I am writing about vaisnava aparadha in this issue. Why? Because I want to help you chant better. What does aparadha have to do with chanting? Everything. Attempts to improve chanting (and to improve in devotional service in general) will be undermined if we allow ourselves to offend devotees.
Also, I recently had a bout with vaisnava aparadha that was quite instructive. I want to share this with you.
May you always think of Krsna,
Who Are You Offending?
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said: “Those who worship Me directly but neglect my devotees are in illusion and cause Me pain. Their offerings feel like a shower of burning cinders on my body. He who criticizes and offends My devotees will be destroyed by chanting My name. Give up criticizing vaisnavas and take shelter of My name.”
Wow! We can become destroyed by chanting Hare Krsna. Here’s another good one.
“Even if one worships the Lord for millions of lifetimes, if he continues to offend devotees it will be impossible to gain the Lord’s mercy.
So the question is, “Who are you offending? Of course, I am not assuming you are offending anyone (that would be offensive of me); I am just asking. Just as we go to the doctor or dentist for regular check-ups, we need to regularly check ourselves, to look in our hearts and ask: “Is there any particular devotee or group of devotees that I have a tendency to offend?” You may think, no, I have given up offending devotees, I don’t do that anymore. But remission is always possible. So don’t go without your regular check-ups.
What Is an Offense?
Aparadha literally means “to be distanced from worship.” In other words, offenses to devotees distance us from devotional service, distance us from the worship of Sri Radha whom all worship and service to Krsna goes through.
I also like to define aparadha as “to be distanced from affection.” Why? Because aparadha can only take place where affection is lacking. Conversely, where there is affection there will not be offense. In his last days Srila Prabhupada asked forgiveness from his god-brothers and god-nephews for the “offenses” he made while preaching, as he sometimes pointed out what he saw as deviations from the orders of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. They immediately replied that everything he did was only out of love for guru and Krsna and thus he never made any offense. In other words, they acknowledged that Srila Prabhupada did not envy or disrespect his godbrothers, and that whatever he said “against’ them was done out of love and affection for guru and Gauranga.
Aparadha takes root in the soil of envy. Although we are advised to avoid criticism of another vaisnava, it is really ill motivated criticism based on a lack of affection and respect that is considered aparadha. If you have affection for someone, you show that affection through acts of service, appreciation, respect, and intimate exchange, not through offense. So when affection and respect for someone is low, we are more likely to offend them – or perhaps guaranteed to offend them.
Do You Want Blessings?
Why is it important to avoid offenses? We advance by receiving the blessings and mercy of superior persons. We receive those blessings through honoring, serving, and appreciating them, as well as by following their instructions. Our success in bhakti is totally dependant on the blessings of the vaisnavas. If we offend them, we can cut ourselves off from the very blessings we need to maintain our Krsna consciousness. So offending vaisnavas is like pulling the plug on our spiritual life support systems. Think of this analogy the next time you are tempted to make an offense or criticize.
Loving Krsna Means Respecting Others
We should also be careful to not offend people in general (jana aparadha). To love Krsna means to show affection for all of his parts and parcels. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta said that the injunction not to criticize or blaspheme devotees (sadhu ninda) should be applied to non devotees as well. Krsna is not pleased when we think, “I won’t find fault with devotees but it’s no big thing to disrespect non devotees or find fault with them.” If the fault finding mentality remains, no matter who it’s directed towards, it’s a contamination.
The Camouflaged Aparadha
I would like to share with you a very instructive story about aparadha. Unfortunately, it’s my story.
As a result of helping facilitate the japa retreats earlier this year, my chanting improved in some major ways. The result is I have been much more Krsna consciousness. But there was a period in which my consciousness fell to some pretty low places. I felt like some wicked force had come over me and I was not sure how or why it was happening. All I could think of was that I need to find out what is causing this.
So I traced back my steps and realized that it all started with me recently becoming somewhat obsessed with aspects of leadership in ISKCON that I felt were hurting the movement. I didn’t think I was being envious or offensive; I just felt I was isolating problems and looking at solutions.
I subsequently wrote a short paper on the topic. After I finished the article my consciousness took a nose dive. The next day my rounds were terrible. In fact, in the following days I had a really difficult time chanting: I didn’t want to chant and I couldn’t concentrate. For the next few weeks I was having very little realization in Krsna consciousness. It was so bad that I couldn’t even write Illuminations because I had nothing to say.
The fact was that my article was motivated by envy and I offended some wonderful devotees – but I just wasn’t acknowledging it. Then something amazing happened. I was chanting my rounds early one morning and my mind started going to some really dark places, thinking of things I rarely, if ever, think about. It was frightening to observe. My mind was on a downward path of its own – and it seemed like all I could do was sit there and just watch it go wherever it wanted. Then one thought began resounding over and over in my mind, and this one thought saved me: “Don’t you realize that you have offended devotees in the paper you wrote? You did this because you are envious of them.”
Immediately I began asking for forgiveness for my offenses. I then appreciated the service and activities of the leaders I had criticized. What happened next was incredibly amazing? So tune in to the next newsletter and I’ll tell you what happened.
Ok, only kidding, I’ll tell you now. Immediately (I mean right on the spot) my consciousness changed and those horrible thoughts left as easily and quickly as they came. I could then clearly hear the holy name and chant with concentration and devotion, something I hadn’t been able to do for weeks.
This experience was Krsna’s mercy. It was a graphic warning of how important it is to be affectionate to devotees. I had to acknowledge that in the name of objective analysis and the welfare of Iskcon, I am often just indulging my own envy and jealously.
A few days ago I read something that confirmed what I had experienced. Lord Caitanya said that appreciation of and service to the devotees is the remedy for vaisnava aparadha. In addition, He said it is also the antidote.
I am happy to report that I have recovered from the illness of aparadha and am again alive and well in Krsna consciousness.
Don’t Listen To It
Aparadha is especially disastrous when an elevated devotee is offended. Ramacandra Khan was envious of Thakura Haridas and desperately tried to defame him. The result was that Khan’s home – and the entire village he lived in – was plundered by the government (it’s not that the government did this because they knew he had made an offence and wanted to punish such a vaisnava aparadhi. It was simply a result of what happens when Krsna’s dear devotee is offended). Whenever an advanced devotee is disrespected, everyone in connection with the offender suffers. It is wise, therefore, to never listen to criticism of devotees or be connected with any kind of vaisnava aparadha. Some devotees take this so seriously that they vow to never hear blasphemy or criticism of devotees (this also includes emails, articles, and publications in which devotees are unjustly criticized). This is a wonderful vow to follow.
Narada Muni and the Sons of Daksa
Vaisava aparadha is so insidious that even if a trace of it remains in the heart there can be remission. Daksa offended Lord Siva, later apologized, and then begged for forgiveness. In his next life he unfortunately made another offense to a great devotee, this time to Narada muni. What’s going on with Daksa? This story illustrates that he had not fully forgiven Lord Siva. Some of his offensive mentality still remained in his heart and thus caused him to again commit an offense in his next life. I always assumed my offensive mentality would somehow automatically die when I die. Well, that sure was hopeful thinking. We are going to carry all our baggage with us. Knowing this can be an impetus to drop some of that bad baggage now.
Here in Alachua we have love bugs, two bugs that always stay attached (physically) to one another. It is, of course, unheard of that one would become sexually agitated by seeing love bugs make love. But this is basically what happened to Saubhari muni after he offended Garuda. Due to his offense to Garuda, Saubhari fell from his spiritual path and became a licentious fool, completely caught up in material life. And how did he fall? He simply saw two fish having sex. That made him so agitated that he gave up his spiritual practices and decided to dive totally into household life. And he didn’t mess around. He married fifty young beautiful girls (after having some mystical plastic surgery to make himself attractive).
All that was caused by seeing two fish making love! That’s seems totally weird. Can you imagine someone pleading innocent to rape charges on the plea that he saw two fish having sex? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised how fallen one can become if they offend a great personality.
You May Not Fall Down
It’s common that spiritualists who make serious offenses fall down from their spiritual practices. It’s therefore natural to think that if I am doing fairly well in Krsna conscious I haven’t seriously offended any devotees. That may be true, but not always. One may go on chanting the holy name and be engaged in sadhana even though one is an offender, but there will be little or no benefit to such sadhana. So just because we have not fallen on our faces externally doesn’t automatically mean we are not offending devotees and reaping results of aparadha.
The essential point here is that an offensive mentality, be it chronic or acute, is going to affect our bhakti. The more sensitive you are to the status of your devotional creeper, the more you will be aware of how your nature to criticize affects your bhakti – and especially how it affects your chanting. A good way to become more sensitive to this is to make a decision not to criticize others. Once you do this you will become much more aware of your own tendency to criticize.
(It’s important to note that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta felt criticism was so detrimental to bhakti that he said we should not criticize even where there is evidence that a devotee has misbehaved. Still there are situations in which it would not be wise to overlook another’s faults or misbehavior, especially when such behavior is harmful to others. Still this can be done – and should be done – without being offensive)
Loosing All Good Fortune
It’s not uncommon that ones material opulence and good fortune are destroyed by offending a great personality. Not only that, by criticizing another person you take on some of their bad karma and give them some of your good karma (and also the fault you are finding comes back to haunt you). So if you are feeling magnanimous and want to accept some bad karma and give some of your good karma away, you now know exactly how to do it.
Asking For Forgiveness
Srila Prabhupada instructed us that when we offer our obeisances to all the vaisnavas devotees every morning (vancha kalpa tarubhyas ca…) we should pray to the devotees in general to forgive us for any offenses we may have knowingly or unknowing committed. In other words, asking for forgiveness should be something to add to your daily devotional practices – even if you are not aware that you are committing any offenses.
Who’s Top On Your List?
I wrote this article to encourage you to identify and make amends with those you have offended (or are offending now) and to stress the importance of remaining favorably disposed and affectionate to all the devotees, even to the ones you may not appreciate. Actually, the devotees you have issues with are the ones you most need to appreciate because they are the most likely targets for your offences.
Have you ever felt justified in making an offense to a devotee? Think about it. If someone acts improperly you might feel it’s justified to criticize or offend them, that their actions are causing a natural offensive response from you. We could even call this “justified aparadha” and consider that “justified aparadhas” are reaction-free. If you have ever offended a devotee, it’s possible you thought this way. The truth is that a particular devotee’s behavior can never cause you to criticize or offend him or her without your willing choice to do so. To think it has little or nothing to do with you and all to with them might make you feel better about yourself (a good person like me wouldn’t unjustly criticize), but it’s simply not true.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to be justifiably separated from the service of Srimati Radharani.
So the question is not only who are you offending (or getting ready to offend)? The question is also why are you doing it? These are some of the most important questions you could ever ask yourself and I encourage you to take as much time as needed to deeply ponder them