Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #18 – The Movement of Radical Respect

May 4th, 2020

On first reading, the story seemed hard to believe. How can one possibly justify Śrī Caitanya chastising Advaita Ācārya, His respected senior by fifty years?


Of, course the simplest explanation was that Śrī Advaita purposely did the one thing that he knew would so infuriate the Lord that He would have no choice but to reprimand Śrī Advaita as an underling. He preached the doctrine of yoga-vāśiṣṭha, a doctrine so antagonistic to the tenets of Śrī Caitanya’s mission that the Lord would certainly lose His temper and take a superior position for the purpose of punishing him. It worked. By breaking the Lord’s “illusion” of reverence for him, Śrī Advaita was finally able to bask in the mood of being accepted as the Lord’s servant, a role where the Lord would now accept his prayers and service. That is the basic justification for the Lord’s behavior, but as the story continues a deeper import is gradually revealed.


When Śrī Caitanya’s anger subsided, He realized Śrī Advaita’s unalloyed devotion and felt extremely embarrassed for what He had just done. To make up for His offense, He offered Śrī Advaita this astounding benediction:


“I will bestow mercy on any living entity—even an ant, insect, animal or bird—who takes shelter of you for even a moment, even if that living entity commits hundreds of offenses against me.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.170)


Śrī Advaita appreciated the sentiment behind Śrī Caitanya’s statement; He simply wanted to exalt His devotee. After hearing what was said, Śrī Advaita cried and caught hold of the Lord’s feet. He couldn’t, however, agree with it literally. How could anyone acting antagonistic to the Lord get His blessing, even when taking shelter of a devotee? Śrī Advaita even cited numerous cases to support his view. Both Hiraṇyakaśipu and Rāvaṇa, who were antagonistic to the Lord, were killed by the Him, despite worshipping and satisfying His devotees. Śrī Advaita’s opinion was unequivocal and very strong:


“If one worships me [the devotee] but does not accept you [the Supreme Lord], then may his devotion to me [the devotee] annihilate him.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.172)


Śrī Caitanya patiently heard Śrī Advaita’s explanation. He did not overtly disagree with him, but became even more determined to return to the import of His original statement, which was to extol the position of respect His devotees hold:


“Everyone listen to My words. Any fallen soul who disrespects My servant and worships Me cuts Me into pieces. His worship feels like fire to my body. My wish-fulfilling holy names destroy one who blasphemes My servant.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.207-209)


Śrī Caitanya continued by not only strengthening His point about avoiding disrespect to His servant, but broadened the scope of who is considered to be a servant:


“All living entities in the innumerable universes are my servants, so anyone who blasphemes any living entity is ruined.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.210)


And He let it be known that no one, even those in the highest position in society, were not spared from His edict:


“If even a sannyāsī blasphemes an innocent person, he goes to hell and all his religious principles are destroyed.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.212)


Śrī Caitanya finally finished this pastime by announcing the real import of what had just transpired:


“Raising His arms, Lord Gauranga declared to the world: Avoid offenses and chant the names of Krishna! If one who is free from blasphemy chants the names of Krishna even once, I will certainly deliver him.”  (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.213-214)


Advaita did not want to be respected by Śrī Caitanya. He hatched a plan to break the Lord’s reverence for him so that he could therefore serve Him. The Lord responded by chastising Advaita and then glorifying him, which led to a segue that ultimately revealed the deepest import that is the core of Śrī Caitanya’s teachings—unconditional respect for others.


Śrī Caitanya has made it clear that He wants His followers to exemplify the radical respect that He has taught here. Can we rise to meet the challenge?


“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than the tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (Śikṣāṣṭakm v. 3)


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