Bhagavān has ordered that we should never give any importance to whatever faults may be seen in the bodies or natures of devotees who are engaged in His exclusive bhajana. We should not criticize them, be envious of them, or consider them to be of poor conduct. Suppose there is a man who never lies, steals or engages in any misconduct but doesn’t perform exclusive bhajana of Bhagavān. Then there is another man who performs exclusive bhajana of Bhagavān and has ruci for taking harināma and hearing hari-kathā, but some bad qualities or physical deformities can be detected in him. How should we view these two men? Between them who is superior? The Bhagavad-gītā states that the one who performs bhajana is the best. But ordinarily people are not taught this. What to speak of others, even Sītā, who is Lakṣmī-devī herself, was not accepted by the residents of Ayodhyā after Rāvaṇa had taken her to his abode in Śrī Laṅkā. Rāma said, “No, she is pure; she will stay with me in the palace.” But even though she was actually the most exalted personality in Ayodhyā, they sent her away without any remorse.
These conventions still exist today. If we see some external fault in a person, we disregard them. These days almost everyone sees with mundane vision. They don’t see the tendency of bhakti inside others; they only see external things and then judge others on these considerations. Only those who have had abundant association with sādhus, who are higher-level madhyama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇavas, whose anarthas have disappeared, and who are approaching the uttama-adhikārī stage, will honour what Kṛṣṇa has said regarding this point. And everyone else, who possess only mundane intelligence, will say, “Oh, this devotee is not of good conduct and is therefore a hypocrite.” They also do not properly respect Nārada because he said, “There is no need for us to understand what is religiosity and irreligiosity.” There is also no necessity to honour worldly conventions. What is our only necessity? Bhakti – exclusive prema-bhakti for Kṛṣṇa is our only objective, and our firm resolution is that besides this there is no other meaning to life.
sva-pāda-mūlaṁ bhajataḥ priyasya
tyaktānya-bhāvasya hariḥ pareśaḥ
vikarma yac cotpatitaṁ kathañcid
dhunoti sarvaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭaḥ
If someone has left their family, wife, children, money, all worldly attachments and enjoyments, and is engaged in the exclusive bhajana of Bhagavān, but somehow or other he performs some sinful activity, then Bhagavān, being situated within that person’s heart, at once forgives him. But if there is a person of good conduct who has spoken the truth throughout his entire life, who has engaged in welfare activities for society and for people in general, who has worshipped the demigods and endeavoured for liberation, but has never engaged in bhagavad-bhajana, then what real benefit has there been for him? And if a devotee falls from the path of bhajana in an immature stage, what is the loss for him?
śucīnāṁ śrīmatāṁ gehe
In his next life he will take birth in a pure or wealthy family where there are devotees, and he will naturally be attracted to bhakti again. And for the other man who didn’t perform any bhajana? There is no real benefit for him. Only to the degree that one can give his heart to bhajana will he be benefited. So only a madhyama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava will be able to place emphasis on the bhakti in others rather than on external considerations.
yadi kuryāt pramādena
yogī karma vigarhitam
yogenaiva dahed aṁho
nānyat tatra kadācana
If an ordinary yogī somehow falls from his practice, he will be finished. But if a bhakti-yogī accidentally commits some detestable activity, then by his very practice of bhakti-yoga he will again be set right. For him there is no need of any other procedure. Continuing to take harināma will be his only atonement. Devotees are not intentionally sinful, so therefore for them there is no need of atonement. What has happened has happened, but deliberately they wouldn’t commit sins. Kṛṣṇa always forgives those who have bhakti for Him and He makes their hearts pure in all ways.
ajñāne vā haya yadi ‘pāpa’ upasthita
kṛṣṇa tāṅre śuddha kare, nā karāya prāyaścitta
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.143)
If a devotee accidentally commits some sinful activity, there is no need for him to undergo any atonement. By continuing his practice of bhakti, his heart will be purified. Those who know the tattva of bhagavad-bhakti say that by the devotee’s continuing to take harināma all impurities will leave him.
māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya
ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās
te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim
[Śrī Kṛṣṇa said:] O son of Pṛthā, those who take shelter of Me, though they be of lower birth – women, merchants and manual labourers – can attain the supreme destination.
Pāpa-yonayaḥ means those who are sinful by birth.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.4.18) has listed some of these classes: Kirāta, Hūṇa, Āndhra. Kirāta live in the jungle and kill and eat the flesh of animals and birds, even pigeons. They keep goats, sheep and pigs, and after fattening them up, they slaughter them and eat their flesh. Yavana, Khasa and all similar tribes do this. They are sinful from birth to death. Actually, for them eating meat is nothing; they don’t even have any conventions such as marriage for relationships between men and women! From birth they eat meat, drink liquor and freely unite with women. Striyo means women. Though some are chaste, these days most women are unchaste. And the śūdras kill the cow, eat its flesh and use its skin to make shoes. Te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim: even these people can attain the supreme destination through executing bhagavad-bhakti, so what to speak of those who engage in exclusive devotion but may have accidentally fallen?
If one engages in bhakti-sādhana and takes shelter of harināma and hearing hari-kathā, then birth after birth the result from that will never be destroyed, as long as there has been no vaiṣṇava-aparādha. The seed of bhakti is within that sādhaka. Birth after birth his sukṛti will become stronger and stronger, and eventually he will attain para-bhakti. For those who have some special eagerness, it may even be possible in only two or three births. Bhagavān will lead us to Him – either today, or after ten, twenty or one thousand births He will eventually lead us to Him, as long as the seed within us has not been destroyed. And there is only one thing that does that – aparādha towards the guru or Vaiṣṇavas.
The jīva has independence, and by misuse of this independence he becomes implicated in the reactions to his own misdeeds. If by this independence one has blasphemed or offended any Vaiṣṇava, then that is due to the uncontrolled mind. We should never offend a Vaiṣṇava because from the śakti of guru and Vaiṣṇavas we will get the mercy of Bhagavān. What determines if we will do bhajana or not do bhajana? Whose desire determines this? Bhagavān’s? No, it is ours only. If we simply take up bhajana, then guru and the Vaiṣṇavas will be merciful and give us the necessary strength to achieve the direct mercy of Bhagavān. But first of all the desire must come from within us. And if while engaging in bhajana, the desires for prestige and wealth exist within us, should we think that Bhagavān put them there? “I am doing just as Bhagavān inspires me” – we shouldn’t think like this in regard to anarthas. Those things are due solely to our own weakness. If we are unable to absorb our minds in bhagavad-bhajana, whose fault is that? Ours only, and not Bhagavān’s. Don’t think that “Bhagavān is doing this to me.” Bhagavān is merely bestowing the reactions to our own activities. Reactions to our previous pious and sinful activities will come, and we will feel some difficulty because of them. So it is correct to think that He is bestowing the fruits of our karma, but otherwise He has no direct relationship with our difficulties.
If a devotee who practises exclusive bhajana is struck by a serious disease, why has it happened? It is a reaction to the sins of his previous lives. But sometimes Bhagavān will even put such an apparent obstacle in a sādhaka’s path in order to curb his pride. He may try to increase that devotee’s humility by this means. Therefore, beware! Don’t think ill of another devotee because some fault may appear in his body or in his nature. If we maintain such an attitude towards devotees who are engaged in exclusive bhajana, we will be expelled from the kingdom of bhakti. We should consider all of these points and understand their importance in our pursuit of bhakti. If someone is lame, blind, a Kirāta, Āndhra, Pulinda or whatever, but has become a devotee, then Bhagavān will bestow upon him all good qualities and eventually take him up to Vaikuṇṭha. Therefore we should never harbour any ill feelings towards anyone who practises exclusive bhajana. And one who behaves nicely, who has a very attractive appearance and who has taken birth in a brāhmaṇa family but doesn’t engage in bhajana – it is all useless and his life has no meaning. Don’t think that this is an astonishing thing; it is simply a quality of bhakti.
According to their natures some people may have many faults, but we should always place emphasis on their bhakti instead. It is not that an ill-behaved person cannot take the name of Bhagavān, cannot do bhajana or cannot hear hari-kathā. And it is not that only those who have taken birth within the brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra classes can take harināma. Whatever condition one is in, even if he is as sinful as Ajāmila was, he can chant Bhagavān’s name and hear hari-kathā, and in this way become qualified to always remember Him.
Kirāta, Āndhra, Pulinda, Śumbha, Yavana – these are all sinful classes of people from the time of the Bhāgavatam. They still exist today but in different forms. They all originate from the Hindu lineage. All of the people that we see in India today, whether they are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Jains, all had the same source: Brahmā. So originally there was only one class of humans, but some degraded and became sinful by nature. In Āssām there is a class of people who smoke different varieties of hemp with a water-pipe. Anytime there is some important task to be accomplished, they first all get together and smoke. They even engage their children in smoking, so they are sinful from birth. Others may take a good birth but become sinful later in life. If either of these classes of sinful people associate with sādhus and take shelter of a guru, they can be purified and their faults will be destroyed.
But will they be able to leave all those faults at once? If we see that someone is worshipping several demigods and goddesses, and we say to him, “My friend, don’t worship Durgā at this time of Navarātri. Instead worship Kṛṣṇa,” then they will not come in our direction. Therefore we should just let them come with whatever conceptions they may have, and after they have sat and heard something three or four times, it will start to become natural for them. Even if they are sometimes drinking wine, we should think nothing of it. Such a thing is written in the Bhāgavatam:
nityā hi jantor na hi tatra codanā
vyavasthitis teṣu vivāha-yajña
surā-grahair āsu nivṛttir iṣṭā
It is not proper to drink liquor, but if a newcomer takes a little wine at the time of a marriage or a festival, we should think nothing of it. After hearing more and more hari-kathā, they will automatically give up these bad habits. But in the very beginning the practice of strict bhakti-sādhana doesn’t always come naturally.
aho bata śva-paco ’to garīyān
yaj-jihvāgre vartate nāma tubhyam
tepus tapas te juhuvuḥ sasnur āryā
brahmānūcur nāma gṛnanti ye te
[Devahūti said to Kapiladeva:] “How glorious are they whose tongues are chanting your holy name! Even if they were born in the families of dog-eaters, such persons are worshipful. Those who chant your holy name must have performed all kinds of austerities and fire sacrifices, bathed at holy places of pilgrimage, studied the Vedas and become fully qualified in all ways.”
For one who has ruci for chanting the name of Bhagavān and for hearing hari-kathā, there is no necessity to perform any separate austerities or sacrifices or to study the Vedas. Even if his behaviour is opposed to Vedic principles, people ordinarily think that his bhakti will be destroyed, but it is not necessarily so.
In the first part of Śrī Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, there is a section where Nārada and Hanumān are conversing. Upon hearing how dear Draupadī, Arjuna and all the Pāṇḍavas are to Kṛṣṇa, Nārada became very pleased and began dancing. Hanumān also danced with great happiness. In such devotees there are no reservations or feelings of shyness; their ānanda increased as they discussed this topic and naturally they began dancing. Hanumān proposed that Nārada should go to Hastināpura to have darśana of the Pāṇḍavas and then spoke this verse:
taṁś ca gārhasthya-dharmiṇaḥ
Please don’t commit the offence of thinking that we are naiṣṭhika-brahmacārīs, whereas the Pāṇḍavas are mere gṛhasthas busy in managing a kingdom.
Those who have the firm resolution to never become householders are called naiṣṭhika-brahmacārīs. From following this vow comes the qualification to follow sannyāsa-dharma. The other type of brahmacārī is called upakurvāṇa. They remain in white cloth and serve as brahmacārīs, but those who desire to do so can return to their homes and marry. Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma were upakurvāṇa-brahmacārīs because after studying under their guru, they returned to their home. Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Nārada, the Kumāras and Hanumān never married and were naiṣṭhika-brahmacārīs. Vyāsadeva, Janaka Mahārāja and Ambarīṣa Mahārāja were all upakurvāṇa-brahmacārīs who returned to their homes and performed bhajana there.
Nārada was a naiṣṭhika-brahmacārī who had renounced everything and didn’t accumulate anything at all, whereas the Pāṇḍavas were followers of gṛhastha-dharma engaged in managing the affairs of a kingdom; so between them, who is superior? If Nārada goes to the palace of the Pāṇḍavas, who will offer praṇāma to whom? The Pāṇḍavas will offer praṇāma to Nārada, even though their bhakti is higher than his, because they will honour the regulations of their āśrama as defined within the varṇāśrama system. Similarly, when Caitanya Mahāprabhu was a young sannyāsī and went to the place of Vallabhācārya, who was approximately ninety years old and conversant in all the śāstras, Mahāprabhu fell at his feet. Mahāprabhu behaved in the same fashion with Advaita Ācārya, but internally Advaita Prabhu respected Mahāprabhu as his master.
So Hanumān was saying that it is not proper to analyse whether one is a brahmacārī or a gṛhastha because we may become offenders. One who possesses the most prema for Bhagavān is superior, and being a gṛhastha is no obstacle to this. And even in some situations, without becoming a gṛhastha, loving feelings towards Bhagavān will not come. For example, a gopī will not be able to have parakīya-bhāva in kṛṣṇa-līlā without becoming married. But marrying is not necessary for vaidhī-bhakti, and it is not beneficial for rāgānuga-bhakti either. Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs were naiṣṭhika-brahmacārīs, but will a naiṣṭhika-brahmacārī ever take employment in a kingdom as they did? So even though in the strictest sense we can’t say they were really naiṣṭika-brahmacārīs, they were endowed with millions of transcendental qualities and were real paramahaṁsas.
Therefore Hanumān is saying that one should not minimise the position of the Pāṇḍavas just because they are gṛhasthas and are always busy in managing the affairs of a kingdom. Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja is an emperor, why? For the preaching of bhakti. Why does he have a relationship with Draupadī? Because she is very dear to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Why is he so fond of Arjuna? Because Arjuna is the dear friend of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore we should never minimise the position of Yudhiṣṭhira. He has three relationships with Kṛṣṇa: as His guru, meaning that he has affection for Kṛṣṇa just as a father would, as His friend and as His servant. We shouldn’t think less of any of the Pāṇḍavas, because they all have their own glorious relationship with Bhagavān. Kuntī gave birth to them, and through them the glories of kṛṣṇa-bhakti were spread throughout the world. Also, every part of Draupadī’s life is full of prema-bhakti for Kṛṣṇa.
Therefore we mustn’t consider that just because one is a naiṣṭhika-brahmacārī he must be necessarily given more respect than a gṛhastha. The calibre of bhakti in a person is the important thing, whether they be a sannyāsī, brahmacārī, gṛhastha, woman, prostitute, dog-eater or whatever.
—Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja (Śrī Prabandhāvalī)