trnad api sunicena
taror iva sahisnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
“One who is humbler than a blade of grass, more forbearing than a tree who gives due honour to others without desiring honour for himself is qualified to always chant the Holy Name of Krishna.”
By Sri Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj
We should mainly couch ourselves in this mood: we should think of ourselves as the meanest of the mean. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has given his analysis of the meaning of this verse as follows: even a blade of grass has its value, but we do not even have as much value as a blade of grass. We have no positive value. It is one thing if a man is not educated, but a madman is worse than uneducated. He can think but only abnormally. Therefore, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, “I have some consciousness, some intelligence, but it is all misdirected. A blade of grass has no misdirection. When trampled upon, it has no tendency to spring back in the opposite direction. A blade of grass can be blown here and there by a storm, or by the external environment, but I will always be reluctant to go in a particular direction. If the waves of the environment want to take me in a particular direction, I’ll try to oppose them. If you really consider my value, my position is lower than a blade of grass because I have an opposing tendency.”
When we want to bring ourselves in a closer relationship with the infinite goodness, we should think, “I have no value. Rather, my value is negative. It is my tendency to oppose the Lord’s grace. If Krishna wants to grace me, I try to resist. I am constituted of such an element that I commit spiritual suicide. Krishna comes to grace me, but I oppose Him: the energy that is within me tries for suicide. This is my position, but a blade of grass won’t oppose anyone. I have such a nasty position.” We must realise that we are in such a predicament. With this concern we may accept the goodness of the Absolute Truth in the form of His Holy Name.
We should not think that the path will be very smooth; so many troubles may come from outside. When the devotees go to chant Hare Krishna in the street, many people come and shout, “Hey, you monkeys! Red-faced monkeys!” So many forms of hindrances and opposition will come and try to affect us, to dissuade us from this path, but we must practice forbearance like that of a tree. Why has the example of a tree been given? It has been analysed in this way: if no one pours any water on a tree, it does not protest, “Oh! Give me water!” If anyone comes to disturb the tree, snatching its leaves, cutting its branches, or even chopping it down, a tree remains silent; it gives no opposition. We should try to see how insult, poverty, punishment, or other unfavorable dealings are necessary to purify us, and with minimal punishment we shall be released from material existence.
Through Krishna consciousness we have connected with the highest object of life, the highest fulfillment of life—what price are we ready to pay for that? It is inconceivable. Whatever little demands may be exacted from us, we must accept with a smiling face, considering the highest goal. If we are really confident, if we have faith in our bright future, then we can gladly pay what little price nature wants to take from us.
Krishna—I Shall Teach You a Lesson!”
Once, Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji Maharaja, the spiritual master of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, was going through the town of Navadwipa begging a little rice from different houses. The village people sometimes attack or insult devotees, and as he was going to his quarters they did not spare even such an exalted soul. Some boys were pelting him with stones and throwing dirt at him, and he remarked, “Krishna, You are cruelly dealing with me! I shall complain to Your mother Yasoda about You.” That was his outlook, and in that way he harmonised everything. We should learn to see Krishna in anything that comes to disturb or attack us. In philosophical calculation, of course, without God’s will nothing can happen. But in a concrete way, a devotee sees, “O, Krishna! You are backing these children, You are disturbing me, and I shall teach You a lesson. I know how to deal with You. I shall complain to Mother Yasoda, and she will chastise You.”
The advanced devotees are established in the consciousness that Krishna is behind everything, and they take everything in that way. This attitude is our beacon light, for it will guide us to adjust ourselves with those things that are apparently unfavorable to us. A sweet adjustment is found there, and so we are advised to be more tolerant than a tree. We may not give any opposition; still, opposition will come to disturb us. And we must forbear.
And we must show our respect to others. Prestige is the greatest and most subtle enemy of the devotee of Krishna. Pride is the worst enemy for the devotee of Krishna. And pride ultimately takes one to the conclusion of the mayavadis, the monists. They say, so ‘ham—“I am!” Not daso ‘ham, “I am subordinate,” but “I am of the Supreme Element;
I am That: I am He,” eliminating from their consideration the fact that we are tiny and suffering in misery. All these practical things are ignored by the mayavadis, the impersonalists, but position, or ego (pratistha), is our worst enemy. In this verse, we are advised to deal with prestige and position in a special way.
The Slave Area of Krishna
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says, “You must not desire respect from anyone or even from the environment itself; at the same time, you must give prestige to everyone and everything in the environment according to its position. Show respect, but don’t desire any respect from outside.” We must be very particular about this, for pride is our hidden enemy, our worst enemy. If we can somehow avoid or conquer this enemy, we will be able to enter into the slave area of Krishna and join those who have given their lives wholesale in sacrifice to Him. The general meaning of this verse is, “Never seek position or prestige from any quarter. At the same time, give honour to one and all according to your understanding.”
A Great Insult
When our spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, went to Vrndavana in the early 1930′s, he rode in a motorcar. In those days, this was unheard of for a saint. One day, a priest insulted our guru by deprecating the position of Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, the preceptor of our highest conception of spiritual achievement. He boasted, “We are not only residents of the holy land, but members of the cast of high priests (brahmanas). Therefore we can offer our benedictions to Dasa Goswami. He was born in a low-class family, and he himself asked such a benediction from us.”
Of course, in great humility, Dasa Goswami once prayed,
gurau gosthe gosthalayisu sujana bhusuragane
svamantre sri-namni vraja-nava-yuva-dvandva-sarane
sada dambham hitva kuru ratim apurvam atitara
maye svantarbhratas chatubhir abhiyace dhrta-padah
“O mind-my brother! I fall at your feet and implore you: ‘Give up all pride and always taste ecstatic love while remembering the divine guide, the holy abode of Vrndavana, the cowherds and milkmaids of Vraja, the loving devotees of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, the gods on earth or pure brahmanas, the Gayatri mantra, the Holy Names of Sri Krishna and the divine youthful couple of Vraja, Sri Sri Radha- Govindasundara.”
That priest remarked, “We are residents of the holy abode of Vrndavana, and brahmanas as well, so we are in a position to give benedictions to Raghunatha Dasa Goswami.” Upon hearing these words, our Guru Maharaja, who was at Radha-kunda at the time, began fasting. He remarked, “I have to hear this? This fellow is under the control of lust, anger, and greed, and he says that he can show his grace to Dasa Goswami, the most respected preceptor in our line! And I am to hear that?” Without retaliating against his remarks, he decided to fast.
We also stopped eating, and our whole camp began fasting. Then a local gentleman who came to know that the whole camp was fasting managed to find the blasphemous priest and bring him to our Guru Maharaja. That priest begged to be pardoned. Our Guru Maharaja was satisfied and, after showing him some respect, finally broke his fast. At that time someone told our Guru Maharaja, “They are all ignorant fools. Why should be be so much affected by his words? You should ignore it.” Our Guru Maharaja said, “If I were an ordinary babaji and heard such a remark, I could simply cover my ears and go away. But I am playing the part of an acaryya, one who teaches by example. What justification do I have for riding in a motorcar if I do not oppose the remarks against my Gurudeva?”
Repeatedly he used this expression: “Why am I driving a motorcar here in Vrndavana?” He said, “Had I been a niskinchana babaji, a saint living in seclusion and living only a loincloth, I would have given no opposition to this man. To save myself, I would simply leave the place and go elsewhere. But because I am riding in a big motorcar in the post of an acaryya, a teacher, I must defend the dignity of the great devotees. I have accepted this charge and can’t evade these circumstances. I must face it and do everything in my power that such things may not go on undetected or unopposed.”
Humility must be adjusted or modified in its practical application. Once, when a Hare Krishna temple was attacked, a gun was used by the devotees to defend the temple. Later there was a complaint among the local people. They said, “Oh, they are humble? They are tolerant? Why have they crossed the advice of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to be humbler than a blade of grass and more tolerant than a tree? They can’t be devotees!” So many complaints were coming to me, but I defended them by saying, “No, they have done rightly. The instruction to be humbler than a blade of grass means one should be humble to the devotee, not to a madman.”
The general class of men are ignorant. They are mad. They do not know what is good or bad, so their consideration has no value. Who is qualified to judge whether a devotee is offering respect to all and not expecting any for himself? Who will judge whether he is really humble and tolerant—madmen? Ignorant people? Have they any sense to judge who is humble, who is tolerant, and who is respectful to others? There must be a standard by which to judge humility. We are interested in the criterion given by higher thinkers, not the consideration of the ignorant masses.
The Standard of Humility
Of course, anyone may deceive the ordinary public with superficial humility. But a show of humility is not real humility. It must come from the heart, and it must have a real purpose. Everything-humility, tolerance, and pridelessness—must be considered by the judgement of a standard, normal person, not by the ignorant who are like elephants, tigers, and jackals. Should they be allowed to judge what is humility, what is audacity and impertinence? Of course not. Should a devotee think, “The Deity and the temple is about to be molested, but I shall stand by and do nothing. I should be humble and tolerant. A dog is entering the temple; I should show him respect.”? No. This is not real humility.
We must have a normal conception of reality. We must not allow these anomalies to continue in the name of offering respects to others. We must not think that we may allow anyone to harm the devotees or molest the temple, that we shall allow the dog to enter the temple, and by doing this we are humble and tolerant, we are showing all respects to others. We are not interested only in the physical meaning of the Scriptures, but the real meaning.
That I am humble means that I am the slave of the slave of a Vaishnava. With that consciousness we must proceed. If anyone comes to molest my master, I should first sacrifice myself, thinking, “Because I am of the least importance, my sacrifice is no loss; I must sacrifice myself to maintain the dignity of my guru, the devotees, and my Lord and His family.”
We must always understand what is to be honoured. We offer our respects to the highest truth, the Lord of Lords; our dealings should be in consonance with that. If we always keep the highest conception of relativity within us, we will see that we are the lowest. If there is danger to our guardians, we shall sacrifice ourselves. All of this should be taken into account when trying to understand the meaning of humility, not physical imitation—but genuine humility; it is a question of practical realisation. Fame and honour must be given to the Lord and His devotees, not to anyone else.
In the higher stages of devotion, of course, humility may have to be adjusted in another way for the paramahamsa babajis, the topmost swanlike saints who have given up all connection with this material world. But in the preaching stage, the second class devotee must accept things differently. As our Guru Maharaja said, “Had I been in the role of a babaji, a nonassertive, reclusive saint, I would have walked away from the place without offering any opposition. But when we are preaching and have taken the responsibility of leading so many souls to the domain of the Lord, our adjustment must be made accordingly.” Generally , we may be indifferent to those who are personally inimical to us, but when we preach on behalf of the Lord in an organised way, our duty changes: we cannot be indifferent to antagonists.
It is mentioned in the scriptures by Jiva Goswami that according to one’s own particular status, these things should be taken into consideration and the necessary things should be done. He has given his decision that if the devotee has a position of power, if he is a king, and if someone repeatedly blasphemes a real Vaishnava, or saintly person, then the king should enforce corporal punishment by banishing the offender from his state or by cutting out his tongue (vaisnava nindaka jihva hata). That is not the duty for ordinary persons; if they act in such a way, there will be a riot. We should not be eager to inflict physical punishment upon anyone.
Hanuman is a Vaishnava, but he is seen to destroy so many lifes. The same is true of Arjuna and so many other devotees. Even Krishna and Ramacandra are also seen to kill so many demons in war. Simply a physical show of meekness does not constitute the real meaning of humility. When there is an insult to the Guru or the Vaishnavas, a devotee will oppose the blasphemers according to his might.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in one of his songs, says that we should not only tolerate the evil-doings of others and a disturbing environment, but we should do good to those by whom we are being tortured. The example is given of a tree. One who is cutting the tree gets shade and comfort from the tree even while cutting it down. In conclusion, he says that humility, mercy, respet for others, and renunciation of name and fame, are the four qualifications for chanting the Holy Name of Krishna.
We are the meanest of the mean. We should always be conscious that we are beggars. We should think, “Although I am a beggar, I’ve come to beg for the highest thing; let no disturbance dissuade me from my attempt.” At the same time, our attitude toward the environment should be respectful.
In this way, by becoming educated in the Krishna conception of divinity, everyone should be given respect accordint to his position. It is the guiding instruction in the worship of the holy name (nama-bhajana) that we must take the position of the slave of the slave of the slave of the Lord. If you want to chant the name of Krishna, then don’t waste your energy with the trifling things of this world. Don’t allow your attention to be disturbed by tiny acquisitions like prestige or gain which is relative to money or physical comfort. Remember, you are trying for the greatest thing, and all other things are very small in comparison to Krishna consciousness. So, don’t waste your energy and valuable time. Be economical. You have the chance to achieve the highest goal of life.
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