B.B. Bodayan Swami

Pure devotion and the
competitive spirit

Part 1

If we study the example set by all our previous acharyas, we will find that competition is not a religious principle. Nowadays, however, we see that in the Vaishnava Sampradaya, especially the Sri Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Saraswata Sampradaya, almost all societies and acharyas are trying to show that they are better than the others. That is one reason explaining all those articles on the Internet that seem to have defeating others as their only purpose. Every disciple naturally follows his or her spiritual master's mood and so preaches in the same competitive spirit. If a follower asks his master, Can I achieve my spiritual goal through chanting the Holy Name and propagating my society and acharya's glories as much as possible?, the acharya replies with silence as a sign of his tacit approval: maunam sammati-laksanam. As a result, the Madhva Gaudiya Saraswata world as a whole sometimes looks like a battlefield.

We seem to think that our acharya or society's qualifications are proved by the number of supporters, devotees, or centers they possess, or how much wealth and mundane opulence they have accumulated. As a result, so many devotees in our sampradaya seem to be running after religion, wealth, sense pleasure and liberation in Mahaprabhu's name, instead of seeking Divine Love, the fifth goal of life or Panchama Purushartha that He really came to give.

Mahaprabhu said prithivite ache jata nagaradi gram / sarbatra prachar hoibe mor nam. My name will be spread in every town and village, everywhere in the world. This prediction has for all intents and purposes come true and His name has indeed spread to almost every corner of the globe, leaving hardly any place untouched. Even so, most senior devotees in the sampradaya are feeling frustration at the way the present Vaishnava organizations and their acharyas are behaving. They feel that instead of spreading Mahaprabhu's message, the followers of these groups are engaged in subtle politics against other devotees -- pure or impure -- in order to promote their own society and acharya.

When devotees begin to lose their taste for chanting the Holy-Name after long practice, they naturally want to know why. We have heard from our acharyas that when this happens, it is because from the starting point of our bhajan life, knowingly or unknowingly, we have been committing offences. When this happens, some of us remain active in our society and follow its acharya without any real hope or enthusiastic mood. Others leave their society with a negative attitude to Vaishnavas in general. Such former devotees are now engaged in some business or work in mundane places to make their livelihood. This is a synopsis of the current situation in the Vaishnava world.

Prabhupada Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur once said that we have not come into the association of Vaishnavas in order to become construction workers in brick, wood, and stone. If it is necessary to sell the bricks and other wealth in order to spread Mahaprabhu's message of Divine Love, we should do that. We should try to cultivate this attitude in the service of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur Prabhupada, Prabhupadas Rupa, Sanatana and Sri Jiva Goswami, and Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu!

Are we preaching just to increase the mundane wealth of our particular society? If so, what do we achieve? Are we really following the path of the previous spiritual masters? Or are we simply using their name and words to further our own ends of increasing mundane wealth? Is this why Prabhupadas Rupa, Sanatana, and Sri Jiva Goswami set the example of building glorious temples for their Deities, while they themselves spent the rest of their lives under trees, writing books?

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has sung in one of his kirtans (Kalyana-kalpa-taru) as follows:

mukhe bolo prem prem bastuta tyajiya hem shunya granthi anchale bandhan

We are repeatedly speaking and preaching about Divine Love to others, but actually we are far from it. We have lost this diamond by our present activity. Now we have nothing, an absolutely empty pot in the name of full divine pot. At another place in same kirtan, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote as follows:

akaitaba krishna prem jena suvimala hem ei phal nriloke durlabh kaitabe vanchana matra hou age jogya patra tabe prem haibe sulabh

Divine Love is like a rare piece of bright gold or diamond. When we are absolutely free from hypocritical activities and surrender absolutely to His service, then we will be qualified to get this Divine Love. Actually the diamond of Krishna Prema is very rare on this planet. Rather than taking shelter of hypocrisy to deceive others, we should try to become worthy to receive Divine Love, for though Prema is very rare, it comes very easily to those who have attained eligibility by ridding their hearts of hypocrisy and the desire to deceive others. If we examine the essence of the above quote, we see that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur is explaining that what we are nowadays calling Prema (Divine Love) is actually fakery or deceit. My beloved Spiritual Master, His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami Maharaj, explained in one of his discourses that the first symptom of feeling separation is tears at the time of chanting the Holy Name. He himself would ask, Where are my tears? Tears don't come easily to me, even if I put hot peppers in my eyes!

Srila Gurudeva expressed himself in this humble manner just to teach us a lesson, for I often saw him in the middle of the night, secretly crying and lamenting to someone out of separation from Krishna's service. What is the present condition of our hearts regarding the feeling of separation for Krishna? How can we pretend to have Divine Love (Prem) as long as we maintain selfish goals and are more and more dedicated to achieving them?

According to Srila Narottam Das Thakur, apana bhajana katha na kahiya jatha tatha, which means we should not show or discuss our feelings of separation to anyone and everyone. We should keep them secret so that they can grow and develop. Nowadays, we are showing off, broadcasting our so-called mood of separation and our secret relation with Krishna to neophyte people in order to attract them to our camp. Furthermore, we are discussing very intimate topics of Radha-Krishna's conjugal pastimes to those neophyte devotees, just to show off that we have full knowledge of Vaishnava siddhanta. But look at Mahaprabhu's example: He discussed such matters in a very intimate place, the Gambhira in Jagannath Puri, where He lived for eighteen years along with Swarupa Damodar Prabhu and Ray Ramananda Prabhu, His most intimate associates. Are we really following the above instructions of Narottam Das Thakur and the example given by Mahaprabhu?

Nowadays, though we belong to the same sampradaya, we criticize each other in order to steal devotees from other camps to make our own bigger, so we can show off our power. And we do it all in the name of preaching abroad! Is this the type of preaching Mahaprabhu showed? We all know what His standards of behavior were. When He converted Prakashananda Saraswati, the leader of the impersonalist camp, He did not do so in a challenging mood or in order to prove Himself on the field of competition. Though Prakashananda was an impersonalist, Mahaprabhu still displayed the Vaishnava qualities of humility and politeness to him.

Once upon a time, when Mahaprabhu was visiting Kashi, Sripad Tapan Mishra and Chandrashekhar Acharya requested Him with great feeling to establish pure devotion in their town, because as devotees they were tired of constantly being insulted by the impersonalists. At that time, Mahaprabhu was invited to a Brahmin's house where the impersonalists congregrated. The leader of the Mayavadis, Prakashananda Saraswati, asked Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu why He did not associate with them. Mahaprabhu replied with humility, The instruction of my spiritual master is that foolish persons should only chant the Holy Name, instead of reading Vedanta, the essence of all scripture. I am fool number one according to my spiritual master's judgment, so how can I associate with all of you who are giving such learned discourses from the scripture? harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam / kalau nastyeva nastyeva nastyeva gatir anyatha

In this way Mahaprabhu tried to say that the essence of Veda and all Scriptures is Sri Holy Name. Then Mahaprabhu went on to make the following statement about Krishna Prema, quoted in Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita:

krishna vishayak prema-- parama purushartha jar age trina tulya chari purushartha panchama purushartha premanandamrita sindhu brahmadi-ananda jar nahe ek bindu

Among the five purushartha, Prema is the best, better than other four purusharthas: religion, wealth, sense pleasures and liberation. Next to the fifth purushartha, these four goals of life are valueless, like a piece of grass. The fifth purushartha, Krishna Prema, is like an ocean of blissful nectarean love. Even Lord Brahma, the son of God and creator of the universe, has not tasted a drop of it.

Then, with proper Vaishnava etiquette, Mahaprabhu defeated Shankararachaya's commentary and established His own siddhanta: God is opulence, full-bliss, eternity, and consciousness. After that, Prakashananda, the Mayavadi sannyasi, and his group of followers surrendered to Mahaprabhu's lotus feet. The point is that Mahaprabhu did not display a competitive or aggressive challenging mood, even to these opponents. Contrast this with our attitude nowadays, when we behave in this manner even with those who are in our own same sampradaya, what to speak of the Mayavadis.

Again, in Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna shows us that the challenging and competitive spirit are not included in devotion through the story of Arjuna, Ugrasena Maharaj and a pious Brahmin whose children had died as soon as they took birth.

Once, there was a Brahmin in Maharaj Ugrasena's kingdom, whose wife had given birth to nine baby sons. Unfortunately, every time she gave birth, her children would die for no apparent reason. The father of these babies widely accused the king, Maharaj Ugrasena, of responsibility for their death. Each year, the Brahmin would come to the King's palace, carrying his dead child, and shout curses at Maharaj Ugrasena, blaming him for the death of his child. The king himself remained silent, showing tolerance as an acharya.

After the ninth such death, Arjuna, the third Pandava happened to be present and heard the Brahmin hurling invective at the king. He asked him what was his complaint. The Brahmin blamed the death of all his children on the sinful activities of the king. Arjuna was astonished to hear the Brahmin's accusation, but was convinced that what he said was true. Arjuna was filled with false pride and the desire to defeat Maharaj Ugrasena and so told the Brahmin that the next time his wife was ready to give birth, he should call him. He would go and protect the child from the forces of death.

The pious Brahmin felt it was strange that Arjuna was claiming he could succeed where Vasudeva, Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha had all failed. How can you save my children? he asked. Arjuna immediately replied, I am Arjuna and I carry the Gandiva bow. I don't care for all these others. I will show you my power when your wife gives birth.

The Brahmin still had doubts, but Arjuna very proudly gave his promise that if he was not able to save the Brahmin's next child, he would enter the fire and destroy his body.

When the time came, the Brahmin remembered Arjuna's promise and sent for him. Arjuna went to his house equipped with his bow and other weapons. On arriving, he chanted a few mantras to protect the area and sat down in front of the Brahmin's wife to watch over her.

Unfortunately, Krishna's beloved friend Arjuna forgot Krishna out of pride on that day. When he chanted the mantra for protection, he did achaman for purification of his body and mind using the mantra namah Shivaya instead of the Krishna Mantra. Arjuna sat in front of Brahmin's wife with his fighting-bow, awaiting the messenger of death, but as soon as she gave birth, her child died, as had happened every time previously. Arjuna was astonished to see the child die right in front of him.

He set off to find out where the child had gone after death. He searched in so many places without finding the child. Finally, he had to admit his failure and arranged to keep his promise by entering a fire to end his life. Lord Krishna immediately appeared and spoke to Arjuna, Please come with me and I will show you where that Brahmin's children have gone. Then both went to Mahakalpur and Krishna ordered Karanodashayi Vishnu to give back the Brahmin his ten children.

The teaching to be taken from the above story in the Srimad Bhagavatam is that when we commit offences to the acharya, Vaishnavas and God, our whole devotional practice is nipped in the bud. Favoring the words of the Brahmin, Arjuna, committed offence to Maharaj Ugrasena, who was an acharya. Due to that offence, he forgot Vasudeva, Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, i.e., his relation with God. Thus when the Brahmin told Arjuna that Vasudeva, Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha had failed to save his children, Arjuna pretended to be more powerful than them. With his proud answer to the Brahmin, Arjuna committed an offence to the lotus feet of the Chaturvyuha (God). Therefore at the time of achaman, he uttered namah Shivaya instead of a Krishna mantra. In this way, there are so many examples in the scriptures showing that competitiveness and the challenging mood destroy pure devotion.

From the above facts, it is shown that when we commit offences towards the acharyas and Vaishnavas, we are pulled away from the lotus feet of God. Though Arjuna was Krishna's dearest devotee, his offence caused him to take on a competing mood and to challenge Maharaj Ugrasena and Vasudeva, Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

Please, readers, do not take any offence from me, I am simply expressing my heartfelt worries. Kindly bless me that I may follow the proper devotional path. I wish to continue writing more on this topic, giving more evidence from other scriptures.

Part II

It is sad to say that in our contemporary Gaudiya Vaishnava community, many of us are Vaishnavas in name only. We make a show of devotion, but what we are calling devotion is in fact the observance of few rules of moral behavior at best. In essence, it is thus not devotion at all. Moreover, in the name of pure devotion, we are also abusing the ideal of yukta vairagya, renunciation with proper adjustment to time, place and circumstances. We are not supposed to be followers of Ekalavya, who was rejected by even his own guru Dronacharya. We must take stock of our true standing on the bhakti marga? Service to the spiritual master is based on surrender, and not on just following a few moral codes. Service to the guru means following the pure devotional path according to his instructions. It goes beyond morality. Krishna proved this when He instructed Arjuna to kill his own kinsmen.

Krishna told Arjuna: "Do it! You will not incur any sin. I shall protect you." It was not "moral" to kill Dronacharya, Bhishma and all the other great and pious heroes fighting for the Kauravas, but Arjuna surrendered to Krishna, his guru. He thus surpassed the mundane principles of morality, which involve following rules and regulations to keep peace and order in human society. We must not neglect the instructions of our diksha guru. For, if we are not surrendered, we cannot actually render any true service to Krishna. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada gave us the proper conception of yukta vairagya for our present times. We should try to understand it properly if we are to serve the cause of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Surrender to Krishna gives life in the Bhagavad-Gita (18.66), Sri Krishna told Arjuna, "Abandon all varieties of religion (sarva-dharmAn) and take exclusive shelter of Me. I shall deliver you from the reactions of your sinful activities. Do not fear." Sarva-dharmAn indicates "all kinds of religious attitudes." This means that we must without hesitation reject all other methods of spiritual advancement other than surrender. Srila Rupa Goswami also recommends that we cultivate devotion free from personal interests (anyabhilanita-cunyam) and the tendencies toward karma and jnana (jnAna-karmAdy-anAvRtam). Surrender is the primary characteristic of bhakti. It cannot be found anywhere else. Other attempts to reach the Absolute by adopting the path of karma yoga or jnana yoga, for example, are destined to disappoint us. Sharanagati, or surrender to Krishna, is the name Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur gave to a collection of wonderful songs of his own composition. In the introductory song of that book, Bhaktivinoda writes,

zrI kRSNa caitanya prabhu jIve dayA kari sva-parSada svIya dhAma saha avatari atyanta durlabha prema karibAre dAna zikhAya zaraNAgati bhakatera prANa

Out of compassion for the fallen souls, Sri Krishna Chaitanya came to this world with His personal associates and divine abode to teach sharanagati, surrender to Krishna, and to freely distribute ecstatic love (prema) for God, which is ordinarily very difficult to obtain. This sharanagati is the very life (prana) of the true devotee." This song clearly says that without surrender, a devotee is without life (prana). Surrender to guru, Vaishnavas and Krishna will give us back our life. We have nothing to lose. This is the benefit of the bhakti process. On the other hand, if a person has a good character, but no devotion, he can be considered a moralist at best. The soul gives life to the body, which is otherwise dead. Similarly, a life of so-called devotion without surrender is like a useless corpse. It is impossible to achieve divine love (prema) without surrender. In this regard, we can learn a good lesson from the famous story of Ekalavya.

The story of Ekalavya

Once, when Arjuna, the celebrated Pandava, was still a boy, he, his brothers and his cousins studied the military sciences from the great master Dronacharya. At that time, Ekalavya, the son of Hiranyadhanu, the king of an aboriginal tribe, was moved by his faith to approach Dronacharya and request him for instruction in archery. Dronacharya refused to teach his prospective disciple because he wanted to test his faith, but Ekalavya was stubbornly determined to learn archery from the master. So unbeknownst to Drona, Ekalavya went to the forest and fashioned an image of him out of clay. He then began to practice archery in front of this image all day long. Concentrating his mind on Dronacharya in this way, Ekalavya gradually became the most expert archer in the world, more skilful than even Arjuna. Arjuna was not only Krishna's intimate friend, but also Dronacharya's dearest disciple. The master had once promised him, "No one will ever excel you in this art. You will become the best archer on this earth and so will you remain, I promise you!" One day, the Kauravas and the Pandavas went together for a walk in the forest when they suddenly saw something quite astonishing. Lying peacefully on the ground was a dog whose mouth had been sewn closed by seven arrows. The boys thought that one who could perform such extraordinary feat was undoubtedly the best archer in the world. They also thought that perhaps he was even better than Arjuna. As they continued to penetrate deeper into the dense forest, they came across an unknown archer tirelessly practicing his marksmanship. It was he who had shot the arrows at the dog because the animal had been barking and disturbing his concentration. When the boys returned to the palace, they related the incident to Dronacharya in detail. Arjuna humbly reminded Dronacharya of his promise that no one would ever excel him in archery. Dronacharya, who was very surprised to hear of the existence of such an expert bowman, went to the forest with Arjuna to meet him. When they reached Ekalavya's cottage, they saw him sitting down before the clay image of Dronacharya and shooting arrows with great expertise. As soon as Ekalavya saw them, he paid them their due respects, honoring Dronacharya as his master. When Dronacharya heard that Ekalavya considered him to be his guru, he requested dakshina from him. Dakshina is the donation or gift given to a priest or one's own guru. In ancient times, masters used to demand their due dakshina from their disciples at the time of initiation. Ekalavya stood with folded palms in front of Dronacharya, and told his master that he was ready to do whatever he ordered. Dronacharya then demanded that Ekalavya give him the thumb of his right hand. Though the loss of the thumb meant that he would no longer be able to shoot, Ekalavya cut it off without hesitation.

A dangerous example

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur explains that Krishna, bhakti and the bhakta partake of the same absolute nature. A devotee enjoys a special position because the Lord is favorably inclined to him. On the other hand, a non-devotee may have many good qualities and moral virtues according to the standards of worldly life, but all these assets have no value in the eyes of the Lord. Any one who thinks that morality surpasses bhakti will fail to catch this subtle point. Though Ekalavya had initially been rejected by Dronacharya, he was moved by his own faith to make an image of clay of his master. He had then achieved perfection in archery by practising in front of that image. This seems to be an example of devotion to the master. Indeed, it seems that Ekalavya was completely surrendered to his guru. Otherwise, how could he cut away his thumb without thinking twice? However, it is my humble opinion that a devotee on the path of surrender must dismiss the example of Ekalavya. When Dronacharya refused to instruct Ekalavya in archery, he had good reasons for not doing so. Ekalavya should have waited for his guru's mercy, but he did not. Instead he concocted his own way of achieving his mercy by moulding the image of clay and training in front of it. In fact, the mind of Ekalavya was tainted by the desire to become a famous, skilful archer. He wanted to surpass Arjuna's dexterity in bowmanship. This was not at all a good attitude, especially if we consider Arjuna's status as a pure devotee of the Lord. The desire to be "bigger" or more famous than another Vaishnava is not devotion at all. This was also against the desire of Dronacharya. Therefore, Ekalavya committed guru aparadh by neglecting Dronacharya and Vaishnava aparadh by being envious of Arjuna. This is perhaps the reason why later on Ekalavya was killed by Krishna and merged into His brahmajyoti effulgence. This is the way Krishna deals with the demons. They achieve sayujya mukti, the liberation that is always despised by devotees. Ekalavya's dealings with Dronacharya were also tainted with impersonalism. He really did not take the instructions of his guru to heart. Instead of following the directions of the living guru, he used his guru's clay image as a means to achieving his own cherished ambition. Ekalavya tried to draw his guru's attention to himself instead of surrendering to his guru. This shows that his devotion was artificial. In other words, he outwardly showed the behavior of a disciple, but his heart was consumed by egotism. Similarly, one should not have the outward dress of a Vaishnava while harboring the attitude of a mundaner. Penances without the sanction of the guru and the Vaishnavas do not fall in the category of bhakti. Materialistic people with a demoniac mentality also perform many austerities, but their aim is to get material benefit and enjoy sense gratification. Although Ekalavya was not interested in gross sensual pleasure, his austerities had not been sanctioned by any senior authority. Thus the expert Dronacharya was able to detect that his devotion was mere pretense. For these reasons, therefore, Ekalavya's example is a dangerous one, particularly for beginners on the path of bhakti.

Remove Ekalavya from our hearts

We are living in difficult times. We have to face many problems even in the association of other Vaishnavas. Senior members of our Gaudiya Vaishnava community are somewhat puzzled by the nature of these problems. They too confess that they have no idea of how to bring about positive solutions. The subject matter is very intricate and requires more analysis. What must be done? It is true that if we stick to the instructions of our guru, Krishna will remove the ghost of Ekalavya from our mind. We must surrender and if we are sincere, the Lord will accept our service. We should not be Vaishnavas in name and dress only. We should stop thinking and acting like Ekalavya. We have to become saragrahi Vaishnavas, not just worshipers of the form like Ekalavya. In the words of Srila Sridhar Maharaj we have to dive deep into reality. Lochan Das Thakur stated that we are just chewing a piece of dry wood instead of sugarcane.

ikhu daNDa bhAvi kATha cunili man kemone paibi meoha

How will we taste the sweetness of the sugarcane juice by sucking on a piece of dry wood? Sugarcane looks like dry wood but is sweet and tasty. Vaishnavas in name or dress may put on many programs, but are not able to inspire pure devotion in others. Vaishnavas who are externally oriented are always busy building more temples and expanding their religious organizations. Unfortunately, they have little or no time to cultivate devotional practices such as hearing and chanting in the association of other devotees or counselling neophytes in how to strengthen their faith. If we chew the dry wood of false surrender, how can we taste the sweetness of bhakti? Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur explained the symptoms of surrender in Sharanagati:

dainya, Atma-nivedana, goptRtve varaNa avazya rAkhibe kRSNa vizvAsa pAlana bhakti-anukUla mAtra kAryera svIkAra bhakti-pratikUla-bhAva varjanAngIkAra

"The ways of sharanagati are humility, dedication of the self, acceptance of the Lord as one's only maintainer, faith that Krishna will surely protect, execution of only those acts favorable to pure devotion and renunciation of conduct averse to pure devotion."

SaD-anga zaraNAgati haibe jAMhAra tAMhAra prArthanA zune zrI-nanda-kumAra

"The youthful son of Nanda Maharaj, Sri Krishna, hears the prayers of anyone who takes shelter of Him by this six-fold practice."

Unless we surrender to Krishna, He will not accept any prayer from us. How then will He accept any service? This is indeed very sad. By nature, we are the eternal servants of Krishna, but as we lack surrender, sincerity, or both, we are unable to serve Him. The sign of sincerity is accepting that Krishna comes to us through our guru. All scriptures confirm this. My spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami Maharaj, told me that so-called freedom is detrimental on the spiritual path. We should not detach ourselves from the desire of guru and Vaishnavas as Ekalavya did. We should not try to establish moral codes other than surrender to the will of guru and Krishna. We should not feel envious of others' opulence as Ekalavya did with Arjuna. The example of pretentious devotion set by Ekalavya can infect the heart of any aspirant on the spiritual path. Devotion to guru and Krishna should never be performed with an aim to achieving material benefits. Therefore, we have to keep very alert and remove the weeds of unwanted desires as soon as they sprout.

In conclusion, I request the readers of this piece with folded palms to excuse all my offences and bless me so that I may become a true disciple of my Gurudeva and a true servant of all the Vaishnavas.

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Page last modified on April 06, 2008, at 10:53 PM