Vaishnava Aparadha and The Path of Spiritual Caution

THE ETYMOLOGICAL development of the word aparadha is radhat arthat aradhanat- apagatah, which means “to be distanced from worship.”Offences committed at the lotus feet of Vaishnavas, the Devotees, distance one from devotional service to the Supreme Lord. Butin a higher sense it means to be removed from the service of Sri Radha. All divine service to Krishna is being conducted under her direction. To offend her servitors is tomake one unfit for her divine service. The Whole aim of Krishna consciousness is radhadasyam, the divine service of Sri Radha, and offences at the lotus feet of Vaishnavas make one unfit for such service.The Lord is overly protective of his devotees(bhakta-vatsala ). He cannot tolerate any offences against them. They have bhakti (devotion), and they can awaken it within us. Bhakti is the sole means to attract Krishna, who is a slave of devotion. The same is true of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The CaitanyaBhagavata states:A person can attain the shelter of Mahaprabhu only by the grace of a higher Vaishnava. Religious Practices and even chanting the Holy Name without devotion is useless.Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada writes in his commentary: Without developing a spirit of service, chanting the Holy Name is vain. Real devotion can only be cultivated when one receives the blessings of an unalloyed devotee.Bhakti means devotion. Vrndavana dasa Thakur says:If a person commits an offense at the lotus feet of a Vaishnava, even though he may have received Krishna’s mercy, he will never attain divine love, prema. (Chaitanya-bhagavata Madhya-lila 22.8)Srila Prabhupada writes:Even if one is a Vaishnava, if he commits offense to the Holy Name, he becomes unfit to render pure devotion. Although it may appear that he is still being shown favor by the Lord as he continues to make a show of chanting without difficulty, the Lord is actually very displeased with him because of his antagonism toward devotees. Therefore, to give up nama-aparadha we must first give upsadhu-ninda or finding fault with devotees.Regarding the phrase krsna krpa hoileo (“even though he may receive Krishna’s mercy”), Srila SaraswatiThakur comments:People may think that because an offender appears to continue to chant without difficulty, the Lord Must still favor him, but they are wrong. The Lord is not even slightly moved by their shamdevotion.The author of Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, Vrndavana dasa Thakur, says that these statements are not his alone;they are the verdict of the Vedas. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did not tolerate any disrespect towards genuine Vaishnavas. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also emphatically denounced any insults directed at vaishnava devotees. To understand the seriousness of vaisnava-aparadha, offending devotees, one must grasp the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri KrishnaChaitanya Mahaprabhu. Mahaprabhu is the source of all incarnations in Kali-yuga and the savior of all souls.He is Krishna, the son of Maharaja Nanda, fully enriched with the mood and radiance of Sri Radha. SrilaKrishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami ofers prayers to all of these manifestations in the preface of Sri Caitanyacaritamarta:

vande gurun isa-bhaktanisam isavatarakantat-prakasams ca tac-chaktihkrsna-caitanya-samjnakamI

offer my obeisances unto all the gurus, the devotees, the Lord’s avataras, his expansions, his saktis (energies), and the primeval Lord Himself, Sri Krishna Chaitanya.(Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 1.1) In the same way that Mahaprabhu is Krishna, he expands as Nityananda Prabhu (prakasa ), who is Balarama.Balarama’s partial expansion is Sadasiva, Maha-Vishnu Avatara, whose counterpart in Chaitanya-lila is AdvaitaAcarya. What is left of Sri Radhika after Krishna has plundered her emotions and lustre is Sri GadadharaPundit. Sri Gadadhara and Svarupa Damodara are his sakti (energies). Bhakta means Srivasa Thakur who is SriNarada Muni in Krishna-lila. Isa, Divinity means Mahaprabhu Himself. The complete conception of Divinity must include the predominating moiety and the predominated moeity. The slightest disregard to any one of these is equal to disregarding the Supreme Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself. There are two aspects tothe guru principle: the siksa or instructing guru, and the diksa or initiating guru. Both are represented in Srivasa Thakura.In the beginning of the second chapter of the Antya-lila of the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila KrishnadasaKaviraja ofers the following invocation:

vande ham sri-gurohsri yuta-pada-kamalamsri-gurun vaisnavams casri-rupam sagrajatamsaha-gana-raghunathan vitam tam sa jivamsadvaitam savadhutam parijana-sahitamsri-krsna-caitanya-devamsri-radha-krsna-padansaha-gana-lalita-sri-visakhanvitams ca

(Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 2.1)I offer my obeisances unto the lotus feet of my Guru and to all the preceptors on the path of devotion. I offer my obeisances unto all the Vaishnavas and to Sri Rupa Goswami and his associates Raghunatha dasa, and Sri Jiva. I offer my obeisances to Advaita Acarya,Nityananda Avadhuta, Gadadhara Pundit, and to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with all his devotees, headed by Srivasa Thakura. I then offer my obeisances to the lotus feet of SriRadha and Sri Krishna, and all the gopis headed by Lalita and Visakha.(Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila 2. 1)In the above invocatory prayers (mangala-carana ), the Vaishnavas are venerated. Kaviraja Goswami writesfurther:Before beginning the narration of the pastimes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, simply by meditating on Sri Guru, the Vaishnavas, and Divinity, I invoke their benediction. Such meditation destroys all detriments on the spiritual path, and helps one to fulfill all their desires.We must note very carefully that the Vaishnavas have been included within the full conception ofDivinity.These writings describe the Vaishnava’s extraordinary qualities, and the spiritual benefit resulting from serving them. There are also several warnings regarding the disastrous efects of vaisnava-aparadha.The Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 19.156 states:If a devotee commits vaisnava-aparadha, his offense is like a mad elephant uprooting and trampling his creeper of devotion; afterwards the creeper’s leaves dry up and become lifeless.There are three categories of Vaishnavas: kanistha (neophyte), madhyama (intermediate), and uttama(advanced) described in the Caitanya-caritamrta. Kaviraja Goswami states that to gain shelter of a Vaishnava,it is imperative to first receive the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu:All of the Vaishnavas who live in Vrndavana are absorbed in singing the all-auspicious name of SriKrishna. Sri Mahaprabhu and Nityananda are their life and soul. They do not know anything but devotion to Sri Radha and Krishna. My shelter at the Vaishnavas’ lotus feet has been granted only bythe mercy of Nityananda Prabhu.Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada corroborates this fact:All of the Vaishnavas living in the holy dhama of Sri Vrndavana are very fortunate souls. They have taken shelter in the Holy Name of Krishna. Sriman Mahaprabhu and Nityananda are their life and soul. They know nothing but the eternal service of Sri Radha and Sri Krishna.

by Srila Bhakti Pramod Puri Goswami Maharaj ( founding Acharya of Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math)