Similarly, the elephant Gajendra, during his stage of sensual engagement, is an example of a devotee who became absorbed in objects that hindered his devotion because of an offense.
Now we will discuss bhakti-śaithilya, the slackening of bhakti, which is the fourth effect of aparādha. Because of this slackening of devotion, one becomes increasingly fixated on the happiness and distress related to one’s own body, other living beings, and material nature. Those who are steadily engaged in bhakti, however, are disinterested in such material happiness and distress. This is expressed in the Sahasra-nāma stotra (131):
“For the devotees of Bhagavān Vāsudeva, there is nothing inauspicious. They have no fear of birth, death, old age, and disease.”
When an authentic practitioner of bhakti expresses a desire to preserve his or her physical body, it is with an eagerness to increase his worship of Bhagavān, and not merely to protect the body. So this type of desire is not detrimental to the essential purpose of bhakti.
So if a person, in spite of possessing sufficient discrimination, is unable to dispel this slackening, although knowing it to be opposed to the purpose of bhakti and although engaging periodically in acts of devotion according to his or her liking, this should be understood as the effect of an offense. If, however, a person is ignorant and thus unable to infer the existence of such an offense, his offense is removed even by a little practice of bhakti and he is able to attain perfection. This is due to the fact that Bhagavān, who is merciful towards the fallen, bestows greater favor upon the ignorant who lack the ability to discriminate between right and wrong. But if one has sufficient intelligence to discriminate and is still implicated in offenses, this is due to excessive wickedness of heart. On the other hand, if a person commits an offense because he or she doesn’t have the ability to understand that it is an offense, such an act is not due to inauthenticity of heart.
As mentioned earlier, King Śatadhanu had to take birth as a dog simply because he had a brief conversation with a critic of the Vedas and Vaiṣṇavas, even though immediately afterwards he engaged in the worship of Bhagavān as prescribed. So although being subjected to such a stringent obstacle may seem excessive, it was actually appropriate because the King was learned and able to understand the impropriety of his action.
As far as the ignorant are concerned, such as the mouse who ate the ghee-wicks in the temple, the man-eating demon who intended to eat the sage, or the man who cleansed a temple to enjoy with a prostitute, they all attained perfection, although engaged in offensive behavior. This was also appropriate because they were unaware of committing any offense. Because there was no wickedness of heart, the influence of their service overcame the effect of their offenses.
Now we will discuss bhaktyādi-kṛtābhimānitvam, or the pride derived from the execution of devotion, which is the fifth effect of aparādha. When one becomes proud of his or her devotional activities, it is the result of an offense because it gives rise to further offenses, such as disrespecting Vaiṣṇavas. This was seen in the case of Dakṣa who, because of an earlier offense to Bhagavān Śiva, became offensive to Śrī Nārada when he took birth again as the son of the Pracetas.
Thus, the principle stated earlier that devotional activities performed even once bring forth the fruit of devotion is certainly true, provided there are no offenses, past or present. At the time of death, however, if one somehow manages to perform any type of devotional service even once, it is sufficient no matter what the circumstances. But at the time of death only a person who has perfected his or her worship of Bhagavān, either in this life or in the past, is able to chant the name of Bhagavān or to engage in some other devotional activity even once. At that time the service manifests its influence, and after the devotee gives up that body, it awards the devotee direct vision of Bhagavān. This is also confirmed by Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gītā:
“O son of Kunti, at the time of death a person dwells upon some particular object, and after relinquishing the body he or she attains to that state of being, having been constantly preoccupied with the thought of that object.” (Gītā 8.6)
Because one who is able to chant at the time of death is already understood to be free from offenses, repetition of the name is not necessary to remove offenses. This was observed in the case of Ajāmila. The Yamadūtas, however, did not attain such perfection, in spite of hearing the name of Bhagavān. Ajāmila described his good fortune at the time of death:
“Although I am most unfortunate, I must have performed some pious actions in the past by which I have been blessed with the vision of these exalted devotees. By seeing them, my heart has become filled with joy.” (SB 6.2.32)
Svāmīpāda comments: “The word maṅgalena, ‘by good fortune,’ means by great piety performed in the past.”
The fourth effect of offense is slackening or weakening of devotion. Many sādhakas are very enthusiastic about bhakti in the beginning and they make good progress. But after some time their enthusiasm slackens. The reason for this is that they start thinking that they are better than others including their seniors. They start finding fault in other devotees instead of engaging their mind in service. Indeed, faultfinding becomes a major pastime in the name of sādhu-saṅga. Such sādhakas, when they meet, relish talking about the deficiencies of others instead of engaging in Hari-kathā.
As an effect of this offense, they themselves lose the enthusiasm for bhakti. Some of them slowly develop more interest in taking care of their body, family or possessions and find no time for bhakti. There is nothing wrong in taking care of all these things if one’s aim is bhakti. After all, all these things can be used in service. But there is a very thin line between taking care of these things for the sake of bhakti and doing them independently. Some even speak of their importance in bhakti yet spend all their time and energy only caring for them. This is called wickedness of heart. Such persons cannot get grace and if they get it, they cannot appreciate it. Offenses make the heart hard and intelligence crooked. Such persons use the intelligence only to rationalize their materialistic behavior and attachments even going so far as to give scriptural references. The proof of their wicked nature is that gradually they fall away from bhakti and become fully engrossed in materialistic activities.
However, if one is sincere then even a small act of devotion brings quick results. This is because Bhagavān Himself is simple-hearted and there cannot be any wickedness in a loving relationship.
Śrī Jīva analyses the stories of King Śatadhanu and the mouse in this light. Śatadhanu was learned and had the ability to discriminate between right and wrong. Yet he engaged in a forbidden act. Therefore, he had to go through a series of subhuman births beginning with that of a dog. On the other hand, the mouse did not have any such ability and though she was committing an offense by stealing ghee wicks from the temple, the little act of jumping up and down with the ghee wick stuck to her teeth elevated her to becoming a devotee in her next life. The conclusion is that an offense done in knowledge brings a very terrible reaction.
The fifth outcome of offense is pride. Bhakti should make one feel humble. Why? Because nobody has anything to be proud of. Our true identity is that we are smaller than an atom and have no ability to do anything independent of Bhagavān. The physical apparatus around the ātmā does not belong to us. It is given to us for a short period. Moreover, there is nothing that is stable in it. Everything is in flux. So why be proud of borrowed plumes that are fading with every second?
Pride leads to further offenses. A proud person will insult and criticize others. Therefore, it is the most dangerous effect of all. Even if one is weak in bhakti or loses faith, he or she may not commit further offense. But if one is proud, one is bound to commit offenses. This mentality is so severe that it will continue even in the next life. This is seen in the story of Dakṣa. Dakṣa was one of Brahmā’s sons and a progenitor. He insulted Śiva just because the latter did not stand up when the former arrived in the assembly hall where many devas and sages had gathered. Śiva’s wife Satī immolated herself in front of her father, and as a result, Vīrabhadra cut off his head. After this, Dakṣa was born again as Dakṣa, the son of the Pracetas. In that life, he again offended the great devotee Nārada because of being proud of his position.
Earlier it was said that even a single act of bhakti brings perfection. But if one has offenses committed in past or present life then one needs to execute bhakti repeatedly until the offenses have been cleared away.
Kṛṣṇa says that one attains whatever one thinks at the time of death. If one chants the name of Bhagavān or thinks of Him at that time, then he or she will become perfect. It follows then that only if a person is free of offenses can he or she chant the name of Bhagavān at the time of death. This was the case with Ajāmila. Although he was a sinner he was free of any offenses. This was a very peculiar case because generally, a sinful person is also an offender. But the Yamadūtas did not get the benefit of the name or benefit from the dialogue with Viṣṇudūtas because they committed the offense of considering the glories of the name as artha-vāda or exaggeration.
Ajāmila expressed the same sentiment in this verse by negative concomitance:
“If I had not performed some piety in my past life, then being on the verge of death, a most corrupt man and the husband of a prostitute, it would not have been possible for the holy name of Bhagavān Viṣṇu to appear on my tongue.” (SB 6.2.33)
The meaning of this statement is clear.
Here Ajāmila implies that if he hadn’t been free from offenses, it would not have been possible for him to utter “Nārāyaṇa” at the time of death. From the verse prior to this, it is understood that he got the association of some devotees. It is because of their blessings that he named his son as Nārāyaṇa.
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