The following are excerpts from Subjective Evolution of Consciousness & Sermons from the Guardian of Devotion, Volume 1 by Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Mahārāja, published in Rays of The Harmonist, Āṣāḍhī Amāvasyā 2014
Once, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had a dream in which he was wandering in the sky chanting the holy name. He came upon the court of Yamarāja, where Yamarāja himself was sitting with Brahmā, Nārada, and others discussing a point from a verse in Bhagavad-gītā (9.30):
api cet su-durācāro
bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ
samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
The generally accepted meaning of this verse is “Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is an ananya-bhāk devotee, one who worships Me alone in devotional service, free from karma and jñāna, then he is to be considered saintly because his endeavours are completely on My behalf and his determination is fixed.”
Here, Kṛṣṇa says, “Whatever he has done, if he is exclusively given to Myself, he should be considered as My devotee. Samyag vyavasito hi saḥ. And whatever he is doing is cent percent right.” But then the next passage (Bhagavad-gītā 9.31) says kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā – very soon he will be a man of righteousness; he will become dharmātmā, dutiful.
As Yamarāja, Brahmā, and Nārada discussed this point, a question came up. Kṛṣṇa says, “bhajate mām ananya-bhāk – one who is My exclusive devotee.” The question arises, “What is exclusive devotion, or ananya-bhajana?” Kṛṣṇa says, “Give up all other religious conceptions and surrender to Me alone – sarva dharmān parityajya, mām ekaṁ śaraṇam vraja. That is exclusive devotion. But if one is practising exclusive devotion, then he is already dharmātmā, he is already righteous. How is it then, that in the very next verse, Kṛṣṇa says, “Soon he becomes dharmātmā”?
How are we to adjust this? Kṛṣṇa says:
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā
na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
He soon becomes righteous (dharmātmā) and attains lasting peace. O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” This is the general meaning of this verse. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, “He soon becomes dharmātmā. My devotee is never ruined. Go and declare this to the public.
Kṛṣṇa says that after the devotee became ananya-bhāk, that is, after he gave up all sorts of duties and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa, then again he will be (dharmātmā) a dutiful man.
As Brahmā, Nārada, and Yamarāja discussed this point, they saw Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura walking in the sky and taking [chanting] the holy name. One of them suggested, “There is a pure devotee. He should be able to give the real meaning.” Then Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was invited in their midst and asked, “How shall we adjust these points? Kṛṣṇa has said that this person is an exclusive devotee, that he has renounced all sorts of duties and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa. And yet, in no time it will be seen that he is very dutiful. How can we understand this?”
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura explained that “he quickly becomes righteous” refers not to the exclusive devotee, but to one who considers the exclusive devotee pure in all circumstances. “Even if he performs some abominable act, he is really a sādhu, a saint.” One who can think of an exclusive devotee in that way will soon become dharmātmā.*
He gave the meaning. Api cet su-durācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk – despite his outer practices, the exclusive devotee (ananya-bhāk) is to be accepted (mantavyah) as a cent percent saint (sādhu). Therefore, the conclusion is that he who can realize this, he who declares that an exclusive devotee of Kṛṣṇa, regardless of his outer practices, is cent percent saintly, will soon become dharmātmā, virtuous and religious. His statement and conclusion are cent percent correct, and his conduct will soon become very pure and he, too, will have the chance of accepting the path towards eternal truth.**
In this way, in my commentary on Bhagavad-gītā, I have followed Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s explanation. I also saw that it was redundant to say that an ananya-bhāk devotee becomes dharmātmā. Kṛṣṇa says that an exclusive devotee should be thought of as a sādhu, an honest man. One who says that an exclusive devotee, a surrendered soul to Kṛṣṇa, should be thought of as pure, whatever be his external practices – the man who is making this remark, he becomes righteous. This is the proper conclusion. What he says is cent percent truth.
And the next thing Kṛṣṇa says is that he who can remark in such a way will be purified very soon. Kṛṣṇa says that by such appreciation of the exclusive devotee, a person will soon come to his eternal duty and attain eternal peace. “So I ask you, O son of Kuntī, Arjuna, to go and promise in public that My exclusive devotee will never be lost – kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati.” Then you will get the benefit of the man whose remark improves his life. Otherwise, why should Kṛṣṇa tell Arjuna, “Make a public announcement that My devotee is never ruined”? What effect will there be for Arjuna? But one who declares, “an exclusive devotee of Kṛṣṇa is saintly no matter what he does” soon becomes righteous.
If Arjuna declares this, he will become dharmātmā. He will get the benefit. So Kṛṣṇa tells him, “You make this remark. Take a bold step; take a risk and make this remark. Then you will also get that benefit I have described.” Of course, Arjuna is a pārṣada, an eternal associate of Kṛṣṇa, but using him as an example, Kṛṣṇa tells him, “You do it.” Arjuna has taken the position of an inquirer independent of his pārṣada character.*
“So Arjuna, you take advantage of this and boldly declare to the public that My devotee who gives himself wholly unto Me can never come to ruination. Even if he may be seen to be outwardly doing something wrong, he will be saved. His successful life is assured. By this declaration, you will get the benefit of becoming righteous and have the chance of attaining eternal spiritual peace. Whoever can understand this and has the courage to declare that My exclusive devotee is never subject to ruination, he, in turn, gets his chance to come to this path of exclusive devotion, and he will attain eternal peace.”
He will attain everything because he has the proper appreciation for exclusive devotion.
Everything is for the Lord, and not for any other part. In the Absolute, everything is ‘for itself’. ‘The Absolute is for itself.’ Whether we obey or disobey the laws of provincial or separate interest, we must without fail obey the rule that everything is for Him. This is the main rule, and all others are subsidiaries. We may or may not carry on our duties, but we must carry on our duty towards the centre; this is the all-important factor in every case. Thus, one who can appreciate this and boldly assert it to the public must have substantial appreciation for this conception, and he is sure to survive and improve his future condition very soon. “He will attain the path of eternal peace, and that is the service of Myself, Kṛṣṇa.” This is the underlying meaning.
The highest quality in every part of the whole is that everyone must be dedicated towards the centre, even crossing his dutifulness in respect to any other environmental position. And one who can feel, appreciate, and assert this – he will also soon achieve such a position. His inner heart can appreciate, and that is something of a realization on that path; it will very soon take effect, and the public will see, “Oh, he is also entering this path of ananya-bhajana, the exclusive adherence to the call of the Absolute Centre, and that is all-in-all.”
In the standard, or most general, interpretation, the beginner in devotional service may have so many bad tendencies in his behaviour, but when he matures, these must disappear. Nonetheless, undesirable behaviour may sometimes be seen to persist, at least externally.**
The more we are particular about the conduct of others, the more we lose our own time and energy. Instead of benefiting us, such a practice is reactionary. If I try to find fault with anyone, especially a devotee, the fault will come back to me. By chewing the poison in his body, that poison will come to me. Avoid such association. Try to find the good in others. That will help you.
There was a system in our maṭha at the time of our Guru Mahārāja. He ordered one devotee to praise another, especially one that the devotee disliked. Thus, the devotee would be forced to find the goodness in the other devotee who he didn’t particularly like, and thereby be benefited. Eliminating what was bad in his conception of the other person, he was to search for what good he could find, and thereby be benefited.**
When I was publishing my commentary on Bhagavad-gītā, a godbrother once told me, “If you give such an explanation, then in the name of ananya-bhāk-bhakti, exclusive devotion, less advanced devotees will take advantage of this. What you are revealing here is a very hidden meaning. It is not meant for the public. It is a confidential point: api cet su-durācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk sādhur eva – he may be the worst debauchee in his outer life, but if he is ananya-bhāk, a surrendered soul, he should be considered a really honest man. If you explain things like this, everyone will say, ‘Oh, I am an ananya-bhāk devotee,’ and they will go on with their debauchery. So please don’t express this so explicitly.”
But I published my commentary over this objection because the principle underlying this verse is an important one. One who has surrendered to Kṛṣṇa is accepted as His own. And just as Kṛṣṇa has rights over everything and is never a trespasser, so his own man should never be considered a trespasser at any time. This is confirmed elsewhere, in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: ātma-bhūyāya ca kalpate – My devotee belongs to Me. So one who works by inspiration from Kṛṣṇa should never be considered a trespasser. He can enjoy anything on Kṛṣṇa’s behalf if he is really a surrendered soul. He should be considered as Kṛṣṇa’s. He has free access to everything that belongs to Kṛṣṇa.
But some objected, saying, “Don’t be so broad in your interpretation. If you do so, then the people at large will do abominable things in the name of pure devotion. They will say, ‘Oh, I am Vaisnava. I am acyuta-gotra, I am one of Kṛṣṇa’s own men. What is his property is mine. I can enjoy everything.’ ”*
Then of course the question comes, “How do we recognize ananya-bhāk-bhakti, exclusive devotion?” The real trouble is here. Merely professing that I am a pure devotee won’t do. Rather, a real devotee will think, “I am not a real devotee.” That will be his understanding, his inner feeling. Exclusive devotion is not a small thing. A genuine devotee thinks, “I can’t be an ananya-bhāk-bhakta. I have not attained that stage. It is very difficult. Rather I am going away from that.” That will be the general tenor of his attitude.
What to speak of lesser devotees, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī herself says, “People associate Me with Kṛṣṇa. They say that I have an illicit connection with Kṛṣṇa. But what they say is all false. My grief is that I could not give My entire heart to Kṛṣṇa. I cannot say that I am completely His. My internal trouble is that I could not become wholly His and they falsely think that I am. I have no objection to becoming fully His, even to having an illicit connection with Him; but that I can’t become so, this is My great fault.” That will be the general attitude of a real ananya-bhāk-bhakta. Just the opposite tendency will come.*
Whether externally pure or impure, the whole principle is that our exclusive devotion for Kṛṣṇa is the only necessity. In the ordinary sense, the gopīs are also sinners. They crossed the laws of society and the śāstras, so they are ‘sinners’. But they hold the highest position of purity by their exclusive devotedness to Kṛṣṇa and no other. They cannot help but to serve Kṛṣṇa cent percent, even at the risk of crossing the entire code of morality. They are considered to be the highest devotional ideal.
But that sort of devotion is not so cheap that everyone will go on with their activities in this world, taking advantage of such ideals. That won’t do. The real measure of devotion must be there, not that anyone may do anything passing in the name of pure devotion, like the prākṛta-sahajiyās. That can’t be allowed.**
The fact is that one who has accepted Kṛṣṇa exclusively has no taste for any other thing, so really he is not durācari, he is not capable of acting in an abominable way. Internally he is always connected with Kṛṣṇa. In external life he is indifferent. So what he is doing is not done by him. One who acts on that plane of reality may destroy thousands of universes, but does not do anything (hatvāpi sa imāl lokān na hanti na nibadhyate). He is acting on the transcendental plane, the nirguṇa plane. He is not to be seen in terms of what is good or bad in the calculation of this world. He is absent here. What is in connection with Kṛṣṇa is all good; it is nirguṇa, transcendental, without material qualities.
In this world, truth is a relative thing. “This is true, this is not true, this is mine, this is yours.” What value do these things have? If a devotee steals a flower for Kṛṣṇa, you may say, “Oh, why are you stealing my flower?” But what is the guarantee that the flower belongs to you? These are different stages of bogus conceptions of reality. A man who has possession of some land declares himself the owner. Then a big landowner comes and says, “You are not the owner. I have real possession of this land. I have allowed you only to use it.”
But beyond the landowner a king may come and say, “Oh no, this is my land. Your ownership is only relative. I am the ruler of this land. It belongs to me.” In this way, one relative conception of truth fights with another. And morality stands only on this conception: this is mine, this is yours. All these conceptions of ownership are false. All these transactions of morality are false, because they are not in connection with the Supreme Truth. So the devotee’s apparent misbehaviour is quite the contrary in reality.
‘dvaite’ bhadrābhadra-jñāna, saba ––‘manodharma’
‘ei bhāla, ei manda,’ ––ei saba ‘bhrama’
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya-līlā 4.176)
In the material world, conceptions of good and bad or right and wrong are all mental concoctions.
Therefore, saying, ‘This is good and this is bad’ is all a mistake. So in the deepest plane of reality, the deepest wave of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is moving, and there, so many jīva souls are dancing. And that dance is the absolute dance wherein everything surrenders to Kṛṣṇa in the mood of Vṛndāvana: sarva dharmān parityajya mām ekam. Everything belongs to Kṛṣṇa, and for his satisfaction anything and everything can be done. This is the only principle followed by the exclusive devotees without caring for the many relative demands and strictures of this false plane. That is nirguṇa, transcendental. In that plane, the calculation of false ownership can’t be applied. All claims of ownership have no value in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.*
There is another point that may also be considered in this verse. Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā that it is not the action but the background of the action that is to be considered. That is to be examined, not the action alone. The motive underlying the action – not the karma, but the purpose – that is the culprit. So the internal meaning of an act, its purpose, should be considered; not the external action. The higher principle is served not by following ordinary law, but by following some higher law. In that case, the ordinary law is surpassed. One might think a devotee a culprit from the consideration of ordinary law, but from the consideration of a higher law, Kṛṣṇa has said that if you can appreciate their law-breaking, you will be uplifted.
ājñāyaivaṁ guṇān doṣān
mayādiṣṭān api svakān
dharmān santyajya yaḥ sarvān
māṁ bhajeta sa tu sattamaḥ
Kṛṣṇa says, “The rules of the scriptures come from My direction, My order. But if anyone breaks those rules to satisfy Me, he should be considered a better devotee.” Sometimes it may be necessary to show even greater loyalty to the king by crossing over the laws of the king. So here, God is above law. When we consider the nature of divinity, we must conclude that Kṛṣṇa is above law. Law is for us. But law may not be applied in His case. He is absolute. When one has actually come in connection with the Absolute, he cannot but ignore the laws meant for ordinary people.
This is the nature of Kṛṣṇa’s entire vraja-līlā. In Vṛndāvana, all considerations of individual and local interest are sacrificed. In Vṛndāvana, there is the highest self-sacrifice, to the degree that everyone’s own particular interest or consideration is sacrificed into the fire. Only when you come to that stage of self-sacrifice can you take birth in Vṛndāvana, not before. This is the conclusion of Bhagavad-gītā.
mām ekaṁ śaraṇam vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyām mā śucaḥ
Kṛṣṇa says, “You must risk all your prospects, you must risk everything, with no prospects other than Myself. I cannot tolerate the presence of any second entity in your heart. I cannot tolerate that you will come to Me with some consideration. My relation with you must be unconditional. I can’t tolerate any other interest in the heart of My devotee. Only one interest, and that is Me. Sacrifice all your so-called interests, all your prospects, everything. Then you can come to meet Me in Vṛndāvana.”*
* Subjective Evolution of Consciousness
** Sermons from the Guardian of Devotion, Volume 1
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