Vaishnav Seva

In the answer to the question raised by the bhaktas of Kulīna-grāma about the obligatory duties of householders, Mahāprabhu gave this instruction:prabhu kahena, ‘kṛṣṇa-seva’, ‘vaiṣṇava-sevana’‘nirantara kara kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana’Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “Serve Kṛṣṇa, reverently attend to the Vaiṣṇavas and perform śrī kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana without cessation feet. (Cc. Madhya-līlā 25.199) Here, it is to be understood that as long as one is committing nama-aparadha (offences to the holy name) it is not possible to chant the holy name. In this stage, only nāmābhāsa (a semblance of the pure holy name) may occur. As a result of nāmābhāsa all of one’s sins are diminished, and with the diminution of sins, one’s citta (consciousness reflected in the heart and mind) becomes pure. In the purified citta, nāmāparādha cannot find any place, and when there is thus no chance of committing nāmāparādha, one’s chanting of the holy name automatically becomes pure.One who chants nāma without offences even sometimes is a Vaiṣṇava, one who ceaselessly chants nama without offence is vaiṣṇavatara (a superior Vaiṣṇava), and one in whose heart hlādinī-śakti has appeared is vaiṣṇavatama (a topmost Vaiṣṇava). The householders should serve these Vaiṣṇavas. Such Vaiṣṇavas might be householders or renunciants, but in vaiṣṇava-seva it is not merely the devotee’s āśrama that commands respect. Rather, gradation among Vaiṣṇavas is gauged according to their advancement in bhakti

The present tradition is extremely harmful. A macebearer extends invitations to one-hundred ‘Vaiṣṇavas’ and upon receiving the invitations, such Vaiṣṇavas give up all their other activities and proceed to decorate themselves with tilaka and so forth. “Now we will get pūrīs and pancakes to the full satisfaction of our bellies! And along with that, we will receive some dakṣiṇā.” Hoping for such wealth, they start manifesting bhakti.In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.259) Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has said:

dhana-śiṣyādibhir-dvārairyaḥ bhaktir upapadyateviduratvaād uttamatāhānyatasyās ca nāṅgata

He who tries to indirectly awaken his own bhakti by engaging his wealth, students and so forth in devotional service, actually separates himself from the highest expression of bhakti (svarūpa-siddha-bhakti) by a great distance. His engagement in this way is not even a limb of bhakti.This statement shows that Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has not accepted these activities as bhakti. If there is no bhakti in these activities, then those who perform them cannot be accepted as Vaiṣṇavas. If we consider every jīva to be a Vaiṣṇava, then service to them can be called jīva-seva, but according to the instructions of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, such service cannot be called nāma-parāyaṇa vaiṣṇava-seva — service to Vaiṣṇavas who are devoted to chanting the holy name.These days, there is a particular enterprise that goes by the name “Vaiṣṇava Society”. Its members wear the dress of Vaiṣṇavas but are Vaiṣṇavas in name only. The custom of deity worship is always present in such societies, and uninvited, renounced Vaiṣṇavas are satisfied by being offered the deity’s prasāda. This activity is not bad, but the growing trend wherein householders invite Vaiṣṇavas from such societies and offer them food and dakṣiṇā is not Vaiṣṇava behaviour. Vaiṣṇavas are most admirable and noble. They are the well-wishing friends of the whole world. It is the duty of the householders to serve them when they come to their house. To help the Vaiṣṇavas in the matter of their food, rest and travel is indeed vaiṣṇava-seva.It is extremely appropriate for householders to whole-heartedly attend to any uninvited, renounced Vaiṣṇavas, but to simply feed them and offer them dakṣiṇā is essentially a part of karma-kāṇḍa. In truth, there is no dakṣiṇā for Vaiṣṇavas. The tradition of giving dakṣiṇā to the Vaiṣṇavas has sprung up from the custom of feeding the brāhmaṇas and offering them dakṣiṇā. It is extremely important to give up this trend. O devotees, in every respect, please the Vaiṣṇavas who are devoted to chanting śuddha-nāma. However, do not make vaiṣṇava-seva subordinate to karma-kāṇḍa, by only offering them food and dakṣiṇā. Inviting and feeding many renunciant Vaiṣṇavas is not the advice of Mahāprabhu. Sārvabhauma Bhattācārya once said:bahuta sannyāsi yadi aise eka ṭhānisammāna karite nāri, aparādha pāiIf many sannyāsis come together in one place, all of them cannot be honoured and offences will be committed. (Cc Madhya-līlā 15.197)The uninvited, renounced Vaiṣṇava is called abhyagata. If, by chance, one or two such Vaiṣṇavas come to a householder’s home, it is proper for the householder to serve them. By his doing so, he indeed performs vaiṣṇava-seva. However, if he gathers many renunciants in one place he will not be able to properly honour all of them and the result will be aparādha. In the simple act of extending an invitation, the conduct meant for abhyagata is lost. Although such activities are considered to be sannyāsi-bhīkṣa (giving charity to sannyaāsis), they are not vaiṣṇava-seva.When a Vaiṣṇava is brought into one’s home and served with great care, no offence is made. However, in fetching many renounced Vaiṣṇavas by invitation, with pomp and show, there is every chance of aparādha. The householder Vaiṣṇavas must reflect upon this matter specifically. They must understand that vaiṣṇava-seva is a part of nitya-dharma. However, they should not act against bhakti by inviting many Vaiṣṇavas, serving them and then offering them dakṣiṇā, out of a desire for their own fame and popularity. Always remember that this is the time of Kali. Kali will create many deviant paths to obstruct those attempting to cultivate śuddha-bhakti. But if one follows the life and precepts of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, Kali will not be able to interfere with one’s practices.

This Article is Written by Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur