Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
The Three Modes of Material Nature
Chapter 01
Why Study the Three Modes of Material Nature?
Segment 02
Unwanted Creepers
Part 1

Without a clear understanding of the modes of nature, it is difficult to distinguish between pure and mixed devotional service, (devotional serviced mixed with the three modes of material nature). 

Can we afford not to make this distinction? 

The answer is “No.”

 Mixed devotional service is so complex; it is a virtual minefield one must cross to get to pure devotional service.  The more one knows its symptoms, the better one’s chances of avoiding it.  The shastra says that we must be free of all contamination, of the modes of nature, that is to say, all stages of mixed devotional service, in order to be eligible for understanding the postgraduate phase, of the Vaishnava philosophy, which is Krishna’s intimate pastimes, with the residents of Goloka-vrindavana.

In the Caitanya-caritamrita, while describing the unwanted creepers, (mixed devotional service), that grow along with the bhakti-lata, (devotional creeper), Sri Caitanya told Srila Rupa Gosvami, in Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 19.160,

“If one does not distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper, and the other creepers, the sprinkling of water is misused, because the other creepers are nourished, while the bhakti-lata creeper is curtailed.”

What is this sprinkling of water?  This verse says that this sprinkling of water, nourishes the other creepers, which then curtails the bhakti-lata creeper. 

The sprinkling of water, is the chanting of the maha-mantra

This verse is telling us that the bhakti-lata creeper is curtailed.  Let us look at the definition of curtail.

“To make shorter in length or duration, shorten, abridge, abbreviate, brief, crop, curtail, cut back, cut short, lop, truncate, trim, prune, shear.”

It is clear that this does not mean that it is killed, vanquished, destroyed, or annihilated.  It simply means, that its potential, does not manifest.  It has been explained, that this bhakti-lata creeper grows, until it reaches the realm of Goloka-vrindavana, and it raps around the Lotus Feet of Lord Krishna.  The implication here is, that we are very far away, from the association of the Lord, and therefore, the devotional creeper must grow, to a very long length, to reach the Lotus Feet of the Lord.  Thus, the word, “curtail” is very appropriate because it indicates that the devotional creeper is constantly being cut, and trimmed back, so to speak. 

The antonym of ‘curtail’ is ‘lengthen’. 

The weeds, the other un-wanted creepers, mentioned in this verse also grow.  This means mixed devotional service, causes the bhakti-lata creeper to be curtailed. 

This can be understood, by the example of growing a garden of vegetables.  When you plant seeds of vegetables, nature also deposits many seeds of weeds on the same ground, and, or, there are toots of weeks still in the ground.  Therefore, when you water the vegetable seeds, and they start to grow, you are also watering the weed seeds, or the roots of weeds in the soil.  I have experienced growing vegetable gardens, and I can assure you that there will be weeds.  If you do not pluck out the weeds, the vegetable plants will be curtailed, and the weeds will grow tall.  In the end, the vegetable plant is stunted, and it produces very little fruit; if not at all.  However, the weed flourishes.  The only way for the vegetable plant to grow tall, and produce the potential fruit, is for the gardener to pluck out the weeds, when they arise, at the first opportunity.  Moreover, this is a difficult task, because sometimes, sprouting weeds look the same as sprouting vegetable plants.  While standing up, and looking at the seedlings, as they are called, they all look the same.  One must get up very close, and only then will one be able to discriminate, between the vegetable seedling, and the weed seedling.  This discrimination, (recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another), requires knowledge of what is a vegetable seeding, and what is a weed seedling. 

This mixed devotional service causes one certain outcome; one’s advancement in Krishna-consciousness is curtailed, and the potential of what advancement offers, does not manifest.  Thus, it is common to see many vaisnavas, who after years or even decades, of practicing devotional service, find themselves asking questions and having doubts like,

  • Why do I still have a false ego?
  • How does one get the mercy?
  • Why do I still have the same material desires?

Two verses earlier the Lord said that the varieties of these unwanted creepers are unlimited.  Then in Text 159, the Lord gives a sampling of the kinds of unwanted creepers that crop up. 

The verse starts with the word “some”, that indicated that this is a sampling, not “all”:

“Some unnecessary creepers that grow with the bhakti creeper are the creepers of behavior unacceptable for those trying to attain perfection, diplomatic behavior, animal killing, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration, and mundane importance.  All these are unwanted creepers.”

In the purport, Srila Prabhupada makes this important point:

“All these obstructions have been described in the verse as unwanted creepers.  They simply present obstacles for the real creeper, bhakti-lata-bija.  One should be very careful to avoid all these unwanted things.  Sometimes these unwanted creepers look exactly like the bhakti-lata creeper. 

They appear to be of the same size, and the same species, when they are packed together with the bhakti-lata creeper, but in spite of this, the creepers are called upasakha, (unwanted).  A pure devotee can distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper, and a mundane creeper, and he is very alert to distinguish them, and keep them separate.”

These “mundane creepers” indicate mixed devotional service.  Because mixed devotional service can have all the frills of pure devotional service, one has to be ultra-careful.  Ultra-careful, means that he or she must know what is a weed, and what is a creeper.  Without knowing this, how can one have the confidence to uproot one, and not the other?  The fact that such creepers may be “the same size, and appear to be the same species”, only makes the task more demanding.  It means, one’s power of discrimination, must be honed to its finest.

While this is detrimental to common devotees, who are not in leadership and management position in vaisnava institutions; this is more detrimental to those who are in position of authority, or leadership of any kind. Srila Prabhupada actually warned, the leaders of ISKCON, when he wrote in,

Srimad-bhagavatam 1.13.15 Purport:

This is our position. Anything… If you are walking on the street, if you kill an ant by walking, you will be punished. This is nature’s law. We are in such a dangerous position. In every movement there is punishment. Now, if you believe the sastras, that is different thing. If you do not believe, then do anything you like. But from sastra we can understand the laws of nature, or God, is very, very strict, very, very strict. So-Manduka Muni also chastised Yamaraja, that,

“In my childhood, without any knowledge I did something and for which you have given me so great punishment. So, you are not fit for becoming a brahmana or ksatriya. You become sudra[1].”

So, he was cursed to become sudra. Therefore, Yamaraja took his birth as Vidura and was born in the womb of a sudra mother. This is the history of Vidura’s birth. So, Vidura was Yamaraja. Not only he was Yamaraja, ordinary, but he is one of the great authorities. There are twelve authorities mentioned in the sastra, (the 12 Mahajanas). One of them is Yamaraja. …

Yamaraja is one of the GBC of Krishna. Yes. As we have got twelve GBC’s, similarly Krishna has got GBC’s. …

That twelve men are authorized to preach Krishna consciousness. So, we have to follow. Sri Caitanya-caritamrita-Madhya-lila 17.186,

“Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu continued, ‘Dry arguments are inconclusive. A great Personality whose opinion does not differ from others is not considered a great sage. Simply by studying the Vedas, which are variegated, one cannot come to the right path by which religious principles are understood. The solid truth of religious principles is hidden in the heart of an unadulterated, self-realized person. Consequently, as the sastras confirm, one should accept whatever progressive path the mahajanas advocate.’”

Therefore, we have created these GBC. So, they should be very responsible men. Otherwise, they will be punished. They will be punished to become a sudra.

Although Yamaraja is a GBC (of Krishna), but he made a little mistake. He was punished to become a sudra. So those who are GBC’s, (in ISKCON), they should be very, very careful to administer the business of ISKCON. Otherwise, they will be punished. As the post is very great, similarly, the punishment is also very great.

It is a no-brainer, that this warning prediction, by Srila Prabhupada, regarding his leaders, has come to full fruition; in every way you can think of.

If you look at the unwanted creepers specified in the verse above, most of them seem to be more applicable, to those who are in positions of authority and leadership; hence they are able to cultivate such unwanted creepers.  Diplomatic behavior, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration, and mundane importance; while applicable to all, are definitely more possible for those in positions of authority and leadership.  This verse is not an inclusive list of unwanted creepers, just an example of a few.  However, it is very interesting, that the list on this verse, apply more to persons in positions of authority or leadership.

In the last part of the purport Srila Prabhupada wrote,

“A pure devotee can distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper, and a mundane creeper, and he is very alert to distinguish them, and keep them separate.”

Here Srila Prabhupada says who can do this particular type of discrimination, distinguishing between the two types of creepers.  Srila Prabhupada said ‘a pure devotee’ can do this.  He did not say ‘a devotee’. I personally have not ever heard anyone discuss this statement by Srila Prabhupada.  At first read, one could say,

“Until one achieves pure devotional service, devotional service that has no ting of the three modes of material nature; there is still a relative inability to distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper, and mundane creepers.” 

[1] Sudra—a member of the fourth social order, laborer class, in the traditional Vedic social system. He is meant to render service to the three higher classes, namely the brahmanas, the ksatriyas, and the vaisyas.

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