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March 24, 1999   VNN3400  

"Declare It Boldly!"


EDITORIAL, Mar 24 (VNN) — (from Sanga wfd@efn.org)

'What is stressed is the ideal of the devotee - that which he will become - as opposed to judging him by his present condition, much less his past.'

From the forthcoming publication, 'Bhagavad Gita, Its Feeling and Philosophy' by Swami B.V. Tripurari.

Having briefly defended himself against the charge of partiality, only to openly admit his preference for his devotees, announcing it to the public, Krishna continues unabated to the end of this chapter, extolling the virtues of devotion to himself. Here, beginning with verse 26 and culminating in the 34th and final verse, we come to the high point of the Gita, which is again reiterated in its closing words nine chapters later.

30-31 "Even if a person of very bad behavior worships me with undivided devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly, for he is properly resolved.

Quickly he becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that no devotee of mine is ever lost."

In these two verses the limits of bhakti for awarding salvation are feelingly expressed by the connoisseur of love, Sri Krishna. Krishna says here that the sinner (suduracaro), worshiping him exclusively (ananya-bhak), is definitely a saint (sadhur eva) in spite of his bad character, owing to his resignation (vyavasito) to the service/worship of Krishna. The word 'mantavyah', "He is to be thought of (as saintly)," is in the form of a command for emphasis. Without saying anything further, one is left with the notion that bhakti, even in its immature stage of practice, is in some sense antinomain. Krishna's devotees are not bound by moral obligation. Understandably, these verses have been explained in numerous ways to qualify what Krishna appears to be saying so that one cannot cite them to support bad character in the name of bhakti. However, in evoking these explanations, one must be careful not to undermine the power of bhakti, which is the spirit of the text.

Characteristically, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura emphasized the power of bhakti, siding largely with the reasoning that the devotee, owing to his devotion, is to be considered above the law. In such a generous rendering, what is stressed is the ideal of the devotee - that which he will become - as opposed to judging him by his present condition, much less his past. The 'svarupa laksana' (principle characteristic) in the form of his devotional ideal overrides the devotee's 'tatastah laksana' (marginal characteristic) appearing as bad character.

Here Visvanatha Cakravati's rendering of 'ananya-bhak' is such that it does away with an apparent contradiction. If a devotee is ananya bhak, meaning undeviated in pure devotional life, then it contradicts 'suduracaro' (very badly misbehaved). How can one be undeviated in the sense of 'bhajate mam ananya bhak' and 'anayas citayanto mam', found in verses 13 and 22, respectively, and be, at the same, time misbehaved? Thus Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains ananya bhak merely as devotion to Krishna alone and not any other god or goddess.

The words 'ksipram bhavati dharmatma' in verse 31 are understood by Visvantha Cakravarti, due to their being in the present tense, to indicate immediate or continued attainment of righteous status . Thus, he who chooses to serve no God other than Krishna, even if he is very badly behaved, must be considered saintly. As for the blemish resulting from his misbehavior, he is immediately rectified owing to his repentance and continued resolve. Arjuna is commanded to loudly announce this, and by doing so, people will see Arjuna himself as praiseworthy. One who thinks otherwise is himself condemned, having ignored Krishna's order, which is a scriptural mandate.

Visvanatah Cakravarti Thakura says that, should one agree with the above understanding on the condition that the devotee in question actually does become righteous (bhavati dharmatma), giving up his bad character, this conditional acceptance of his words invokes Krishna's wrath. The thought of this makes Krishna say, 'kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhakta pranasyati', "O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that no devotee of mine is ever lost." Thus even if the devotee is not seen to rectify himself, still he is to be considered saintly. Krishna orders Arjuna to declare this fact publicly because his devotee's promise will never be broken, as Krishna sees to this more so than he is concerned with upholding his own promises. Following Sridhara Swami's commentary, Visvanatha says that the spirit here is that Krishna orders Arjuna to publicly declare this with cymbals and drums in a public place. The result will be that the public will worship Arjuna for doing so.

Although Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura's comments are the left-leaning liberal side of the pendulum, it should be noted that the misbehaved devotee he sees in these verses is always remorseful for his misbehavior.

Even if he cannot give up his misbehavior, he continues to condemn himself for it. Thus even Cakravarti Thakura does not give a license for flouting the moral law in the name of devotion.

Conservative explanations of these verses are in no shortage. In his Bhakti-sandarbha ,Jiva Goswami says that the verses are intended to instill initial faith in unalloyed bhakti, which, upon attaining, one evolves to deeper faith, faith in scriptural descriptions regarding the proper practice of bhakti. There is also no dearth of scriptural statements condemning misbehavior of all variety. Jiva Goswami says that the understanding that devotees are absolved from misbehavior is the opinion of persons who are scripturally uneducated. For Sri Jiva, the words 'api cet' in verse 30 mean "even though," indicating that misbehavior on the part of the devoted is indeed a blemish.

'Api cet' can be read "even if," implying that verse 30 speaks of only a hypothetical case in which a devotee does that which for an ananya bhakta, is not possible. Undeviated (ananya) devotees (bhaktas) do not deviate. If such a devotee exhibits the impossible, his misbehavior may be an arrangement of Krishna for his own purpose. Krsna may cause a near perfect devotee to fall, after which the devotee rises up with the necessary humility to attain the perfectional stage of devotion.

Even if a devotee does something improper in the course of rendering devotional service, such as deceiving another in order to involve them in Krishna's service, he should be considered saintly. If a devotee comes from a misbehaved background, his lack of culture may carry over into his new devotional life. For this he should not be condemned, rather considered saintly. In this way, it is possible to make less of the nature of the misbehavior Krishna describes, as it is possible to make more of bhakti's dearness to Krishna and thus its efficacy.

A third and charming explanation is found in the writings of Kedarnath Bhaktivinoda Thakura. The higher harmony of his rendering appears to have its roots in Jiva Goswami's Bhakti-sandarbha. In Sri Jiva's exposition on raganuga bhakti (sacred passionate love), he cites verse 30 to support the idea that devotees on the path of raganuga bhakti are absolved from following the religious codes detailed in the Dharma sastra. Ordinarily, violation of these codes is considered irreligious. However, because the devotee has come under the jurisdiction of bhakti, the supreme expression of dharma (prema dharma), he need not be concerned with lesser religious mandates. Indeed, this is the conclusion of the Gita, wherein Krishna implores Arjuna to forgo all dharma and surrender unto him to attain prema.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura sees an apparent contradiction between the use of the words 'ananya bhak' and 'sudaracar'. In this he renders ananya bhak in terms of its meaning found in verse 13, indicating not only one who worships Krishna and no other God, but one who worships Krishna with the highest standard of devotion - an unalloyed devotee. How can an unalloyed devotee be misbehaved? He also finds an apparent contradiction in the idea that an unalloyed devotee, after somehow becoming misbehaved, would then become righteous (dharmatama). This implies that from the plane of unalloyed devotion, having fallen, he is reestablished in the plane of religion, which lies in-between misbehavior and unalloyed devotion.

Thakura Bhaktivinoda harmonizes all of the above points in question by applying these verses to Krishna's gopis, who are ananya bhaktas, yet misbehaved in terms of violating socio-religious codes. They went to Krishna following their hearts, ravaged by the sound of Krishna's flute. In doing so, they violated religious mandates with regard to marital fidelity.

Although they were ananya bhak to the extreme, they were to the mundane religious mind, which does not understand the significance of Krishna, very misbehaved.

How then did the gopis become religiously reformed? As there is no instance of this, nor would it ever be an appropriate theological conclusion, Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that it is not the gopis who become righteous. He who proclaims the purity of the gopi's apparent misbehavior, the forgoing of dharma sastra in pursuit of sacred passionate love, he immediately becomes righteous by speaking about their so-called violation. And by glorifying everywhere their apparent misbehavior, he attains salvation (sasvac santim nigacchati). "One (who declares it boldly that my aunalloyed devotee is never fallen) quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace."

From the forthcoming publication, 'Bhagavad Gita, Its Feeling and Philosophy' by Swami B.V. Tripurari.

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