The Tolerant Mercy of the Vaishnavas

By Kishore Krishna dasa

trnad api su-nicena
taror iva sahisnuna
amanina mana-dena
kirtaniyah sada harih

I am humbled below a blade of grass to see the Vaishnavas stand more tolerant than trees in the presence of all my anarthas, headed by ungratefulness. Seeing the Vaishnavas’ compassionate nature, my false pride is defeated, and my mind cannot but glorify those Vaishnavas. By their mercy alone, may I constantly glorify Hari.

To be humble like a blade of grass is truly meaningful if one feels the towering presence of a tree standing over. Humble before what? Without feeling a tree’s presence above, humility is only a show, fostering one’s ego. Let one be humbled before the lotus feet of a Vaishnava. Just as Maya Devi is ashamed to stand before Vishnu, some heartfelt shame will be experienced to see one’s own anarthas attempt to stand before a compassionate Vaishnava.  One will feel saddened due to the weight of the baggage being carried but encouraged by the prospect before one, in the form of a sadhu. To see an external living example of one’s potential gives one the discriminating power to see the workings of one’s own ego, and also glimpse the atma within. Being able to distinguish between the real and false self, allows one to be plunged into the depths of despair while remaining greatly inspired to take the next step.  Are the tears of such a humbled servant out of joy or sadness? They are both, and they are neither; they are tears of service. Such tears give life to one’s dried up heart.

Who, upon receiving the unfathomable mercy of a Vaishnava, would not feel some remorse for having previously exposed such a saint to all of one’s unbecoming qualities of lust, greed, and pride? And what is worse, due to these anarthas, one was even reluctant to feel grateful for the Vaishnava’s tolerance. But such saintly compassion defeats one’s false pride, like trying to bully someone who has already forgiven you. It is heartbreakingly beautiful to become aware of such a juxtaposition of purity.  But this is a good position to be in because a broken heart creates an entrance for the saints’ mercy. And if one’s ego is pinched enough to feel bullied by a Vaishnava’s anger, one should not only forgive but should give thanks. A kanistha devotee will become angry with another sadhaka due to their perceived lack of potential in that sadhaka, but an uttama devotee will only show anger when another sadhaka’s potential is not being fulfilled. One of the nine symptoms of bhava bhakti is asha-bandha, which Swami B.V. Tripurari translates as “hope beyond hope.”  A sadhaka’s condition  may look beyond hope, but still a Vaishnava may see something in the sadhaka to be hopeful for. That something may not even be recognizable to oneself, but if a Vaishnava perceives it, it will bear fruit someday; the subjective world of a Vaishnava’s mind is more real than one’s own physical “reality,” because it has the backing of Krishna’s mercy.

The author of this Siksastakam prayer, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, always exemplified great humility before Vaishnavas, even during his early pastimes as a young and proud scholar in Nadia.  In the midst of Mahaprabhu’s scholarly pastimes, Vrindavan Das Thakura joyfully proclaims that, “the arrogance displayed by Nimai was unmatched throughout Navadwipa.”1 But despite this, Nimai did not hesitate to pay his obeisances in the street to exalted Vaishnavas like Srivasa Thakura, and happily accept their affectionate chastisement of his mundane scholarship. Mahaprabhu is teaching that if one is to express humility before anything in this world, do it before a Vaishnava.  With a similar emphasis, Swami B.V. Tripurari has said, “how one conducts oneself in relation to the higher quarter, that is most telling of one’s standing in Vaishnavism.” And just see how Mahaprabhu conducted himself once he manifested as a devotee! To the reluctance of all the devotees in Navadwipa, he would joyfully serve them hand and foot. Seeing the depth of his humility, they all lovingly blessed him to attain Krsna prema. By their blessings, his bhava and corresponding humility before the Vaishnavas only increased. He showed the limits of devotional humility by exhibiting ecstatic symptoms upon seeing and paying his obeisances to saints like Sri Ranga Puri in South India. A.C Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada translates Krsna Das Kaviraja’s words thus:

As soon as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw Sri Ranga Puri, He immediately offered him obeisances in ecstatic love, falling flat on the ground. The symptoms of transcendental transformation were visible—namely, tears, jubilation, trembling and perspiration. Upon seeing Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in such an ecstatic mood, Sri Ranga Puri said, “Your Holiness, please get up. Your Holiness is certainly related to Sri Madhavendra Puri, without whom there is no fragrance of ecstatic love.” After saying this, Sri Ranga Puri lifted Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu up and embraced him. As they embraced shoulder to shoulder, they both began to cry in ecstasy.2

As one progresses on the path, humility and bhakti become synonymous in that they nurture one another. As a sadhaka‘s humility deepens, the Vaishnava will become more and more eager to bestow mercy; such is the uncalculated tendency of a saint. And the fruit of this mercy is love of God, which will only increase the sadhaka‘s humility.

The tolerant tree allows the small blade of grass to not dry up in the sun, during the long drought of material existence. Mid-summer in California, the only grass that remains green are those patches that have taken shelter in the shade under a tree. Without the tree, what chance does a blade of grass have against the sun? To give shelter like the tree is just the nature of one who is so deeply rooted in love of God. By coming under such shelter the sun will no longer be one’s enemy, but will actually help one grow, as soft rays of light filter through the tree’s canopy to reach and nourish the small grass. In the same way the material world will become friendly, as the Vaishnava blesses one with an angle of vision that finds spiritual inspiration from all animate and inanimate objects.

Such mercy touches the mind of the sadhaka and the innate tendency for self worship is thwarted. Will one’s mind stop? No, the mind will revel in such a merciful dispensation, and one’s thoughts will joyfully run with the glories of the Vaishnavas! As one affectionately remembers and chants about the glories of Krishna’s devotees, one will be cleansed of all anarthas; and with all independent desires removed, one can truly begin to glorify Hari. By engaging in such pure worship of the Lord, Krsna will bestow his mercy by continually uncovering the limitless glories of the Vaishnavas before one’s eyes. Vrindavan Das has written that, “Lord Caitanya alone knows the glories of his devotees. Only one whom he favors may also know them.”3 By Vaishnava kirtana, the door to Hari kirtana opens; and by Hari kirtana, the door to Vaishnava kirtana opens up again. These kirtanas are one and different, bheda abheda; who can separate the glories of Krishna from the glories of His devotees?

May the Vaishnavas bestow their mercy on me, that I may be humble enough to understand the breadth and depth of their love.

  1. C.B. Adi 12.234 []
  2. Cc. Madhya 9.287-290 []
  3. C.B. Madhya 7.35 []

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2 Responses to The Tolerant Mercy of the Vaishnavas

  1. Very nice article. Very sincere and a wonderful metaphoric and sastric explanation of genuine humility.

  2. Wonderful piece that no doubt inspires introspection, hopeful that one might gain that special favor of Mahaprabhu to truly appreciate his dearest devotees.

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