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Vaishnava Ninda

Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur clarifies the meaning and significance of criticising a devotee.

Translated from the original Bengali first published in Sajjana-toṣaṇī,
Volume 5, Issues 2, 3, and 5, in May, June, and August of 1893.

Amongst all the offences that a soul can commit, there is no offence more severe than criticism of a Vaiṣṇava. Therefore, discussing criticism of a Vaiṣṇava according to the scriptures is necessary. In the Skanda-purāṇa, it is written:

nindāṁ kurvanti ye mūḍhā vaiṣṇavānāṁ mahātmanāṁ
patanti pitṛbhiḥ sārddhaṁ mahāraurava saṁjñite
hanti nindanti vai dveṣṭi vaiṣṇavān nābhinandati
krudhyate yāti no harṣaṁ darśane patanāni ṣaṭ

A foolish person who criticises a great Vaiṣṇava falls into the hell known as Mahāraurava along with their forefathers. There are six deplorable acts that are causes of falling down. One who (1) kills a Vaiṣṇava, (2) criticises a Vaiṣṇava, (3) envies a Vaiṣṇava, or, upon seeing a Vaiṣṇava, (4) does not offer respect, (5) becomes angry, or (6) feels displeased, will fall down.

It is written in the Bhāgavat:

nindāṁ bhagavataḥ śṛṇvaṁs tat-parasya janasya vā
tato nāpaiti yaḥ so ’pi yāty adhaḥ sukṛtāch chyutaḥ

One who does not leave a place where the Lord or the Vaiṣṇavas are being criticised looses all of their sukṛti [spiritual fortune] and falls down.

When we are to be this careful about criticism of a Vaiṣṇava, then it is extremely necessary to first define a Vaiṣṇava and clarify by which acts offences to a Vaiṣṇava are made.

Dividing all souls into four groups is necessary. These are the four groups of souls: (1) ordinary souls, (2) pious souls, (3) brāhmaṇs and Vaiṣṇava-prāyas [those who are ‘nearly Vaiṣṇavas’], and (4) Vaiṣṇavas. Every soul is an abode of Śrī Kṛṣṇa—with this conception we should respect all souls. Amongst them, giving some special respect to pious souls is necessary. Honouring brāhmaṇs and Vaiṣṇava-prāyas is our duty, and serving the feet of Vaiṣṇavas is most essential. If one does not respect souls, does not specially respect pious souls, or does not honour brāhmaṇs and Vaiṣṇava-prāyas, one commits sin (pāpa), but if one disrespects or dishonours a Vaiṣṇava, one commits offence (aparādh). Sins are removed by ordinary atonement, but offences do not easily go away. Sins are attached to the gross and subtle bodies; offences are a special type of fault: they are attached to the soul itself. Therefore, those who desire to serve the Lord are especially apprehensive about offences.

Through the three verses of Śrīmad Bhāgavat written below, a Vaiṣṇava has been defined according three divisions: a Vaiṣṇava, a superior Vaiṣṇava [Vaiṣṇava-tara], and a superlative Vaiṣṇava [Vaiṣṇava-tama].

A beginner Vaiṣṇava [kaniṣṭha Vaiṣṇava]:

archāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate
na tad-bhakteṣu chānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ

One who worships the Deity of the Lord with faith acquired from cultural tradition but does not worship the devotees of the Lord is a beginner Vaiṣṇava, that is, they are just entering the practice of devotion. The difference between faith developed through tradition and faith based on scripture is that faith developed through tradition only arises from cultural education. From faith based on scripture [śāstrīya śraddhā], faith in Vaiṣṇavas develops through deep conviction in the statements of the scriptures and the scriptures’ authority. Only when faith based on scripture develops does a soul become an intermediate stage Vaiṣṇava [madhyam-adhikārī]. Until it develops, a practitioner’s engagement in material activities [karmādhikār] does not end. Śrīman Mahāprabhu spoke about such practitioners in this way:

śuddha vaiṣṇava nahe vaiṣṇava prāya

[“They are not pure Vaiṣṇavas; they are Vaiṣṇava-prāyas [‘nearly Vaiṣṇavas’].”]

When beginner Vaiṣṇavas, that is, Vaiṣṇava-prāyas, associate with genuine sādhus, they can become pure Vaiṣṇavas.

An intermediate Vaiṣṇava [madhyam Vaiṣṇava]:

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu cha
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ

One who loves the Lord, forms friendship with Vaiṣṇavas, acts kindly to the unknowing—Vaiṣṇava-prāyas, souls who are unaware of the nature of devotion, and ignores those who are inimical to the Lord and the Vaiṣṇavas (remains indifferent to, tolerates, or avoids such persons according to the situation, and, with this mentality, also acts kindly towards the inimical or unknowing as appropriate) is an intermediate Vaiṣṇava. Only intermediate Vaiṣṇavas are qualified to serve Vaiṣṇavas, as beginner Vaiṣṇavas do not do this (and are thus known as Vaiṣṇava-prāyas; they are not called Vaiṣṇavas).

An advanced Vaiṣṇava [uttam Vaiṣṇava]:

sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ paśyed bhagavad-bhāvam ātmanaḥ
bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany eṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ

One who sees the presence of their beloved Lord in all beings and within their heart perceives all beings as manifestations of the Lord, that is, sees the whole world as a Vaiṣṇava sheltered by the Lord, is an advanced Vaiṣṇava. Such Vaiṣṇavas see no distinction between Vaiṣṇavas and non-Vaiṣṇavas.

Through these verses it has become clear that until they develop the other characteristics of an intermediate Vaiṣṇava, even those amongst the beginner class who have developed faith based on scripture and become qualified to serve Vaiṣṇavas are beginner Vaiṣṇavas, that is, ‘Vaiṣṇavas’. An intermediate Vaiṣṇava is a superior Vaiṣṇava [‘Vaiṣṇava-tara’]. An advanced Vaiṣṇava is a superlative Vaiṣṇava [‘Vaiṣṇava-tama’]. In this regard, the way in which Śrīman Mahāprabhu demonstrated these three classes of Vaiṣṇavas is noteworthy.

ataeva yā̐ra mukhe eka kṛṣṇa-nāma
sei ta’ vaiṣṇava, kariha tā̐hāra sammāna
kṛṣṇa-nāma nirantara yā̐hāra vadane
sei vaiṣṇava-śreṣṭha, bhaja tā̐hāra charaṇe
yā̐hāra darśane mukhe āise kṛṣṇa-nāma
tā̐hāre jāniha tumi ‘vaiṣṇava-pradhāna’
krama kari’ kahe prabhu ‘vaiṣṇava’-lakṣaṇa
‘vaiṣṇava’, ‘vaiṣṇavatara’, āra ‘vaiṣṇavatama’

[“‘One in whose mouth the Name of Kṛṣṇa has once appeared is a Vaiṣṇava; honour them. One in whose mouth the Name of Kṛṣṇa always appears is a superior Vaiṣṇava; serve their feet. Know one by whose presence the Name of Kṛṣṇa appears in the mouths of other souls to be a superlative Vaiṣṇava.’ In a gradation, the Lord described the qualifications of Vaiṣṇavas: a Vaiṣṇava, a superior Vaiṣṇava, and a superlative Vaiṣṇava.”]

According to the advice of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, simply by pronouncing the Name of Kṛṣṇa one becomes a Vaiṣṇava. Those amongst the beginner class who have been shown to be Vaiṣṇava-prāyas, that is, a semblance of Vaiṣṇava [Vaiṣṇavābhās], pronounce only a semblance of the Name (Nāmābhās); they do not pronounce the Name [Śrīman Mahāprabhu does not consider them actual Vaiṣṇavas]. One who can once pronounce the pure Name is a pure Vaiṣṇava. One who constantly pronounces the pure Name is a superior Vaiṣṇava. One, by seeing whom the Name of Kṛṣṇa comes into the mouth, is a superlative Vaiṣṇava. It is also noteworthy in this regard that becoming a pure Vaiṣṇava does not depend on initiation or other rites. Initiation means accepting a mantra suitable for worshipping the Deity of the Lord to become a Vaiṣṇava-prāya. For the Name, such initiation is not necessary, as per the statements of the Lord:

prabhu kahe, “yā̐ra mukhe śuni ekabāra
kṛṣṇa-nāma, pūjya sei, śreṣṭha sabākāra
eka kṛṣṇa-nāme kare sarva-pāpa kṣaya
nava-vidhā bhakti pūrṇa nāma haite haya
dīkṣā-puraścharyā-vidhi apekṣā nā kare
jihva-sparśe ā-chaṇḍāla sabāre uddhāre
anuṣaṅga-phale kare saṁsārera kṣaya
ataeva yā̐ra mukhe eka kṛṣṇa-nāma
sei vaiṣṇava kari tā̐ra parama sammāna”

[“The Lord said, ‘One from whose mouth I once hear the Name of Kṛṣṇa is worshippable. They are the best of all. Once pronouncing the Name of Kṛṣṇa destroys all sin. Through the Name, the nine processes of devotion are perfected. The Name does not depend on initiation or preparatory rites. Just by touching the tongue, the Name delivers everyone, even untouchables. Incidentally, the Name destroys one’s entanglement in the world. The Name attracts the heart and awakens divine love for Kṛṣṇa; therefore, one in whose mouth the Name of Kṛṣṇa has once appeared is a Vaiṣṇava. I offer them the greatest honour.’”]

There is no scope here to discuss the difference between the Name and a semblance of the Name (Nāmābhās). At another time, I will discuss this matter in depth. In this regard, I can say this much: if the Name is pronounced with faith based on scripture, that is, pure surrender, then the Name appears. The ‘Name’ that is connected with desirousness of other ends or covered by knowledge, action, yoga, renunciation, and so on, is a semblance of the Name. Even though results up to liberation arise from a semblance of the Name, the pure Name—not a semblance of the Name—is pronounced by the mouth of the Vaiṣṇava. The Name pronounced with knowledge of the Name’s nature, understanding of the Name being nondifferent from the Named [the Lord], and perception of the soul’s spiritual senses as the source of the Name, is alone the Name. Those on whose tongue one such Name appears are Vaiṣṇavas. As the Name appears, all active and inactive sin is destroyed. As soon as the Name arises, divine love arises.

A Vaiṣṇava, by nature, is endowed with all qualities and free from all faults.

sarva mahāguṇa-gaṇa vaiṣṇava-śarīre
kṛṣṇa-bhakte kṛṣṇera guṇa sakali sañchāre
vidhi-dharma chhāḍi’ bhaje kṛṣṇera charaṇa
niṣiddha pāpāchāre tāra kabhu nahe mana
ajñāne vā haya yadi ‘pāpa’ upasthita
kṛṣṇa tā̐re śuddha kare, nā karāya prāyaśchitta
ahiṁsā-yama-niyamādi bule kṛṣṇa-bhakta-saṅga
asat-saṅga-tyāga ei vaiṣṇava-āchāra
‘strī-saṅgī’—eka asādhu, ‘kṛṣṇābhakta’ āra

[“All great qualities are present in the body of a devotee. Kṛṣṇa instills all of His qualities in His devotees. One who disregards Vedic regulations and serves Kṛṣṇa’s feet never has any inclination towards forbidden, sinful behaviour. If, unknowlingly or otherwise, they happen to sin, Kṛṣṇa purifies them and does not make them perform atonement. Nonviolence, self-control, dutifulness, and so on, naturally accompany a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Avoiding bad association is proper Vaiṣṇava behaviour. There are two types of bad association: persons attached to the opposite sex and non-devotees of Kṛṣṇa.”]

From the day that one Name of Kṛṣṇa appears on the tongue, a soul’s taste for sin no longer remains. Let alone taste for sin, even taste for piety does not remain. Vaiṣṇavas, superior Vaiṣṇavas, and superlative Vaiṣṇavas are all pure, faultless, and sinless. If inclination towards sin is seen in someone, then they cannot be counted as a Vaiṣṇava. Taste for sin and piety does not remain even within beginner Vaiṣṇavas. One who has become a pure Vaiṣṇava has no faults. Therefore, they are beyond criticism. One who criticises such a Vaiṣṇava simply imposes false accusations [on them].

Wicked people can enviously discuss three aspects of a Vaiṣṇava. One of their subjects of discussion is the faults a Vaiṣṇava had prior to the awakening of pure devotion. When pure devotion arises, all faults are quickly destroyed. Secondly, wicked people discuss the faults that remain during the time that passes as a Vaiṣṇava’s faults are being destroyed. The third subject of discussion for wicked people is this: although pure Vaiṣṇavas have no desire to commit faults, sometimes by chance some forbidden behaviour occurs. Such faults do not last long in a Vaiṣṇava. Still, wicked people discuss such faults and fall down as a result of criticising a Vaiṣṇava. Therefore, in Nāma-tattva-ratna-mālā, this explanatory verse is seen:

prāg bhakter udayād doṣāh kṣayāvaśiṣṭa eva cha
daivotpannaś cha bhaktānāṁ naivālochyaḥ kadāchana
sad uddeśyam ṛta yas tu mṛṣāpavādam eva cha
doṣān ālochayaty eva sa sādhu-nindako ’dhamaḥ

O readers! Without a good intention, never discuss any of the faults a Vaiṣṇava had prior to the arising of their devotion. Never criticise a Vaiṣṇava for the decaying remnants of their previous faults either, as Śrī Kṛṣṇa said in Bhagavad-gītā:

api chet sudurāchāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvach-chhāntiṁ nigachchhati
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati

[“Even those who are extremely misbehaved must be regarded as virtuous if they serve Me with exclusive devotion because their ideal is perfect. They quickly become righteous and attain permanent peace. O Arjuna, declare that My devotee is never vanquished.”]

All of the almost natural, very sinful behaviour that comes from before the awakening of devotion is reduced day by day and destroyed within a short time by the power of devotion. If one discusses such behaviour without a good intention, they make the offence of criticising a Vaiṣṇava. Even upon seeing an inadvertent fault arising by chance, do not criticise a Vaiṣṇava.

In this connection, Karabhājan has said:

sva-pāda-mūlaṁ bhajataḥ priyasya
tyaktānya-bhāvasya hariḥ pareśaḥ
vikarma yach chotpatitaṁ kathañchid
dhunoti sarvaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭaḥ

If, without a good intention, one discusses faults arising by chance [within a Vaiṣṇava], one makes the offence of criticising a Vaiṣṇava. The main point is that if one makes false accusations about a Vaiṣṇava or discusses the three previously mentioned types of faults, one makes offences to the Name. When this happens, the Name does not manifest, and if the Name does not manifest, then one cannot become a Vaiṣṇava.

In this regard, an argument can arise: apart from the three types of faults mentioned, should one discuss other faults of a Vaiṣṇava or not? The answer is this: no other fault can occur apart from the three types of faults of a Vaiṣṇava mentioned. Those who have faults apart from the three types of faults mentioned have not been described in the scriptures as Vaiṣṇavas. In this regard, the point to consider is that without a good intention, one should not discuss the faults of any soul. Criticising a Vaiṣṇava is an offence. Criticising any other soul is a sin. One who is a Vaiṣṇava has no taste for any such sin.

Discussing the faults of others with a good intention has not been condemned in the scriptures. There are three types of good intentions. If a discussion of a person’s sins is meant for their welfare, then such discussion is auspicious. If a sinner’s sins are discussed as an endeavour for the welfare of the world, then such discussion is considered an auspicious activity. If such discussion is an endeavour for one’s own welfare, then that is also virtuous; it is not faulty. With such good intentions, the previous activities of Vālmikī, Jagāi and Mādhāi, and other historical examples are always sinlessly discussed. If a disciple prays to their Guru to define a Vaiṣṇava, then the Guru, with the desire to benefit the disciple and the world, says those whose behaviour is improper are non-Vaiṣṇavas and defines those whose behaviour is proper as Vaiṣṇavas. By avoiding wicked religious pretenders with the desire to take shelter at the feet of a proper Vaiṣṇava, one does not make criticism of sādhus or an offence to Vaiṣṇavas. Even if discussion of particular persons arises on this subject, it cannot be faulty. These are all examples of good intentions.

O readers, think very carefully about this deep subject, and conclude that you must honour true Vaiṣṇavas and avoid the association of the improper. If one criticises a true Vaiṣṇava, the Name will not appear in the heart. Therefore, in the Bhāgavat, it has been taught:

tato duḥsaṅgam utsṛjya satsu sajjeta buddhi-mān
santa evāsya chhindanti mano-vyāsaṅgam uktibhiḥ

For all these reasons, the intelligent avoid bad association and associate with the sādhus. This is because the sādhus, with their proper advice, cut away the mind’s unfavourable attachments—affinity for inappropriate things and the suffering produced by it.

Do not think that even if we serve a non-sādhu considering them a sādhu we will attain the result of serving a sādhu. The service of a sādhu is necessary especially for the previously mentioned persons of the intermediate stage, as beginners do not serve sādhus and those who are advanced have no conception of a distinction between sādhus and non-sādhus. You are all in the intermediate stage, and therefore you are duty-bound to search for a sādhu, form a friendship with them, and be kind or indifferent to non-sādhus. If you disregard your own level of qualification, you will be at fault. This is the Bhāgavat’s instruction about faults and qualities:

sve sve ’dhikāre yā niṣṭhā sa guṇaḥ parikīrtitaḥ
viparyayas tu doṣaḥ syād ubhayor eṣa niśchayaḥ

Even without knowing it, if you associate with non-sādhus, you become an offender of devotion, as in the Bhāgavat:

saṅgo yaḥ saṁsṛter hetur asatsu vihito ’dhiyā
sa eva sādhuṣu kṛto niḥsaṅgatvāya kalpate

Bad association is the cause of bondage, that is, fall down, even when it happens unknowingly, that is, while being unable to understand it as a result of misconception. If such unknowing association occurs with sādhus, however, one easily gets liberation.

The advanced devotees’ vision of sādhus everywhere [seeing everyone as a sādhu], the greatness of which has been glorified in Bhakta-māla, Prapannāmṛta, and other devotional books, should not be practised by intermediate Vaiṣṇavas. If one goes to practise it, one quickly falls into the fault of practising without proper qualification [anadhikār-charchā]. May the pure devotees kindly judge whether we have discussed all of this with a good intention.

 

Summary

The six types of offences to a Vaiṣṇava:

(1) Killing a Vaiṣṇava
(2) Criticising a Vaiṣṇava
(3) Envying a Vaiṣṇava
Upon meeting a Vaiṣṇava:
(4) Not greeting them
(5) Becoming angry with them
(6) Not feeling happy

The four types of souls:

(1) Ordinary souls
(2) Pious souls
(3) Brāhmaṇs and those who are nearly Vaiṣṇavas
(4) Vaiṣṇavas

Three types of faults of a Vaiṣṇava (that should not be discussed):

(1) Faults prior to practising devotion
(2) Faults being removed by devotional practice
(3) Faults arising by chance

Three types of good intentions that bring about auspicious discussion of faults:

(1) The welfare of the person with the fault
(2) The welfare of the world in general
(3) The welfare of one’s self

 

Verses

nindāṁ kurvanti ye mūḍhā vaiṣṇavānāṁ mahātmanāṁ
patanti pitṛbhiḥ sārddhaṁ mahāraurava saṁjñite
hanti nindanti vai dveṣṭi vaiṣṇavān nābhinandati
krudhyate yāti no harṣaṁ darśane patanāni ṣaṭ
(Skanda-purāṇa)

“Fools who criticise great Vaiṣṇavas fall down into the hell know as Mahāraurava along with their forefathers. Six acts result in falling down: killing a Vaiṣṇava, (2) criticising them, (3) envying them, (4) not greeting them, (5) showing anger towards them, and (6) not feeling happy upon seeing them.”

nindāṁ bhagavataḥ śṛṇvaṁs tat-parasya janasya vā
tato nāpaiti yaḥ so ’pi yāty adhaḥ sukṛtāch chyutaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 10.74.40)

“One who upon hearing criticism of the Lord or the Vaiṣṇavas—the souls who have dedicated their lives to Him—does not leave the place, looses all of one’s sukṛti and falls down.”

archāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate
na tad-bhakteṣu chānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.2.47)

“One who faithfully worships the Deity of the Lord but not His devotees or other souls is a neophyte devotee.”

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu cha
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.2.46)

“One who loves the Lord, forms friendships with the devotees, acts kindly to the ignorant, and ignores the envious, is an intermediate devotee.”

sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ paśyed bhagavad-bhāvam ātmanaḥ
bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany eṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.2.45)

“One who sees the presence of the Supreme Lord within all beings and the presence of all beings within the Supreme Lord is an advanced devotee.”

prāg bhakter udayād doṣāh kṣayāvaśiṣṭa eva cha
daivotpannaś cha bhaktānāṁ naivālochyaḥ kadāchana
sad uddeśyam ṛta yas tu mṛṣāpavādam eva cha
doṣān ālochayaty eva sa sādhu-nindako ’dhamaḥ
(Nāma-tattva-ratna-mālā)

“Faults prior to the appearance of devotion, residual faults, and faults that arise by chance, should never be discussed. One who discusses such faults without a good intention or makes false accusations is a criticiser of sādhus and most fallen.”

sva-pāda-mūlaṁ bhajataḥ priyasya
tyaktānya-bhāvasya hariḥ pareśaḥ
vikarma yach chotpatitaṁ kathañchid
dhunoti sarvaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.5.42)

“The Supreme Lord, who resides in the hearts of His dear devotees who give up all other concerns and serve His feet, rectifies any sins they happen to commit.”

tato duḥsaṅgam utsṛjya satsu sajjeta buddhi-mān
santa evāsya chhindanti mano-vyāsaṅgam uktibhiḥ
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: 11.26.26)

“An intelligent soul should leave bad association and associate with sādhus. With their instructions, the sādhus cut away all of one’s unfavourable mental attachments.”

saṅgo yaḥ saṁsṛter hetur asatsu vihito ’dhiyā
sa eva sādhuṣu kṛto niḥsaṅgatvāya kalpate
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 3.23.55)

“Associating ignorantly with nondevotees is the cause of bondage, yet with devotees, it leads to liberation.”

sve sve ’dhikāre yā niṣṭhā sa guṇaḥ parikīrtitaḥ
viparyayas tu doṣaḥ syād ubhayor eṣa niśchayaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.21.1)

“Steadiness in one’s own position is a virtue; the opposite is a fault. The two—virtue and fault—are determined in this way (to practise according to one’s qualification is virtuous; to practise in a manner one is unqualified for is faulty).”

,