Chastity: Relative and Absolute

chastityBy B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami

Chastity is faithfulness to the cause for which we have come. In the absolute sense it is unchangeable adherence to Krishna consciousness. There also may be relative chastity, such as when someone sincerely pursues his interest in a particular plane. However that type of chastity is not complete.

Chastity means our adherence to the truth, the truth that we have come to realize. It is of infinite character, yet there is a gradation of understanding and thus room for progress and chastity relative to one’s stage of progress. We will say that one is chaste due to one’s own progressive sincerity, not due to adherence to a formal conception of chastity.

In the beginning a new student who gains admission to a college cannot expect to know everything. One needs to gradually attain systematic, properly adjusted knowledge.
 There were many in our group who heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Prabhupada’s advice and words, but only partly. One day a senior man and sannyasi repeated something Srila Prabhupada had said. Although it related to a particular time and place, he wanted to utilize that in a universal way. I gave some objection: “Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada told this, it is true, but this is not the whole thing. He explained other things also. Therefore we have to harmonize.”

We cannot ignore the other part of his advice. We have to come into adjustment and systematic understanding of the words of sri surudeva and be chaste to that. Partial understanding may sometimes lay stress on a particular point and one who has caught only that may take that and nothing beyond it and find chastity there. While that has value, systematic knowledge of the whole must be understood to arrive at the whole picture of chastity. In a progressive life, the plane one devotee may want to withdraw from to make further progress may be the goal of attainment for another devotee. That which is the object of attainment for the kanistha-adhikari, a madhyama-adhikari may withdraw from in his attempt to climb higher.

Under the guidance of one’s guru there are so many different sections of disciples. All the students may not be equal in their realization. One can understand to a certain extent, another can understand something more, and another can understand even more. In this way there may be gradation. Even the senior disciples may fall back and the juniors may go up. That is also possible. I have seen this and you can also see it. Many of the older ones have gone away and the newcomers are showing greater energy. You may find that amongst yourselves as we also found amongst ourselves. There are no stereotyped rules. It is a living thing.

Different instructions apply to different classes of devotees, and Krishna says, “Sometimes it will be necessary to show devotion to me, even crossing my own laws.” We must also consider the realizations of higher devotees. So many things are there, but the main thing is faithfulness, chastity to the cause. To die for the cause. Die to live!
 Simplicity means to be independent of ancient prejudices. To be clear. To be free of foreign possession, that is simplicity and chastity.

Formal and substantial are two different things, and here is the main difficulty in our progress. Progress means to deal with these two difficulties, to stick to one’s former position, and beyond that, to make progress, to advance. If advancement is not sure, it is judicious and chaste to stick to the former position. If there is any doubt of progress one should stick to the former position. But then again, that is not progress. Progress means to leave the former position and go ahead. Only one who is hopeful of his bright future should leave his former position and go to advance. Those who are of doubtful mentality, suspicious mentality, it is better for them to stick to their former position where they already have a consolidated foundation.

They should take their stand there. According to one’s own progress one cannot but see that some things learned previously must be rejected and some new things in front must be invited to come near. Progress means this. 
In his book Brhad-Bhagavatamrtam, Srila Sanatana Goswami has given sambandha-jnana, the knowledge of the relationship between ourselves and the Godhead. We have to follow that closely. That means proper adjustment. At first we shall have some sort of approximate knowledge and that will be realized more and more. Taking our stand in a particular position if we look out we will be able to say, ‘this is here,’ ‘this is there,’ ‘this is lower,’ ‘that is higher.’ In Krishna consciousness we must understand sambandha-jnana.

What I do not find to be my own I must not take risk for that. But when I find ‘this is my own’ even though it may be a little far, then I must jump there. This is my own and my inner hankering is only searching for that thing, and if I find that is within my reach, then I must jump there. It depends on our sincerity and our proper understanding of chastity.

There are many who cannot control the temptation from within to exploit the guru or Krishna—guru-bhogi, krishna-bhogi—and create some facilities for their own personal exploitation. That is also possible. A real student, a bonafide student, must be alert on all sides whether non-Krishna is coming in disguise. We must try to recognize that and save ourselves. If we are sincere and chaste to the truth no one can disturb us.

We have to be very careful to protect this valuable tendency within us and maintain our taste and the vision of our inner awakening. We must maintain that and if possible make some progress in our line. That is our interest. 
”God save me from my enemies.” And, “God save me from my friends”—that expression is also there. You must be alert that as a friend someone may not deceive you. You must be so careful. At your own risk pray to the Supreme, the chaitya-guru, for giving you the right direction: “What is what? What is to be accepted?” It is a crucial point.

I don’t want to take the responsibility. Mahaprabhu and Krishna also do not take the responsibility. Even though Krishna can control everything, he also says: “You are free.”
 In the Srimad Bhagavad-gita Krishna instructs: “I have said what I had to say. Now, Arjuna, you decide what you want to do. Think it over exhaustively. Think it over to the best of your ability and then decide what step you are going to accept.”

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4 Responses to Chastity: Relative and Absolute

  1. Thoughtful and broadminded writings such as expressed here are why Shrila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami is so important and relevant for devotees of Krishna to consider and think deeply about. We live in a time of polarization and extremism, which can also creep into spiritual circles that should have nothing to do with such rigid attitudes. Although at first misunderstood by many, Sridhara Maharaja was an affectionate Uncle for disciples of Prabhupada and their followers, prodding us to think more deeply about the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and the previous holy teachers [acharyas].

    My experience is that by studying his words and the words of those influenced by him, one considerably broadens their perspective of what Krishna consciousness or Gaudiya Vaishnavism is. Whereas I used to have a very black and white understanding and be critical of those who didn’t share my institutional views, I now see that most things are shades of grey or as I like to say, “multi-colored”.

    The concept of “harmonizing” differences is revolutionary in itself, and can counter the tendency to think one’s own position is absolutely right, while others are wrong. The idea that spiritual advancement (hinted here and stated by him elsewhere) comes through “Acceptance and elimination” or that we leave behind certain provisional or neophyte understandings and accept deeper ones which correspond to where we are spiritually is also profound.

  2. Very revealing and deep… “Simplicity means to be independent of ancient prejudices”… Sridhara Maharaja was so subtle, yet at the same time so clear. Guiding disciples of Srila Prabhupada with incredible tact, humility, and sincerity. Only the very unfortunate people may not appreciate the value of those instructions.

    • Thank you for that Kula-pavana.

      Imagine how we felt in his company after Prabhupada’s departure and the turmoil that ensued thereafter. So sheltered, so chaste, so much in the hands of spiritual authority, so much loved, but practically with no ears to listen to the good news, the solution we had stumbled on to with the help of Prabhupada’s directive. Worse, volumes of misinformation and distortion everywhere.

      Missing the contribution of Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja on the part of Prabhupada’s disciples is tantamount to missing the guru parampara.

      • “Missing the contribution of Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja on the part of Prabhupada’s disciples is tantamount to missing the guru parampara.”

        I often think like that too… Sri Guru made a much needed correction in the course taken by enthusiastic but inexperienced bhaktas via instructions of a pure Vaishnava. Too bad some people did not notice…

        To dismiss this link of our parampara out of political consideration or ignorance is worse then rejecting the divinity of Mahaprabhu by those who claim to be Vaishnavas.

        The points about proper vision of chastity Sridhara Maharaja makes here are of colossal importance. I do not mind being considered a ‘prostitute’ by some narrow minded Vaishnavas as long as I can keep on learning from such qualified sadhus.

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