btg1956.jpg - 5077 Bytes

Who is a 'Sadhu'?

by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

'Back to Godhead', Vol. III, Pt. II, March 16, 1956, Delhi.

"The Sanskrit word 'Sadhu' is translated into English by the word 'mendicant' and very rarely with another word 'Sage'. But 'Sadhu' is differently meant in the revealed scriptures like Srimad Bhagwat Geeta or Srimad Bhagbatam. In the 'Bhagwat Geeta' the qualification of a 'Sadhu' is based on one's faithfulness in the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead. One who is firmly fixed up in the devotional service and nothing more—is called a 'Sadhu' and Mahatma in terms of Bhagwat Geeta. Even if a man is apt to some vicious habits which a 'Sadhu' must not have as part of his personal qualification, is accepted also as a 'Sadhu' for the only qualification of his staunch faithfulness in the service of the Personality of Godhead. The sloka in this connection mentioned in the Bhagwat Geeta runs as follows:—
(In Devanagari:)
api cet su-duracaro
bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah

Api, Chet, Sudurachara, Bhajate, Mam, Ananyabhak, Sadhu, Eba, Sa, Mantavya, Samyak, Byabasita, Hi, Sa.


Api=Though, Chet=Even, Sudarachara=Accustomed to vicious acts, Bhajate=Does render service, Mam=unto Me, Ananyabhak=Unflinchingly, Sadhu=A devotee, Eba=Must, Sa=He, Mantabhya=Be concluded, Samayak=Perfectly, Byabasita=Well settled, Hi=Certainly, Sa=He.


Even though a person is accustomed to vicious habits, he must be concluded a devotee sage, for his only qualification of unflinching faithfulness in the service of the Lord—because in that way he is well-settled.


The prime qualifications of a devotee Sadhu are mentioned in the Chaitanya Charitamrita. It is said there that a 'Sadhu' has innumerable good qualifications but primarily a 'Sadhu' is always found to have possessed the following signs of goodness. He is (1) kind, (2) tolerant, (3) truthful, (4) equal, (5) stainless, (6) liberal, (7) mild, (8) clean, (9) meek, (10) altruist, (11) peaceful, (12) self-surrendered to Krishna, (13) satisfied, (14) humble, (15) fixed up (16) self-restrained, (17) frugal, (18) sagacious, (19) respectful (20) simple, (21) grave, (22) compassionate, (23) friendly, (24) poetic, (25) expert and (26) silent.

Bhagwat Geeta has not nullified all the above mentioned primary twenty six qualifications of a 'Sadhu' by the statement—'even if a man is accustomed to vicious habits.' The idea is explained in the following sloka in which it is said that such well-settled devotee shall soon be well-qualified with all the pious qualifications of a 'Sadhu'. But because one has become faithfully fixed up in the service of the Lord—the seed of all godly qualifications is sowed therein and the resultant fructification will come in vogue, without delay. And therefore the primary qualification of a 'Sadhu' is that he must be an unflinching devotee of the Lord.

A conditioned soul is actuated by twofold activities. The one is acted in relation to his material connection and the other is acted in relation to his spiritual identity. So far his relation with the material body is concerned he has to observe so many things and conventions in the matter of maintaining the body and soul together observing social customs and all other paraphernalias in respect of his material body and mind. But the relation of his spiritual identity is different from his material relation and this spiritual identity is exhibited by one's staunch faithfulness in the transcendental service of the Lord. That is one's pure consciousness of devotional service. And in conditioned stage i.e., so long this material body and mind has to be sustained—one is surely to keep relations bothwise i.e., materially and spiritually. Even though one is highly spiritually elevated, he has to pull on the bodily relations and this bodily relation or material need is diminished in the proportion of one's advancement and progress in the spiritual realm. Because a person is spiritually inclined—he cannot have unnecessary material hankering—just like a man fully fed cannot have any further hunger. The material hankerings do completely stop at the highest stage of spiritual perfection. India's civilization was based on this principle. Because they were spiritually advanced they demanded the utmost material necessities of life. Less material advancement in the past was not due to lack of material knowledge but they did not like to bother in unnecessary paraphernalia.

But in the interim period i.e., transition stage of spiritual advancement from materialism, it may sometimes occur that a spiritualist, is suddenly materially miscarried due to his past material vicious habits. We should not be disturbed by such occasional signs provided one has not diverted from the service of the Lord. Fixed up faith in the service of the Lord, will put a diverted devotee again on the right path and the devotee will make undisturbing progress. The devotional path is so assured.

The word 'Sudurachara' or vicious acts include all actions of the lowest quality such as killing, stealing, kidnapping etc. and in spite of all these, the staunch devotee will be saved by his only qualification of unflinching faith, in the service of the Lord. But it should be noted here that these disquieting habits are exhibited in a Sadhu very rarely. On the contrary such disturbing habits of a Sadhu disappear in no time for his being fixed up in the devotional service. The idea is that spiritual fervour of service to the Lord, is just like a kindled fire. It is so strong and pure that all impurities of a neophyte beginner vanquish in no time and he becomes qualified with all the good qualities of 'Sadhu' as above mentioned. The conclusion is therefore that a 'Sadhu' and a pure devotee of the Personality of Godhead are identical.

Such a 'Sadhu' is primarily forbearing, kindhearted, friendly to one and all, without any enemy and peaceful at the basis.

A 'Sadhu' has to be recognized by the ear and not by the eyes. Chemical-Sadhu, magician-Sadhu, astrologer-Sadhu, smoker-Sadhu, beggar-Sadhu, mystic-Sadhu, worker-Sadhu, nurse-Sadhu, physician-Sadhu, politician-Sadhu and many other types of Sadhus which are generally met with by persons who do not hear the Sadhu and sees them only,—are not 'Sadhus' in terms of the revealed scriptures. They are called 'Veshopajibi' or one who profanes the dignity of Sadhu. Shreepad Sankaracharya predicted that for the matter of solving the problem of bread many unscrupulous persons will take to the red garments.

Clever(?) materialists go to the so-called 'Sadhus' for getting information of manufacturing gold out of copper, for cure of some disease, for becoming victorious in one's notorious acts, for astrological directions, for learning the art of smoking Ganja and many more things. When they are baffled and cheated by such so-called Sadhus, they become a Sadhu-hater and make counter propaganda against the Sadhus (?). Because these materialists do not know what sort of 'Sadhu' they should approach, most of them are cheated by the above mentioned different groups of Sadhus(?).

A Sadhu's main business is to rouse up the potent divine consciousness of human being. The householders are generally very poor in their vision of life. People in general do understand that civilization means a polished way of animal life. The animals eat what is fixed up by nature as its eatable but a civilized man eats not only what is fixed up by nature for him but also many other things which are outside the purview of his eatables. In other words a civilized person mishandles the problem of eating etc. and yet he calls himself something more than the animal. This is a disease of the civilized man. Not only in this but also in other affairs also, the narrow-minded householder encumbers his precious life in many other ways and therefore a Sadhu's business is, because he is kind to all, to awaken him to his rightful position. A Sadhu sometimes accepts the position of a mendicant because in that dress he can easily introduce himself to the householders. Formerly the people would respectfully receive a mendicant and a Sadhu because they knew that they would be benefitted by the association of such qualified Sadhu. And the Sadhu also being kind to all would disseminate the knowledge transcendental to all the householders. And for the bare necessities of life, they would certainly beg.

The typical Sadhu was Lord Chaitanya. Once upon a time while He was passing on His way back from Brindaban, He fell unconscious in His mode of transcendental ecstasy. His associates were attending Him and chanting the holy name of God. At that time some soldiers of the Moghul Emperor were passing through the place and they arrested the associates of the Lord thinking that they might have poisoned the Sadhu to rob off his belongings. The associates argued that the matter was different and all of them waited till the Lord got His consciousness. When the Lord came to his senses He was asked by the soldiers if He had lost anything of his personal purse or possession. The Lord replied that He was a mendicant beggar. He had nothing to lose because He did not possess anything except His loin cloth.

But nowadays the so-called Sadhus do possess more than a householder can do. Some of them do possess enormous landed property and do money lending business also. People flock to these "Veshapojitbi' Sadhu captivated by his opulence and such Sadhus cheat the public by some magical feats, as chemical Sadhu, physician Sadhu, astrologer Sadhu and so on. I know personally a Sadhu (?) who used to show magic to villagers by two chemical solutions of acid and alkali to make a show how his 'Charnamitra' immediately acts. All these are not Sadhus.

The Sadhu is a pure devotee of the Lord and he may not be a mendicant by dress. He knows the Supreme Truth scientifically. And he disseminates this transcendental knowledge to all out of his causeless mercy upon them. People must patiently hear what a Sadhu speaks about God and not see him outwardly. One who is faithless in the Person of God cannot be a Sadhu.

(in Devanagari:)
mahatmanas tu mam partha
daivim prakritim asritah
bhajanty ananya-manaso
jnatva bhutadim avyayam


A broad minded gentleman is known as Mahatma, Sadhu or Mahajan. 'Mahat' means broad, 'Atma' means soul. The term 'Mahat' is viewed from different angles of vision by the materialist and the transcendentalist respectively. According to mundane materialists conditioned by the laws of nature,—a person, who can gratify the senses of such conditioned being is known as Mahatma or Mahajan. To a tradesman, the person, who allows him credit for developing the business is accepted as Mahajan. To the fruitive worker who wants to enjoy the result of his hard labour, Rishis like Jaimini (who concludes the ultimate Truth as Karma) and religionists, who can promise all classes of qualitative religious sentiments,—are accepted as Mahajans. To the mystics who consider meditation and concentration of the mind as the ultimate truth, Rishis like Patanjali are considered as Mahajan. To the dry philosophical speculators, Rishis like atheist Kapila, are considered as Mahajan. To impersonal monist, Rishis like Vashista, Durbasha, Dattatreya and others are considered as Mahajans. To the atheists who are guided by the animal qualities of passion and ignorance, physically powerful men like Hirnakhya, Ravana, Meghnad, Jarasandha, Hitler, Masolini etc. are considered as Mahajans. To the devotees of teachers, Ekalabyas and Karnas are considered as Mahajans. To the effeminate persons, kings, like Maharaj Daksha able to beget children thousands in number, are considered as Mahajans. To the general mass of people suffering from insufficiency, persons, who can open hospitals and alms houses, are considered as Mahajans. To the atheist who is by his born nature, a worshipper of the material nature and is envious to the Personality of God Vishnu, dry philosophical speculators, material scientists, historians, mundane literates, sentimental poets, platform orators, social reformers, political leaders etc. are considered as Mahatmas or Mahajans. To the self-deceitful person, who considers that the science of devotional activities is the monopolised property of a certain class of flesh and blood, professional and hired spiritual masters may be considered as Mahajans. To the pseudo devotee, the imitators, of the transcendental feats of Thakur Haridas and Sree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu may be considered as Mahajan. To such devotees imitation incarnation of Godhead like Jackel Vasudev, mystics like Putana, Trinabarta, Vatsa, Baka, Agha, Dhenuka, Kalya, Pralamba who were known as the demons and atheists like Charbaka, Poundraka, Sukracharya, Bena, Sugata, Arhat—all these may be considered as Mahajan. And to the foolish half-educated persons, clever self-styled Mahajan in the garb of a Sadhu, who can attract the attention of his foolish followers by enchanting and flowery languages, can also be accepted as Mahajans. But all these different types of Mahatmas or Mahajans are rejected by the authoritative revealed scriptures like Bhagwat Geeta and Sreemad Bhagbatam. Sreemad Bhagbatam, which is the unalloyed natural commentation of the Vedanta Sutra and where everything pretentious and bewildering in the shape of (1) religiosity (2) economics (3) sense gratification and (4) merging in the impersonal Brahman, all have been completely eradicated—says like this:—
(in Devanagari:)
prayena veda tad idam na mahajano 'yam
devya vimohita-matir bata mayayalam
trayyam jadi-krita-matir madhu-pushpitayam
vaitanike mahati karmani yujyananah

(Bhag. 6.3.25)
"The great Mahatmas or Mahajans in the estimation of the fruitive workers of this material world, and such advocates of religiosity do not know actually what is meant by a Mahatma engaged in the devotional service. Such material mahatmas are upset by the influence of the illusory external energy of Vishnu manifested in the three qualities of nature. And for this reason they are unable to (?) the worth of devotional service but are engaged in the (?) network of fruitive activities for material benefit in the worship of material nature. The intelligence of such Mahajan is bewildered by the flowery language of material science derived from the four Vedas such as Rig, Sam, Jayur, and Athurva. They are captivated by the material interpretations. Such Mahajans and Mahatmas in spite of their being worshipped by the people in general, are not engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Personality of Godhead (Purushottam)."

Such persons may be worshipped by the public as a great religious reformer (Dharmbir) and may be established as a great philosophical speculator (Jnanabir) or may be adored as the emblem of renounciation (Voiragya) and yet 'Sreemad Bhagwat' will not give them any place of recognition. Because in the opinion of 'Sreemad Bhagwatam'.— (In Devanagari:)

neha yat karma dharmaya
na viragaya kalpate
na tirtha-pada-sevayai
jivann api mrito hi sah
"A 'Karambir' or the great fruitive plan-maker of gigantic work who does not aim at religious end; a 'Dharmabir' or the great man of religiosity who does not aim at ultimate renunciation; and the 'Tyagbir' or the great renouncer who does not give up worldly enjoyments for the service of the Supreme Lord—all such great men are dead bodies while they continue to live." In fact everything that ends well, is well. The whole purpose of life is to attain to the stage of devotional service for the Supreme Lord. Therefore, the plan of work that does not end in the service of the Lord, the religiosity that does not aim at that service and the renunciation that does not end in the positive service of the Lord—are all baffled. This very formula is mentioned in the Bhagwat Geeta also. It is said like this:
(In Devanagari:)
avajananti mam mudha
manushim tanum asritam
param bhavam ajananto
mama bhuta-mahesvaram
moghasa mogha-karmano
mogha-jnana vicetasah
rakshasim asurim caiva
prakritim mohinim sritah

(Bg. 9.11–12)
Those, who decry the Personality of Godhead because of His natural feature of a human being, without knowing the inconceivable super-human power that He possesses and His Lordship over everything and anything—must be baffled in their hope to attain to the stage of devotional service, attain to the result of their fruitive work or to attain to salvation after much philosophical speculation or manouvering of a network of vocabulary. Such persons will be baffled in their aim of life because they are enamoured by the external beauty of the material nature under the influence of a demoniac mentality. The periodical plans of the political leaders involving a great amount of human energy for the material satisfaction of a temporary span of life, may it be called as the service of one's own country, service of the humanity, service of the society, service of the family, service of the class or clan, service of the poor, service of the fallen women, service of many many demi-Gods and all such attractive features of human endeavours, without any aim to the service of the Lord are all self-centered or self-extended processes of sense gratification sure to be ended in frustration.

It is a misfortune time for the present world that such sense-gratifying unscientific plans of work, such sense-gratifying leaders of thought, such sense-gratifying brightness of humbug orators and such sense-gratifying educationists are passing by the names of Mahajans and Mahatmas!

Conditioned soul who is under the stringent controlling regulation of the material nature, who can see only to the phenomenal objects of the external cosmos, who is made a servant of sensuous enjoyment and renunciation—cannot select or see the bonafide Mahatma or Mahajan due to his jaundiced eye under the influence of bewildered intelligence. Such conditioned soul is always defective in the four principles of primitive imperfections. The Personality of Godhead, therefore, directly gives the definition of a Mahatma in the following words:

(In Devanagari:)
bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma su-durlabhah

(Bg. 7.19)

mahatmanas tu mam partha
daivim prakritim asritah
bhajanty ananya-manaso
jnatva bhutadim avyayam

(Bg. 9.14)

One who knows the Personality of Godhead Vasudeva as all in all, is a Mahatma who is very rarely found. One can become such a Mahatma, not by mental concoction of thinking oneself as God himself(?), but by undergoing a process of many many repeated births in searching out the real truth. When he finds out the real truth after such hard labour of mental activities—he is sure to surrender unto the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead giving up the false vanity of becoming one with Him.

Such a Mahatma comes into being when he becomes in the fold of internal energy of the Personality of Godhead. The Prakriti or the material nature under which we are now working is the external energy of the Personality of Godhead. One has to change the shelter of this Prakriti or nature to the shelter of the other Prakriti, the internal potency. When one is put into the region of internal potency—one becomes perfectly a Mahatma manifested by his activities in the unalloyed service of the Personality of Godhead. He has nothing to do with the programme of work which is devoid of the service of the Lord. That is the criterion of testing the symptoms of real Mahatma or Mahajan.

It should be noted very carefully that from time immemorial, the mass of people have been misunderstanding the material covering of the spirit soul—as their real identity. The idea is formed as a result of vox populi. In such a condition of life, the mass of people, instead of being able to find out a real Mahajan and Mahatma, they are creating their own Mahajan who is able to gratify their senses and in such a way they are falling in the offensive ditches sensuous proclivities, unrestricted gratification, avarice, material gain, material prestige, material honour, misgiving violence and many many such pitfalls of life. For their guidance the Mahatma or Mahajan are definitely mentioned in the Srimad Bhagwatam. Such 12 Mahajanas as Brahma, Shiva, Narada, Kapila, Kumara, Manu, Prahlad, Janaka, Bishma, Bali, Sukhdev and Yamraj and their disciplic successions are to be accepted as Mahatmas. That is the injunctions of revealed scriptures."

[Return to BVML Home Page] sp.jpg - 3913 Bytes

Srila Prabhupada Page