This is excerpted from the first rough draft of my work on a summary study of Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakur’s Madhurya Kadambini. It is a summary of a passage in the third chapter of that book
Offending the Saintly
Offenses are the most significant of unwanted things blocking the progress of bhakti. Of all these, offenses made against saintly people are the worst. What is meant by “offense”? It means feeling aversion towards a person, hatred and enmity. Especially, it means expressing that aversion verbally or physically.
The cure for expressing hateful feelings towards the saintly is to feel genuine sorrow for doing so and to express that sorrow in words and actions aimed at pleasing, glorifying and gaining forgiveness from that person.
The thought process is something like this:
“What is wrong with me? I am so rotten that I am repulsed by people who are saintly. I can’t even contain my negative feelings, I express them outright as insults! What can I do except feel deep regret and express that regret in an attempt to secure their forgiveness?”
Sometimes the offended person will not easily listen to my apologies. I should think, “The depth of my insult was worse than I even thought! I must try harder to understand how rotten my heart is, and also try harder to express my appreciation and service towards the ones I have offended.”
Still, the offended might not forgive. I must think, “I am destined to suffer so much as a result of being so deeply insulting to a saintly person. All there is left for me to do is continue trying to please that person while I take full shelter of bhakti and the holy name, hoping never again to make such offenses.”
Who is Saintly?
The urge will be there to say, “God, what is wrong with this guy? Why wont he forgive me?” Or, “You know, if she was really all that ‘saintly’ she would not have taken this insult so seriously to begin with.” These thoughts are complete illusions that I must avoid at all costs!
Another doubt, “How can you say he is a ‘saint’? Look what he did!!! How is it an ‘offense’ to point out to you what a cheater this man is!?! If the person was truly a ‘saint’ I would have nothing ill to point out in the first place!”
Thus the important question: Who is “saintly”?
People who behave poorly, who are fallen, deceitful, egotistical, bodily conscious, drunks, cruel, irreligious, uncultured, mean, greedy, attached and illusioned are actually liberated souls if they merely take shelter of Govinda’s feet. [Padma Purana 4.25.9, quoted in Hari Bhakti Vilas 11.655]
I must therefore clearly and bravely accept the fact that a saint can have thousands of defects! Any person who shows interest in pleasing Govinda is a saint, regardless of whatever other faults they have. [See also, Gita 9.30 to this effect]
If I want to progress towards realizing bhakti I must not criticize a person who takes shelter of Govinda, even if that person behaves very poorly.
Then the doubt arises, “But who will correct this person?” To answer this doubt I must ask myself, “Am I this person’s Guru? Does this person look up to me and respect me deeply?” If the answer is yes, then it may be befitting for me to point out the person’s faults for his or her own welfare. If the answer is no, however (as it almost always is) I should keep quiet, plain and simple. If I find silence intolerable I should voice my concern with care to someone actually in a position to correct the person.
If this produces no fruit, I must accept that certain things are beyond my control. I must put distance between myself and the person whose faults are disturbing me, so that it might be easier to take full shelter of bhakti and the holy name in a sincere effort to proceed towards prema despite this as yet unresolved offensive feeling towards a saint.
Since it is of paramount importance not to criticize even the faulty and fallen devotee, who can possibly calculate the disastrous impact of criticizing those who are highly elevated souls possessing abundant qualities of humility, tolerance, mercy, truthfulness, etc.? The cataclysmic effect of feeling and expressing non-loving emotions towards such personalities can not be described in finite numbers!
No Offense Taken?
Elevated bhaktas are so full of saintly qualities that they almost never feel offended by any insult. Does this mean it is nearly impossible to truly offend them?
The dust of the feet of such great souls blocks the progress of offenders. [Bhagavat Purana 4.4.13]
This means that although the saint never personally takes offense, things connected to the saint (“dust of the feet”) do. The followers and admirers of the saint will all be offended and this will block my progress multiple times. Therefore offending those who take no offense is the worst of all offenses! I should immediately and attentively beg forgiveness from the elevated saints I have offended, so that the “dust of their feet” (their followers and admirers) will forgive me and the blocks to the progress of prema will dissolve.
Again, a doubt, “Aren’t those people offending me by hating me so much for this so-called offense?” I have two answers to offer:
- Who cares? Let that be their problem. It does not in any way change the fact that I feel repulsed by a person Krsna is attracted to, and therefore I am in dire need of mercy and correction.
- No. It is natural and proper for a saint to become angry when the object of their affection is criticized. In fact it would be an offense not to become angry in such situations. [This is the 11th Anga of Sadhana Bhakti, see BRS 1.2.111. See also Brihat Bhagavatamrta 1.6.102 describing Rohini becoming angry and chastizing Padmavati in Dvaraka when Padmavati tried to criticize the Vraja Vasis.]
Graciousness of the Saintly
Although the admirers of a saint will naturally become angry with me for my offenses, the saint himself / herself is so magnanimous that often times he or she will bestow great blessings on me without any reason at all. For example:
- Jada Bharata blessing King Rahugana even after the king forced him into slave like labor and viciously belittled and insulted him.
- Uparicara Vasu blessing the demons who came to kill him when he retired from battle to do bhajan.
- Nityananda Prabhu blessing Madhai even after Madhai struck him violently on the forehead.