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Offenses and the Holy Name - From Madhurya Kadambini

Jagat - Wed, 11 Aug 2004 02:30:50 +0530
Vishwanath makes some interesting points at the end of the third chapter of Madhurya Kadambini. I spent quite some time looking at other translations of these passages, because there seem to be nuances that they have missed.


Here the following objection may be raised: The shastras say, “As soon as the Holy Name appears, it destroys accumulated sins just as the rising sun destroys oceans of darkness.” And elsewhere, it is also written, “A chandala can obtain liberation from material bondage by even once hearing your name.” There is the further example of Ajamila, for whom just the semblance (AbhAsa) of the Name destroyed all anarthas, up to and including ignorance, and brought him into direct contact with the Lord. In view of all this, then, it seems that the previously explained gradual process whereby anarthas cease does not apply.

This is quite true. There can be no doubt that the Holy Name possesses great power. However, the Holy Name does not manifest its power when it is displeased with offenders, and the very absence of its mercy suggests the existence of anarthas and sins.

Even so, the Yamadutas, the messengers of Yamaraj, are powerless to attack even offenders who chant the Holy Name, for the Bhagavatam (6.1.19) says, “They do not see Yama or his noose-bearing servants even in their dreams, and they need no other atonement.” In the description of the seventh offense, where it is said that one who commits sin on the strength of chanting cannot be purified even by many "yamas," yama refers to that element of yoga practice, and not to Yamaraj.

The last line means that Yamaraj is engaged in purifying sinners through a process of corrections. This is why zuddhi (purification) also means correction and punishment. But if interpreted to mean a multiplicity of such Yamas, then that would imply that even a chanter of the Holy Name suffers many hellish punishments. But this contradicts not only 6.1.19, but Bhagavata-mahatmya 6.99--

sva-puruSam api vIkSya pAza-hastaM
vadati yamaH kila tasya karNa-mUle |
parihara bhagavat-kathAsu mattAn
prabhur aham anya-nRNAM na vaiSNavAnAM ||

When Yamaraj saw his noose-carrying messenger, he whispered in his ear, ‘Don’t go near those who have surrendered to the lotus feet of Lord Madhusudan, for I am only the judge of ordinary human beings, not of the Vaishnavas.


A man, though wealthy and capable, may decide not to take care of a relative who has offended him, and as a result of this neglect the relative may have to suffer distress, poverty, and sadness. At the same time, no one would ever take care of a person with whom he has no relation. So, once this relative again serves his master according to the master’s liking, then by his master’s mercy, his distress and poverty gradually go away. In the same way, if an offender to the Holy Name sincerely serves the devotees, shastras, and guru, then by their mercy, all his distresses are gradually destroyed. This cannot be contested.

On the other hand, if someone claims to have never committed any offense, he should remember that a tree can be known by its fruits. Thus, if the symptoms of prema do not appear even after repeated chanting, then one can assume the presence of either recent or old offenses. The Bhagavata says,

tad azma-sAraM hRdayaM batedaM
yad gRhyamANair hari-nAma-dheyaiH |
na vikriyetAtha yadA vikAro
netre jalaM gAtra-ruheSu harSaH || iti.

"That heart is surely made of iron if on chanting it is not transformed, that transformation being that the eyes fill with tears and the hairs stand on end."

The above translation follows Jiva Goswami's commentary. I have always had trouble with this particular way of translating this verse. The way I read it, it should translate as follows: "That heart is surely made of iron if it is not transformed even after there are bodily transformations like tears and hair standing on end after one chants the Holy Name."

In other words, the ecstatic symptoms are a free gift from the Holy Name, but if one does not change one's behavior in accordance with the experience that comes with chanting, i.e., if one does not develop faith and act in a way befitting a devotee, then one's heart is made of stone or iron. In this view, the offensiveness is in not responding to the Holy Name.

I was pleased to see that Vishwanath Chakravarti supports this version, though his reasoning is a bit different from mine. He says that internal transformation is bhava, symptomized by the characteristics of kSAntir avyartha-kAlatvam, etc. Someone who has a certain kind of personality, which Sri Rupa in BRS 2.3.89 calls picchila, or slippery (soft on the outside, hard on the inside, like a banana peel on a sidewalk), may shed tears externally without having attained the requisite internal transformation. This is a show, and real mahatmas try to avoid this kind of superficial showbottle ecstasy.

Anyway, that's a side issue. The point of this section is to tell us that the Holy Name continues to take responsibility for someone who has chanted just once, even if he has become an offender. Though the Holy Name may withhold its full mercy, nevertheless, since a special relationship has been established through chanting, the devotee never suffers samsara like others. As is clear from the subsequent discussion, in Madhurya-kadambini, it is not sin that blocks the devotee's progress, but aparadh. As Ananta Das Baba says, "Though the offender does not get the fruits of devotion, he remains under the protection of the Holy Name, which never maintains nor gives its grace to one who has never engaged in chanting or other forms of bhajan. "

So, what I take from this is the following:

kRSNeti yasya giri taM manasAdriyeta
dIkSAsti cet praNatibhis taM bhajantam Izam
zuzRUSayA bhajana-vijJam ananyam anya-
nindAdi-zUnya-hRdayaM Ipsita-saGga-labdhyA

One should give mental respects to anyone who utters the names of Krishna, bow down to one who is initiated and engaged in the Lord’s bhajan. And if one has the good fortune to encounter someone who is fully conversant with the ways of bhajan and whose heart is entirely free of the tendency to criticize others, then one should serve him wholeheartedly, for his association is the most desirable.
Jagat - Thu, 12 Aug 2004 00:09:56 +0530

The issue at question here, raised in section 3.19 above, is why Rupa Goswami has named so many different stages to attaining devotional perfection when it has been said that the Holy Name has the power to immediately elevate the chanter directly to Vaikuëöha. Vishwanath says that this is true, but only in the case of the offenseless person, who is very rare in this world. This very body is the product of past offenses, so we can conclude that every embodied being has committed some offense, both in this and previous lives. As such, it is quite correct to describe a nine-step process for attaining prema. Here Vishwanath illustrates this further by using the metaphor of physical illness.

In the section of the Padma Purana where the Namaparadhas are discussed, it is said, “O best of brahmins! What are those aparadhas to the Holy Name that destroy all the good an offender has done and make him take transcendental things to be mundane?”

The meaning of this question, which is being asked with both fear and astonishment, is how can a devotee ever come to see the transcendental qualities and names of the Lord, repeated chanting and hearing of which should give prema very quickly, as material? Similarly, the Holy Dham should also give perfection if one lives there for a prolonged period of time, and the butter, milk, betel, and other preparations offered to the Lord, if relished regularly, should bring an end to the waves of sense enjoyment. So what are the grave offenses that diminish the respective fruits and make all these spiritual items appear material? Does it mean that an offender becomes so averse to the Lord that bhajana-kriyAs, such as taking shelter at the feet of guru and so on, become impossible for him?

It is indeed true that one who commits offenses becomes averse to bhajan. One who has a heavy fever cannot accept food. Similarly, in the presence of heavy namaparadhas, a person loses taste for hearing, chanting, and other devotional practices. But as the fever diminishes and its effects lessen, one’s appetite revives somewhat. Similarly, after suffering the effects of namaparadha for a long time, its force diminishes and one again gets some taste for devotional acts. This is how one’s capacity for devotion develops.

Even so, nutritious foodstuffs such as milk and grains cannot fully nourish a sick person, even after his fever has been reduced. They are unable to immediately relieve him from the weakness and fatigue due to fever, but only do so in the course of time, if he follows the proper regime of medicines and diet. Similarly, for a devotee who is recovering from aparadhas and has regained his capacity or eligibility for devotion, hearing, chanting, and other devotional practices gradually manifest more and more fully over the course of time. Therefore it has been accurately stated that faith, association with devotees, the taking up of devotional activities, the reduction of various obstacles, and the determined practice of devotion are stages that follow in sequence.
Jagat - Thu, 12 Aug 2004 00:49:07 +0530

In section 3.20 above, it was stated that the absence of prema’s symptoms, even after repeatedly chanting and engaging in other devotional activities, can be taken as evidence for the existence of aparadha. Here, however, Vishwanath Chakravartipada states that this is not a universal rule.

Some people think that if a devotee chanting the Holy Name and engaged in other devotional activities does not exhibit the symptoms of prema, and furthermore shows a tendency to sinful activity, then we can not only assume the presence of aparadha, but if he is also suffering from the material miseries, that his prArabdha-karma has not been destroyed.

However, scripture says that Ajamila was offenseless and that he not only named his son Narayan, but daily called out that name many times. Nevertheless, he showed no signs of prema and was engaged in sinful activities, including an illicit relation with a prostitute. Yudhisthira and the Pandavas also suffered many miseries despite the absence of prArabdha.

We must therefore conclude that just as a healthy tree bears fruit only in the proper season, the Holy Name bestows its mercy at the appropriate time, even when it is pleased with an offenseless person. In such a person, sinful behavior that comes as a result of previous bad habits is as inconsequential as the bite of a snake without fangs. Disease or other distress seen in them is not a result of prArabdha.

The Lord himself says, “I gradually take away all the wealth of one on whom I bestow my mercy. Such a person's relatives and family reject him, seeing him penniless and suffering from one distress after another.”

Elsewhere the Lord has said, “The great affliction of poverty is a sign of my mercy.” By his own will, the clever Lord, who gives all auspiciousness to his devotees, sometimes gives them distress to increase their humility and eagerness. Therefore, because reactions to fruitive activities are absent in them, the distress seen in the devotees is not the result of prArabdha-karma.


Vishwanath has intertwined a number of points here. Two things are important to retain in any discussion of aparadha: One is what it means for me, as a sadhaka trying to measure my own progress in spiritual life. The other is what it means in my dealings with other devotees.

Clearly, there are points here that are meant as encouragement. The essential point in devotional service is the establishment of a relationship with Krishna. If we give ourselves to Krishna and the Holy Name just once, his promise is to never abandon us. This means that even if one commits horrendous offenses, somehow or another, the miniscule amount of devotion that was once performed is never forgotten.

This is a radical statement for those of us who believe in the law of karma. How can anyone be exempt from the consequences of their actions? And why should we not hold them accountable for their actions? These are extremely difficult questions and full of consequence for our own spiritual life.

First of all, even when the law of karma is operative, there is a certain randomness in the way it works. The consequences of one's actions may not be immediately felt, and indeed, evil sometimes appears to be rewarded and good punished. This is true both in the world of karma and the world of surrender. In the world of karma, however, everything is measured in terms of sense enjoyment and the other goals of human life--prestige, success, wealth, sense gratification, freedom. In the devotional world, everything is measured in terms of prema and the qualifications that make one worthy to enter the divine abode. We do not know the machinations behind the scene, but we take it as a matter of faith.

Are we agents of karma? Are we meant to administer the laws of karma, or the laws of prema? Of course. Consciously or unconsciously we already do. Even when trying to act consciously, we are only tiny fragments of God's plan. However, as devotees, we strive to remain in this consciousness: that those who have chanted the Holy Name are marked with a sign, visible or invisible, that distinguishes them as Krishna's, or Radha's. This means that all our actions toward them must be guided by a deep respect and love.

Consciously or unconsciously, you must be an agent of karma or prema, but you don't want to become the plaything of aparadha. So, sadhu savadhan!

Jagat - Thu, 12 Aug 2004 01:13:09 +0530
Vishwanath also uses the example of the fangless snake many times to describe sin or sensual activity, which are often seen as coterminous. Who does not know this great verse by Prabodhananda?

kaivalyaM narakAyate tridaza-pUr AkAza-puSpAyate
durdAntendriya-kAla-sarpa-paTalI protkhAta-daMSTrAyate
vizvaM pUrNa-sukhAyate vidhi-mahendrAdiz ca kITAyate
yat-kAruNya-kaTakSa-vaibhavavatAM taM gauram eva stumaH

For one who has become rich with Gaura's merciful glance,
the oneness of Brahman realization is a kind of hell,
the heavenly world of the gods an impossible mirage;
the black cobra-like snakes of the senses broken-fanged,
and this entire universe has become a place full of joy.
The gods, Vidhi and Mahendra, have no more significance than worms,
so let us praise the glories of this most merciful Gaura.

ACBSP used to quote this verse primarily for the first two words, but there is a world in the rest of the sloka. Even so, kaivalyaM narakAyate is a good place to start:

Life is real. The world is real. Our individuality and our personalities are real. So why should we deny their reality to merge into a state of undifferentiated oneness? That denial of ourselves is the another version of hell. But since we are the servants of God, parts and parcels of God, denial of ourselves means denial of that constitutional position. If hell is forgetfulness of God, then even such liberation is hell.

The heavenly enjoyments are will o' the wisps, an ephemeral fifteen minutes of fame. What is gained? The Mayavadis say, "It is maya," and so it is. It is the greener grass on the other side of the fence. It is that future possibility that one never attains. It is the water that trickles through the fingers. It is never here, never now. One who has Gaura's kripa has no such futile ambition.

So what of the senses, those dangerous snakes that are constantly hissing? Or like those multiple wives gone berserk, pulling from every side until we are torn into pieces? But these sense have lost their sting. They are not gone, but we need not cow in fear--they have no poison in them. For as real beings, Gaura has given us back our senses to relish his presence in all things.

Thus, the world is a place full of joy: it has not gone or disappeared, but is there, full of life and joy and God's presence. Bhakti is not about death, but life. Life more full and more abundant through Gaura's magic glance, whereby his golden effulgence sparkles on all things.

So what other gods could possibly have meaning for us? They have none. They have nothing more to offer--not power, not wealth, not glory. The God of love has opened our eyes and everything else is insignificant.

Jai Gaura !