The Purity of Devotional Service
All of the previous instructions imparted by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī in his broad statements can be summarized thus: As long as one is materially inclined or desirous of merging into the spiritual effulgence, one cannot enter into the realm of pure devotional service. Next, Rūpa Gosvāmī states that devotional service is transcendental to all material considerations and that it is not limited to any particular country, class, society or circumstance. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, devotional service is transcendental and has no cause. Devotional service is executed without any hope for gain, and it cannot be checked by any material circumstances. It is open for all, without any distinction, and it is the constitutional occupation of the living entities.
In the Middle Ages, after the disappearance of Lord Caitanya’s great associate Lord Nityānanda, a class of priestly persons claimed to be the descendants of Nityānanda, calling themselves the gosvāmī caste. They further claimed that the practice and spreading of devotional service belonged only to their particular class, which was known as Nityānanda-vaṁśa. In this way, they exercised their artificial power for some time, until Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, the powerful ācārya of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya, completely smashed their idea. There was a great hard struggle for some time, but it has turned out successfully, and it is now correctly and practically established that devotional service is not restricted to a particular class of men. Besides that, anyone who is engaged in devotional service is already at the status of being a high-class brāhmaṇa. So Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s struggle for this movement has come out successful.
It is on the basis of his position that anyone can now become a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava from any part of the world or any part of the universe. Anyone who is a pure Vaiṣṇava is situated transcendentally, and therefore the highest qualification in the material world, namely, to be in the mode of goodness, has already been achieved by such a person. Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in the Western world is based on the above-mentioned proposition of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Prabhupāda, our spiritual master. On his authority, we are claiming members from all sections of the Western countries. The so-called brāhmaṇas claim that one who is not born into a brāhmaṇa family cannot receive the sacred thread and cannot become a high-grade Vaiṣṇava. But we do not accept such a theory because it is not supported by Rūpa Gosvāmī or by the strength of the various scriptures.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī specifically mentions herein that every man has the birthright to accept devotional service and to become Kṛṣṇa conscious. He has given many evidences from many scriptures, and he has especially quoted one passage from Padma Purāṇa, wherein the sage Vasiṣṭha tells King Dilīpa, “My dear King, everyone has the right to execute devotional service, just as he has the right to take early bath in the month of Māgha [December-January].” There is more evidence in the Skanda Purāṇa, in the Kāśī-khaṇḍa portion, where it is said, “In the country known as Mayūradhvaja, the lower-caste people, who are considered less than śūdras, are also initiated in the Vaiṣṇava cult of devotional service. And when they are properly dressed, with tilaka on their bodies and beads in their hands and on their necks, they appear to be coming from Vaikuṇṭha. In fact, they look so very beautiful that immediately they surpass the ordinary brāhmaṇas.”
Thus a Vaiṣṇava automatically becomes a brāhmaṇa. This idea is also supported by Sanātana Gosvāmī in his book Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, which is the Vaiṣṇava guide. Therein he has clearly stated that any person who is properly initiated into the Vaiṣṇava cult certainly becomes a brāhmaṇa, as much as the metal known as kaṁsa (bell metal) is turned into gold by the mixture of mercury. A bona fide spiritual master, under the guidance of authorities, can turn anyone to the Vaiṣṇava cult so that naturally he may come to the topmost position of a brāhmaṇa.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī warns, however, that if a person is properly initiated by a bona fide spiritual master, he should not think that simply by the acceptance of such initiation his business is then finished. One still has to follow the rules and regulations very carefully. If after accepting the spiritual master and being initiated one does not follow the rules and regulations of devotional service, then he is again fallen. One must be very vigilant to remember that he is a part and parcel of the transcendental body of Kṛṣṇa, and that it is his duty as part and parcel to give service to the whole, or Kṛṣṇa. If we do not render service to Kṛṣṇa then again we fall down. In other words, simply becoming initiated does not elevate one to the position of a high-class brāhmaṇa. One also has to discharge the duties and follow the regulative principles very rigidly.
Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī also says that if one is regularly discharging devotional service, there will be no question of a falldown. But even if circumstantially there is some falldown, the Vaiṣṇava need have nothing to do with the prāyaścitta, the ritualistic ceremony for purification. If someone falls down from the principles of devotional service, he need not take to the prāyaścitta performances for reformation. He simply has to execute the rules and regulations for discharging devotional service, and this is sufficient for his reinstatement. This is the mystery of the Vaiṣṇava (devotional) cult.
Practically there are three processes for elevating one to the platform of spiritual consciousness. These processes are called karma, jñāna and bhakti. Ritualistic performances are in the field of karma. Speculative processes are in the field of jñāna. One who has taken to bhakti, the devotional service of the Lord, need have nothing to do with karma or jñāna. It has been already explained that pure devotional service is without any tinge of karma or jñāna. Bhakti should have no tinge of philosophical speculation or ritualistic performances.
In this connection Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī gives evidence from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Eleventh Canto, twenty-first chapter, verse 2, in which Lord Kṛṣṇa says to Uddhava, “The distinction between qualification and disqualification may be made in this way: persons who are already elevated in discharging devotional service will never again take shelter of the processes of fruitive activity or philosophical speculation. If one sticks to devotional service and is conducted by regulative principles given by the authorities and ācāryas, that is the best qualification.”
This statement is supported in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, First Canto, fifth chapter, verse 17, wherein Śrī Nārada Muni advises Vyāsadeva thus: “Even if one does not execute his specific occupational duty but immediately takes direct shelter of the lotus feet of Hari [Kṛṣṇa], there will be no fault on his part, and in all circumstances his position is secure. Even if, by some bad association, he falls down while executing devotional service, or if he doesn’t finish the complete course of devotional service and dies untimely, still he is not at a loss. A person who is simply discharging his occupational duty in varṇa and āśrama, however, with no Kṛṣṇa consciousness, practically does not gain the true benefit of human life.” The purport is that all conditioned souls who are engaged very frantically in activities for sense gratification, without knowing that this process will never help them get out of material contamination, are awarded only with repeated births and deaths.
In the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is clearly stated by Ṛṣabhadeva to His sons, “Persons engaged in fruitive activities are repeatedly accepting birth and death, and until they develop a loving feeling for Vāsudeva, there will be no question of getting out from these stringent laws of material nature.” As such, any person who is very seriously engaged in his occupational duties in the varṇas and āśramas, and who does not develop love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vāsudeva, should be understood to be simply spoiling his human form of life.
This is confirmed also in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, eleventh chapter, verse 32, in which the Lord says to Uddhava, “My dear Uddhava, any person who takes shelter of Me in complete surrender and follows My instructions, giving up all occupational duties, is to be considered the first-class man.” In this statement of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is understood that people who are generally attracted to philanthropic, ethical, moral, altruistic, political and social welfare activities may be considered nice men only in the calculation of the material world. From Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and other authentic Vedic scriptures we learn further that if a person simply acts in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and discharges devotional service, he is considered to be far, far better situated than all of those persons engaged in philanthropic, ethical, moral, altruistic and social welfare activities.
The same thing is still more emphatically confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Eleventh Canto, fifth chapter, verse 41, in which Karabhājana Muni addresses Mahārāja Nimi as follows: “My dear King, if someone gives up his occupational duties as they are prescribed for the different varṇas and āśramas, but takes complete shelter, surrendering himself unto the lotus feet of the Lord, such a person is no more a debtor, nor has he any obligation to perform the different kinds of activities we render to the great sages, ancestors, living entities and family and society members. Nor has he any need to bother executing the five kinds of yajñās [sacrifices] for becoming free from sinful contamination. Simply by discharging devotional service, he is freed from all kinds of obligations.” The purport is that as soon as a man takes his birth he is immediately indebted to so many sources. He is indebted to the great sages because he profits by reading their authoritative scriptures and books. For example, we take advantage of the books written by Vyāsadeva. Vyāsadeva has left for us all the Vedas. Before Vyāsadeva’s writing, the Vedic literature was simply heard and the disciples would learn the mantras quickly by hearing and not by reading. Later on, Vyāsadeva thought it wise to write down the Vedas, because in this age people are short-memoried and unable to remember all the instructions given by the spiritual master. Therefore, he left all the Vedic knowledge in the form of books, such as the Purāṇas, Vedānta, Mahābhārata and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
There are many other sages, like Śaṅkarācārya, Gautama Muni and Nārada Muni, to whom we are indebted because we take advantage of their knowledge. Similarly, we are obliged to our forefathers because we take our birth in a particular family, where we take all advantages and inherit property. Therefore, we are indebted to the forefathers and have to offer them piṇḍa (prasāda) after they are dead. Similarly, to the people in general we are also indebted, as well as to our relatives, friends and even animals such as cows and dogs who render us so much service.
In this way, we are indebted to the demigods, to the forefathers, to the sages, to the animals and to society in general. It is our duty to repay them all by proper discharge of service. But by the one stroke of devotional service, if someone gives up all obligations and simply surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is no longer a debtor nor obliged to any other source of benefit.
In Bhagavad-gītā also the Lord says, “Give up all your occupations and just become surrendered unto Me. I give you assurance that I shall give you protection from all sinful reactions.” One may think that because he is surrendering unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead he will not be able to perform all of his other obligations. But the Lord says repeatedly, “Don’t hesitate. Don’t consider that because you are giving up all other engagements there will be some flaw in your life. Don’t think like that. I will give you all protection.” That is the assurance of Lord Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā.
There is additional evidence in the Agastya-saṁhitā: “As the regulative principles of scripture are not required by a liberated person, so the ritualistic principles indicated in the Vedic supplements are also not required for a person duly engaged in the service of Lord Rāmacandra.” In other words, the devotees of Lord Rāmacandra, or Kṛṣṇa, are already liberated persons and are not required to follow all the regulative principles mentioned in the ritualistic portions of the Vedic literature.
Similarly, in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, fifth chapter, verse 42, Karabhājana Muni addresses King Nimi and says, “My dear King, a person who has given up the worship of the demigods and has completely concentrated his energy in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead has become very, very dear to the Lord. As such, if by chance or mistake he does something that is forbidden, there is no need for him to perform any purificatory ceremonies. Because the Lord is situated within his heart, He takes compassion for the devotee’s accidental mistake and corrects him from within.” It is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā in many places that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, takes a special interest in His devotees and declares emphatically that nothing can cause His devotees to fall down. He is always protecting them.