Question: “I understand that vaisnava-dharma is eternal religion, and I would like to know in detail how one who has taken shelter of vaisnava-dharma should behave with others?”
Although everyone is by nature a servant of Sri Krishna, due to ignorance or illusion, some souls do not accept this. They form one group. Another group consists of those who do accept their natural identity as servants of Sri Krishna. Consequently, there are two kinds of people in this world: Krishna-bahirmukha, those who are diverted from Krishna; and Krishna-unmukha, and those who are attentive to Krishna.
Most people in this world are diverted from Krishna and do not accept dharma. There is nothing much to say about the first group. They have no sense of what is to be done and what is not to be done, and their entire existence is based upon selfish happiness.
People who accept some moral principles have a sense of duty. For them the great Vaisnava, Manu, has written, Sri Manu-samhita (6.92)
There are ten characteristics of religious life: dhrti (determination with patience); ksama (forgiveness), which means not retaliating when wronged by others; dama (control of the mind), which means equanimity even in the face of unsettling circumstances; asteya (abstinence from theft); saucam (cleanliness); indriya-nigrahah (restraining the senses from their sense objects); dhi (intelligence), which means knowledge of the sastra; vidya (wisdom), which means realization of the soul; satya (truthfulness); and akrodha (absence of anger), as demonstrated by even temperedness amidst irritating circumstances.
Six of these characteristics – determination, control of the mind, cleanliness, restraint of the senses, knowledge of the sastra, and wisdom – are duties to one’s own self. The remaining four – forgiveness, abstinence from stealing, truthfulness, and absence of anger – are duties to others. These ten religious duties have been prescribed for people in general, but none of them clearly indicate hari-bhajana. Furthermore, one will not necessarily attain complete success in life simply by carrying out these duties faithfully. This is confirmed in the Visnu-dharmottara Purana quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa (10.317):
It is most auspicious to live in this world, even for five days, as a bhakta of Sri Visnu, whereas it is not at all auspicious to live in this world for thousands of kalpas without bhakti for Sri Kesava.
A person bereft of Krishna-bhakti is not fit to be called a human being, therefore sastra counts such people among the two-legged animals. Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.19) states:
Only men who are like dogs, hogs, camels and asses praise those who never hear the holy name of Sri Krishna, the elder brother of Gada.
If a person never allows sri-Krishna-nama to enter his ears, he is like an animal. In fact, he is more degraded than hogs that eat stool and other rejected substances, camels that wander in the desert of samsara eating cactus, and asses that carry heavy loads for others, and are always harassed by the she-ass. However, the question raised today was not about what such unfortunate people should or should not do. It was only about how those who have taken shelter of the path of bhakti should behave with others.
Those who have adopted the path of bhakti may be divided into three categories: kanistha (neophyte), madhyama (intermediate), and uttama (topmost). Kanisthas are those who have embarked upon the path of bhakti, but are not yet true bhaktas. Their symptoms are described as follows Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.47),
One who faithfully worships the Deity form of Sri Hari, but does not render service to His bhaktas or to other living beings, is a prakrta-bhakta, a materialistic devotee.
Thus, it is established that sraddha is the bija, or seed of bhakti. One’s bhakti is only effective when he worships Bhagavan with sraddha, and it is still not suddha-bhakti unless he worships the bhaktas as well. Bhakti does not develop thoroughly as long as he fails to do so. This type of bhakta has barely entered the doorway of the practice of bhakti. It is said in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.84.13):
One who considers this corpse-like body, comprised of the three elements vata, pita, and kapha, to be his real self; who regards his wife, children, and others as his very own; who considers mundane forms made of earth, stone, or wood to be worshipable; and who regards mere water to be a place of pilgrimage – but who does not consider the bhagavad-bhaktas to be moredear than his very self, to be his very own, to be worshipable, and to be placesof pilgrimage; such a person, though human, is no better than an ass among animals.
The purport of these two slokas is that one cannot even approach the threshold of bhakti without worshiping Bhagavan in the form of the Deity. If one rejects the Deity form and resorts to logical debate alone to deduce the truth, his heart becomes dry and he cannot ascertain the true object of worship. Yet even when one accepts the Deity, it is essential to serve Him in transcendental consciousness (suddha-cinmaya-buddhi).
In this world the jivas are cinmaya vastu, conscious entities, and among all the jivas, the bhaktas of Krishna are suddha-cinmaya, endowed with pure consciousness. Krishna and the bhaktas are both suddha-cinmaya-vastu (pure conscious entities), and in order to understand them, it is essential to have sambandha-jnana, which is knowledge of the interrelationship between the material world, the jivas, and Krishna. If one is to worship the Deity with sambandha-jnana, then one must worship Krishna and serve the bhaktas at the same time. This type of adoration and respect for cinmaya-tattva, the transcendental reality, which is endowed with sraddha, is known as sastriya sraddha, faith based on sastra.
Worship of the Deity that lacks this unequivocal knowledge of the interrelationship between the different aspects of the transcendental reality is simply founded on laukika sraddha, customary or traditional regard. Such customary worship of the Deity is not suddha-bhakti, although it is the first step in approaching the entrance to bhakti; this is the conclusion of sastra. Those who have reached this threshold of bhakti have been described as follows Hari-bhakti-vilasa (1.55),
Learned scholars have determined that a Vaisnava is one who is initiated into a Visnu mantra in accordance with the regulations of sastra, and who is engaged in the worship of Sri Visnu. All others are known as non-Vaisnavas.
Kanistha Vaisnavas, or prakrta-bhaktas, are those who accept a family priest out of hereditary tradition, or who are prompted by laukika sraddha (wordily faith) to imitate others by taking initiation into a Visnu mantra and worshiping the Deity of Sri Visnu. Such materialistic devotees are not suddha-bhaktas; rather, a shadow-like semblance of bhakti called chaya-bhakty-abhasa is prominent in them. However, they do not have pratibimba-bhakty-abhasa, which is a reflective semblance of bhakti. This pratibimba-bhaktyabhasa is offensive in nature and is devoid of Vaisnavism. The stage of chaya-bhakty-abhasa is the result of great fortune, because it is the preliminary stage of bhakti, and people can gradually develop from it into madhyama and uttama Vaisnavas. Still, those at the stage of chaya-bhakty-abhasa cannot be called suddha bhaktas. Such people worship the Deity with laukika sraddha (worldly faith). They can only behave towards others according to the ten types of religious duties that I have already described for people in general. The behavior that the sastras prescribe for bhaktas does not apply to them, for they cannot even ascertain who is a true bhakta and who is not. That power to discriminate is a symptom of the madhyama Vaisnava.
Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.46) describes the behavior of the madhyama Vaisnava as follows:
A madhyama-bhagavata is one who loves Isvara, is friendly towards His bhaktas, shows mercy towards those who are ignorant of bhakti, and neglects those who are inimical to Isvara or His bhaktas.
The behavior being described here is classified in the realm of nitya-dharma. I am not referring here to naimittika-dharma (temporary religious or worldly duties). The behavior that I am describing is part of nitya-dharma, and it is essential in the life of a Vaisnava. Other types of behavior that are not opposed to this behavior may be accepted where necessary.
A Vaisnava’s behavior is directed towards four categories of individuals: isvara, the Supreme Lord; tad-adhina, His bhaktas; balisa, materialistic people who are ignorant of spiritual truth; and dvesi, those who are opposed to bhakti. A Vaisnava shows love, friendship, mercy, and neglect respectively to these four kinds of individuals. In other words, he behaves lovingly towards Isvara, with friendship towards the bhaktas, and mercifully towards the ignorant; he neglects those who are inimical.
The first characteristic of a madhyama Vaisnava is that he has prema for Sri Krishna, who is the Supreme Lord of all. The word prema here refers to suddha-bhakti, whose symptoms have been described as follows in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.1.11):
Uttama-bhakti is the consummate endeavor to serve Sri Krishna in a favorable mood. It is free from any other desire, and it is not covered by knowledge of impersonal brahma, by the daily and periodic duties outlined in the smrt -sastras, or by renunciation, yoga, sankhya, and other types of dharma.
Bhakti that is imbued with such characteristics is first found in the sadhana practices of a madhyama Vaisnava, and it extends up to the stages of bhava and prema. The only characteristic in the bhakti of the kanistha is that of service to the Deity with faith. Such a person does not have the characteristics of uttama-bhakti, namely: anyabhilasita-sunya, freedom from ulterior desires; jnana-karmadyanavrta, freedom from the coverings of impersonal knowledge and fruitive action; and anukulyena Krishnanusilana, consummate endeavors to serve Krishna in a favorable mood.
A kanistha is considered to have become a madhyama Vaisnava and a genuine bhakta when bhakti with these symptoms manifests in his heart. Prior to this stage, he is a prakrta-bhakta, which means that he is only a semblance of a bhakta (bhakta-abhasa), or a semblance
of a Vaisnava (vaisnava-abhasa). The word Krishnanusilana refers to prema, love for Krishna, and it is qualified by the word anukulyena. This refers to those things that are favorable to Krishnaprema