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Regard for the Devotees of the Lord

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This is the first in a series of articles on offenses to be avoided by anyone trying to progress spiritually by chanting the names of the Lord. This article discusses the offense of blaspheming devotees who have dedicated their lives to spreading the holy names.

How to instantly win people’s hearts? Point out the good qualities of their children, or even their pets. How to make people dislike you? Insult or harm someone dear to them. Similarly, the most grievous way to block the Lord’s mercy is to have contempt or irreverence for those who love and serve Him, especially those sacrificing to teach others about spiritual life. If we offend Krishna by insulting His dear sons and servants, we will fail to feel the ecstasy of love of God when we chant His holy names, as in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

The logic is easy to understand: Why should Krishna show us mercy—revealing that the taste of His name is concentrated sweet joy—when we are intolerant of others, serving them only the bitterness of criticism and fault- finding? Krishna in the form of His name is the most merciful, certainly. But why should He give mercy to the merciless?

The Skanda Purana lists six improper dealings with God’s devotees that obstruct one’s chanting: to kill a devotee, to blaspheme a devotee, to envy a devotee, to get angry at a devotee, to fail to offer respects or obeisances to a devotee, or to not feel joy upon seeing a devotee. (Vaishnava authorities say that our joy should extend to practitioners of other genuine spiritual processes, to devotees who have done or said something to cause us grief, and to devotees who have struggled with varieties of material enticements.) Some of these six unwanted interactions involve our bodies, others our words, and yet others our attitudes and thoughts.

Qualifying For The Spiritual World

Learning to interact properly with Krishna’s servants is the key to entering His abode. In Krishna’s kingdom, the spiritual world, everything is alive. Water, buildings, furniture, and clumps of grass are all living beings, far more realized in love of God than most of the devoutly religious of this world. All souls there are absorbed in thoughts of Krishna’s name, form, qualities, and adventures, and all are in harmony not only with Krishna but with each other. Dedication to Krishna and His holy name is not enough to enter that abode. We require real love for Krishna—a love that fills our hearts so that it overflows with similar love for all living beings, who are part of Him.

If instead of loving Krishna’s devotees, we offend them, we are unlikely to reach perfection in one life. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Nectar of Devotion (Chapter 18), “If it is seen that a person has developed a high standard of devotion without having undergone even the regulative principles, it is to be understood that his status of devotional service was achieved in a former life. For some reason or another it had been temporarily stopped, most probably by an offense committed at the lotus feet of a devotee. Now, with a good second chance, it has again begun to develop.”

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explains that the effect of vilifying a devotee is similar to that of letting a wild elephant into a garden—one’s spiritual progress is trampled. Unfortunately, a prime symptom of a neophyte, whose ignorance impedes his or her service to God, is mistreatment of other living beings. The beginner’s lack of universal love and respect is evident in many sectarian religions. Congregations that show much reverence to God in their house of worship may exuberantly condemn all others who serve the same God in a different way. Going so far as to torture, persecute, or wage war against those whose rituals differ from theirs, such separatists displease Krishna and sully the very concept of religion in the minds of innocent people.

What Can We Do?

Understanding the danger of criticizing God’s devotees, then, and desiring full benefit from our chanting, we may resolve to feel joy upon seeing or hearing about others who love, or aspire to love, the Supreme Lord. We may resolve not to look for faults or think ourselves superior. Yet time and again, our mind may induce us to slam against this most formidable of blocks to self-realization. What can we do?

First, we can avoid intimate friendship with people who will encourage us to fault religious people. Rather, we can choose as close associates those free from the propensity to criticize others. When teaching about Krishna consciousness, we may have to point out the flaws in a more elementary system of spiritual advancement, but we can still hold out all encouragement and love to those within that system. Our critique can be practical and constructive, without envy or hatred. And while we must carefully choose our intimates—selecting those most realized in spiritual science—we must mentally respect even the weakest who desire pure love of God.

Respect For Other Systems

It’s easy to come up with excuses for criticizing and finding fault with others who are doing their best to serve the Supreme Lord. But if we consider who is guiding them and why these guides teach as they do, we’ll see that our criticism is unfair. Sometimes the most exalted saint teaches in a circumstance where only lesser truth can be communicated, acting like a graduate professor teaching six-year-olds.

We should remember that everyone needs to progress from his or her present position. So why fault the students or teachers in a religious system that teaches less than the highest knowledge and process? Rather than criticize beginning students, we should encourage and praise their attempt to love God. How happy the holy name is to know that we extend love and hope to those with less understanding or knowledge than ourselves! Is not criticizing them simply self-righteousness and pride, perhaps envy?

Of course, we can honestly evaluate systems of religious and spiritual practice, as much as we can distinguish between primary school and doctoral programs. But we should remember that today’s primary students might achieve doctoral degrees, while some now in graduate programs might fail to persevere.

Is it safe to point out genuine defects in others striving for perfection? The monk Thomas a Kempis addresses this question in the thirteenth-century work Imitation of Christ:

Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure. If you cannot make yourself what you wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of others as we do of ourselves.

In this connection, the great Bhagavatam commentator Sridhara Swami wrote, “Whether the words are true or not, pointing out the faults of a Vaishnava constitutes blasphemy.”

Even if we meet a perfect, pure devotee who openly follows and teaches the principles at the pinnacle of spiritual life, we might find faults with his or her birth, background, past sins, unintentional sins, or traces of past sins. We might see a lack of some saintly qualities—kindness, peacefulness, truthfulness, magnanimity, cleanliness, and so on. But in time, full devotion to Krishna will certainly bring out these qualities. Just because some are developing gradually, we shouldn’t dwell on their current deficiency.

Begging Forgiveness

If despite our best efforts to cultivate respect and admiration for devotees of the Lord we instead offend them, we should lament, fall at their feet, and satisfy them with praise and respect. We should serve any unforgiving devotee for many days. If he or she continues to be angry with us, we should spend our time constantly chanting Krishna’s holy name.

It is important to fall at the feet of a devotee we’ve offended, even if that devotee has no quarrel with our words, thoughts, or behavior. Such humble dealings will purify us and please Krishna, who is much more unhappy with an offense to His devotees than to Himself. It is said that without falling at the devotee’s feet, the devotee may forgive but the dust of his or her feet will hold one accountable. Performing a physical act of repentance when asking for forgiveness shows great humility and sincerity.

Just as Krishna is the heartfelt friend of all living beings, one who wants to be His devotee should be a vehicle for revealing that friendship. A lover of God should love everyone who loves God. As we deal with Krishna’s devotees with reverence, the holy name will gradually show His full power. Then chanting Hare Krishna will bring us to spiritual health, and we will know that there is nothing greater than the name, anywhere or at any time.