Question: I am not a devotee of Ṡri Hari because I do not follow the rules and regulations nor do I chant. However, I do pray and try to chant the praṇām mantras as described in the Gaudiya Vaishnava songbook. Is it an offense to whimsically chant the praṇām mantras and a few times the Hare Kŗṣṇa Mahāmantra?
Answer: No, it is not an offense.
Question: I would like to have more association with advanced devotees, but when I come to the temple where people call themselves “His Grace” and “Gosvāmi,” but do not sing during temple programs and ārtikas, I am not impressed. Hence I do not bow down to them when others do so. Is this an offense?
Answer: You should not disrespect any Vaiṣṇava. And sometimes not giving respect is also an act of disrespect, as is evident from the story of Dakṣa in the fourth canto of Srimad Bhāgavata. The personal sādhanā of devotees you refer to is their own responsibility, not yours. They may have a good reason for what they are doing or not doing. You will not lose anything by respecting them, but will only gain.
Question: There are people who say they are devotees or who are initiated. I see that they do not follow the rules or are not nice to newcomers in the temple. They are even rude. Is it an offense to even think bad about them?
Answer: As I said above, you should worry about your status. Why do you think that you are better than them? It is better that you avoid seeing their faults and concentrate on their good qualities. How many people, out of 7 billion plus population, accept Krishna? These people whom you describe are those rare beings who are on the right path. The rest are just wandering in the material world going through the cycle of birth and death. You do not understand the power of bhakti, therefore, you are minimizing the status of these devotees.
Question: I myself know for a fact that I am definitely not a nice person. Do the rules about offense against the Name apply to me, someone who is not a genuine follower? Or do these rules apply only to the genuine follower of bhakti?
Answer: They apply to everyone. You have your friends and family members. They can behave in a way that displeases you. Is it that only your friends and family members can displease you? No, others can also displease you by their behavior which may be not to your liking.
Question: Then shouldn’t the newcomers try to altogether avoid Vaiṣṇavism and chanting Harināma because of the risk of committing offenses (and the risk of being born in an animal body, etc.)?
Answer: This is a very impractical idea. Anyone who comes to bhakti from the material life is a newcomer, to begin with. By your proposition, nobody should attempt to be a bhakta. So who will follow bhakti? Instead of thinking that a newcomer should not have anything to do with bhakti, he should learn the principles and try to follow them. Bhakti is meant for people like us.
Question: I hope you can help me out. What is then the solution for people who cannot follow rules and regulations and chant 16 rounds here in Europe?
Answer: You have the wrong assumption that people in Europe cannot follow bhakti. I don’t know from where you got this idea. I have lived in the west and I don’t agree with you on this point.
Question: Also all the people we deal with in our daily lives are against Vaishnavism. Is it an offense to think bad about them?
Answer: Why do you want to think bad about everyone? You want to think bad about devotees in the temple and also about non-devotees. So who do you think is really good then? And suppose nobody is good, then what are you? Bad or good? If you are also bad, then why criticize other bad people? If you are good, then help the bad ones. Otherwise what is good about you?
You need to know well what you want to achieve and the process for it, as well as what you need to avoid. Just as if the doctor says don’t eat sugar to a diabetic patient, the patient needs to know well what food items contain sugar.
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