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Nāma-aparādha: The Ninth and Tenth Offenses

Offenses of the Instructor and the Instructed

To give a valuable object to an unqualified person is indirectly disrespectful to the valuable object. An unqualified person does not understand the value of the object and thus will not respect it. The holy name of Kṛṣṇa is as respectable as Kṛṣṇa Himself, being nondifferent from Him. Therefore, it should not be given to those persons who do not understand its value. Such people will only be offensive towards the name. This offense is discussed in the following subsection of Bhakti Sandarbha.

Anuccheda 265.9

The ninth offense, to instruct the glories of the name to a person who is devoid of faith, oblivious to Bhagavān, and disinterested in hearing, is applicable to anyone who instructs such faithless people.

Having pointed out the offense of the instructor (upadeṣṭṛ), the text goes on to describe the offense of the person to whom the instruction is given (upadeśya) in the next verse. Because of the person’s singular absorption in the conceptions of “I” and “mine” in regard to the body, he remains devoid of reverence for the name.

Previously [in Anuccheda 153], this verse was quoted from Padma Purāṇa:

It is indeed a fact that just one holy name appearing in the midst of a person’s speech, on the pathway of his recollection, or in the root of the ear, whether it is enunciated correctly or incorrectly, and with or without the intervention of other syllables, certainly delivers that person. But if the same name is cast among atheistic people who are greedy to enjoy the body, wealth, or followers, then, O vipra, it does not quickly manifest its result. (Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.24)

In this verse, the word pāṣaṇḍa, “an atheist,” who is so designated because of his greed to enjoy the body, wealth, and similar pursuits, indicates the ten offenses against the name because of the atheism (pāṣaṇḍamayatva) that is inherent in them.

In addition, the Vaiśākha Māhātmya of Padma Purāṇa mentions another offense that is applicable to such people:

Those people who disrespect the singing of Bhagavān’s names and leave the area are destined for a terrible hell because of this sinful act. (PP 5.96.63)

That the name is the only atonement for all these offenses is also stated in Padma Purāṇa:

The divine names alone can cleanse the sins of those who commit offenses against the name. Only when these names are sung ceaselessly will they bring about the intended result. (PP Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.23)

If, however, one commits an offense toward a devotee, one should continuously sing the names of Bhagavān with the specific intent to appease that devotee, for it is seen in the history of King Ambarīṣa that [Durvāsā’s] offenses could be forgiven only by Ambarīṣa alone [and not even by Bhagavān Himself]. In Nāma-kaumudī also, it is said: “An offense to a great devotee is mitigated either by suffering the result or by the grace of that devotee.” Therefore, because of the absence of any other means, it was appropriately said in the beginning of this anuccheda:

O King, for those seeking fulfillment of material desires [icchatām, i.e., kāminām], for those who are indifferent to worldly existence and seeking liberation [nirvidyamānānām, i.e., mumukṣūṇām], and for those already established in immediate realization of the Truth [yoginām, i.e., jñāninām], this constant chanting of the holy name of Bhagavān Hari has been ascertained [both as the means of attainment (sādhana), in the case of the first two, and as the completion state (sādhya), in the case of the last]. (SB 2.1.11)

Śrī Nārada made a similar statement in Bṛhat Nāradīya Purāṇa:

Even the great sages and the Manus cannot fathom the glory of the name of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. So how can I, of petty intellect, worship Him.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

One should not impart instructions about the name to a person who has no faith in it, who is not at all devotionally inclined, and who has no interest in hearing about it. To insist on instructing such a person is the ninth offense against the name. If a person is not interested in hearing but is forced to hear, he will only disrespect the name, which is an offense. The instructor will also become implicated in the offense, because he is the cause impelling the disinterested person to become offensive. The conclusion is that if an instructor becomes instrumental in making another person commit an offense, then he is also an offender.

The tenth offense applies to the person who receives instructions about the name. Even after hearing the glories of the name, if one does not take an interest in surrendering to it but remains entangled in materialistic ways, then he demonstrates disrespect toward the name. Such a person can be compared to a patient who is suffering from a terminal disease and, on coming to know of a sure remedy, does not show any interest in it. By the same token, if the patient rejects the person who mercifully offers the cure, will the latter not feel hurt by the rejection of his selfless offer of help?

The main point to understand is that the name is a fully conscious entity, endowed with all noble qualities and inconceivable powers. It is not inert sound. Consequently, one has to be careful while dealing with the name, just as one would adopt a respectable manner of behavior when dealing with a person of honor. One should try to use one’s common sense besides what has been described in these ten offenses. For example, one should not despise or create obstacles for those who are performing kīrtana. On the other hand, a practitioner should not do loud kīrtana if it is disturbing to the neighbors, because this will incite them to commit offenses. As stated above, this too falls into the category of offensive behavior.

If one offends a devotee, one should try to pacify her or him. It is not that one simply takes recourse to chanting the name but does not try to appease the offended devotee. Durvāsā offended Ambarīṣa, a great devotee, by creating a hobgoblin to kill him. Viṣṇu’s disc, however, came to the rescue of Ambarīṣa, and Durvāsā had to flee for his life. He approached various devas, such as Śiva, seeking protection from Viṣṇu’s weapon, but all of them expressed their powerlessness in this regard. Finally, he approached Viṣṇu Himself. Viṣṇu, however, advised Durvāsā to go back to Ambarīṣa and take shelter of him. He informed Durvāsā that there was no one else who could help him. Thus, if one commits an offense to a devotee, one should either pacify that devotee or face the consequences. There is no third solution. If, however, one does not know the cause of one’s offenses, one should continuously chant the name while avoiding further offenses.


Nāma-aparādha: The Seventh Offense

Committing Sins on the Strength of the Holy Name

Śraddhā in śastra is the foundation of spiritual life. On the path of bhakti, this includes having śraddhā in the power of the name of Kṛṣṇa. There are hundreds of statements in śastra that state that even if one chants the name incidentally, one is freed of all one’s sins. But this does not give one the license to commit sins. The offense of committing sins on the strength of the name of Kṛṣṇa is discussed in the following subsection of Bhakti Sandarbha by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī.

Anuccheda 265.7

The seventh offense, to commit sins on the strength of the name, is understood as follows. It is a fact that the name absolves a practitioner even of those sins that are committed on the strength of the name. Yet, it was by the power of the name that he was first engaged with the intent to attain the lotus feet of Śrī Bhagavān Himself, who is the condensed essence of being, consciousness, and bliss, and the supreme goal of human life (parama-puruṣārtha). Now instead, on the strength of the same name, the practitioner strives to accomplish his sinful aims, which are despicable. This is an instance of extreme ill-heartedness (parama-daurātmyam). By such action, the practitioner grossly misuses the name. Consequently, it is certain indeed that he incurs an offense millions of times more severe than the sin committed. 

As a result, the Padma Purāṇa verse concludes that for such an offender the means of purification through rules (yamaiḥ) simply does not exist (na vidyate tasya yamair hi śuddhiḥ). The word yamaiḥ, lit., “by rules,” means “by the numerous prescribed moral restraints (yamas) and ethical codes (niyamas).” Even after undergoing atonement by extensive application of such rules, the offender’s purification remains nonexistent (śuddhi-abhāva). Alternatively, the word yamaiḥ can mean “by a whole series of Yamas,” [the deva who administers punishment to the sinful after death]. In that case, the statement would mean that even after being punished by many Yamas, each acquiring the seat of authority one after the other, the offender’s purification remains nonexistent. This conclusion is certainly appropriate for the following two reasons.

First of all, for the person who commits sins on the strength of the name, atonement is possible only if he again continuously engages in singing the name [and not by yamas], as indicated in this upcoming statement of Padma Purāṇa: “The divine names alone can cleanse the sins of those who commit offenses against the name. Only when these names are sung ceaselessly will they bring about the intended result” (PP, Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.23).  Secondly, according to the Padma Purāṇa verse quoted earlier in this anuccheda (sarvāparādha-kṛd api, PP, Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.12–13), an offender of the name, even if endowed with devotion to Bhagavān, must reap the consequences in the form of a fall down (adhaḥ-pāta).

Indra’s action of killing Vṛtrāsura, however, executed on the strength of his worship of Bhagavān in the form of a horse sacrifice, was approved by the sages, whose intent was that the world would thereby be relieved of [asuric] oppression and that [upon being slain] Vṛtrāsura would be purged of his ungodly temperament (asura-bhāva). Therefore, it should not be considered an offense.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

The name is all-powerful and can free a person who takes shelter of the name from all sinful reactions to previous deeds. If a practitioner has faith in this principle and then commits some misdeed, thinking that he will be absolved of sinful reaction by chanting the name, then this is an offense. The reason for this is that although such a person has faith in the power of the name, he misuses it to wipe away his sins. Instead of serving the name, he engages it in his own service. Moreover, he uses the purest name to clean some abominable sins. This is like making an emperor clean one’s toilet.

The name has the power to award divine love, which is the highest goal attainable in human life. Instead, one uses it only for the insignificant task of purging sins. Moreover, such a person does not have faith that the name can bestow whatever material benefits are attainable by other methods. Such a person can be purified only by taking full shelter of the name. No other pious act of atonement can relieve him of the offense, just as an offense perpetrated against an emperor can be absolved only by the grace of the emperor.


Nāma-aparādha: The First Offense

To Criticize a Devotee

If we want to reach our destination, we need to follow the proper route and avoid the wrong route. We must know the distinction between them. Just as to follow a particular process we need to understand it clearly, in the same way, to avoid something we need to clearly understand what is to be avoided. In the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava community, much stress is given to nāma-japa and nāma-kīrtana. That is wonderful. Stress is also given to avoid offenses. That is also great. However, sufficient understanding of the offenses is not common knowledge. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī expands on the meaning of the offenses against the name. In the following anuccheda, he elaborates on the first offense.

Anuccheda 265.3

From the first offense, “To criticize genuine devotees of Bhagavān (the sat) is a grievous offense against the name,” it is evident that to commit physical violence to a devotee is so offensive that it defies verbal description. Blasphemy of devotees and other related offenses are as described in a dialogue between Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya and Bhagīratha in Skanda Purāṇa:

Those fools who blaspheme the Vaiṣṇava saints fall into the hell called Mahāraurava along with their forefathers. There are six transgressions that lead to such falldown: to kill Vaiṣṇavas, to criticize them, to bear malice toward them, to fail to greet them, to become angry at them, and to not feel happiness upon seeing them.

Even just to hear criticism of a Vaiṣṇava is an offense, as Śuka said:

One who hears criticism of Bhagavān or His devotees and does not leave the area loses all his piety and descends to hell. (SB 10.74.40)

When it is said that a person should leave the place where criticism of Bhagavān or His devotees is perpetrated, this applies specifically to one who is incapable of retaliation. If one is able, he should cut out the tongue of the critic, and if unable to do even this, he should give up his life, as the goddess Satī spoke:

 If a criticism is made of one’s worshipful Lord (Īśa), the protector of dharma, by human beings of frivolous nature, and one is incapable of retaliation, she should cover her ears and leave that place. If, however, she has the ability, she should forcibly cut out the foul tongue of the blasphemer, or even give up her own life. This is the way of virtue (dharma). (SB 4.4.17)

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

The name is not a material sound but a conscious and blissful entity (caitanya-rasa-vigrahaḥ), nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa Himself (abhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ, BRS 1.2.233). Just as chanting is pleasing to the name, so too offenses displease the name. If examined carefully, offenses are understood to be those actions that contravene the sentiment of love. For example, the first offense is to criticize the devotees of Bhagavān. It is common knowledge that if you love someone, you should not criticize those who are dear to your beloved. Bhagavān or His name loves His devotees. If someone criticizes the devotees, the name will not be pleased with that person.

If such is the case even with criticism, then it goes without saying that harming a devotee in any way is an exceedingly grave offense and immensely displeasing to Bhagavān. This is understood from the story of King Ambarīṣa and sage Durvāsā, described in chapter four and five of the Ninth Canto. Many stories in Bhāgavata Purāṇa, such as those of King Citraketu, Vṛttrāsura, King Indradyumna, Ajāmila, and Dakṣa, are described to explain the intricacies of offenses to the name. In fact, the whole of the Bhāgavata can be seen as an attempt to educate spiritual aspirants about the offenses to the holy name, the importance of chanting the name, and pure devotion to Kṛṣṇa. This is so because in Kaliyuga, chanting of the name is the prescribed yuga-dharma (SB 11.5.31–32), and Bhāgavata Purāṇa was manifested specifically to provide vision for the people of Kali, who are blinded by ignorance (SB 1.3.44).

Just as it is an offense to criticize a devotee, so too it is an offense to hear criticism without raising an objection. For this reason, Satī recommends three possible retaliatory courses of action. The first is to cut out the critic’s tongue. If one is unable to do that, then one should give up one’s own life. If this too is not possible, then one should immediately cover one’s ears and leave the area. Out of these three, the first two recommendations are not to be taken literally, at least not in the context of the modern moral view. Rather, they are meant to impress upon us the severity even just of hearing criticism of Vaiṣṇavas and the need for appropriate action. Consequently, one should either try to verbally refute the critic or leave the place. But one should not remain neutral and should certainly not relish the criticism or support it.

When Draupadī was being insulted in the assembly of the Kauravas, great personalities like Bhīṣma did not object to it. Thus, all those people who did not raise an objection or leave the assembly became implicated in the offense. Similarly, when Dakṣa criticized Śiva for not honoring him, those who supported Dakṣa were subjected to the consequences of the offense. Among them, those such as Bhaga and Pūṣā received special punishment. Bhaga lost his eyes and Pūṣā his teeth.

In this context, it is noteworthy that when King Parīkṣit went on his world conquest and saw a bull being beaten by Kali personified in the guise of a barbarian (mlecchā), he understood that the bull was not ordinary but some divine being in the form of a bull. When he asked the bull about its plight, it did not blame Kali. It replied that there are many conflicting opinions among theorists as to the cause of a living being’s suffering—such as the self, providence, karma, and acquired nature—and it was thus unable to pinpoint the cause of its own plight. Hearing this strikingly objective reply, King Parīkṣit made a telling statement that instructs us in the matter of the non-assignment of blame upon others. He spoke the following words:

O You who have realized the essence of dharma (dharma-jña)! What you speak is perfectly in line with dharma [for in spite of knowing your assailant, you do not identify him and speak as though undecided about the matter]. Thus, you are dharma personified in the guise of a bull. [And what is the fault in identifying an offender? The dharma-śāstras say] that the outcome that an offender must reap is also obtained by his accuser. (SB 1.17.22)

In the same vein, Kṛṣṇa advised Uddhava to neither praise nor condemn the nature and actions of others (SB 11.28.1–2).

(to be continued)

Stages of Bhakti, Doubts and Offenses

Question: It seems that anyone who has doubts cannot completely “believe” in the words of śāstra. In SB 1.2.21 it is said that doubts are destroyed upon seeing Paramātmā at the jivan-mukta stage. It follows that there must be doubts at the anartha nivrtti stage. How should I understand this?

Answer:  A doubt can be of various types.  You have assumed that doubt is only about śāstra being true or false. The doubt may be about one’s own capability. One may have doubts such as, “Am I capable of realizing the goal?”  “Is the process I follow proper or am I missing something?” “Is Kṛṣṇa really the way He is described (such as having a yellow dress, blackish color, etc.)?” In other words, it is not that the sādhaka is harboring doubts about the validity of śāstra, but rather doubts about oneself, one’s practice and one’s own understanding.  Moreover, it is not certain that everyone will have such doubts. The doubt may not be about whether something is right or wrong. One may simply not be very clear about a concept although one accepts it to be true. Please read the very definition of śraddhā in Bhakti-rasāmṛta sindhu, Eastern Division, second chapter (Sādhana-bhakti).

Question: You had mentioned in a lecture that there is no possibility of offense at the stage described in SB 1.2.21:

bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiś chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi dṛṣṭa evātmanīśvare

“Precisely coinciding with the immediate perception of Īśvara within the core of being of such a realized person, the knot of ego in the heart is pierced, all doubts are cut asunder, and the reaction to all karma is nullified.  Any suffering is an arrangement of Kṛṣṇa.”

Am I correct in assuming that this is a description of the bhāva stage? If yes, how to reconcile this with Bhakti-rasāmṛta Sindhu, where Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī mentions that one can descend from the bhāva stage if one commits offenses? 

Answer: This is the prema stage, and at this stage, there is no possibility of offense. Even otherwise when Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī says that one can descend from bhāva stage, it is not a common thing. Rather I would say that such a thing will also happen by the special will of Kṛṣṇa—either to teach others something or to make the bhāva of the devotee very intense. Otherwise, at the bhāva platform, offense is almost impossible. 

Question: Śrī Visvanātha suggests that Bharat Mahāraja fell from the bhāva platform on account of the deer only because of Kṛṣṇa’s will. Could Dvivida be considered as an example where someone fell from the bhāva platform due to their own offenses?

Answer: As I said above such a thing is almost an impossibility. Dvivida is given as an example, but I would say even his situation was only by the Lord’s will. 

Question: The bhakti lata bīja is explained as nirguṇa śraddhā in bhaktiśāstra. Śrī Visvanātha in his writings likens the bīja to a raw mango, and prema to a ripe mango. It would seem that the bhakti lata bīja is made of the antaraṅga śakti. If yes, it seems that when one has the raw mango in the mind (i.e. prema in an unripe or immature stage), one can be covered by māyā (as a sādhaka is susceptible to offenses) but when one possesses the ripe mango of prema, one can never be overcome by māyā. Is it that when one has nirguṇa śraddhā, that śraddhā will never ‘actually’ leave that person in any future lifetime owing to any offense or māyic action, and that is proof that the bhakti lata bīja also is beyond the effect of māyā?

Answer: Yes, it can be covered but generally speaking it will not be lost, unless one commits some very heinous offense. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī says that by great offense one can lose bhāva or one’s bhāva can be downgraded (see BRS Chapter 1.3.54).

Question: The concept of dormant prema is clearly unsupported by śāstra. Prema has to be given, and it is given at the bhāva stage as a ‘ray’ of the sun of prema. How to understand then that after one gets bhāva—the sudurlabha ray of prema—one’s bhāva can become bhāvaābhāsa of different types according to the severity of offenses as mentioned in BRS. Is the person losing the bhāva after having obtained it? Would that go against the principle that the antaraṅga śakti is independent of māyā?

Answer: No, it would not go against the antaraṅga śakti being independent of māyā, but rather it proves that it is independent. When we think of antaraṅga śakti, we tend to think of it as some impersonal energy, because we equate śakti to energy. But śakti is also a person and can make decisions. Therefore, when one is offensive, then the antaraṅga śakti leaves that person. After all, what is an offense? It is acting in a manner that is not commensurate with one’s bhāva. If such is the case, then why should one continue to have that bhāva?

What Are Offenses?

Question: What are offenses?

Answer: Offenses are the activities which are against devotion. We have a list of them. It is important to avoid them because they are detrimental to one’s progress in devotion.

Question: Do the offences only affect the devotees or also non-devotees?

Answer: Both devotees as well as non-devotees.

Question: If non-devotees are also affected, how could this happen if they are not even aware of such offense?

Answer:  Even an ignorant person can commit a crime. Is it necessary to know that stealing is crime before one steals? If you have pain in your back and somebody pushes you, will you not feel pain and be upset with this person regardless of whether the person knows or does not know that you have pain or not, regardless of whether the person knows or does not know that pushing you will make you feel pain. Just as a non-devotee can benefit by chanting he can also commit offense and suffer.

Question: If we are making them aware of such offenses, is that considered an offence on our part because they have no faith in what we are saying?

Answer: If by making them aware you make them upset with bhakti or God or the Name then you are committing an offense. If they become careful and attentive and avoid offenses then you are doing welfare. So it depends how the person you educate reacts to you sermon.

Question: One of the offenses is to consider pious activities such as observing religious principles, fasting, renunciation and fire sacrifice to be equal to the chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord. Does this mean that we cannot replace such religious activities with the chanting of the Holy Name and vice versa?

Answer:  Yes, that is what this offence means. Considering the name of Lord equal to such activities or replacing such activities with name or vice versa is offensive.