Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #11 – The Fault is Not the Whole Person!

March 15th, 2021

One of the benefits of association with spiritually evolved souls is that sometimes their utterances in casual conversations are so profound that they can become a moral foundation for one’s life. About twenty-five years ago, I called Tamal Krishna Maharaja to ask for a small donation. A friend of ours and his wife were in dire straits, and I thought I should take up a small collection to help him. He quickly agreed to my request before I could give him the caveat, “Do you know what that person did?” When I did, however, he immediately responded, “Yes, but the fault is not the whole person. I love him!”

 

Like most of us, I can’t count the number of times people rubbed me the wrong way or even mistreated me. I also can’t count the number of times that that casual utterance, now imbedded within my moral compass, saved me from the degradation of resentment, especially when the person I was disturbed with was, by all accounts, a sincerely dedicated spiritual person.[1]

 

There are many examples of this principle of liberality in bhakti literature. One of the most prominent is the story of Kala Krishnadasa. Although he was trusted with the service of being Śrī Caitanya’s personal assistant during the Lord’s pilgrimage to South India, he was somehow allured by the beautiful women of the local Gypsy community. Śrī Caitanya, however, personally rescued him, but naturally relieved him of his service. Upon returning to Navadvipa, he took shelter of Lord Nityānanda. Not only did Nityānanda refuse to see Kala Krishnadasa only through the lens of his mistake, but recognizing his repentance, simplicity, and devotion Nityānanda immediately engaged him in very responsible service.

 

Whenever I think of this subject, I remember the story of an unmarried, elderly Indian businessman that I knew who retired to Vrindavan. He was kind and generous and substantially helped ISKCON. He even became close with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some of the locals, however, caught him in some impropriety with a lady and maliciously broadcast it widely. I was struck, in contrast, with how compassionately his sādhu god-brothers from the Char Sampradāya dealt with him. They immediately came, and rather than harp on his faults and deal with him in a punitive way, they respected him for his otherwise notable career in devotion. With compassion, they invited him to live in their ashram where he could live in an environment more protected from his weaknesses for the rest of his life.

 

The successful practitioners of bhakti-yoga passionately embrace this vision of liberality out of fear of offense. A close friend of mine, who is adept in the practice of devotional meditation, often shares with me his personal spiritual practices. Before even picking up his beads to chant, he spends over an hour praying for the mercy of the great teachers in our lineage, including all the main associates of Śrī Caitanya and Śrī Krishna. He then proceeds to pray to over one hundred god-brothers and god-sisters, meditating on their unique qualities of service and devotion. What impressed me most was that he meditates on, in his own words, “Both those that are svapakṣa and vipakṣa,” or, in other words, those that are like-minded (sva-pakṣa) and share a similar mood with him, and those who hold a view opposing (vipakṣa) his more reclusive approach to devotion. His motive in meditating on even those with a mood seemingly opposed to his, he explained, was that he didn’t want to be obscured from recognizing their dedication to Krishna consciousness because focusing only on one’s differences with another devotee inevitably leads to vaiṣṇava-aparādha.

 

Not letting the faults of someone who worships Krishna with exclusive devotion obscure one’s vision of their devotion is such an important principle on the path of bhakti-yoga that in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.30) Krishna asks His devotees to embrace this principle to the extreme. He emphatically declares that even one who does something very bad, but who is generally a resolute devotee, can be seen as a sādhu or saintly person because of one’s core commitment to pure devotion.[2]

 

We live in the world of quarrel and confusion. If one is therefore not vigilant, even those who are dedicated spiritual practitioners can fall prey to vaiṣṇava-aparādha by allowing another’s mistakes, or even difference in viewpoint or personality, obscure their otherwise substantial devotional ideals. Beware: the fault is not the whole person!

 

 


[1] Of course, this doesn’t discount the many people I have disturbed. I also pray they can see beyond my frailties.

[2] Like many verses in Vaishnava literature the meaning goes deeper than a few sentences of explanation. What this verse does not support is bad character in the name of devotion. For a fuller explanation of this verse, I encourage you to read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary and also the excellent commentaries on this verse from Bhurijana dasa in Surrender Unto Me and Swami B.V. Tripurari in Bhagavad Gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy. An excerpt from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary: “On the other hand, one should not misunderstand that a devotee in transcendental devotional service can act in all kinds of abominable ways; this verse only refers to an accident due to the strong power of material connection.”

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