Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa (on Anuccheda 153, see previous post):
After showing the purifying power even of a semblance of bhakti, Śrī Jīva goes a step further to say that a semblance of bhakti that is even offensive in nature has the power to free one from sins. This is certainly most amazing. Usually an offensive act is displeasing, so how can a person who behaves in an displeasing manner get blessings? This is possible if the person is innocent and not crooked. In this regard, Śrī Jīva gives the example of a man-eater who attacked a brāhmaṇa. The brāhmaṇa chanted a mantra containing the name of Bhagavān to protect himself. This purified the man-eater. The man-eater heard the mantra not as an act of devotion and his intention was to eat the brāhmaṇa. Yet, he got purified in the process.
The second example is found in the 167th chapter of the Viṣṇu-dharmottara Purāṇa. There was a female mouse in a Viṣṇu temple who was accustomed to stealing the ghee wick from the lamp in front of the deity. One day when she was about to steal it, she heard the cry of a cat and became scared. Out of fear she ran with the ghee wick in her mouth. The nearly extinguished wick became inflamed again by her running. The burning wick got stuck in her teeth and the mouse jumped up and down from the pain and eventually died. Her jumping around with the wick amounted to offering the ghee lamp to Bhagavān. As a result she was born as a daughter of the king of Vidarbha named Citraratha and was later married to the king of Kāśī. She was very devoted to offering a ghee lamp to Bhagavān, and upon dying, she went to Vaikuṇṭha.
All these stories explain the inconceivable potency of bhakti. No other process is remotely comparable to bhakti. Śrī Jīva says that on the path of jñāna, one aims at identity with Brahman, but one incurs sin if one even speaks about this identity when not fully renounced. This is in contrast to bhakti where even a semblance of bhakti confers the benefit of bhakti upon a person who is not even a devotee (that is, not even consciously engaged in an act of bhakti). Then how much more is the power of bhakti when one identifies oneself as a devotee?
In his famous work Śrī Bhagavān-nāma-kaumudī, Lakṣmīdhara Paṇḍita has established that the glories of bhakti are not mere exaggerations. Śrī Jīva also cites Padma Purāṇa, Brahma-saṁhitā and Katyāyayana-saṁhitā, which forbid any such thoughts about the glories of bhakti.
A pertinent doubt is raised here. If bhakti has such potency, then why is such an effect generally not experienced by people practicing bhakti? Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī replies that offense to bhakti is the only thing that blocks bhakti’s manifestation of power. Here, he makes the interesting comment that this is the situation with most contemporary devotees of his time (and our time by extension). He gives the example of king Nṛga. Nṛga was a very charitable king and also a devotee but he became a lizard in his next life. He donated a cow to a brāhmaṇa but this cow ran away and merged back into the herd of the king. The king mistakenly donated the same cow to another brāhmaṇa. The previous brāhmaṇa spotted the cow with another brāhmaṇa and claimed her for himself. This led to a big argument between them and they approached the king. The king asked the brāhmaṇa to accept another cow but he refused. The king then offered as many cows as the brāhmaṇa wanted. But the brāhmaṇa was adamant. He got angry and left. Because of this mistake, the king became a lizard. The king was also engaged in bhakti but because he considered the glories of bhakti as exaggeration, he put more faith in karma-kāṇḍa. Bhakti did not protect him because of this offense.
The conclusion is that although bhakti is supremely powerful just like Bhagavān, bhakti becomes covered by offenses. There are primarily two types of offenses, namely sevāparādha and nāmaprādha. They will be discussed later. A bhakta must avoid them very attentively. Unless one is free of offenses, one will not experience the potency of bhakti as described in the śāstra.
To show the seriousness of offenses, Śrī Jīva refers to the story of king Śatadhanu from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (third part, 18th chapter). The king and his queen Śaivyā both observed the Kārtika vow in the Kārtika month. Once they both went to the river Ganga to take a holy dip. There the king saw a heretic who also happened to be a friend of his teacher of military arts. Out of respect for his teacher, the king treated the heretic in a friendly manner and conversed with him. But the queen kept silent knowing well that it was highly improper to speak with a heretic while observing her vow. She looked at the sun to counter the sin of seeing the heretic. They later returned to their palace and worshipped Viṣṇu observing proper rules. The king died in due course of time. The chaste queen burned herself along on his funeral pyre. The king was born a dog in the next life as a consequence of talking to a heretic while following Kārtika vow. The queen, however, was born as a daughter of the king of Kāśī. She was very beautiful, learned, and intelligent. When she became of age, the king wanted to marry her to a qualified prince but she refused. She remembered her past life and by her divine vision could understand the plight of her previous husband. She traced the husband in the form of a dog and gave him nice food to eat. The dog was happy and was wagging his tail in front of her. She felt ashamed to see her former husband, a great king, now looking in a flattering manner at her. She respectfully told the dog about the past life and why he became a dog. The dog could then remember his past life and became very dejected. He went out of the city and gave up his life by jumping from a mountain. Next he became a jackal and the queen again traced him and reminded him of his previous human birth as a king. The jackal gave up his body by fasting. In the following lives, he was born as a wolf, a vulture, a crow, a crane and then a peacock. Each time the princess would trace him and remind him about his past lives. While he was a peacock, king Janaka performed an Aśvamedha yajña and at its conclusion, the king took the ritual bath and put some of the sanctified water on the peacock. As a result of this, the peacock was born as a son of king Janaka. When the son came of age, the princess married him. They attained Vaikuṇṭha at the end of that life. This is a very telling story. As much as we feel happy to read the glories of bhakti, we must also be extremely careful not to commit any offense knowingly. For that we must learn about the types of offenses as well.
Although a single act of bhakti is sufficient to give perfection, the offenses create obstacle. Therefore, a practitioner needs to engage in bhakti regularly. This will mitigate the reaction of an offense. Why is the offense so powerful that it can block one’s bhakti? Bhakti is that which gives pleasure to Bhagavān. An offense is a displeasing act. If both are performed simultaneously, the offense will naturally not allow bhakti to manifest. It is like trying to light a fire while pouring water over the twigs. If the twigs are dry, a single match-stick is sufficient to light them. But if they were wet, then first, matchsticks would be needed to make them dry, and only then they would catch fire. Similarly the practice of bhakti first clears the offenses. A single act of devotion will bring perfection once a person is free of offenses. We can also understand from the analogy that if we do a favorable service to others, but simultaneously irritate them by abusing them, getting angry at them or criticizing them to their face, then they will give more weight to the abusive behavior than to our service. To please them, we have to stop any displeasing act and continue serving favorably. Then sooner or later, they will forgive our behavior and become happy with us
Therefore, a sincere devotee should avoid offenses very carefully and execute devotion meticulously. Then one can experience the glory of bhakti. Just as the plate that is used to offer food to the deity is not to be used for any other purpose, the mind, body, and senses that are used for the service of Bhagavān and dedicated to him should not be used for any sinful acts. The tongue that is used to recite the names of Bhagavān should not be used to tell lies or cheat and misguide others.
Next Śrī Jīva gives very practical knowledge of the five effects of offenses. This knowledge can help one introspect and act for rectification. Just as sādhana-bhakti leads to love of Bhagavān, offenses bring indifference to bhakti and ultimately averseness to bhakti. Practice of sādhana-bhakti makes one firm on the path, brings humility, gives taste and complete absorption. Offenses do just the opposite.
How can one know if one’s offenses are from the past or from this life? If after engaging in bhakti and especially after getting the association of a great devotee, one still experiences the effects of offenses, such as crookedness, then one can understand that one is implicated in some serious offense. One must become very alert and engage in bhakti continuously with effort, especially in chanting the name. If one is in knowledge of the offense, then one should try to mitigate it with proper action. For example, if one has offended a devotee, then one should try to please him or her.
Next Śrī Jīva begins elaborating on the major effects of offenses. Crookedness, the effect of the first offense, means to be dishonest in one’s behavior, that is, to act and speak while maintaining a hidden motive. Śrī Jīva gives the example of Duryodhana. Duryodhana made very elaborate arrangements to receive Kṛṣṇa when He came to Hastinapur (the capital of the Kauravas) as a peace messenger of the Pāṇḍavas. Duryodhana erected beautiful welcome gates and engaged brāhmaṇas in chanting Vedic mantras along the path. He prepared a big feast in Kṛṣṇa’s honor. When Kṛṣṇa entered the city and saw all the arrangements, he immediately understood Duryodhana’s crookedness. Duryodhana wanted to impress Kṛṣṇa so that Kṛṣṇa would favor him and abandon the Pāṇḍavas. Duryodhana was not honestly devoted to Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, Kṛṣṇa did not go to his palace but arrived at the simple hut of Vidura for lunch.
Bhagavān does not accept the service of a crooked person. He knows everyone’s true intentions and thus it is not possible to cheat Him. He accepts even a leaf or water given with sincerity but does not look at a big feast if offered with a hidden motive. Śrī Sūta says that Bhagavān is worshiped without any difficulty because bhakti is the most natural activity for a living being. But bhakti appears difficult because of our crooked nature and we are not attracted to it. This is because of our attachment to the pleasures of tongue and genitals and the objects that facilitate these pleasures. Bhagavān is our creator, maintainer, and well-wisher. We should be grateful to Him, but because of our attachment to sense pleasures, we serve other crooked beings and suffer kicks from them. Stories like that of the mouse and the ghee wick are true. The protagonists in these stories were not crooked even though sinful, and therefore bhakti manifested its results. One does not get the effect of bhakti when one is crooked. Then where is the possibility of getting benefit from just a semblance of bhakti.
Sri Jiva Gosvami continues to explain the effect of crookedness in the next anuccheda.
(to be continued)
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