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The ten offenses in chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra must be given up to achieve success in the chanting process. They are described in the Padma Purana, Brahma Khanda 25.15-18:
The first namaparadha is described as follows:
satam ninda namnah paramam aparadham vitanute;
yatah khyatim yatam katham u sahate tad-vigarham.
“To blaspheme the great saintly persons who are engaged in preaching the glories of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is the worst offense at the lotus feet of the holy name. One should not criticize a preacher of the glories of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. If one does so, he is an offender. The Nama-prabhu, who is identical with Krishna, will never tolerate such blasphemous activities, even from one who passes as a great devotee.
THE GREATEST OFFENSE IN CHANTING
Vaishnava aparadha includes the actions of the body, mind, words and heart. To not feel joyful upon seeing a Vaishnava is an offense arising from a heart immersed in envious feelings. The Skanda Purana describes six different types of Vaishnava aparadha:
hanti nindati vai dveshthi vaishnavan-nabhi-nandati;
krudhyate yati no harsham darshane patanani shat.
1) One who kills a devotee.
2) One who blasphemes devotees.
3) One who is envious of devotees.
4) One who fails to offer obeisances to Vaishnavas upon seeing them.
5) One who becomes angry with a Vaishnava.
6) One who does not become joyful upon seeing a Vaishnava. These six classes of foolish men who blaspheme Vaishnavas go to, the worst kind of hell along with generations of their ancestors.
Mother Shachi’s Offense
“Lord Chaitanya’s brother, Visvarupa, always stayed with Advaita Acarya tasting the mellows of pure devotion. After some days, Visvarupa accepted sannyasa and left home. Although she did not say anything, Saci was grief-stricken and felt that Advaita had made her son leave. When Lord Chaitanya also started spending time with Advaita, Saci became unhappy and told everyone, That Vaishnava is not Advaita, but Dvaita-maya (full of duplicity), for he has driven one son away and now he will do it again.
“Although Lord Chaitanya was distributing ecstatic krishna-prema to all His devotees, He refused to give it to His own mother Saci because of her offense against Advaita. Following Gaura’s advice, Saci became free from her Vaishnava aparadha when she took the dust from Advaita’s feet. On the pretext of rebuking His mother, Lord Chaitanya, who is the shiksa-guru of all, taught everyone to carefully avoid Vaishnava aparadha.
“A person who calls one Vaishnava ‘a big Vaishnava’ and another Vaishnava a ‘little Vaishnava’ may be peaceful and happy for now, but for how long will he remain peaceful and happy? One should avoid a person who offends Vaishnavas, even if that person is otherwise very qualified. A little association with an offender will make one fall down.
“From Brahma down to the grass, every living being is Lord Krishna’s energy. Therefore, all sastras declare, ‘Lord Krishna becomes very angry with anyone who blasphemes another living being.’ If a person studies the four Vedas and then blasphemes others, he will fall into hell and suffer birth after birth. The sin of blasphemy robs all intelligence, and fills the heart with suffering. Lord Chaitanya delivers everyone, except the sinners who blaspheme Vaishnavas.
“Lord Chaitanya said, ‘All the living entities in the numberless universes are My eternal servants. Therefore, any living entity who harms or offends another living entity will perish. If a sannyasi blasphemes an innocent person, the sannyasi will fall down and lose all his piety.’
“Then raising His golden arms, Lord Chaitanya declared to the entire world, ‘Renouncing criticism of others, everyone please chant Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare! I will personally deliver anyone who does not criticize others and who once chants “Krishna!” Hearing Lord Chaitanya speak thus, the devotees cheered “Jai! Jai! Jai!’”
The Needle and the Sieve
Shri Gaura Govinda Swami gave a brilliant description of the first offense:
“Bhakti-devi completely disappears by committing Vaishnava aparadha. Vaishnava aparadha means to blaspheme, find fault, criticize or speak ill of devotees. Generally, this is done out of fear and enviousness. Vaishnava aparadha takes place where there are fear and enviousness.
“When Vaishnava aparadha is committed the offender will become very angry with that Vaishnava. He’s afraid of that Vaishnava because he is a very powerful Vaishnava. Therefore, he thinks, ‘He’s making rapid advancement and I’m not making such advancement.’ He becomes afraid and envious of that Vaishnava.
“Fear comes and therefore he criticizes, finds fault, and speaks ill of that Vaishnava. He commits Vaishnava aparadha and becomes angry with that Vaishnava. It is only because of enviousness of that Vaishnava that this hatred and criticism arises. And therefore, he speaks ill of that Vaishnava and concocts stories. The sieve is full of a thousand holes and he’s criticizing the needle, ‘Hey needle, there is a hole in your back.’
“Are you perfect yourself? If you have some defects yourself, then why do you find fault with others? Sages say don’t see bad in others, but see the bad in yourself. If you have that nature or tendency to see bad, then see what bad is there in yourself. But see the good in others.
“If you find something good in some person, then just accept that. Think, ‘Yes, that is good in him. Let me accept that.’ Close your eyes on the bad things, and open your eyes to the good things. Paramhamsas never see anything bad. In their vision everything is related to Krishna. Speaking ill of others is a great anartha for the sadhaka who has come to the path of bhajana.” (Shri Guru Vandanam)
The Fault Lies Within
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said, “The best of all persons thinks himself to be less than all others. Why should a person be anxious to pry into the defects of others when he does not seek to scrutinize his own conduct? The acts and expressions of the Vaishnavas cannot be understood even by the wise. Let us not be misled by the apparent sight. Many a person has mistaken a pebble for a pearl; a snake for a rope; evil for good; by falling a victim to delusion by relying on apparent sight. When faults in others misguide and delude you, you should have patience, be introspective, and find the faults in yourself. Know that others cannot harm you unless you harm yourself.” (Shri Chaitanya’s Teachings)
Some people think if devotees commit forbidden acts, it is not offensive to criticize them, since it is simply stating the facts. In his commentary on Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Shridhara Swami says, nindanam dosha-kirtanam, “Whether it is true or not, narrating the faults of a sadhu constitutes blasphemy.” The Shrimad-Bhagavatam warns that hearing blasphemy of a devotee will send one to hell:
nindam bhagavatah shrinvams, tat-parasya janasya va;
tato no paiti yah so ’pi, yaty adhah sukrita-cyutah.
Anyone who fails to immediately leave the place where he hears criticism of the Supreme Lord or His faithful devotee will lose his piety and fall down to hell. (SB 10.74.40)
But shouldn’t a sadhu be corrected if he is really guilty? Rectification is the duty of the guru or other potent guardians, not the ordinary sadhaka. One will only incur an offense by engaging in faultfinding or discussing someone’s fault with others. In this regard, the Bible says, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
“Persons who do not blaspheme the Vaishnavas attain Lord Krishna. They attain pure love and devotion for the Supreme Lord’s lotus feet. The only thing obtained by blaspheming Vaishnavas is sin. Thus one should never blaspheme the Vaishnavas. Krishna easily delivers those who chant even once His name without blaspheming anyone.” (Cb. Madhya 9.244-5 )
First Offense: Rectification
“Offending Vaishnavas is the first and foremost offense. Although Jagai and Madhai committed every possible sin, they never committed the sin of blaspheming a Vaishnava. Harinama cintamani says one can nullify this offense by repenting bitterly, and falling at the feet of the offended devotee. One should sincerely beg forgiveness with tears in the eyes and regret in the heart. One should then declare himself a fallen wretch in need of the Vaishnava’s mercy. The kindly Vaishnava will surely absolve the offense.”
There are some quotes by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura which are as follows and which may be discussed in this regard:
Shrila Thakura Bhaktivinoda in Sajjana Toshani, Patrikara Uddesya:
“In the name of bhakti in many places people are engaged in illicit or anti-bhakti activities in the name of practicing bhakti. If does not expose those issues (cases) very clearly, then pure-bhakti will never be victorious or be established.”
Thakura Bhaktivinoda in his essay Bheka-dharana, Sajjana Toshani:
“One should compulsorily engage in endeavouring to trying to uplift the Vaishnava-dharma from the mud of contamination and trying to free it from all kinds of dauratmya (wrong ideas and practices).”
Thakura Bhaktivinoda in Vaishnava-ninda, Sajjana Toshani 5/5:
samuddeshya sahita je paradosera alocana, taha shastre nindita haya nai. samuddeshya-tina prakara; ye vyaktira papa laiya alocana kara jaya, tahate yadi tahara kalyana uddishta haya, tabe sei alocana shubha. jagatera mangala-sadhanera janya yadi papira papa alocana kara jaya,
tabe taha shubha karyera madhye ganita.
“The deliberation (alocana) on the faults of others with the right motive (samuddeshya) is not considered as criticism as per the scriptures. The right motive is any of these three kinds: If the deliberation is done on someone’s sinful or faulty activities with the motive of benefitting the person concerned then that kind of deliberation is auspicious. If deliberation on other’s faults is done to benefit or protect the interests of human society in general, then that kind of deliberation is counted amongst auspicious activities done for the benefit of everyone.”
shishya gurudevake vaishnava nirdesha karite prarthana karile gurudeva shishyera u jagatera mangala-kamanara asadacaridigake avaishnava baliya sadhu-vaishnavera nirdesha kariya thakena. sadhu vaishnavera pada ashraya karibara abhipraye asat dharmadhvaji lokake parityaga karate sadhu-ninda va vaishnavaparadha haya na.
“When the disciple prayerfully inquires from the spiritual master about the identity of true Vaishnavas, the guru may point out persons who are dressed as Vaishnavas but are not following the Vaishnava principles (sadacara), and name them as ‘avaishnavas’. This action on the part of the guru is for the benefit of the disciple (because if the disciple unknowingly associates with these pretenders then his spiritual life is ruined) and for the benefit of the whole world (when the pretenders are identified, the sanctity of the pure Vaishnava-dharma is protected in the world). The bonafide guru does not do so because of envy or malice towards any individual but he acts for the benefit of everyone. Thus it is not ‘sadhu-ninda’ (criticism of devotees) or ‘vaishnava-aparadha’ (offense to the devotees) to instruct others to reject the association of those pretenders (dharmadhvajis) who have taken shelter of the exalted position of Vaishnavas but are engaged in performing activities against the Vedic scriptures.”
Ofcourse as pointed out, such prerogative is not for everyone but for very advanced devotees who have accepted the role of guiding others in spiritual life and are themselves following strictly by their example. Such advanced devotees need to have a very clear conception of what is ‘rasa’ (pure mellow of bhakti) and what is ‘rasabhasa’ (perverted mellow of bhakti). If unqualified persons posing as advanced devotees take shelter of these statements of Shrila Bhaktivinoda and criticize others without becoming free from envy in their hearts, then their falldown is guaranteed. So one has to be very very cautious in this regard in view of the strong scriptural statements on Vaishnava-aparadha, which is compared to spiritual suicide.
From Hari Nama Chintamani
By Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Chapter 4 - Blasphemy of Vaishnavas
gadadhara-prana jaya jahnava-jivana
jaya sitanatha shrivasadi bhakta-gana
Shri Chaitanya said: "O Haridasa, now describe in detail the offenses to the holy name." Haridasa answered, "By Your power I will say what You make me say.
"Offenses to the holy name are analyzed as ten, according to scripture. One should be fearful of committing these offenses. They are as follows:
1. To blaspheme or criticize the Vaishnavas.
2. To consider that other living entities, such as the demigods, are independent of Krishna.
3. To disobey or disrespect the guru.
4. To disrespect scriptural authority.
5. To interpret the meaning of the name and to think that the glories of the name are imaginary.
6. To commit sinful activity on the strength of the holy name.
7. To give the name to the unfaithful who are not ready to accept.
8. To consider the holy name as karma and pious activity.
9. To be inattentive while chanting the holy name.
10. After having taken correct knowledge, being aware of the glories of the name, to remain attached to the material world of "I and mine," and ultimately reject the name."
These shall be described one after another. The first offense, known as sadhu-ninda, criticism of Vaishnavas, is very harmful for those wanting to progress in spiritual life. First let us define what sadhu or Vaishnava is. In the Eleventh Canto of the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna enumerates to Uddhava the characteristics of a sadhu:
dayalu-merciful,sahishnu-tolerant,sama-equal,droha-shunya-vrata-penance without injury to the body,satya-sara-truthfulness,
vishuddhatma-purified,parahita-rata-engaged in the welfare of mankind,kame akshubhita-buddhi-intelligence free from lust,danta-estrained,akincana-devoid of concept of ownership,mridu-gentle,shuci-clean,parimita-bhoji-regulated eating and other habits,
shantaman-peaceful,aniha-apathy to materialism,dhriiman-patience,sthira-steadiness,apramatta-attentive, alert,sugambhira-very grave,
vijita-shadguna-conquering over the six gunas, (hunger, thirst, lamentation, envy, old age and death),amani-not expecting honor from others,manada-giving respect to others,daksha-skillful,avancaka-nonhypocritical,jnani-knowledgeable of the scriptures.
By these characteristics one can know who is a sadhu. However, here there are two types of characteristics: principal and marginal. The principal characteristic is exclusive surrender to Krishna, while all others are dependent upon it. By some good fortune one may get the association of Vaishnavas, and then attain a taste for the name, chant the name and take shelter of Krishna's lotus feet. This becomes the chief characteristic, and by continuing to chant the name, all the other characteristics make their appearance. Therefore they are called marginal or accompanying. Though secondary to the principal characteristic, they will certainly appear in the body of a true Vaishnava or sadhu, as an effect of proper chanting of the holy name.
On the other hand, the status of grihastha, brahmacari, vanaprastha and sannyasi, shudra, vaishya, kshatriya and brahmana of the varnashrama system, and their respective habits and qualities, are external distinctions which in no way determine who is a sadhu. The chief characteristic of a sadhu is his complete surrender to Krishna, which is not dependent on a certain varna or ashrama.
Through the example of Raghunatha dasa, Shri Chaitanya taught how the grihastha Vaishnava should act. The married man should enter household life with a mind steadily fixed on service to Krishna, not enamored by sense gratification, and in this way the householder can gradually cross the ocean of material existence. Instead of playing as a false renunciate (markata vairagi), enjoying with the senses in the cloth of a sannyasi, it is better to take only those things necessary for survival in the material world, while cultivating nonattachment. One should always be internally fixed on Krishna, though externally one may act according to one's social custom in varna and ashrama. Krishna quickly delivers such grihastha Vaishnavas.
When Raghunatha dasa gave up household life, the Lord gave him instruction on the life of renunciation:
"One should neither listen to materialistic conversations, nor speak materialistic topics to others. One should not eat fancy food, or wear fancy clothing. One should always chant the holy name, respecting all, without expecting honor, and meditate on eternal service to Radha and Krishna in Vraja within one's mind."
"The principal characteristic is one, namely, surrender to Krishna's name, which will prevail in all sadhus, no matter what varna or ashrama, grihastha or sannyasi. However, according to ashrama or varna, the secondary characteristics will differ to some degree. And even if there appears some bad element or fault in a person, if he has the chief characteristic, surrender to Krishna, he must be considered a sadhu, and to be respected and served by all. This is Krishna's statement in Bhagavad-gita.
"When one has developed a taste for chanting the pure name, it is said that chanting just one time will destroy the influence of all past sins. Some remnants of those sins may still remain, but they will completely vanish by the influence of the holy name. Since these traces of sin will quickly go, that person is known as the most righteous person. Of course, if the materialist sees those traces of sin in a Vaishnava sadhu, he may consider that the sadhu is just like a materialistic sinner. If he should criticize the sadhu because the sadhu has a trace of sin coming from previous sinful activity, he is committing sadhu-ninda. He is to be considered a rascal because of his fault of criticizing a Vaishnava; and by this nama-aparadha (offense unto one who has surrender to the name) he falls directly under the wrath of Krishna.
"It is concluded that one who is solely devoted to Krishna and sings His name is known as a sadhu. Other than the devotees of Krishna, no one else is considered to be a sadhu. One who considers himself a sadhu is filled with material pride. But one who thinks himself to be the lowest rascal, humbly takes shelter of Krishna and sings Krishna's name, is the real sadhu. Knowing himself to be less than a blade of grass, considering himself like a tree of tolerance, not expecting honor for himself and giving honor to all other living entities, he chants the name and attains attraction for Krishna.
"If a person of the above qualities chants the holy name even once, he is considered a Vaishnava, and should be respected. The Vaishnava is the friend and spiritual leader of the universe; he is an ocean of mercy to all living entities. Whoever criticizes such a Vaishnava goes to hell birth after birth; for there is no path for real liberation other than bhakti, and bhakti is obtained only by the mercy of the Vaishnavas.
"In the pure Vaishnava resides Krishna's energies of bhakti, hladini and samvit. Thus by contacting a Vaishnava one can also receive Krishna bhakti. For this reason also, the food remnants, the foot water and the foot dust from the pure Vaishnavas are three powerful articles for creating bhakti. If one stays near a pure Vaishnava for some time, one can receive the bhakti energy flowing from his body. If one can bind that energy within one's heart, after having developed strong faith, bhakti will develop and one's body will begin to tremble in ecstasy. Thus, by living close to a Vaishnava, soon devotion will appear in one's heart. First, such a person will begin chanting the holy name, and then, by the power of the name, he will receive all good qualities. This is the particular power of the uttama adhikari.
"A Vaishnava may be criticized on four counts: his caste by birth, previous sins or faults in this life, an unpremeditated accidental act of sin, and present traces of previous sinful activity. Though all these conditions may be present in a Vaishnava, they are insubstantial grounds for criticism of a Vaishnava. One who so blasphemes a Vaishnava will be punished by Yamaraja. Because the Vaishnava is spreading the glories of the Lord's name, the Lord does not tolerate such criticism of a Vaishnava. Giving up dharma, yoga, sacrifice and jnana for the name of Krishna, the Vaishnava is the topmost person. Criticism is a serious offense. Furthermore he does not criticize the scriptures or the demigods, but simply takes shelter of the name.
"One should rather eagerly take the dust from the feet of a Vaishnava, regardless of whether he is a grihastha or sannyasi. One will treat him only according to his advancement as a Vaishnava, which is based upon his degree of attraction to the holy name. Such things as caste or ashrama, wealth, learning, youthfulness, beauty, strength or number of followers are not factors.
"It goes without saying that one who has taken shelter of the name will not indulge in sadhu-ninda. One who criticizes a sadhu is not situated in bhakti, but in aparadha against bhakti. A serious person therefore would not indulge in criticism, but associate with, hear from and serve the sadhu.
"Because association with those who are not devotees is bound to produce disrespect for devotees (sadhu-ninda), the devotee is careful to avoid such association. Materialistic association or asat-sanga is of two types: association with women and association with those devoid of devotion to the Lord. Association with women means associating with women not according to Vedic tradition. This association with women which is not authorized by scripture is divided into association with women outside of marriage for the purpose of sex life and association within marriage where one is controlled by one's wife. Thus, only if one is married according to prescribed rules and is following the rules for married life, in which the wife is submissive to the husband and the husband acts as a sadhu, is the association considered bona fide. Other types of association are considered asat.
"The second type of asat association, association with nondevotees, is of three types: association with mayavadis, association with pretenders, and association with atheists. Mayavadis believe that the Lord and the jivas are both temporary entities, and that the Lord's murti form is material. The pretenders, though without genuine devotion or renunciation, pretend to be devotees to make a living. The atheists do not believe in any form of God. Now these people may claim to be devotees, and may be accepted by the public as such, but if one rejects such people, it is not considered sadhu-ninda. Furthermore, one who criticizes a person who gives up these asat people should also be rejected and avoided. Therefore, the serious devotee who gives up asat-sanga, which causes sadhu-ninda, and exclusively takes shelter in the name, will certainly receive the treasure of prema.
"It may be observed that in order to proceed properly to prema, one must be able to distinguish the devotee from the nondevotee. For one must avoid the aparadha of criticizing the devotee and seek his association, and simultaneously reject the nondevotee completely. One must furthermore be able to distinguish the types of Vaishnavas according to their spiritual advancement. These are of three types: the materialistic Vaishnava or Vaishnava-praya (almost a Vaishnava) is he who has mediocre faith in Krishna but has no service attitude to sadhus. Actually, such a person is not a Vaishnava but the dim image of a Vaishnava, Vaishnava-abhasa. However, if he is not a Vaishnava, how will he be permitted to associate with Vaishnavas, who do not associate with non-Vaishnavas? Therefore, this person is considered to be at the beginning stage of a Vaishnava, kanishtha Vaishnava, upon whom the actual fixed-up Vaishnavas will bestow mercy so that he becomes purified.
"The next higher stage of Vaishnava is the madhyama-bhakta, who can recognize the important position of the Lord's devotees and thus always associates with them. In faith he is convinced of Krishna's position as the Lord, the jivas as His eternal servants, the process as bhakti and the goal as prema. He shows mercy to the innocent, those who have a little faith, the kanishtha-bhaktas, by giving them sambandha-jnana. And he avoids the enemies, asat-sanga, understanding the different effects of the different types of association. Even at this stage of madhyama-bhakta, one is considered a pure Vaishnava, with the qualification of taking the real holy name, not namabhasa. As a real Vaishnava he is able to distinguish a Vaishnava from a non-Vaishnava, so that he may avoid asat-sanga and sadhu-ninda and serve the advanced devotees. Actually he must do this for his own advancement.
"He who experiences Krishna as the life and soul of everything, and thus sees Krishna situated in everything, and consequently does not make distinction between Vaishnava and non-Vaishnava, but simply engages in relishing the nectar of the holy name, is called the uttama Vaishnava, the most advanced devotee.
"The kanishtha-bhakta performs his devotional service at the stage of namabhasa, whereas the madhyama Vaishnava is actually qualified for the real holy name, and can understand and discern the various offenses in chanting the holy name. The uttama adhikari is above committing offense, as he sees Krishna expanded everywhere.
"It can be seen that it is important for the practitioner of bhakti-whether a kanishtha or madhyama bhakta-to understand in his performance of sadhana, his own position in devotional service according to his internal purity. By doing this one can avoid nondevotees (asat-sanga), and by this one can advance further. Therefore it is important that one come to the position of madhyama bhakta, one who is qualified to make these distinctions. The typical activities of a real devotee (madhyama bhakta) are to avoid sadhu-ninda and to take association of sadhus, serve sadhus and give knowledge to the innocent jivas, while performing nama-sankirtana.
"Being overcome with the material modes, if one commits the offense of blasphemy against a devotee, one should sincerely feel repentent and cry at the feet of that devotee for mercy and forgiveness. The devotee, who is by nature very merciful, will forgive the offender."
Haridasa concluded, "According to Your order, Lord, I have discussed the first offense. This I offer to Your lotus feet."
That person who, like a bumble bee, lingers at the lotus feet of Haridasa, will receive the touchstone of the holy name as his life and soul. (Translated by Bhanu Swami)