By Swami B. V. Tripurari
Gaudiya Vaishnavism is a very high theology and as such it is very prone to misunderstanding. Careful study of the scripture reveals that a true devotee is an integrated person in the sense that he or she has actually imbibed the essence of all that precedes devotion in the way of socioreligious life, renunciation, and knowledge. Such a person is rare.
Bhakti is the topmost yoga, being beyond liberation in its reach and at the same time so generous. It is the generosity of Bhaktidevi that we both complain about and yet can’t do without. When she gives herself to another who has no particular qualification other than faith in the efficacy of bhakti, that unqualified person becomes a devotee, but he or she is not developed in devotional service. If that devotee practices sincerely and always keeps association with advanced devotees, bhakti will gradually manifest herself more and more. However, sometimes such neophyte devotees do not avail themselves of the culture of bhakti or good association. They also commit offenses, and in this way Bhaktidevi does not manifest in their heart for some time. They are glorious still, yet their full glory is suspended, and they may even become a disturbance to the society of devotees for some time.
Meanwhile other types of spiritual practitioners, whose ideal is not as far-reaching as that of suddha-bhakti, more readily attend to that which is pertinent to their practice. This sometimes includes the ideals of socioreligious life and the culture of knowledge and renunciation. Today it often includes working on psychological dysfunctionality, social welfare, right livelihood, environmental concerns, humility, kindness to others, and so on.
These things are closer to such practitioners in terms of their ideal, and they directly work on developing themselves in these areas. In such practitioners we may see good qualities that we do not see in neophyte devotees.
Many of these neophytes have their heads in the spiritual cloud of unknowing. They are unknowing about all that which precedes attaining the highest devotion and makes one a balanced person. Alternately, they inordinately do not care about such prerequisites in the name of the highest devotion. While it is true that simply through bhakti one can attain the highest ideal, one who practices should develop in other areas via bhakti as he or she proceeds toward that goal. Devotees should look for developments such as humility, tolerance, and kindness to all beings in their character.
They should look for this rather than the darsana of Krishna, for why would Krishna show himself to those who offend his holy name in the name of devotion? When humility like the blade of grass and tolerance like the tree appear in the devotee, such a devotee has passed beyond offensive chanting, attaining nistha—kirtaniya sada harih.
Who will not be attracted to such a devotee, Krishna included? He will pay attention to them through the medium of his advanced devotees, telling them that “in such and such devotee you have a receptive ear to pour the nectar of my pastimes into.” This nectar will enter the heart, and ruci-bhakti will manifest.
The fortunate devotee who develops this taste will have no taste for the things of this world: money, sex, followers, or even knowledge. Neither will samsara be a problem for this blessed soul. Thus the appearance of these things—humility, tolerance, and kindness to all beings—indicate that one is developing through bhakti all that is included within it—and that bhakti proper is not far away.