No Fear of Falling Down: “Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has stated that in the age of Kali it is recommended that all jivas become grhastha Vaisnavas, for in this there is no fear of falling down. The meaning of this statement is that it is the duty of all human beings to live in an unfallen condition and engage in the service of Visnu and Vaisnavas. However, it is not the intention of the author to instruct that everyone must be a grhastha, or that in the age of Kali no one should accept any asrama other than the grhastha-asrama. Those who are heavily influenced by the material qualities of passion and ignorance, who are excessively attached to material sense enjoyment, and who have a strong inclination toward the path of fruitive action (pravrtti-marga) are recommended to accept marriage and follow the grhastha-dharma in order to counteract these tendencies. On the other hand, those whose nature is of the quality of goodness and purity, and who follow the path of detachment (nivrtti-marga) should not marry and thus become fallen. In the Visnu Purana (3.8.9) we find the following statement regarding asrama:
“Sri Visnu is worshiped only by carrying out one’s prescribed duties in varnasrama. There is no other way to please Him.”
In this sloka, the word asrama refers not only to the grhastha asrama, but to all four asramas. In Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.17.14) there is the following statement regarding asrama:
“The grhastha-asrama has sprung from the thighs of My universal form, the brahmacari-asrama from My heart, the vanaprastha asrama from My chest, and the sannyasa-asrama from My head.”
These are the four asramas described in the sastra. One of the characteristics of a Vaisnava is engaging in the worship of Sri Visnu while remaining in the asrama for which he is eligible. At present there is no shortage of examples of this. In this very book, the characters, Prema dasa, Vaisnava dasa, Ananta dasa, and many other qualified instructors are sannyasis, brahmacaris, or grha-tyagis.
Another point is that not all the followers of the author, Sri Bhaktivinoda Thakura, are grhastha-bhaktas. Some of them are brahmacaris and some have given up household life, and are situated in the highest order, sannyasa, and are thus fit to instruct the world. In the third chapter, sannyasa is referred to as the topmost asrama. This same conclusion is expressed in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.17.15), the crest-jewel of all sastras:
“The varnas and asramas of humanity are possessed of higher and lower natures in accordance with the higher and lower places on Sri Bhagavan’s universal body from which they appeared.”
The conclusion of this statement is that sannyasa is the highest of the four asramas, and grhastha is the lowest. The brahmacari- asrama is situated above the grhastha-asrama, and the vanaprastha asrama is situated above the brahmacari-asrama. These asramas are related to the acquired tendency arising from one’s temporary nature.
Like varnas, asramas are also divided according to nature, tendency, and work. Men of lower nature, who are inclined to engage in fruitive action, are compelled to become grhasthas. Naisthika-brahmacaris, those who adopt a life-long vow of celibacy, are the wealth of Sri Krishna’s heart. Vanaprastha renunciants have appeared from Krishna’s chest, and sannyasis, who are the reservoirs of auspicious qualities, have arisen from His head. The brahmacaris, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis are therefore all superior to the grhasthas, but one remains ineligible to enter into these three superior asramas as long as a taste for the path of renunciation is not awakened in the heart. In the Manu-samhita (5.56) it is said:
“Human beings are naturally inclined to the pleasures of meat eating, intoxication, and sexual indulgence, but abstinence from such activities yields highly beneficial results.”
This is corroborated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.11):
“In this world it is observed that people have a natural tendency toward sexual enjoyment, meat-eating, and intoxication. Sastra cannot sanction engagement in such activities, but special provisions have been given whereby some association with the opposite sex is permitted through marriage; some eating of flesh is permitted through performance of sacrifice; and the drinking of wine is permitted in the ritual known as sautramani-yajna. The purpose of such injunctions is to restrain the licentious tendencies of the general populace, and to establish them in moral conduct.”
The intrinsic purpose of the Vedas in making such provisions is to draw people away from such activities altogether.
In many other sastras the superiority of the path of renunciation has been delineated. At the end of the tenth chapter of this book, Sri Bhaktivinoda Thakura has cited the above-mentioned Bhagavatam sloka, and drawn the following conclusion: ““It is not the purpose of sastra to encourage the killing of animals. The Vedas state, ma himsyat sarvani bhutani: ““Do not harm any living entity.’ This statement forbids violence to animals. However, as long as a person’s nature is strongly influenced by passion and ignorance, he will have a natural inclination toward sexual enjoyment, meat eating, and intoxication.
Such a person does not await the sanction of the Vedas to engage in such activities. The intent of the Vedas is to provide a means whereby human beings who have not adopted the quality of goodness – and thus renounced the tendency for violence, sexual enjoyment, and intoxication – can curb such tendencies and satisfy these demands through the agency of religion.”
People who are conducted by these lower tendencies may associate with the opposite sex through religious marriage; they may kill animals only through certain prescribed methods of sacrifice; and they may take intoxication only on certain occasions, and by following certain procedures. By following these methods their tendency toward these activities will wane and they will gradually give them up.”
Therefore, the grhastha-asrama is necessary in Kali-yuga in order to draw people away from the path of fruitive action and toward the path of renunciation. It was never the intention of the author to suggest that those who are eligible for the highest order of life should become grhasthas. Later in this same chapter, Sri Bhaktivinoda Thakura has expressed the purpose of marriage in the following words:
“One should not enter marriage for the purpose of begetting children or to worship the forefathers. Rather, one should think, ‘I accept this maidservant of Krishna so that we may be able to assist each other in the service of Krishna.’ This attitude is favorable to bhakti.”
Consequently, those who marry without a desire for children can actually be true grhastha Vaisnavas. When a man truly regards his wife as a maidservant of Krishna, there is no scope for regarding her as an object of his own pleasure; instead, his mood will be one of adoration. It is a fact that there are statements that sanction the desire for children, such as putrarthe kriyate bharya: ““A wife is accepted for the purpose of having children,” but the implication here is that one should desire to beget servants of Krishna, and not ordinary mundane children.
The word putra (son) is derived from the word put, which refers to a particular hellish planet, and tra is derived from the verbal root meaning ‘to deliver’. Thus, the traditional significance of the word putra is to beget a son who can deliver one from hell by offering oblations after one’s demise. However, there is no possibility that Vaisnavas who regularly chant sri-hari-nama will go to the hell known as put. Therefore, they do not desire putras, but servants of Krishna.
Generally, a man who is bound by material conditioning, and who pursues the path of fruitive action, indulges in sexual intercourse with a woman in order to satisfy his lusty propensities. Children are born only as a by-product of that desire. This is the reason why people these days are generally of a lustful nature. As it is commonly said, atmavat jayate putrah: ““A son takes after his father.”
Although the grhastha-asrama is the lowest of the four asramas, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has recommended it with a desire to benefit everyone in the world. His recommendation is especially directed toward people whose mentality is similar to that of Candidasa and Damayanti. Actually, great souls who naturally follow the path of detachment by the influence of the sukrti they have acquired in previous lives will never become entangled in domestic life by accepting marriage. Such elevated people still have the opportunity to fall, but where is the question of falling for people who are already fallen?”
If a naisthika-brahmacari or a sannyasi were to misunderstand the underlying meaning of the above-mentioned instruction, and on the basis of those words were to give up their brahmacarya or sannyasa and, in contravention to sastra, marry one of their disciples, a god-sister, or some other woman, or were to advise another brahmacari or sannyasi to do so, then such a pitiable, base, and atheistic person would indeed be rare in the history of the world.
A second point is that it is highly disgraceful for unqualified people to adopt the dress of brahmacaris, tyagis, or sannyasis, to imitate their behavior, and to consider themselves equal to great personalities situated in those asramas. Such people are like Srgala Vasudeva, the jackal who impersonated Sri Krishna, and whose narration has been described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Harivamsa, Caitanya-Bhagavata, and other sastras. People who are situated in a lower stage, and who are attached to the path of fruitive action, should first curb the deplorable tendency towards lust by becoming lawfully married according to religious principles. The purpose of the sastra is to guide all living beings toward the path of detachment. The Brahma-vaivarta Purana (Krishna-khanda 115.112-113) states:
Some people try to establish on the basis of this sloka that the acceptance of sannyasa is forbidden in Kali-yuga. However, this sloka has a hidden intention. The purpose of this sloka is not to forbid sannyasa altogether. Indeed, many great personalities who appeared in Kali-yuga were tyagis or sannyasis, including Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva, Sri Visnu-Svami, and other acaryas who were well acquainted with all the sastras, as well as the crown jewels of all acaryas, the Six Gosvamis, who were bhaktas of Sri Gaura.
The pure succession of sannyasa is continuing, even today. The injunction against accepting sannyasa in Kali-yuga actually means that it is improper to accept the ekadanda-sannyasa that evolved from the unauthorized line of thought propagated by Acarya Sankara, and which is expressed in maxims such as so ‘ham (I am that brahma) and aham brahmasmi (I am brahma). It is this type of sannyasa.