Question: “Grhastha Vaisnavas are obliged to remain under the jurisdiction of smarta-brahmanas, otherwise they will have to suffer much harassment in society. Under such circumstances, how can they practice suddha-bhakti?”
Grhastha Vaisnavas are certainly obliged to carry out social conventions, such as getting their sons and daughters married, performing ceremonial functions for deceased forefathers, and other similar responsibilities. However, they should not engage in kamya-karma, ritualistic activities meant only to fulfill material ambitions.
When it comes to maintaining one’s livelihood, everyone – even one who calls himself nirapeksa (devoid of all needs) – depends upon other people or things. All embodied beings have needs; they depend on medicine when they become ill, on foodstuffs when they are hungry, on clothing to dispel the cold, and on a house for protection from excessive heat or rain. Nirapeksa really means to reduce one’s necessities as far as possible, for no one can be absolutely independent as long as he has a material body. Still, it is best to be as free as possible from material dependency, for that is more conducive to advancement in bhakti.
All the activities that I mentioned before, become free from defect only when one links them with Krishna. For example, one should not enter marriage with a desire to beget children, or to worship the forefathers and Prajapatis. It is favorable to bhakti to think,
“I am only accepting this maidservant of Krishna so that we can assist each other in Krishna’s service, and establish Krishna-centered family life together.”
Whatever one’s materially attached relatives or family priest may say, ultimately one reaps the fruit of one’s own determination.
On the occasion of the sraddha ceremony, one should first offer the forefathers the remnants of food that has been offered to Sri Krishna, and then feed the brahmanas and Vaisnavas. If grhastha Vaisnavas observe the sraddha ceremony in this way, it is favorable for their bhakti.
All the smarta rituals are karma, unless and until one combines them with bhakti. If one carries out the karma which one is enjoined to perform by the Vedas in pursuance of suddha-bhakti, that karma is not unfavorable to bhakti. One should perform ordinary activities in a renounced spirit and without attachment for the result, and one should perform spiritual activities in the association of bhaktas; then there will be no fault.
Consider for a moment that most of Sriman Mahaprabhu’s associates were grhastha-bhaktas, and so were many rajarsis (saintly kings) and devarsis (great sages) from ancient times. Dhruva, Prahlada, and the Pandavas were all grhastha-bhaktas. You should know that grhastha-bhaktas are also highly respected in the world.
Question: “If grhastha-bhaktas are so highly respected and dear to everyone, why do some of them renounce household life?”
Some grhastha-bhaktas are eligible to renounce their household life, but such Vaisnavas are very few in this world, and their association is rare.
Question: “Kindly explain how one becomes eligible to renounce household life?”
Human beings have two tendencies: “bahirmukhapravrtti, the outward tendency; and antarmukha-pavrtti, the inward tendency.
The Vedas refer to these two tendencies as being focused outwards towards the external world and focused inwards towards the soul.
When the pure spiritual soul forgets his true identity, he falsely identifies the mind as the self, although the mind is really only a part of the subtle material body. Having identified with the mind in this way, the soul takes assistance from the doorways of the senses, and becomes attracted to the external sense objects. This is the outward tendency.
+The inward tendency is exhibited when the stream of consciousness reverts from gross matter back into the mind, and from there to the soul proper.
One whose tendency is predominantly outward, must conduct all external tendencies offenselessly, with Krishna at the center, through the strength of sadhu-sanga. If one takes shelter of Krishna bhakti, these outward tendencies are quickly curtailed and converted to the inward tendency. When the direction of one’s tendency is completely inward, the eligibility to renounce household life is born, but if one gives up household life before this stage is reached, there is a significant danger of falling down again. The grhastha-asrama is a special school, where the jivas may receive instructions regarding atma-tattva, spiritual truth, and be given the opportunity to develop their realization of such matters. They may leave the school when their education is complete.
Question: “What are the symptoms of a bhakta who is eligible to give up household life?”
They should be free from the desire to associate with the opposite sex; they should have unrestricted mercy toward all living entities; they should be completely indifferent towards endeavors to accumulate wealth, and they should strive only in times of need to acquire food and clothing suitable for maintaining oneself. They should have unconditional love for Sri Krishna; should shun the association of materialists; and should be free from attachment and aversion in life and death. Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.45) describes these symptoms as follows:
“One who sees his own mood of attraction for Sri Krishnacandra, the Soul of all souls, in all jivas, and who also sees all living entities residing within the shelter of Sri Krishna, is an uttama-bhagavata.”
In Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.25.22), Bhagavan Kapiladeva describes the primary characteristics of sadhus:
“Those who worship no one but Me, and who therefore engage in firm and exclusive devotion unto Me, give up everything for My sake, including all duties prescribed in varnasrama-dharma and all relationships with their wives, children, friends, and relatives.”
It is also stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.55):
“If one utters, even without intent, sri-hari-nama in an offenseless mood, at once heaps of sins accumulated through many lifetimes, are destroyed. Such a person thereby binds Sri Hari’s lotus feet within his heart with ropes of love and is considered the best of bhaktas.”
When these symptoms are manifest in a grhastha-bhakta, he is no longer suited for engagement in karma, and he therefore renounces household life. Such nirapeksa-bhaktas (renunciants) are rare, and one should consider himself extremely fortunate to attain their association.