Sri Upadesamrta: Text Three, Part Two
The following is an installment of our classroom series: Sri Upadesamrta, with Illuminations by Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, published by Gosai Publishers, 2009. View past installments, here.
Following Spiritual Practices Ordained by Scripture
There are innumerable practices of devotion. In Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu, Rupa Goswami has given sixty-four. Then again in Bhagavatam we find nine:
sravanam kirtanam visnoh
arcanam vandanam dasyam
Hearing about the Lord, chanting the Lord’s glories, remembering him, serving his lotus feet, worshipping his transcendental form, offering prayers to him, becoming his servant, considering him as one’s best friend, and surrendering everything to him. These nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service.1
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has again given five practices of devotion:
sadhu-sanga nama-kirtana, bhagavata-sravana
mathura-vasa sri-murtira sraddhaya sevana
The quintessential practices of devotion are association with the pure devotee, chanting the Holy Name, hearing the Srimad Bhagavatam, residing in Mathura-dhama, and faithfully worshiping the Deity.2
Of these five, Mahaprabhu has given nama-sankirtana (chanting the holy name) the highest position. Nama-sankirtana is considered best of all—designated as such by the acaryas. Our Guru Maharaja especially promoted kirtana, as indicated by sastra. But if other acaryas have shown preference for smarana in any instance, it is in the sense that kirtana may be performed within the material environment, whereas smarana is independent of any material consideration. From this point of view, smarana may be deemed ‘higher,’ but that is not accepted in a general way. It is a special opinion. But the serving attitude, sevonmukhata—that must be present in all types of bhakti. Otherwise it is all imitation and for millions of lives we may imitate without any success.
asadhu-sangete bhai nama nahi haya
namaksara bahiraya bate nama kabhu naya
O brother! You cannot chant the holy name in the association of non-devotees. The sounds of the holy name may come out of your mouth, but this will not really be the name.3
Yadi karibe krsna-nama sadhu-sanga kara—only with the help of the devotees, may we invite that ‘electric connection’—that may connect us with the higher place and if he is pleased to come down and connect with this body then this body can show bhakti. Otherwise it is all imitation! Imitation won’t take us to that plane. Sadhu-sanga—the dynamo is necessary to move the fan, to light the light bulb. Without sadhu-sanga we cannot connect with the higher level.
atah sri krsna-namadi
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuratyadah
The holy name, form, qualities, and pastimes of Sri Krishna are divine and transcendental. They cannot be experienced by material senses. The Lord manifests himself spontaneously on the tongue of a devotee who is eager to serve him.4
The universal necessity is to learn and acquire a serving attitude, and if that is applied to our bhajana, that will be of great help to us. Jihva means the tongue, and namadi means the nama, rupa, guna, and lila. On the tongue the Lord’s name will appear; within the eye, his form; within the mind, his qualities; and in the heart, his pastimes. All these will come down to you, and everything about you will connect with that Vaikuntha tattva. It is not just a question of increasing the quantity, but the quality must be present. To be real bhakti, sevonmukha and seva presuppose surrender, and all this presupposes sadhu-sanga. It all originates from the association of a sadhu. From the positive direction it can come to us, so we must be thankful to that positive source. The Lord is there, but his grace is coming through his agents. His agents should be welcomed and dealt with properly. Whatever we can collect with our energy we should devote towards sadhu and sastra. Sadhu and sastra are our two friends everywhere.
Renouncing Material Association
If the practice of a student of the Vaisnava school is to be limited to only one, then that is asat-sanga tyaga—to renounce bad association. That does not mean that the sadhu is also eliminated if he is found.
asat sanga tyaga – ei vaisnava acara
‘stri-sangi’ – eka asadhu krsnabhakta’ara
It is the policy of a Vaishnava to reject mundane association such as those who are overly attached to women and people averse to Krishna bhakti. ((Cc. Madhya 22.87))
There are two types of acara (practice). One is stri-sangi or yositasangi—those who are attached to sensual pleasure. Another is krsnabhakta, one who has no attraction for Krishna but is engaged in some other errand. We should be careful and follow the caution against these two—sense enjoyers and those that have no relation to Krishna. This is our only practice. They may be scholars or yogis, they may be so many things, but if they are not devotees of Krishna, their association should be eliminated. It is said that a man is known by his company. The test that is the criterion is whether he is hankering for the association of the good or for the material environment. Whichever way his taste progresses should be looked upon. What does he like? Does he have more and more affinity towards the sadhus and the sastra? Is the environment progressively increasing his taste for that particular thing? That will prove whether we are making progress or deteriorating. It can be known by the measurement of our external environment. Am I standing still? Am I going back? Internal satisfaction will also stand as a guarantee. I shall be my own witness from within, whether I am gaining or losing. My own understanding will stand as a guarantee.
bhaktih paresanubhavo viraktir
anyatra caisa trika eka-kalah
prapadyamanasya yathasnatah syus
tustih pustih ksud-apayo ‘nu-ghasam
Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things—these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Lord in the same way that pleasure, nourishment, and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly, with each bite, for a person engaged in eating.5
In Bhagavatam it is mentioned how we should measure our progress. A mundane example has been given—when we are hungry we take food and when we take food three things occur simultaneously, what are they? Tustih pustih ksud-apayo—when we are hungry we feel uneasiness, and with every morsel we take the uneasiness is removed. When we are hungry we feel weakness. With every morsel of food gradually the weakness is removed and ksud-apayo—when we are hungry we feel the pain and that also disappears step by step with every morsel. Similarly, when are we are progressing in our spiritual life towards the divine, we shall experience three things and we are to measure them carefully. What are they? Bhakti, paresanubhava, and virakti. Bhakti means a serving tendency and our attraction increases with acceleration. Paresanubhava means some sort of accurate conception of the subjective world, superseding my subject on the other side—at first our conception may be hazy but gradually it will become clearer. Virakti—we will withdraw from the environment and feel disgust with the stale experience of this world. The negative side loses its charm as the positive side gives us a peep into the world of the super-subjective. Bhaktih paresanubhavo viraktir—these three things must be there when we are making our journey.
Following in the Footsteps of Sadhus
The footsteps of the mahajanas (sadhus) are our only hope—mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. We have to depend on that only for our relief. Their footsteps are like so many lighthouses to guide us across the infinite ocean. A hope in the infinite. Vaikuntha means infinite, but sraddha contains within it good faith and good hope. Sraddha means surcharged with some good hope in the infinite. Vaikuntha is infinite, and sraddha is our only means to draw the attention of the infinite to us. The only way is sraddha, for by sraddha we can attract the infinite. There is nothing else. And when it gets a definite form through bhava, it becomes prema, divine love. Columbus floated his ships in the ocean and gradually he went to the Americas. He found land. Similarly, after crossing this universe we may find the spiritual cosmos, Vaikuntha, and sraddha is the light in the darkness. Only sraddha can guide us there. We are travelers in the infinite ocean. In the Bhagavatam are the footsteps of those great personages that have traveled on the way—the broad line chalked out by the footsteps of those that are going to the divine world. Only that should be our surest guide. All else may be eliminated because calculation is fallible and all justification comes from the absolute infinite. Any form of justification can come from anywhere, at anytime. We are floating in a boat in the infinite ocean. Anything may come to help or to hinder. Only our optimistic good faith can be our guide.
nr-deham adyam sulabham sudurlabham
plavam sukalpam guru-karna-dharam
puman bhavabdhim na taret sa atma-ha
The human body can award all benefit in life, and is automatically obtained by the laws of nature, although it is a very rare achievement. This human body can be compared to a perfectly constructed boat having the guru as the captain and the instructions of the Lord as favorable winds impelling it on its course. Considering all these advantages, a human being who does not utilize his human life to cross the ocean of material existence should be considered the killer of his own soul.6
Guru-karna-dharam—the guru is the guide. In the infinite ocean I have boarded my small boat and the destination is uncertain and inconceivable to me. But it is conceivable to my gurudeva and I am moving with that sincere faith within.
Svayam samuttirya sudustaram dyuman
bhavarnavam bhimam adabhra-sauhrdah
bhavat-padambhoruha-navam atra te
nidhaya yatah sad-anugraho bhavan
O effulgent One! Your mercy towards Your devotees is unlimited! By your grace they take shelter of the boat of Your lotus feet and cross over the ocean of material existence, which is difficult to cross. These devotees in their turn are so kind towards the conditioned souls that they keep this boat of Your lotus feet in this material world for their redemption.7
It is a horrible ocean with so many waves and so many sharks, timingila, whales, and other things—full of danger. Bhavatpadambhoruha-navam atra te—their footsteps are our only hope. We are to depend on that. It is only for our relief that so many lighthouses, the footprints of the saints, are in the infinite ocean to guide us to that place.
The instructions of the mahajanas are always true, but their conduct may not always be useful to the beginner. Their instructions are always useful, but not always their practices. A mahajana may do something that may not be helpful for my stage. He has such great spiritual power that a little defect may not harm him in any way in his practice. An intelligent person will accept those practices that are backed by his words.
isvaranam vacah satyam
tesam yat sva-vaco yuktam
buddhimams tat samacaret
The statements of great persons are always true, and the acts they perform are exemplary when consistent with those statements. Therefore one who is intelligent should carry out their instructions.8
Isvaranam vacah satyam—the leaders of the higher order, what they say, that is true—vacah satyam. But sometimes their conduct is not always the same—tathaivacaritam kvacit. Always try to follow their advice, but don’t try to imitate their conduct—caritam kvacit. An intelligent man will accept that conduct which is one and the same with their advice—buddhimams tat samacaret. When he has realized a higher state he may not be very ardent to follow the conduct of the lower stage. But when he comes to advise me, he will tell me what is necessary for my position. But he himself may not accept the same thing as his own conduct. He is above that. He has finished that class and he is reading in a higher class and when a student of that class comes he gives the lessons of his level, isvaranam vacah satyam. Because he knows that he is giving advice to a particular section he will always give advice in a proper line—tathaivacaritam kvacit. But their own practice is not always the same as their advice. They themselves may go to a higher position. There is no necessity of that sort of practice. And an intelligent man will accept that conduct which is always corroborated by his advice. We should not imitate but rather we should follow. Not anukarana (imitation) but anusarana. Anusarana means to follow in the footsteps. We must understand the difference. Anusarana means sincerity and anukarana is only for pratistha—without inner purity, only to imitate things outwardly, to get the glory of being a sadhu. Anusarana means sincere progress from the heart. Anukarana is artificial.
Once the renowned dramatist, Girish Chandra Ghosh made one drama about Caitanyadeva and wanted Bhaktivinoda Thakura to open the drama because Bhaktivinoda Thakura had a good name in the devotion to Caitanyadeva. But Bhaktivinoda Thakura hatefully dismissed him, “I am not going to give connection with this false thing.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura dismissed this awkward imitation, “I don’t want to come in touch with that.” Instead of trying to follow in Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s footsteps, he was making a show of his connection. It was imitation, so Bhaktivinoda Thakura avoided it. One prostitute, Vinodini, was selected to play the part of Caitanyadeva. Then Ramakrishna was chosen instead of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and he went to see the drama. That Vinodini began to cry, shedding tears while taking the name of Krishna and Ramakrishna was very much impressed with that, so much so that the next morning he went to see that Vinodini. He told that prostitute, “You are very fortunate, you are taking the name of Krishna and shedding tears. You have created such an impression in me, I feel very fortunate, so I have come to see you again.” And she was very ashamed, “No, no, no!” And Ramakrishna told her, “One that can rouse devotion in the hearts of so many by shedding tears and all these things when playing Caitanyadeva—she is not an ordinary person.” In this way Ramakrishna eulogized her. But we are not a party to that. We don’t recognize that. The Gaudiya Matha, the devotees of Prabhupada, they cannot accept such appreciation and such a false representation. It is all imitation, a sham, not real. It won’t help our real progress.
In a drama a man may take the role of Narada Goswami and chant, “Haribol! Haribol!” and tears may appear from his eyes, but it is simply artificial! It may be articulated cent percent to show these symptoms in the body and in the mind. One can learn the art without any touch of divinity. It is possible. Some people are naturally of that temperament; very easily they can shed tears, their temperament is such. And there are others who can learn the art of doing so. There are two classes of people who, without a slight touch of divinity, can show the public so many high sentiments. Without the least touch of suddha-sattva they can freely exhibit all these things to deceive people. Devotion does not mean only to shed tears and to shiver and to wear tilaka and tulasi and dance and chant – these are all external feats. We must not be misguided seeing these imitating aspects, these feats of devotion. We must try to save the ordinary people from the false exhibition of the higher Vaishnava’s character.