Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #28 – The Four Ways in Which a Vaiṣṇava Sees Those Whose Mistakes Disturb Them

July 12th, 2021

Our present age is deemed the age of quarrel and confusion. Unfortunately, Vaiṣṇava societies are not spared from its influence. Too often, we see, at the drop of a hat, long internet threads started among devotees vehemently arguing and attacking one another on anything from differences in philosophical conceptions to conflicting opinions about another person. Śrī Caitanya lived His life as an example for those who want to attain love of Godhead. What can we then learn from His life about proper Vaiṣṇava behavior in contrast to those engaged in hostile exchanges or harboring unnecessary critical thoughts about others? His dealings with and vision of Dāmodara Paṇḍita are instructive.

 

Dāmodara Paṇḍita was an intimate associate of Śrī Caitanya and was among the few devotees chosen to accompany Śrī Caitanya to Puri after He took sannyāsa. Although Dāmodara Paṇḍita was just a brahmacārī, he had the audacity to take Śrī Caitanya to task for his apparent transgression of some technical rules for a sannyāsa. It got to a point that Śrī Caitanya even expressed His fear of doing anything that didn’t meet Dāmodara Paṇḍita’s high standards. Nonetheless, Śrī Caitanya expressed His appreciation for Damodara Pandit and used Pandit’s rule-based nature to responsibly look after His mother and to care for Damodara Pandit’s younger brother, who was also very dear to Śrī Caitanya.

 

The following is a list I have complied based on the above story on the various ways in which a Vaiṣṇava should view other devotees who, for one reason or another, disturb them:

 

The fault is not the whole person

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, we tend to latch on to the things in a person that disturb us based on the mistakes they have made or even our incompatibility with them, and then only see the person’s weakness or sin. A Vaiṣṇava, however, never falls into the trap of seeing one’s fault as the whole person. Śrī Caitanya had every right to condemn Dāmodara Paṇḍita, but rather than harp on his faults, He appreciated his sincerity and capabilities and accordingly engaged him in service. [1]

 

A Vaiṣṇava is judged by their inspired side, not by their ordinary dealings

Vaiṣṇavas are born in different types of families and, in general, have varied natures. A Vaiṣṇava, however, is not just their karmic nature. More importantly, they are a conduit through which Krishna manifests in their words and actions. Śrī Caitanya therefore overlooked Dāmodara Paṇḍita’s overly critical nature and focused on his inspired side – that he was so inspired to serve the Lord that he would even chastise Him to correct Him.

 

There are different types of Vaiṣṇavas

Different shapes of metal immersed in a fire become equally hot and effulgent but retain their unique shape at the same time. Similarly, devotees who attain perfection all become devotionally effulgent while still retaining their distinct nature. Śrī Caitanya therefore didn’t at all stifle the individuality of His disciples. Rather, He expressed equal appreciation for both Dāmodara Paṇḍita, who was formal and demanding, and his young brother, Śaṅkara Paṇḍita, who, in direct contrast, was spontaneous and compliant.

 

A Vaiṣṇava does not judge one by the past, or even by the present, but by his future or potential

Śrī Krishna speaks about this in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā where He teaches that if a devotee who is fixed in devotional service accidentally makes a horrible mistake, he should still be seen as saintly because he will soon be righteous. Therefore, having faith that the path of bhakti will quickly bear fruit, we should not overly harp on the things in devotees that may disturb us. Certainly, Śrī Caitanya demonstrated that faith by His respect and confidence in Dāmodara Paṇḍita.

 

I am past seventy now. I am feeling an increased urgency to deepen my Krishna consciousness. I realize that to chant the holy name purely I need to transcend any trace of the petty dualities of favoritism and hate remaining in my heart, especially towards my perception of devotees. I learned a lot from the story of Śrī Caitanya’s dealings with His critical disciple, and I pray to imbibe His perception of dealing with others within my heart.

 

 

 


[1] A teacher can also be very strict and demanding with his student. Śrī Caitanya, for example, dealt very heavily with Choṭa Haridāsa and Mukunda, banning them from His company. Still, Śrī Caitanya recognized their devotion and ultimately blessed them. The point stressed in this post is that a devotee never falls under the dualities of like or hate in his perception of others, whether he is seemingly tolerant or harsh with them.

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