One Must Correctly Identify a Vaiñëava
by Çréla Bhakti Prajïäna Keçava Gosvämé Mahäräja
[NOTE: This page uses Balarama font (available here) for better transliteration of Sanskrit into English. Click here for a non-Balarama version.]
The mercy of Çré Guru and the Vaiñëavas is the one and only means by which a jéva can attain the ultimate goal of life. Only by their mercy is it possible for him to obtain the merciful, sidelong glance of
the most compassionate Çré Bhagavän. This we have heard repeatedly.
We have also heard that the mercy of Çré Guru and the Vaiñëavas is causeless. It is never brought about by anything of this world, nor by the impersonal, undifferentiated state of any such thing. We fail to grasp the nature of that mercy as independent of any material cause, and therefore we often ascribe imagined characteristics to it. We may think that there is no need for us to serve with resolute determination and careful, ardent endeavour; we can simply continue following our own fancies and, by the grace of Çré Guru and the Vaiñëavas, all our cherished desires will one day suddenly come true. We may even think that to earnestly apply oneself in devotional service is but another expression of the mood to enjoy and a whimsical pursuit. Alternatively, we may imagine that bound jévas like us can realise our cherished desires independently, without the mercy of sädhus and Çré Guru.
Those who hold such opinions are unable to understand that the mercy of sädhus and the jéva’s intent desire to serve are one and the same. Their deceitful words reveal that they are not truly yearning, with a heart full of remorse, to receive the mercy of sädhus.
Why Identify the Level of a Vaiñëava?
The mahäjanas, great realised souls, have explained the method to obtain the mercy of the Vaiñëavas:
ye yena vaiñëava, ciniyä laiyä ädara kariba yabe
vaiñëavera kåpä yähe sarva-siddhi, avaçya paiba tabe
One who has become qualified to discern the level of eligibility (adhikära) of those who have taken to the path of devotion and to thereby differentiate between the kaniñöha-bhakta (novice devotee), madhyamabhakta (intermediate devotee) and uttama-bhakta (advanced devotee), is duty-bound to honour those three types of Vaiñëavas appropriately. This is the meaning of the words ye yena vaiñëava.
It is improper to honour a kaniñöha-adhikäré in a way that befits only an uttama-adhikäré, or to deal
with a madhyama-adhikäré as if he were a kaniñöhaadhikäré. Only when we respect Vaiñëavas in a manner befitting their respective qualification can we become free from knowingly or unknowingly
committing vaiñëava-aparädha. Only then can we realise the transcendental, merciful form of the
Vaiñëavas, which bestows all desired perfection.
Therefore, the ability to correctly identify a Vaiñëava is indispensable. Simply by doing so, we are automatically filled with honour and affection for him. Upon recognising your brother, you are at once overcome by brotherly affection that is incomparably sweet. Our exclusive aim is to be able to recognise a Vaiñëava and consider him our property, our own dear well-wisher, and to develop an affectionate bond with him.
It is insufficient merely to dwell on how much the Vaiñëavas love us or consider us to be their own. This is because the personal satisfaction that comes from thinking we are loved by the Vaiñëavas is nothing but an external symptom of the desire for sense gratification, which lurks in the deepest region of our hearts. If, instead, we begin to measure how much we have become bound in affection to the Vaiñëavas, it indicates that we are on our way to attaining the very perfection of all desires. Until we can identify Vaiñëavas and develop an intimacy with them in which we regard them as our bosom friends, we will be unable to realise the true nature of their affection for us.
Divine and Mundane Qualities
But before we can begin identifying Vaiñëavas or developing close affection for them, there are many
issues we need to examine first. While trying to classify a Vaiñëava, we will discern, from the mundane
perspective, many fine qualities in him, just as we will also chance to see his faults. Commonly, we are
attracted by a Vaiñëava’s modesty, affection, natural forbearance and generosity. We tend to assess
someone’s eligibility as a Vaiñëava solely by noting these virtues, which attract us and arouse in us a
semblance of affection for him.
It is important, and appropriate, for us to analyse and reflect upon the nature of these “external” virtues. By doing so we can determine whether or not we actually have darçana of a Vaiñëava by observing such qualities in him and, as a result, becoming attached to him and showing him honour. A Vaiñëava should be identified and honoured on the basis of his vaiñëavatä, or quality that best defines a Vaiñëava. This quality is the Vaiñëava’s exclusive dedication to the service of Çré Viñëu, and it is this that comprises his real nature. If we want to identify a Vaiñëava, we need simply measure how dedicated he is to serving Çré Viñëu
. Çréla Kaviräja Gosvämé Prabhu has listed the twenty-six qualities of a Vaiñëava, among which the intrinsic characteristic (svarüpa-lakñaëa) or defining
quality is exclusive surrender to Çré Kåñëa (kåñëaika-çaraëa). The remaining twenty-five qualities
manifest under the shelter of this primary characteristic and further enhance its sweetness.
These qualities will surely be present in Vaiñëavas, along with their vaiñëavatä, or hallmark, exclusive
surrender to Çré Kåñëa. One cannot find a Vaiñëava who is not gentle and well-behaved; however, these
virtues develop according to the strength of his vaiñëavatä.
The point here is that in enumerating these different qualities, Çréla Kaviräja Gosvämé is not
referring to our usual conception of them. From our mundane perspective, we may also detect the
qualities of a Vaiñëava that are listed by Çréla Kaviräja Gosvämé in persons who are not Vaiñëavas, such as the followers of varëäçrama-dharma. In truth, however, it is impossible for a non-Vaiñëava to
possess the qualities of a Vaiñëava. Whatever is synonymous with the word vaikuëöha, which
denotes the abode of the Supreme Lord, is not limited, temporary and gross like the objects of this
world. But everything else indicated by the words of this world is entirely worthless. Therefore, only
extremely superficial observers will think that the qualities of a Vaiñëava can also be found in non-
For instance, Çréla Kaviräja Gosvämé has listed magnanimity (vadänyatä) as a Vaiñëava quality. An ordinary person can be “magnanimous” according to the conventional meaning (ajïa-rüòhé-våtti) of the word. But this adjective cannot be applied to anyone except a Vaiñëava when it is given its truest and most profound sense (vidvat-rüòhé-våtti).
Our Misguided Vision
But who will look out for the superlative quality of a Vaiñëava? Only he who has realised its supremacy.
In other words, only that person who has himself developed a service attitude will appreciate the
importance of honouring this defining characteristic of a Vaiñëava. Only to he who has surrendered without duplicity are all the virtues of a Vaiñëava revealed in their true aspect. Such a person alone beholds the transcendental and extraordinary qualities of a Vaiñëava, without likening them to mundane qualities and thus inviting offences.
But we are devoid of a service attitude; and therefore
we cannot comprehend this secret of recognizing a Vaiñëava by his vaiñëavatä. All too often we are
attracted by a Vaiñëava’s other qualities, like his ample affection. We praise his patience, tolerance and other “external” virtues, but we should bear in mind that a Vaiñëava’s qualities are not objects for our sense gratification. If the qualities I detect in a Vaiñëava, like affection and patience, do not inspire me to engage in the service of Çré Viñëu and the Vaiñëavas, and do not lead me to become attracted to his vaiñëavatä, then it should be understood that I have been unable see their true aspect. In other words, I have simply been trying to satisfy my senses.
All the qualities of a Vaiñëava are certainly present in every Vaiñëava. If according to our material vision we conclude that Çréla Kåñëadäsa Kaviräja Gosvämé Prabhu was a poet, but that Çré Çivänanda Sena or Çré Govinda, the servant of Çréman Mahäprabhu, were not all that poetic, then we have not properly understood the Vaiñëava’s quality of being poetic (kavitva). Rather, by considering Çréla Kaviräja Gosvämé to be an ordinary author, we merely see in him a rare and exceptional material talent – the gift of poetry.
Those with material intelligence are unable to judge a Vaiñëava by his exclusive surrender to Çré Kåñëa (kåñëaika-çaraëa). They consider him an ordinary person, and end up seeing his faults and assessing his vaiñëavatä by looking at what is merely a semblance of his virtues. When they see the grave disposition of a particular Vaiñëava, they will liken it to the gravity of a common man and praise him, considering
this virtue to be the sole benchmark of his vaiñëavatä. But if another Vaiñëava conceals his gravity, they will not consider him to be a Vaiñëava or, even if they do, they will say that he is not as grave as that first Vaiñëava. Their words are as meaningless as the statement “a stone container made of gold”.
I begin my journey to hell by being envious of a Vaiñëava, seeing in him the semblance of faults, which are unpleasant to my senses. And I suffer equally by being affectionate to a Vaiñëava upon seeing in him
the semblance of good qualities, which are pleasing to my senses. In both cases, my vision is limited to the mundane realm, and I am not fortunate enough to be able to recognise the transcendental Vaiñëava.
Hence, in trying to find a Vaiñëava, we should not simply end up selecting someone who possesses
mundane qualities or who is devoid of them.
The mahäjanas have stated: “vaiñëava cinite näre devera çakati – it is impossible even for the demigods to properly identify a Vaiñëava.” This may lead me to wonder how I – a helpless and feeble being who is
ignorant and foolish – can ever hope to recognise a Vaiñëava? How will I be able to understand his
vaiñëavatä? As long as I remain ignorant of sambandha-tattva, the principle of one’s relationship with Çré Kåñëa, and continue to lack faith in the mercy of the Vaiñëavas, I will be subject to various types of
misgivings and be deprived of this mercy.
One Vaiñëava has given a very beautiful and remarkably logical answer to this question. It is indeed
true, he said, that the demigods themselves are unable to recognise a Vaiñëava, but why should this be cause for concern. The emperor may be unable to recognize my mother, but that will hardly prevent me from being able to recognise her, even if I were but a tiny baby.
When I was an infant, I did not understand what relationship my mother had with me, nor was I able to
realise her deep love and affection for me. Although I was ignorant, it does not follow that my mother was not my mother at that time or that I was deprived of her affection. I always remained related to her and did not forego her maternal affection, despite being unable to understand who she is. Nourished by her love I have now attained adulthood and am able to appreciate how she is related to me and what maternal affection is. During infancy, I did not understand my mother; therefore, I could not realise the sweetness of her affection, although she showered me with it. But I have now grown into an adult through her love and nurturing. By her affection and mercy, I am now able to realise who she is and have now developed a feeling of possessiveness (mamatä) towards her.
When the practising devotee attains madhyamaadhikära, he is able to ascertain the eligibility of a Vaiñëava and show him due affection. Only then is he able to receive the mercy of the Vaiñëavas. It is also by the mercy of the Vaiñëavas that one reaches the madhyama stage. Indeed, their mercy is at play at all times. Only by the compassion of the Vaiñëavas does the jéva who is averse to Bhagavän and full of
anarthas develop the tendency to chant the holy name of Bhagavän in the kaniñöha level. But the
kaniñöha-adhikäré is unable to realise this, and this is what makes him a kaniñöha devotee.
The Vaiñëavas shower their mercy upon the kaniñöha-adhikäré without his knowing it, and this
mercy covertly and imperceptibly elevates him to the madhyama level. Then, only by the mercy of the
Vaiñëavas does he develop the ability to discern what level a Vaiñëava is on and offer him due respect. We do not need to create our relationship with the Vaiñëavas, for it is eternal. Our objective is simply to
realise that relationship, and this is possible only by the strength of their mercy. Why, then, should we
have any concern about being unable to identify Vaiñëavas.
We Really Made the Vaiñëavas Our Own?
The degree to which I have been able to make a Vaiñëava my property and honour him can be
measured by one criteria only: how indifferent or apathetic I have become towards non-Vaiñëavas,
realising that they have no relation with me. Unless one is wholly indifferent towards non-Vaiñëavas, that is, has no relationship with them at all, one has no hope of ever developing a sense of kinship with the Vaiñëavas.
Our conviction that the Vaiñëavas belong to us develops in proportion to our feeling that non-
Vaiñëavas are outsiders. This is not mere talk. If I really wish to be related to the Vaiñëavas, I must first
renounce my attachment to non-Vaiñëavas. If my mother, father, brothers, friends and so-called close
relatives become hostile to the service of the Vaiñëavas and to the supreme conscious Entity, then I
will have to become wholly indifferent to them, regarding them as unrelated to me in any true sense.
This includes my very own body and mind. Until I attain such determination, to think of the Vaiñëavas as my property is nothing but deceit. A person cannot have possessiveness towards or kinship with the
Vaiñëavas while considering non-Vaiñëavas to be related to him – the two are mutually contradictory.
Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana
Kesava Goswami Page