Found in Sanga, Sanga 2005.

Q. How does one actually attain bhava (love of Krishna)?

A. Bhava is attained by either ardent spiritual practice or grace. Bhava attained by grace is of two kinds: the grace of Bhagavan or the grace of a bhakta. Attaining bhava by practice is the norm and attaining by grace is by far the exception. When bhava is attained by grace, however, it exceeds in excellence that bhava which is attained by sadhana (at least at first), for bhava resulting from sadhana is attained gradually. This is the opinion of Srila Rupa Goswami found in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.

Q. We often hear that the guru must be spiritually qualified, but I would like to know how important it is for a guru to understand the psychology of his or her students?

A. This is a very important issue that progressive Gaudiya Vaisnava preachers must deal with. While spiritual qualification on the part of the guru is foremost, there is something to the statement found in Hari-bhakti-vilasa that recommends that a brahmana should have a brahmana guru, a vaisya should have a vaisya guru, a ksatriya should have a ksatriya guru, and a sudra should have a sudra guru. This statement indicates that a person should accept a guru from a similar cultural background because the extent to which qualified gurus understand the psychology of their students will have considerable bearing on their ability to convey the essence of the tradition to them. When there is psychological and cultural compatibility between the guru and disciple and the guru is highly spiritually qualified, you have the best of both worlds.

Q. Most Gaudiya Vaisnava temples in India do not adorn the Deity of Caitanya Mahaprabhu with a peacock feather as this decoration is reserved for the Deity of Krishna. Therefore why did Srila Prabhupada install Deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai adorned with peacock feathers on their heads?

A. Perhaps Srila Prabhupada sometimes envisioned them as Krishna and Balarama, as Bhaktivinoda sometimes envisioned his Gaura-Gadadhara Deity as Radha-Krishna and dressed them accordingly. After all, in Nadiya Mahaprabhu vacillated between the bhavas of Bhagavan and bhakta. As Bhagavan he is Krishna and sometimes his devotees saw him as such. Sacidevi in particular would sometimes see Gaura and Nityananda as Krishna and Balarama. Otherwise, I do not think that Prabhupada instructed his disciples to dress Gaura Nitai this way, but sometimes they did, and when he saw them dressed in this way he did not object. Overall, it would seem that his Deities were pleased with his service, so who are we to complain about such things as if on their behalf?

Q. I’ve been told that the first verse of the Bhagavatam secretly speaks of sankirtana, congregational chanting of the holy name of Krishna. Can you explain this?

A. The concluding words of the Bhagavata’s opening stanza, satyam param dhimahi, speak of Krishna sankirtana because the word “dhimahi” is plural. While meditation is a solitary affair, sankirtana is usually performed in a group. Thus satyam param dhimahi speaks to us of meditation in unison (dhimahi) on the supreme truth (satyam param).

The word “dhimahi” is also used later in the Bhagavatam as “dhyeyam” in relation to Sri Caitanya. In 11.5.33 Mahaprabhu is described as one whose lotus feet should be constantly meditated on (dheyama sada . . . te caranaravrindam). Constant meditation is that which can be done under any circumstances. Thus dhyeyam sada refers to sankirtana, which is not bound by the rules governing ordinary meditation. As Mahaprabhu has personally taught, it can be performed anywhere, at any time, and there are no rules for doing so. Indeed, sankirtana is the recommended means of absorbing one’s mind in God in the present age.

When Mahaprabhu speaks in his Siksastakam of how Sri Krishna sankirtana can be performed under any circumstances, he uses the word smaranam (smarane), which means meditation. Practically he is merging the two— kirtanam and smaranam—together. The illustrious Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura has done the same when he writes, kirtana prabhave smarana svabhave: “Engaging in kirtanam enables one to meditate on one’s true nature (svarupa).” This is also the verdict of Brhad-bhagavatamrta, which states:

bhayantarasesa-hrsika-calakam
vag-indriyam syad yadi samyatam sada
cittam sthiram sad-bhagavat-smrtau tada
samyak pravateta tatah smrtih phalam

“If the sense of speech, which sets all the external and internal senses in motion, is brought under control, then the mind becomes stable and can properly engage in transcendental remembrance of the Lord. Remembrance thus develops as the fruit of chanting.”

Real smaranam is the fruit of kirtanam. Furthermore,

sankirtanad dhyana-sukham vivardhate
dhyanac ca sankirtana-madhuri-sukam
anyonya-samvardhaka-tanu-bhuyate
‘smabhis tayos tad dvayam ekam eva tat

“Sankirtana expands the joy of meditation, and meditation expands the sweet joy of sankirtana. In our experience the two methods fortify one another and are therefore actually one (spoken by the inhabitants of Vaikuntha).”

Thus the word dhimahi in the first verse of the Bhagavatam can be construed to be an advocacy of sankirtana.

Q. What does it mean when we hear that the Vaisnava forgives but the dust of his lotus feet does not? And is there any difference for the offender?

A. The idea comes from this verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam:

nascaryam etad yad asatsu sarvada mahad-vininda kunapatma-vadisu
sersyam mahaparusa-pada-pamsubhir nirasta-tejahsu tad eva sobhanam

“It is not out of the ordinary for evil persons who always think of the transient material body as the self to regularly deride great souls. Appropriately such envy on the part of materialistic persons causes them to become diminished in stature by the influence of the dust of the feet of great personalities (mahapurusa-pada-pamsubhir).” (SB. 4.4.13)

Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura draws on this verse in his Madhurya-Kadambini. Therein he discusses sadhu ninda (blaspheming devotees) in relation to anarthas arising from offenses to Nama Prabhu, the holy name of Krishna. The Thakura explains that great devotees (maha-bhagavatas) do not take offense because they are indifferent to honor and dishonor. However, should one who has offended a maha-bhagavata think that because of this fact an offender does not need to approach the maha-bhagavata’s feet for forgiveness, one should think again. Why? Although maha-bhagavatas do not take offense, the dust of their feet does hold offenders accountable. Thus the spirit behind this statement is that one who has offended a great soul must approach that soul for forgiveness. Don’t think otherwise.

Certainly the Lord takes offense when his devotees are vilified. Why then is the dust mentioned? What is the dust? The Lord is not the dust at the feet of his devotees. Although he would like to be, the Lord’s devotees will never allow this. This dust represents the servants of the maha-bhagavata, who are fulfilling the Lord’s most cherished desire to serve his dear devotees. Although his great devotees will never take service from the Lord, they mercifully accept service from others on his behalf and in doing so their bodily necessities and other needs are met. Thus it is through the servants of the great devotees that the Lord’s desire to see his devotees personally served and glorified is fulfilled. In this sense the Lord is present in these servants, and when they take offense it also indicates that the Lord is offended.

Q. What should offenders do if the sadhu they offended has left the world and they have not taken steps to rectify the situation when the sadhu was present?

A. To rectify an offense one has made to a devotee who is no longer present, one must approach his or her representative and apologize. The context in which the Bhagavata verse under discussion was spoken involves Daksa’s offense to Lord Siva. It was Sati, the wife and disciple of Siva, who took offense when her father Daksa had offended her husband (a maha-bhagavata).

Siva did not take offense because he is aloof from matters of the world, but Parvati held her father Daksa accountable. In love this is natural and appropriate. However, this does not mean that disciples will never forgive offenders, just that disciples will hold offenders accountable. Thus the only course for offenders is to approach the devotee they offended and ask for forgiveness. When they do so, the dust of the devotee’s feet is satisfied. As I mentioned, offenders are not allowed to think that because the devotee they offended has not acknowledged the offense or that because the devotee is no longer with us that they are off the hook. No. The dust of the devotee’s feet has noticed on behalf of Krishna and scripture says that Krishna will not tolerate offenses to his devotees.

However, anyone who takes this understanding to be a license for vindictiveness directed toward another person or devotee has no idea what Gaudiya Vaisnavism is really all about. Gaudiya Vaisnavism is about chanting the holy name and kindness to everyone (jiva daya). Everything that devotees do is based on kindness. The dust holds one accountable for offenses not because it is vindictive, but because this gives offenders an opportunity to cleanse themselves regardless of whether the offended devotee is still with us or not. Only when one is cleansed of the effects of sadhu ninda will one be truly free to make spiritual advancement.

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