Hospitality to guests is one of the most important types of dharma. A place where there is no hospitality to guests is like a desert and should be abandoned. If there is no hospitality amongst common householders, then their life is useless. Such persons do not chant the Name in the morning. Thus, they are amongst the foremost of miscreants. Hospitality to guests is the main dharma for householders. All the inevitable vices of a householder are removed through hospitality. Of all the various types of householders, the Vaiṣṇava householder is topmost. That is why Śrī Mahāprabhu instructed them about hospitality thus in the Caitanya-bhāgavata:
gṛhasthere mahāprabhu śikhāyena dharma
atithira seva gṛhasthera mūla-karma
(“Mahāprabhu taught dharma to the householders, that the prime duty of a householder is to serve guests.” – Caitanya-bhāgavata, Ādi-khaṇḍa 14.21)
akaitave citta-sukhe yāra yena śakti
tāhā karile-i bali atithire bhakti
(“If a one serves guests without duplicity, with a happy heart and according to one’s ability, then he is said to have devotion to his guests.” – Caitanya-bhāgavata, Ādi-khaṇḍa 14.26)
As long as renunciation does not arise within a Vaiṣṇava, he should remain a householder and always offer hospitality to the Vaiṣṇavas. Service to the Vaiṣṇavas is the eternal dharma of a Vaiṣṇava – this is the conclusion of all the śāstra. Even after serving Vaiṣṇavas, a householder Vaiṣnava must serve guests. The difference between serving guests and serving Vaiṣṇavas is that service to guests is gṛhastha-dharma, and vaiṣṇava-sevā is Vaiṣṇava dharma. He who becomes a Vaiṣṇava and a householder must serve guests, because he will serve the guest as a householder and he will serve a Vaiṣṇava as a Vaiṣṇava. A non-Vaiṣṇava householder only serves guests, but has no inclination to serve Vaiṣṇavas. If a pure Vaiṣṇava is a guest in the house of a non-Vaiṣṇava householder, the service he renders is service to guests.
Who is a guest? The answer is that the one who comes to our house hungry is a guest. It is not a matter of accepting guests from our own village. If a traveller from another place comes and he is hungry, one should serve him with respect. It is said that a guest should be considered as the same as Nārāyaṇa, so do not judge his caste etc. Akaitaba, in other words, we should serve a guest with unconditional respect. Citta-sukhe, namely with a joyful heart, we should serve guests. Yāra yena śakti – meaning according to our capacity. If there is no food in a householder’s home, then the guest should at least be offered water and sweet words. It is the duty of a householder to serve guests as much as possible.
Who is a householder? The answer is that the one who is legally married and lives in a village is a householder. You can’t be a householder merely by staying in a house. The following statement from śmṛti is the advice of Śrī Mahāprabhu:
na gṛhaṁ gṛham ity āhur
gṛhiṇī gṛham ucyate
tayā hi sahitaḥ sarvān
(Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 15.27)
The meaning is – a house cannot be called a house. A housewife makes a house. If one lives at home with his wife, together they can fulfil all the interests of human life.
This kind of householder can perform all types of dharma. In this way he becomes a refuge for all the āśramas. Thus, such a dharmika householder is a blessed man. Amongst those blessed men, one in whose heart bhakti resides is extremely blessed. When that extremely blessed devotee-householder receives a guest, he observes whether the guest is an ordinary guest or a Vaiṣṇava guest. If he sees that it is a Vaiṣṇava guest, then he will show affection to him more than his own brother, and he will serve him, and in his company will improve his bhakti-sādhana. If he receives a general guest, he treats that guest appropriately and as much as possible according to the general method of hospitality. Such is the conduct of Vaiṣṇava householders.
Mahāprabhu has taught this by His own conduct. Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura writes:
niravadhi atithi āise prabhu-ghare
yā’ra yena yogya prabhu dena sabākāre
kona-dina sannyāsī āise daśa biśa
sabā’ nimantrena prabhu haiyā hariṣa
(“Guests would come at any time to the Lord’s home, and the Lord would always satisfy all of them. Some days, ten or twenty sannyāsīs would arrive, and the Lord would happily invite them all.” – Caitanya-bhāgavata, Ādi-khaṇḍa 14.13-14)
The householder Vaiṣṇavas should behave in this world by noting the household conduct of Śrīman Mahāprabhu.