"May Vrindavan protect and transform me" (VMA 1.39)

I have been intermittently posting verses from Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta and commenting on them. The following verse touches on some of the points that I am trying to make. Indeed, living in Vrindavan here at this time in my life (I am 68), I am taking the teachings of Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta as my guiding principle for Braja-vāsa-sādhanā, which I consider to be the "end-game" of all Vaishnava spiritual practice. This verse can be found here, and the rest of the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta slokas that have been completed are there on Vrindavan Today.

vṛndāṭavī sahaja-vīta-samasta-doṣā
doṣākarān api guṇākaratāṁ nayantī |
poṣāya me sakala-dharma-bahiṣkṛtasya
śoṣāya dustara-mahāgha-cayasya bhūyāt ||

Vrindavan is naturally free of all flaws;
it transforms those who are reservoirs of faults 

into reservoirs of virtue.
May it protect me,
who have been excommunicated by every religion,
and may it dry up all my terrible sins. (1.39)

In the previous verse (VMA 1.38) Prabodhananda Saraswati prayed for Vrindavan to destroy his sins, along with their seed [ignorance]. In that verse and this one, he exults in the great transformative power of the Dham, even of those who are “reservoirs of faults” (doṣākara).

Actually, one of the biggest problems people have with the bhakti dogma is centered around this belief in its transformative power, since so often it is seen that those who are nominally engaged in the devotional life, or as here, living in Vrindavan Dham, are still seen to perform sinful, or even wicked activities like sexual abuse, stealing from innocent devotees, or killing people for personal profit and so on, what to speak of promoting prostitution, animal slaughter or the consumption of intoxicants. The Vaishnava traditions repeated exhortations not to find fault with such people, to tend one’s own garden, etc., seem impractical. After all, how can a religious path or spiritual sadhana be meaningful if it ignores the moral and ethic foundations of spiritual life? And how can we tolerate it when those who present themselves as greatly advanced religious leaders are discovered to be absorbed in what can only be called demonic activities?

Krishna says,

api cet sudurācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk |
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ ||
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvac chāntiṁ nigacchati |
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati ||

Even if a person of very bad behavior worships me with undivided devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly, for he has the proper resolution. He quickly becomes righteous and attains everlasting peace. O son of Kunti, let it be known that my devotee never perishes. (Gita 9.30-31)

In order to understand this, we must understand that there are different kinds of people: there are those who are innocent and unaware, others who are sincere practitioners, i.e., those who have the proper resolution, and still others who are asuras, or demons. The word "demon" is problematic nowadays, but if we use the word sociopath, or even “social dominator” we will get something that approximates what is meant by asura.

Those who are sincere and innocent about personal reform may make errors on the way to spiritual realization because their knowledge about their true spiritual identity is still incomplete, i.e., the seed of ignorance has not been completely eradicated. When that seed of ignorance is destroyed, then desires (kāma) themselves are not dangerous.

na mayy āveśita-dhiyāṁ kāmaḥ kāmāya kalpate |
bharjitāḥ kvathitā dhānā prāyo bījāya neśate ||

The desires of those absorbed in thought of me
are not to be considered material desire;
just as rice once fried and boiled
cannot later be used as seed. (10.22.26)

So the point is that for such persons, their sins are either temporary aberrations that will be eliminated by their persistent and determined desire to be situated in the pure state of divine love or prema. This is the lesson that comes in the Bhāgavatam, in Uddhava’s glorification of the gopis.

kvemāḥ striyo vana-carīr vyabhicāra-duṣṭāḥ
kṛṣṇe kva caiṣa paramātmani rūḍha-bhāvaḥ
nanv īśvaro'nubhajato'viduṣo'pi sākṣāc
chreyas tanoty agada-rāja ivopayuktaḥ

Just look at these lowly forest women, who have been polluted by adultery, and then look at their most elevated feeling for Krishna, the Supreme Soul. Does this not show us that the Lord, if worshiped, even by one who has no knowledge of what he is, still attains the supreme good, just like a powerful medicine has an effect even on one who does not know what it is. (10.47.59)

Those who are demoniac by nature, however, such as those described in the 16th chapter of the Gita, may take to devotional activities simply to extract the material benefits of having many disciples and gaining wealth. They are most often revealed when they are caught in some flagrant sexual scandal with underage women. And some of them are never caught out; they make thousands of disciples and build temples and hospitals and say all the right things and have knowledge of shastra and so on. As a matter of fact, their taste for grand projects can be seen as a warning sign. And if they do get caught out, their disciples generally refuse to admit or accept that their spiritual guides have in fact been demons taking advantage of their gullibility.

For others, the revelation is completely destructive to their faith. The shock and pain of seeing someone in whom one has invested so much, who has been seen as a divine being endowed with special powers and the capacity to bestow divine grace, who is often seen as equal to God, behave inappropriately can be devastating. Some never recover and completely lose their faith in spiritual life.

It is no accident that the scriptures warn against over-endeavor and making many disciples. This is why Rupa Goswami even includes such abstention as angas of bhakti.

na śiṣyān anubadhnīta granthān naivābhyased bahūn |
na vyākhyām upayuñjīta nārambhān ārabhet kvacit ||

One should not make disciples, nor study too many books. One should not make a living by discoursing on the scripture, nor get involved in big projects. (7.13.8)

Jiva Goswami’s explanation is that though these instructions were given for sannyasis, they apply to all devotees who are moving away from materialistic life. He does not condemn taking all disciples, but only those who are unqualified, and doing so simply to increase one’s own following. But this is exactly what the ambitious sociopath does. The Gita is clear that faking religious acumen is something that an asura is quite prepared to do to fulfill his ambitions. In fact, such hypocrisy is the chief characteristic of the asura. And nothing could be more attractive to the mundane ego than to be worshiped as “equal to God.” Such people are practically speaking incorrigible, despite their grand shows of good works, devotion and spiritual knowledge.

So how can Prabodhananda’s verse be true? And how is a sincere person who wants to make spiritual progress to deal with such persons? If one criticizes, one is accused of offenses by the devotees who point to the api cet verse from the Gita. On the other hand, by not condemning, one is accused by the critics of condoning hypocrisy and sin and, even worse, of insensitivity to those who have been victimized.

Saying that one hates the sin and not the sinner is not applicable, because the fact is that the asura in devotional guise is devoid of a genuine conscience or empathy, and so convinced of his own invincibility and role-playing that he cannot be truly saved.

On the one hand, the Bhāgavata teaches us through Krishna's lila of killing asuras that this is the way they attain liberation. The most applicable example is that of Putana, who came disguised as a devotee and still was liberated by Krishna’s touch. Her only qualification was her disguise and her contact with Krishna. Similarly, even the asura who engages in devotional activities or dresses as a devotee, speaks Hari katha, chants his name and so on, is in fact a replica of Putana. Not only does he get the belated benefit of liberation, but despite the negative effects that are possible when his disciples learn of how they have been deceived, some can actually be benefited by their teachings.

One needs to be careful of such contacts if one wants pure devotion and the full benefit of living in the Holy Dham. But where bhakti and Vrindavan are concerned, it should be recognized that even through engaging in bhakti or Dhama-vasa under false pretenses, these individuals are in some way serving the Lord’s purpose. And, needless to say, the devotee who sincerely prays to Vrindavan for self-purification and the attainment of devotion will never be disappointed.

Jai Radhe!


Prem Prakash said…
This is a really important post. It's incredibly challenging. It calls into question every outrage and judgement I have held over many years about how others have behaved. I'm reluctant to offer any premature conclusions, but I am very glad you took the time to write this piece.
the dynamics of the text is incredible. Comparing with what we see happening in the western Vaishnava world these days, it gets even more incredible. In addition to this fantastic analysis of what happens today, the slokas of Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati Thakur transport us to Sri Vrindavana in a special way. Be the super-grantha R-R-S-N; or the book C-C, be the V-M; The reading paralyzes anyone interested.

living in braja was something private to the Hindus; in general; nothing better for those who live outside India, to be able to follow the life of a Western person who was touched in the heart by the prema-dhama of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and went to live in braja.

So whoever does not have the fortune to live physically in the dhama may perhaps be able to live mentally in braya; tisthan braje anuragi.


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