Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Upadeśāmṛta (Nectar of Instruction)
Upadeśāmṛta Chapter Overview
Verse Six (dṛṣṭaiḥ svabhāva-janitair vapuṣaś ca doṣair) of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Upadeśāmṛta (The Nectar of Instruction) describes how devotees should not be seen from a material perspective. Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja elaborates upon this.
दृष्टैः स्वभावजनितैर्वपुषश्च दोषैर्न प्राकृतत्वमिह भक्तजनस्य पश्येत् ।
गङ्गाम्भसां न खलु बुद्बुदफेनपङ्कैर्ब्रह्मद्रवत्वमपगच्छति नीरधर्मैः ॥ ६ ॥
dṛṣṭaiḥ svabhāva-janitair vapuṣaś ca doṣair
na prākṛtatvam iha bhakta-janasya paśyet
gaṅgāmbhasāṁ na khalu budbuda-phena-paṅkair
brahma-dravatvam apagacchati nīra-dharmaiḥ
Word for Word
dṛṣṭaiḥ – seeing; svabhāva – nature; janitaiḥ – born from; vapuṣaḥ – physical appearance; ca – and; doṣaiḥ – imperfections; na – not; prākṛtatvam – material; iha – in this world; bhakta-janasya – devotees; paśyet – seen; gaṅgā – the Gaṅgā; ambhasāṁ – water; na – not; khalu – never; budbuda – bubbles; phena – foam; paṅkaiḥ – mud; brahma – divine; dravatvam – liquid; apagacchati – loses; nīra – water; dharmaiḥ – nature.
Devotees in this world should not be seen from a material perspective. Any imperfections found in their natures or their appearance should be overlooked for such faults are like the foam, bubbles and mud in the water of the Ganges. Such things appear due to the nature of water, but the divine nature of the Ganges is never diminished.
Rupa Gosvāmī says that we should not be very eager to find any defect in a pure devotee. The water of the Ganges can purify even if there are bubbles or mud found in the water. The bubbles and the mud do not stand in the way of purification. The devotee is only meant for the good of the universe. The devotee himself, the pure soul or ātmā, is the purifying agent – the purest and most normal factor in the world. But we may find in him some ‘mud’ or ‘bubbles’ – a Vaiṣṇava may sometimes be seen to be a little greedy, a little angry, or physically he may be blind or deaf or lame – but the saintly character of the Vaiṣṇava is independent of his mental or physical characteristics. These do not affect his status in the Vaiṣṇava world. If we attribute those faults to his inner self then we are the losers – we commit offence.
In Kūrma-kṣetra in South India, there was one brāhmaṇa named Vāsudeva. He was a devotee who had leprosy of an extreme type. So many worms were falling to the ground from his wounds, but he would pick them up and put them back in the wounds so they would not die. He understood in his internal mind that, “The Lord is coming here and I shall have a chance to have His darśana.” He was very eager to have darśana of Mahāprabhu, but Mahāprabhu went away and that man fell senseless to the ground. “What is this? I could not have a glimpse of the Lord. He came and went away, and I did not have the capacity to have His connection, His darśana.” Mahāprabhu was almost a mile away, and then suddenly He felt some attraction to go back. He ran back and found that man on the way and embraced him. His leprous body vanished and his whole body was turned into a beautiful figure.
Whatever may be externally seen in the character of a Vaiṣṇava is like the mud, bubbles and foam found in Ganges water. The purifying capacity of the Ganges water is separate and cannot be disturbed by any foam or dirt mixed with the water. The spiritual capacity does not depend in any way on the apparent material capacity.
Once Sanātana Gosvāmī contracted sores all over his body due to drinking bad water in the jungle, when he was returning from Vṛndāvana to Purī. Mahāprabhu used to welcome him by embracing him, but Sanātana would try to withdraw. Sanātana objected, “Don’t touch me! This is the body of a sinful man.” The sores were oozing and emitting a bad odour, but Mahāprabhu embraced him forcibly. Sanātana had decided, “I shall either leave this place or I shall invite death by falling under the wheel of the cart of Lord Jagannātha.” But as the Lord in the heart of all, Mahāprabhu knew Sanātana’s mind. He chastised him and embraced him forcibly. All the sores disappeared, and Sanātana’s body immediately became like gold.
Mahāprabhu said, “Sanātana Gosvāmī is a devotee of a pure type. I see that there are some sores on his body oozing pus. I see that with My eyes. But due to My śāstrika knowledge I will show no disgust. The body of devotee is sac-cid-ānanda. If I think it is mundane, then this shall be offensive to Kṛṣṇa.”
ghṛṇā kari āliṅgana nā karitāma yabe
kṛṣṇa-ṭhāñi aparādha daṇḍa pāitāma tabe
If I had been repulsed and refused to embrace Sanātana, then I would have been punished for offending Śrī Kṛṣṇa. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 4.196)
The body of a devotee is made of sac-cid-ānanda; there are no mundane things there. Still, my material eyes deceive me. But my śāstrika knowledge tells me that no mundane thing can be present there. If I say, “No, there is pus and sores. It is mundane,” then I will commit an offence against śāstra and against Kṛṣṇa.
The Vaiṣṇava conception is ātmā-dharma, the souls function. Any bodily contamination is absent there. The Bhāgavatam has condemned this bodily conception in the strongest terms:
yasyātma-buddhiḥ kuṇape tri-dhātuke
sva-dhīḥ kalatrādiṣu bhauma ijya-dhīḥ
yat-tīrtha-buddhiḥ salile na karhicij
janeṣv abhijñeṣu sa eva gokharaḥ
He who considers the true self to be this corpse-like body that is full of mucus, bile and air, who believes that his family belongs to him, who thinks his country of birth is worthy of worship, who thinks that a holy place is merely an ordinary body of water and who never seeks the association of the wise, is no different from an ass. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.84.13)
One who thinks this body is the self is a gokhara – not an ordinary ass, but a worthless ass that can only be used to carry animal fodder and not to serve any real purpose for human society. One who thinks that his material connection is all in all is a fool. We are to remove ourselves from the platform of identifying the spiritual with the material. The spiritual is necessary, not the material, and it is imperative that we understand the real position.
A Doll Playing in the Hands of the Infinite
Faultfinding is not a very good quality. We are out to find good qualities, what is good in the universe and we have to preach that the highest good is in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. A positive thing must attract us wholesale. Our position is not to blame but to bring down the positive. That should be our main object in life. If you try to find fault with anyone, if you criticise for your personal interest, that fault will come to you – especially when that is in the devotee section. By connecting with poison in someone else’s body, that poison will enter into you. Through that connection the contamination will come to you. But if you seek help from the higher for purification, and not out of envy, then you will be purified. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the same position at the next moment. What I am criticising to be so bad, in the next moment I may be left in the same deplorable position. I do not know the ways of the Infinite environment. I am vulnerable. I am a doll playing in the hands of the Infinite. At the next moment, from human birth, I may have to go to a dog’s birth, a cat’s birth or an insect’s birth.
We must avoid that. Try to find good things in others. That will help you. In the time of our Guru Mahārāja there was a system in our maṭha. Guru Mahārāja ordered one Vaiṣṇava to please another Vaiṣṇava, especially one that he does not like. That means he was forced to find the goodness in that devotee whom he didn’t like. He should try to find good things in him. Eliminating the bad things in his conception of that devotee, he will search for anything which is good there and thereby he will be benefited. No culture of any bad thing anywhere – especially with the devotees because Kṛṣṇa has taken charge of those surrendered souls. What is good and bad is His responsibility. Those evil things in the devotee may disappear at any time, or Kṛṣṇa will allow that to continue in order to serve some purpose. Such devotees are under Kṛṣṇa’s direct charge. They are ananya-bhāk (fixed in devotion).
Once, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had a dream in which he was wandering in the sky chanting the Holy Name. He came upon the court of Yamarāja, where Yamarāja himself was sitting with Brahmā, Nārada, and others discussing a point from a verse in Bhagavad-gītā:
api cet sudurācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
Even if the most sinful person worships Me with one-pointed devotion, such a person should be considered to be saintly because his determination is perfect. (Bhagavad-gītā 9.30)
The generally accepted meaning of this verse is: “Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is an ananya-bhāk devotee who worships Me alone in devotional service which is free from karma and jñāna, he is to be considered saintly because his endeavours are completely on My behalf and his determination is fixed.” Here, Kṛṣṇa says, “Whatever he has done, if he is exclusively given to Myself, he should be considered as My devotee – samyag vyavasito hi saḥ. And whatever he is doing is cent percent right.” But then the next passage says, kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā – “Very soon he will be a man of righteousness; he will become dharmātmā – dutiful.”
As Yamarāja, Brahmā and Nārada discussed this point, a question came up. Kṛṣṇa says, bhajate mām ananya-bhāk – “One who is My exclusive devotee.” The question arises, what is exclusive devotion or ananya-bhajana? Kṛṣṇa says, “Give up all other religious conceptions and surrender to Me alone” – sarva-dharmān parityajya, mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja. That is exclusive devotion. But if one is practicing exclusive devotion then he is already dharmātmā, he is already righteous. How is it then that in the very next verse, Kṛṣṇa says, “Soon he becomes dharmātmā?” How are we to adjust this? Kṛṣṇa says:
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
He quickly becomes virtuous again and attains everlasting peace. O Kaunteya, go and declare that My devotee never perishes. (Bhagavad-gītā 9.31)
This is the general meaning of this verse. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, “He soon becomes dharmātmā. My devotee is never ruined. Go and declare this to the public.” Kṛṣṇa says that after the devotee became ananya-bhāk – that is, he gave up all sorts of duties and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa – then again he will be a dutiful man. As Brahmā, Nārada, and Yamarāja discussed this point, they saw Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura walking in the sky and taking the Holy Name. Then one of them suggested, “There is a pure devotee. He should be able to give the real meaning.” Then Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was invited in their midst and was asked, “How shall we adjust these points? Kṛṣṇa has said that this person is an exclusive devotee, that he has renounced all sorts of duties and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa. And yet, in no time it will be seen that he is very dutiful. How can we understand this?”
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura explained that, “He quickly becomes righteous” refers not to the exclusive devotee, but to one who considers the exclusive devotee pure in all circumstances. “Even if he performs some abominable act, he is really a sādhu, a saint” – one who can think of an exclusive devotee in that way will soon become dharmātmā. This was Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s explanation.
However, merely professing that, “I am ananya-bhāk!” won’t do. A real ananya-bhāk devotee won’t say, “I am ananya-bhāk.” His innate feeling will be, “I can’t be ananya-bhāk. That is not a small thing. I have not attained that stage. It is very difficult. Rather I am going away from it.” That will be his feeling. That opposite tendency will come. In this verse from Gītā, Kṛṣṇa is saying that, “The fact is that one who has accepted Me exclusively has no taste in other things, so really he is not durācara (sinful). Internally he is always connected with Me and he is indifferent to external life. Whoever has surrendered to Me I have accepted as My own.”
This means that those that are accepted by Him will gradually be purified. But we are very eager to point out their faults. We are quick to judge the case of others, “Why should he receive causeless mercy? He has got so many defects.” This is a very poor attitude, a disqualification. “Why should he be accepted or given any chance?” But for ourselves we want mercy, “Don’t come to judge, otherwise I have no hope, my Lord. Please grant Your grace. Then I have got some hope. Please be lenient and do not find fault with me.”
But in the same breath we will say, “Why this man? He is disqualified! Why should he get any grace? Why should he get some mercy or affection?” That is hypocritical and causes a great deal of difficulty within us. It is suicidal. It is most dangerous for our progress. In my own case, I want something higher, but in the case of others I can’t tolerate the same behaviour from the Lord. Generally this is the basis of vaiṣṇava-aparādha.
He has been accepted by the Lord and gradually Kṛṣṇa will purify him, but we continue to give much attention to whatever difficulties are still left in him. The result is that those difficulties will be transferred to me. These are the realities of the experience in this line. If I especially mark the faults of another devotee, they will be transferred to me. It happens. From our own experience and also from the śāstra we have seen this.
The greatest enemy to our progress is vaiṣṇava-aparādha, especially for a beginner on the journey in this domain. Apa-ārādhana – ārādhana means to worship, to revere, to serve, and apa means that which is not up to standard. Vaiṣṇava-aparādha has been said to be most dangerous. If a Vaiṣṇava is serving Kṛṣṇa and we find fault with him, our level of purity will go down. Generally a Vaiṣṇava will always think, “I can’t serve perfectly. There are so many defects in my service.” Even Rādhārāṇī says that, “I can’t serve Kṛṣṇa properly,” but She is serving to the highest degree. In the lower position if there is some clash, that is vaiṣṇava-aparādha. That is greater than any aparādha directly made to Kṛṣṇa because the Vaiṣṇava is serving Him properly with earnestness and I am abusing him. Thereby I am committing suicide. To stand against the Vaiṣṇava is to stand against one’s own vital interests. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that the mahā-bhāgavatas do not care for any offences made against them, but the foot-dust of those mahā-bhāgavatas cannot tolerate the dishonour of their master.
Physician Cure Thyself!
Generally, one must be very careful not to make any remarks about the practices and activities of another Vaiṣṇava. It is only acceptable in the case when one is empowered by the Supreme, as in the case of disciples. To correct his disciples, the sympathetic guardian can mark the defects and help to remove them.
Don’t criticise. Don’t be hungry to find the fault of others. But if someone finds fault in you, then you may consult a higher authority – a more senior Vaiṣṇava, “There have been some complaints against me. Whether or not they are valid, I don’t know. Please, can you help me to understand my defects?” Such an enquiry has no envy, no spirit of competition that I am good and he is bad; it is devoid of mischievous motives underground. Only it must be endowed with paripraśnena – honest enquiry. Otherwise, I shall have to suffer.
‘Physician, cure thyself’ before you attempt to cure others. This is your primary duty; then you will really be able to offer others a cure-all. In conclusion, my advice is that you should try to be submissive to the Vaiṣṇava devotees. Submissiveness to them will promote your spiritual merit. We shall also pray to the Supreme Lord for such an attitude, “Oh Lord, my bad temperament stands in the way of my association with the devotees – please remove it.” Association with the devotees of the Lord is a primary necessity. It vastly improves our position with the Supreme if we always remain in prayer. “Oh my Lord, this bad temperament in me, this inconsiderate thinking and feeling – sentiments concerning the outer world – this is disturbing my association with the higher Vaiṣṇava devotees.” We have try to find out the good in others. That will help us. Otherwise we will be in great difficulty. This is not theoretical – these are all practical things.