous tendencies, new enemies come; maybe the desire to accumulate money for self-interested purposes or the desire to get the love of women, and then there is hankering for pratistha — fame and popularity. So many things may come. When one is ‘going up’, so many difficulties come on the way to check him, but we must consciously shun those things. So many difficulties come on the way, and we must save ourselves from all of the many internal enemies to our aspiration with the help of Guru, sadhu, scripture, and our own sincerity. Then, gradually we shall grow.

And at each new stage that we advance to, there also we shall find some other difficulty. So the path of inner evolution is not strewn with roses; it is a difficult path to walk. As we get nearer to the goal we become more and more free, but in the beginning various difficulties do come to check us. Our previous karma-phala, the ‘fruits’ of our previous actions, will return to be tasted by us, and tendencies of different types will chase us to try to keep us within their jurisdiction. But upon meeting those difficulties and surpassing them — conquering them — we shall progress higher and higher, and the difficulties will lessen. Still something may remain, especially pratistha.

More humility: less opposition

trnad api sunichena taror iva sahisnuna
amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih
(Siksastakam: 3)

While treading the path to bhakti, if we are well-equipped with this helpful mood, then we shall certainly meet less opposition. Trnad api sunichena: humbler than a blade of grass. I won’t allow myself to be the cause of any friction with the environment. This will be our first mood and the foremost guideline for our conduct. Second, taror iva sahisnuna: Still, if any attack does come from the environment, then I shall try to bear it silently, without giving any opposition. And third, amanina manadena: I won’t try to gain any popularity, any good name or fame — I won’t hanker for that — but at the same time I shall give proper respect to the environment and to everyone who is in the environment. I shall offer respect, but I won’t desire any respect from others. The more we try to go on our way with this mood and corresponding behaviour, the less difficulty we shall have to face.

Also, those who are in a mission and under the guidance of a higher realised soul can face many dangers. When we go out to preach, we shall have to face many difficulties, but with the help of the higher guidance, we can fight those who are propagating misconception, and we can either subdue them or invite them to meet with the higher leader. In this way, we can give opposition to the forces of maya and counterattack. At that time, we shall not adopt the policy that we shall give no opposition to the environment. No. When we are engaged in preaching as ‘soldiers’, we shall approach and face the opposition, and we shall try to ‘disarm’ him. And if we can’t, then we shall invite him to our Guru to be disarmed.

In this way, I shall go on, carrying out the orders of the Vaisnava. And if in some way I am ‘wounded’ by the local environment in that attempt, then my spiritual stamina will increase as a result of following the order of the higher agent — Vaisnava-seva, and I shall be more greatly benefitted thereby.

I want Vaisnavi-pratistha. I won’t want any popularity from the ordinary public — they are almost insane — but I want a position in the eye of my master, my Gurudev, that, «Yes, he is a promising boy. He will spiritually prosper.» When my higher guardians look upon me with some affectionate encouragement, that will be my capital. Their goodwill and liking for me will be my capital on my passage toward the higher realm. When we are alone in a solitary place and going on with chanting the Holy Name, then of course this trnad api sunichena must be strictly observed at all times. But when fighting under a ‘general’ in a preaching campaign, then our external demeanour should be a little different, more towards carrying out the order of that higher spiritual general. That will be more gainful.

The meaning of sannyas for the Vaisnava

Devotee: Since the general order to go out and preach has been very broadly given to all devotees by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, what is the special utility of the sannyas order in our sampradaya when Mahaprabhu has said that it is forbidden in this Age of Kali?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: The answer is explained in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta. This is a general question not only for the Gaudiya sampradaya, but also for the followers of Ramanuja, Madhva Acharya, and even Sankar Acharya. The Buddhists may not care for the directions of the Puranas, but the Sankar school and the Vaisnava schools accept sannyas. Sankar was a sannyasi, and for the most part his successors were all sannyasis as well. This is true of Ramanuja also, Madhva Acharya, and the Visnu Swami sampradaya also.

The interpretation is this: in Kali-yuga, sannyas in the strict sense of karma-sannyas is forbidden. Karma-sannyas means that you leave everything, and that type of sannyas is not possible in Kali-yuga. It is described in the sastras that in Satya-yuga, as long as a man’s bones exist, that is how long he will live. Along with the longevity of the bones, the life will be there. In Treta-yuga, life may be maintained by the nervous system, but it is stated that in Kali-yuga, kalav annagatah pranah: one’s longevity depends on food. Therefore, sannyas in the strict sense is not possible in Kali-yuga.

Previously, Valmiki was engaged in tapasya for so many years that the insects captured his whole body and reduced the flesh into earth, yet he remained present within his bones. Then later, by the help of some spiritual miracle, his whole body was restored. But in Kali-yuga, without food it is not possible to live. All penances have been especially adjusted for Kali-yuga, and the only continuous fast allowed in Kali-yuga is for twenty-four hours, not more than that. In other ages, at least twelve days fasting was generally done. If a person had done anything wrong, then according to the smrti sastra, twelve days fasting was the standard punishment for any sins. But in Kali-yuga, twenty-four hour fasting is the maximum because without food a man cannot survive.

If he were to take karma-sannyas while being so extremely dependent on material giving and taking, then he wouldn’t be able to maintain his existence. But the life of Vaisnava tridanda-sannyasi, which is not very extreme — take prasadam, do service — is a sort of modified form based on yuktahara-viharas cha, and one living according to this principle can take sannyas.

Mahaprabhu took sannyas, Sankar Acharya, Ramanuja — all the pioneers of the different sampradayas took sannyas. That has been interpreted as karma-sannyas, but still, sannyas is of several kinds. There is also vidvat-sannyas, which is considered by the salvationist section to be the highest. Their idea is that when one has fully realised that his connection with this material realm is a negative one, he will finish his material encasement and enter into the spiritual sphere. When he is fully established in this firm consciousness that «my connection with the material world will be injurious to me», he will then relinquish his body and go away to the spiritual sky. That is vidvat-sannyas. There is also narottam-sannyas:

yah svakat parato veha jata-nirveda atmavan
hrdi krtva harim gehat pravrajet sa narottamah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 1.13.27)

In the narottam system of sannyas, one has realised the presence or existence of God within his heart, and thinking of Him, he leaves his present engagement and duties of the household and remains outside, anywhere and everywhere — under a tree or in a cave or wherever — careless of his physical needs. He does not immediately relinquish his body, but he takes whatever food he gets, and when he does not get any food, he fasts, and in this way he goes on. He leaves the household for good. That is narottam-sannyas.

And there are also different stages of sannyas mentioned in the sastra: kutichaka, bahudaka, hamsa, and paramahamsa, progressively. But tridanda-sannyas is when the sannyasi engages himself fully in the service of Godhead by spreading His messages and doing some good to the public, and that characteristic is different. It is categorically different. The tridandi-sannyasi is not adopting an attitude or tactic of leaving all of the engagements of this world as a result of becoming disgusted with its many temptations. Rather, he is engaging himself in the higher duty of the upper world through an agent, so his body has got utility. Remaining here, maintaining connection here, he is drawing some higher thing from above and distributing that in the environment. That is another conception of sannyas, and it has positive value.

This is a similar engagement to that performed by the Lord’s closest associates. When an incarnation of God comes down, His favourite parsadas, His friends and servitors, are also sent by Him to come down to do some service to help Him. There are also sub-agents who have received some engagement from the higher agent, and by moving within this world in that capacity, they can earn more spiritual wealth than those who are very eager to disconnect completely from this material plane. They want to try to utilise their connection with this mundane plane to earn some substantial wealth of the upper house. So, like the Lord’s parsadas, the tridandi-sannyasis want to work as God’s agents.

The glory of the divine feminine nature

Devotee: Maharaj, we know the injunctions forbidding sannyasis and brahmacharis specifically from mixing with ladies, but what should be the general overall vision of the male section of devotees as we are serving Mahaprabhu’s mission together with our godsisters?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: According to the varnasram system, generally the sudras (labouring class) and ladies are not allowed direct participation in the higher religious functions. Only indirect participation is allowed for them, and they also do not get the sacred thread. Yet a brahman boy can be found touching the feet of his mother! The mother will not touch the Deity of Narayan, but her son who is worshipping Narayan is touching her feet and taking her feet-dust. Such a position is there in the varnasram system. Women are generally considered unfit or below the standard of engaging in direct service to the Lord, but in the Vaisnava conception there is no such strictness about that.

In my youth, some sort of disregard grew in my mind about the lady section: «I must keep far away from them. They are untouchable.» But that notion was amended by my aunt in this way: she noted my nature, my conduct, and once affectionately remarked to me, «Oh, don’t you know that ladies represent Laksmi Devi? They belong to the same section, and in them the qualities of sacrifice and submission are very clearly visible, so they should be respected. They should be respected, and the aggressive male nature is to be viewed unfavourably. The feminine ego-conception is an ideal of a very noble type wherein sacrifice, the devotional aspect, is very prominent. Ladies are not aggressors; they are sacrifice personified. Whereas the male nature, that is aggressive.»

Gradually that idea came to me, and I learned to appreciate Sita, Draupadi, and so many others, especially the supreme example shown by the gopis. The standard established by the gopis has shown that self-forgetfulness, self-sacrifice, and self-surrendering reaches its zenith, its highest conception, in the lady-aspect. The passive aspect holds the highest position. That viewpoint came gradually and caused a turnabout within my mind.

Madhura-rasa, consorthood, is the highest position, and within Srimati Radharani we find the greatest degree of sacrifice and affection. The males are the aggressors; they are responsible for all the difficulties and troubles, not the ladies. That we possess the aggressive nature of a male is the disease in us. Gradually, that perception developed from inside, and ultimately I found that when the female nature is pure and in connection with the supreme lila of vatsalya-rasa and madhura-rasa, it holds the highest position in the topmost realm. And our aspiration is for engagement in the service of Srimati Radharani.

The position of Sri Radha is that of the highest service to Krishna, and Radha-dasyam has been considered by Mahaprabhu to be the highest attainment. Vasudev Ghos says:

yadi gaura na hata tabe ki ha-ita
kemane dharitam de
radhara mahima prema-rasa-sima
jagate janata ke?

«Who could disclose this holy, divine fact if Sri Gauranga did not personally appear on this earth? Who could let us know, who could inform us, that the highest servitor is Radharani?» But Gauranga did come, and He clearly showed that the highest conception of service is to be engaged in the service of that highest, negative potency.

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