Vaiṣṇava Nindā (Offences to Devotees)

Vaiṣṇava Nindā (Offences to Devotees)

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In Vaiṣṇava Nindā (Offences to Devotees), Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura describes the different categories of jīvas and Vaiṣṇavas and explains the dangers of committing offences to them.

(translated by Swami B.V. Giri and Sanātana Dāsa)

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Of all the various offences a jīva can commit, no offence is as severe than offending a Vaiṣṇava. Thus it is crucial to deliberate upon the meaning of vaiṣṇava-nindā according to the śāstras. It is said in Skanda Purāṇa:

nindā kurvanti ye mūḍhā vaiṣṇavānāṁ mahātmanām
patanti pitṛbhiḥ sārdhaṁ mahā-raurava-saṁjñite

hanti nindati vai dveṣṭi vaiṣṇavān nābhinandati
krudhyate yāti no harṣaṁ darśane patanāni ṣaṭ

“Those fools that blaspheme those great souls who are devoted to Viṣṇu fall down into the hell known as Mahā-raurava, along with their descendants. There are six types of behaviour that result in such a fall down – killing a Vaiṣṇava, blaspheming him, feeling malice towards him, not greeting him upon seeing him, becoming angry with him and not feeling happiness upon seeing him.”

It is written in the Bhāgavatam:

nindāṁ bhagavataḥ śṛṇvaṁs tat-parasya janasya vā
tato nāpaiti yaṁ so ‘pi yāty adhaḥ sukṛtāc cyutaḥ

“One who, upon hearing blasphemy of the Lord or those who have dedicated their lives to Him, the Vaiṣṇava, do not leave that place immediately, lose their sukṛti and fall down.”

Four Categories of Jīvas

Having thus been warned about offending Vaiṣṇavas, it is essential to first ascertain who is a Vaiṣṇava, and understand which activities cause vaiṣṇava-aparādha. All jīvas belong to one of four categories – ordinary jīvas, religious jīvas, brāhmaṇas and vaiṣṇava-prāya-jīvas (those who resemble Vaiṣṇavas) and vaiṣṇava-jīvas.

Sin and Aparādha

With the understanding that Śrī Kṛṣṇa resides in all beings, one should show respect to every jīva. Amongst them, some special honour should be shown to religious jīvas. It is an essential duty to show honour to the brāhmaṇa-jīva and the vaiṣṇava-prāya-jīva and we are instructed to worship the feet of the vaiṣṇava-jīva. If we neglect to show respect to the ordinary jīvas, special honour to the religious jīva, and proper respect to brāhmaṇa-jīvas and vaiṣṇava-prāyajīvas, then we invite sin upon ourselves. But to show disrespect or dishonour to a vaiṣṇava-jīva is an aparādha. Performing ordinary penances can erase so many sins, but an aparādha is not dispelled so easily. Sins influence the gross and subtle bodies. Aparādha specifically affects the jīva’s very soul and causes him to fall down. Thus, whoever wishes to perform bhajana of the Lord must guard against committing aparādha (this is compulsory).

Three kinds of Vaiṣṇavas

In the Śrīmad Bhāgavata, there are three ślokas that are found below that describe the categories of Vaiṣṇavas as vaiṣṇava, vaiṣṇavatara and vaiṣṇavatama (primary, greater and outstanding). The kaniṣṭḥa Vaiṣṇava is described thus:

arcāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate
na tad-bhakteṣu cānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ

“One who accepts a mundane lineage and engages in worshipping the śrī-mūrti of Hari, yet does not worship the devotees of Hari is a kaniṣṭḥa Vaiṣṇava, which means he is just entering the science of devotion (bhakti-tattva).” (Bhāg, 11.2.47)

The actual difference between the mundane faith of this world and faith based on the śāstras (śāstrīya-śraddhā) is that mundane faith only manifests from worldly education. Śāstrīya-śraddhā, means that one develops faith in the words of the śāstras, and with help of its pramāṇas (scriptural evidence), then faith in the Vaiṣṇavas arises. When śāstrīya-śraddhā arises, then the jīva becomes a madhyama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava. Until the time that śāstrīya-śraddhā appears in a sādhaka, his tendency to perform karma does not diminish. Thus, Śrīman Mahāprabhu has said:

śuddha-vaiṣṇava nahe kintu vaiṣṇavera prāya

Such persons are not pure Vaiṣṇavas, but they are similar to Vaiṣṇavas. Only by genuine sādhu-saṅga, can the kaniṣṭḥa Vaiṣṇava, who is a Vaiṣṇava-prāyajīva, become a pure Vaiṣṇava. Then there is the madhyama Vaiṣṇava:

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣāyaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ

“One who has love for the Supreme Lord, who is friendly to the Vaiṣṇavas, kind to those who are inexperienced in bhakti-tattva, namely jīvas who are vaiṣṇava-prāya and for living beings that are inimical or unfavourable towards the Lord and the Vaiṣṇavas, he shows negligence. Thus he takes the position of indifference, tolerance or rejection.” (Bhāg,11.2.46)

Considering even the envious to be inexperienced in the field of bhakti, the madhyama Vaiṣṇava gives them the opportunity to serve the Vaiṣṇavas. Only a madhyama Vaiṣṇava is qualified to serve the Vaiṣṇavas. Because kaniṣṭḥa Vaiṣṇavas do not engage in such service, they are known as Vaiṣṇava-prāya. They cannot be called Vaiṣṇavas. Then there is the uttama Vaiṣṇava:

sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ paśyed bhagavad-bhāvam ātmanaḥ
bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany eṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ


He who experiences the presence of the Lord in all living beings, who perceives that all entities (including himself) are able to receive divine connection with the truth pertaining to Bhagavān (bhagavata-tattva), and that their very existence rests in Bhagavān, who sees everyone in the world as a Vaiṣṇava and considers them all to be under His shelter – such a person is known as an uttama Vaiṣṇava. Such a devotee sees no difference between a Vaiṣṇava and a non-Vaiṣṇava.

Thus it can be ascertained that when those who were at the stage of kaniṣṭḥa, that attain śāstrīya-śraddhā and become qualified to serve the Vaiṣṇavas, should be known thereafter as Vaiṣṇavas until they attain the other symptoms of a madhyama Vaiṣṇava. A madhyama Vaiṣṇava is known as Vaiṣṇavatara. The uttama Vaiṣṇava is known as Vaiṣṇavatama. Here, it is important to understand how Mahāprabhu has revealed these three types of Vaiṣṇavas to us. It has been discussed in this way:

ataeva yāra mukhe eka kṛṣṇa-nāma
seita vaiṣṇava tāra karaha sammāna

“One who chants the Name of Kṛṣṇa even once is Vaiṣṇava. Therefore, you should show all respect to him.” (Cc. Madhya 15.111)

kṛṣṇa-nāma nirantara yāṅhāra vadane
sei se vaiṣṇavatara, bhaja tāhāra caraṇe

“One who constantly chants Kṛṣṇa’s Name is Vaiṣṇavatara and one should render service to his feet.” (Cc. Madhya 16.72)

yāṅhāra darśane mukhe āise kṛṣṇa-nāma
tāṅhāre jāniha tumi vaiṣṇava-pradhāna
krama kari kahe prabhu vaiṣṇava-lakṣaṇa-
vaiṣṇava vaiṣṇavatara āra vaiṣṇavatama

“One who inspires others to chant the Name of Kṛṣṇa merely by their darśana is known as Vaiṣṇavatama and is considered to be the topmost Vaiṣṇava. Thus, Mahāprabhu explained the gradations of Vaiṣṇavas and their qualities – Vaiṣṇava, Vaiṣṇavatara and Vaiṣṇavatama.” (Cc. Madhya16.74–75)

According to the instructions of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, simply by uttering kṛṣṇa-nāma, one attains the platform of a Vaiṣṇava. Amongst kaniṣṭḥa devotees, those who are considered as Vaiṣṇava-prāya, namely those who are considered as Vaiṣṇavābhāsa (possessing the external appearance of a Vaiṣṇava) only chant nāmābhāsa – not the real Name. Those that are able to chant śuddha-nāma, even once, are pure devotees. Those who constantly chant śuddha-nāma are Vaiṣṇavatara. Those that make the Holy Name appear on the lips of others simply by their very presence are considered to be Vaiṣṇavatama.

At this point, another observation needs to be made and that is that becoming a pure devotee does not depend upon taking formal dīkṣā etc. It is said that dīkṣā is the process where one is elevated to the position of Vaiṣṇava-prāya by accepting a mantra for worshipping the Deity of Hari. In terms of nāma-tattva, dīkṣā is not essential. As the Lord has said:

prabhu kahe- yāṅra mukhe śuni eka-bāra
kṛṣṇa-nāma sei pūjya śreṣṭha sabākara

“Mahāprabhu said – One from whose mouth the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa is heard even once is considered to be worshipful and is the best amongst human beings.” (Cc. Madhya 15.106)

eka kṛṣṇa-nāme kare sarva-pāpa-kṣaya
nava-vidha bhakti pūrṇa nāma haite haya

“Even uttering Kṛṣṇa’s Name once destroys all sins. It is only through the Holy Name that one achieves perfection through the nine-fold process of bhakti.” (Cc. Madhya 15.107)

dīkṣā-puraścaryā-vidhi apekṣā na kare
jihvā-sparśe ācaṇḍāla sabāre uddhare

“In order to chant the Holy Name, one is not required to undergo the process of dīkṣā or the rite of puraścaryā. When it connects with the tongue, the Holy Name delivers everyone – even caṇḍālas.” (Cc. Madhya 15.108)

anuṣaṅga phale kare saṁsārera kṣaya
citta ākarṣiyā kare kṛṣṇe-premodaya

“Simultaneously, while chanting the Holy Name, the repeated cycle of birth and death is eliminated. Thus the heart is attracted to Kṛṣṇa and divine love is awakened.” (Cc. Madhya 15. 109)

ataeva yāra mukhe eka kṛṣṇa-nāma
sei vaiṣṇava kari tāra parama sammāna

“One who even chants the Holy Name even once is considered to be a Vaiṣṇava. Therefore you should show him great honour.” (Cc. Madhya 15.111)

Nāmābhāsa and the Pure Name

There is no time to discuss the difference between the Holy Name and nāmābhāsa here. That shall be specifically discussed at another time. However, concerning this point, this much can be said – when the Name of Kṛṣṇa is chanted with śāstrīya-śraddhā, which means with pure surrender (śaraṇāgati), then it is actually the Name proper. When the Name is chanted with various desires or when it is covered by jnana, karma, vairāgya etc. it is nāmābhāsa. The chanting of nāmābhāsa can result in mukti, but nāmābhāsa never appears from mouth of a Vaiṣṇava. He only chants śuddha-nāma.

When the Holy Name is chanted by one who has knowledge of His intrinsic spiritual form (svarūpa), who realises that nāma and nāmi (the Name and the Named) are non-different, and who realizes that the Holy Name only manifests within the spiritual senses of the jīva, then it can be said to be the Name proper. When that Name manifests upon someone’s tongue even once, that person becomes a Vaiṣṇava. When the Name does appear, all of one’s sins, both prārabdha and aprārabdha (manifest and unmanifest sins) are destroyed. Prema arises the instant the Holy Name appears. A Vaiṣṇava is naturally decorated with all good qualities and is free of all faults. It is stated in the Caritāmṛta:

sarva mahā-guṇa-gana vaiṣṇava-śarire
kṛṣṇa-bhakte kṛṣṇera guṇa sakali sañcāre

“All great qualities reside in the body of a Vaiṣṇava and all the qualities of Kṛṣṇa manifest in His devotees.” (Cc. Madhya 22,76)

vidhi-dharma chāḍi’ bhaje kṛṣṇera caraṇa
niṣiddha pāpācāre tāra kabhu nahe mana

“Although a Vaiṣṇava may neglect the regulative principles (vidhi-dharma) he worships Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. Thus his mind is never tainted by the desire to perform sinful activities.” (Cc. Madhya 22.142)

ajñāne vā haya yadi pāpa upasthita
kṛṣṇa tāṅre śuddha kare nā karāya prāyaścitta

“However, if a Vaiṣṇava somehow performs sinful activities, Kṛṣṇa purifies him and that devotee does not have to go through any type of ritual atonement.” (Cc. Madhya 22.143)

jñāna-vairāgyādi bhaktira kabhu nahe aṅga
ahiṁsā yama niyamādi bule kṛṣṇa-bhakta-saṅga

“Jnana and vairagya etc. are not limbs of bhakti. Non-violence, control over the mind and senses etc. automatically follow a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. “(Cc. Madhya 22.145)

asat-saṅga-tyāga ei vaiṣṇava-ācāra
strī-saṅgi eka asādhu kṛṣṇābhakta āra

“It is the proper conduct of a Vaiṣṇava to reject bad association such as those who associate with women, the unholy and those who are averse to Kṛṣṇa.” (Cc. Madhya 22.87)

From the very day that the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa manifests on a person’s tongue even once, that jīva will lose all taste for sinful activities. What to speak of sinful activities, he will also lose taste in pious activities. The Vaiṣṇava, Vaiṣṇavatara and Vaiṣṇavatama are without material contamination (nirañjana), pure (nirmala) and sinless (niṣpāpa). However, if it is seen that a person has an inclination towards performing sinful acts, then he should not to be counted amongst the Vaiṣṇavas. Even kaniṣṭḥa Vaiṣṇavas are not inclined towards pious or sinful activities. Pure Vaiṣṇavas are faultless and therefore cannot be criticized. Those that do so spread lies about Vaiṣṇavas and speak ill about them. Such wicked persons enviously criticize Vaiṣṇavas in the following three ways –

Wicked persons discuss faults that were present in a person before śuddha-bhakti manifested within him. However, when bhakti manifests in the heart, all faults quickly disappear.

During the short time that unwanted desires are being removed from the heart, wicked people criticize him for any faults that still remain within him.

The third topic of discussion for wicked people is that although a pure Vaiṣṇava has no inclination towards faulty activities, sometimes (without any conceivable reason) some prohibitive habits manifest. Such faults never remain permanently within a Vaiṣṇava. However, wicked people discuss these faults and consequently fall down due to the fault of blaspheming a Vaiṣṇava. Therefore, in Nāma-tattva-ratna-mālā, it has been said:

prāg bhakte rūdyād doṣāḥ kṣayā-vaśiṣṭa eva ca
daivot pannaś ca bhaktānāṁ naivalocyaḥ kadācana
sad uddeśyāmṛte yastu mṛṣāpavādam eva ca
doṣānālocayat yeva sa sādhu-nindakoh ādhamaḥ

“One should not consider the faults of a devotee, especially those impurities that were there before devotion manifest within him, those that temporarily remain but are presently perishing through his practice of bhakti, and those that may appear in him by chance. One who reflects upon these faults is guilty of sādhu-nindā and is most fallen.”

O readers! Any faults that were previously in a Vaiṣṇava before bhakti appeared within him should never be considered, unless there is some noble intention in doing so. A Vaiṣṇava should never be criticized for the insignificant residue of his previous faults, which is why Śrī Kṛṣṇa has explained the following in Bhagavad-gītā:

api cet sudurācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati

“Even if one is impious and has committed abominable acts, if he worships Me with one-pointed devotion, such a person should be considered saintly because his determination is perfect. He quickly becomes virtuous again and attains everlasting peace. O Kaunteya, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Gītā 9.30–31)

Through the influence of bhakti, all abominable activities that may have existed before the appearance of bhakti, which seemed to be one’s very own nature, are reduced day by day and are finally destroyed within a short time. Discussing the faults of a Vaiṣṇava without a virtuous intention results in vaiṣṇava-aparādha. If one sees some fault in a Vaiṣṇava that appears due to divine providence, one should still not blaspheme that Vaiṣṇava. In this regard, Karabhājana has said:

sva-pāda-mūlam bhajataḥ priyasya
tyaktānya-bhāvasya hariḥ pareśaḥ
vikarma yac cotpatitaṁ kathañcid
dhunoti sarvaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭaḥ

“One who gives up everything to engage in worshipping the lotus feet of Hari is very dear to the Lord. Even if somehow the tendency to perform sinful activities appears within him, the Supreme Lord, who resides within the heart, destroys the reactions to such sins.” (Bhāg,11.5.42)

Apart from well-intended discussions of those faults that may arise accidentally, one is liable to commit the offense of criticizing a Vaiṣṇava. The fundamental point here is that slandering and blaspheming a Vaiṣṇava, due to any of the three faults previously mentioned, leads to nāmāparādha, and if one commits nāmāparādha, then divine revelation (sphūrti) of the Holy Name will never manifest. One cannot become a Vaiṣṇava without such revelation of the Holy Name.

At this stage in our discussion, an opposing point of view may arise – would it be proper to deliberate on other types of faults found in a Vaiṣṇava besides the three that have already been mentioned? The answer is that no other type of fault can exist within a Vaiṣṇava apart from the three mentioned above. If someone has another type of fault that does not fit in with one of these three divisions, then, according to the śāstras, they cannot be considered to be a Vaiṣṇava. Actually, we should seriously consider the fact that without proper motivation, it is improper to reflect upon the faults of any jīva. To blaspheme a Vaiṣṇava is an offence. Blaspheming other jīvas is a sin. A Vaiṣṇava has no desire to perform such sinful activities.

Yet if one has proper intentions in pointing out another’s faults, then śāstra does not consider that as an offence. There are three types of proper intention – if we expose someone’s sins in order that they ultimately attain auspiciousness, then such discussions are favourable. If we deliberate on a sinner’s vices in order to benefit the whole world, then this should be counted as an auspicious action. If such deliberations are for one’s own spiritual benefit, then such an aspect carries no fault.

When one reflects upon the histories concerning the previous life of Vālmīki or the previous activities of Jagāi and Mādhāi etc. then such deliberations are actually free of sin. When a disciple prays to the guru to identify a true Vaiṣṇava, the guru, desiring auspiciousness for the disciple and the whole world, may draw attention to a non-Vaiṣṇava whose behaviour is actually unholy as well as those who are saintly Vaiṣṇavas. With the intention to guide others to accept shelter at the feet of real Vaiṣṇavas, it is not sādhu-nindā or vaiṣṇava-aparādha to reject the company of such deceitful dharma-dhvajis (religious pretenders). Even if criticism arises towards a specific person, it is still free from any fault. These are all examples of criticizing with a proper motivation.

O readers! You must think carefully upon this serious subject matter. According to proper devotional conclusions, you must show honour to true Vaiṣṇavas and without any hesitation whatsoever, abandon the company of non-devotees. If one blasphemes a genuine Vaiṣṇava, then the transcendental truth concerning the Holy Name (nāma-tattva) will never manifest within one’s heart. In this way, the Bhāgavata instructs us thus:

tato duḥsaṅgam utsṛjya satsu sajjeta buddhimān
santa evāsya chindantimano-vyāsaṅgam uktibhiḥ

“It is for all these reasons that those who are intelligent reject the association of the wicked and associate with those who are saintly. This is because the instructions of such saintly persons cut through the excessive unholy attachments found within the mind.” (Bhāg,11.26.26)

Do not think that by considering oneself to be a sādhu, one can serve those that are asādhu and receive the same result as serving a genuine sādhu. As mentioned previously, it is essential for a madhyama-adhikārī to serve a sādhu, because the kaniṣṭḥa does not serve sādhus and the uttama-adhikārī is not able to distinguish the difference between a sādhu and a non-sādhu.

Since you are all madhyama-adhikārīs it is mandatory for you to search for a sādhu, befriend him and also show mercy upon the non-devotees, or in some instances, disregard them. If you abandon your own adhikāra, then you will be at fault. The Bhāgavata’s instruction in regard to faults and virtue is this:

sve sve ‘dhikāre yā niṣṭhā sa guṇaḥ parikīrtitaḥ
viparyayas tu doṣaḥ syādubhayor eṣa niścayaḥ

“Steadiness in one’s own proper position is considered to be piety. The opposite is considered to be a fault. In this way, the two are clearly ascertained.” (Bhāg,11.21.2)

Even if unconsciously you come into bad association, you will still become an offender to bhakti. Thus the Bhāgavata says:

saṅgo yaḥ saṁsṛter hetur asatsu vihito ‘dhiyā
sa eva sādhuṣu kṛto niḥsaṅgatvāya kalpate

“If, due to faulty intelligence, one unwittingly comes into bad company, this will still lead to one falling into material bondage. However, in the same way, if one accepts the association of sādhus, such association will easily lead one away from bad company.” (Bhāg, 3.23.55)

The glories of the great devotees (uttama-bhaktas), who see everyone as saintly, is declared in such devotional literatures as Bhakta-mālā, Prapannāmṛta etc. – however, madhyama Vaiṣṇavas should not imitate this. Such behaviour leads to the fault known as anadhikāra-carcā (not acting according to one’s proper qualification) and they will fall down in no time. May the pure devotees mercifully consider our dissertation on all these subjects to have been properly motivated.

(‘Vaiṣṇava Nindā – Offences to Devotees’ by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was first printed in the May-July issues of the 5th Volume of Sajjana-toṣaṇī, 1893 and translated into English from the original Bengali by Swami B.V. Giri and Sanātana Dāsa)

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