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How Can I Know a Vaisnava?

This excerpt from the biography of Srila Gaura-kishora Dasa Babaji, written by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami, gives clear insight into the qualifications and activities of a pure Vaishnava (devotee of Vishnu, or Krishna).

How Can I Know a Vaishnava?

Once one person approached Srila Gaura-kishora dasa Babaji and asked, "We see many descriptions of the devotees of the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and other scriptures which are of the highest order. But these narrations do not have any real counterpart with the persons we see today who are called Vaishnavas. Sometimes we see these persons [act in ways] opposite of the persons described. Therefore, very mercifully instruct us as to how we can, without a doubt, identify the real devotees of the Lord."

Gaura-kishora dasa Babaji Maharaja replied, "When the desire of the devotee of the Lord is in direct conjugation with the desire of Krishna, then the compassionate pure devotee of the Lord, regardless of birth, time, and place, liberates the conditioned souls. When the pure devotee of the Lord attracts the living entities by exhibiting pure love of Krishna, then the Supreme Lord Krishna begins to doubt as follows: Those living entities who surrender unto my devotees are as dear as myself. If I cleanse away all of their debts in this material world, then I will be in a precarious situation. Those pure devotees surrendered unto Me are completely dependent and thus simply by their desire, I am within their grasp."

For this reason Krishna covers the eyes of the ordinary people so they cannot realize the qualities of His pure devotee. Krishna also tests the other living entities in this way to see how attached they are to Him. Those symptoms which are manifestations of Krishna's material energy are not the same symptoms which are manifested by the pure devotees of the Lord. Therefore, it is only by the independent desire of the pure devotees of the Lord that the symptoms can be seen even through the scriptures."

"Sometimes it is seen that pure devotees will offer a high position of prestige to a conditioned living entity. In this way, such a person is kept at a distance from the Supreme Lord. At other times, the pure devotee of the Lord may become alarmed at attracting too many followers and thus, keep his natural qualities hidden. Even though they keep their spiritual identity hidden, pure devotees may act as if they are going to accept disciples so that persons will remain with them and receive their association. They also carry out the role of giving instructions and accepting different types of service."

Srila Gaura-kishora then continued, "I have seen with my own eyes a devotee in Vrindavan who would perform his devotional service in a solitary place. He lived in a village just north of Radha-kunda. Many different persons would approach him and ask for different benefits and for the removal of mental and physical distress. He would fulfill their desires and thus became famous and well known as a perfected practitioner in devotional service. He was very renounced, free from the desires of wealth, woman and prestige. He was always compassionate to the living entities and free from fault in his appearance."

"As it became circulated that he was of this type of character, many persons came to annoy him. Following this, the great devotee had a very wealthy man in Calcutta monthly pay the young, beautiful wife of a sweeper to sit in front of his place of worship. In this way, people would come and consider he was having illicit connections with that woman and that he was collecting money out of greed. Other persons would come and, because of their material desires not being fulfilled, would altogether reject him. This person was actually a Vaishnava. When devotees of the Lord, out of compassion, manifest their mercy, then the faithful persons who worship the Lord will become attracted to them."

"Those persons who then surrender unto the pure devotee are eventually able to attain pure devotional service. Extremely fortunate persons are able to approach Krishna by the mercy of the devotee. Otherwise, being unfortunate, the pure devotee may in some way or another act in such a way as to reject them. Sober devotees always pray to the lotus feet of Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to become more serious and non-deviates. It is by their mercy that one is able to understand the character of the pure devotee. By the favor of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Nityananda Prabhu one's heart becomes free from all pride and becomes filled with humility. In this condition, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu manifest the identity of the pure devotee. The pure devotee's identity is manifest by Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda and then Lord Nityananda and Lord Chaitanya make the devotees known to everyone. [This is how] it has been mentioned in the Caitanya-Caritamrta.