(Excerpt from the book “My Beloved Masters” by Srila Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvami Maharaja)
The meaning of ‘praṇayi-bhakta’
The term praṇayi has been used by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in his kīrtana:
gaura āmāra, ĵe-saba sthāne
karalô bhramaṇa raṅge
se-saba sthāna, heribô āmi
praṇayi-bhakata-saṅge Śaraṇāgati (6.3.3)
In the company of praṇayi-bhaktas, I will behold all the places where my Gaura joyfully visited.
Another term for praṇaya is ‘deep attachment,’ and so a praṇayi-bhakta is one who possesses a deep attachment in his heart for Bhagavān and His devotees. Because of this attachment, the praṇayi-bhakta possesses an inclination to glorify everything related to Bhagavān, and he therefore wishes to visit, glorify, and even reside in His pastime places, which have been blessed by His presence and the presence of His devotees:
nāma-gāne sadā ruciḥ
ity ādayo ’nubhāvāḥ
syur jāta-bhāvāṅkure jane Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.3.25–6)
When bhāva arises, the following nine symptoms are observed in a devotee: (1) forbearance, (2) the effective use of one’s time, (3) detachment, (4) an absence of pride, (5) the steadfast hope that Kṛṣṇa will bestow His mercy, (6) an intense longing to obtain one’s goal, (7) a constant taste for chanting the holy name, (8) attachment to describing and hearing about Kṛṣṇa’s qualities and (9) affection for Kṛṣṇa’s pastime places.
Praṇayi-bhaktas are not situated on the material platform in which one misidentifies oneself with the body. Every activity they perform is exemplary, whether theyare eating, walking, sitting, or even sleeping. They engage in sevā at every moment, and never in mundane, self-gratifying activities.
Praṇayi-bhaktas know well the glories of Bhagavān’s pastime places. The respective glories and pastimes of those places automatically manifest in their hearts by the divine mercy of the Lord. In this connection, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has written in his kīrtana, “dhāmera svarūpa, sphuribe nayane—the transcendental form of the dhāma will appear to my vision.” The use of the word sphūrti here indicates that the pastimes spontaneously manifest in their hearts. As a result, there is no need for them to meditate on what to speak at a particular place; hari-kathā relating the glories of that place comes very naturally.
Praṇayi-bhaktas are concerned only with their absorption in the moods of sevā
In earlier times, during Ratha-yātrā, the festival management used to arrange a special area in front of the chariots where devotees could perform kīrtana without any disturbance; other common people were not permitted to enter there. Once, the Gauḍīya Maṭha devotees were performing kīrtana in that area under the guidance of my paramārādhyatama Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja. The sevakas of Lord Jagannātha on the chariot became so ecstatic by hearing the kīrtana that they lifted Guru Mahārāja on their shoulders and forcibly brought him onto the Lord’s chariot.
At that same time, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was dancing and singing in front of the chariot, absorbed in the mood experienced by the vraja-gopīs when they meet with Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Kurukṣetra:
sei ta parāṇa-nātha pāinu
ĵāhā lāgi’ madana-dahane jhuri’ genu Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā, 13.113)
Now I have gained the Lord of My life, in the absence of whom I was being burned by Cupid and was withering away.
While Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was fully absorbed in singing this kīrtana, all the devotees around him also experienced the same mood of meeting and were feeling jubilant. A pickpocket used this opportunity to steal Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s wallet from his bag. Most of the devotees were absorbed in the kīrtana and did not notice this, but one brahmacārī, having witnessed the theft, went forward and caught the pickpocket.
The brahmacārī, while restraining the thief, tried to get the attention of Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, but Śrīla Mahārāja was so absorbed in kīrtana that he didn’t pay any attention to the brahmacārī’s words. When the brahmacārī tried more insistently, Śrīla Mahārāja became very upset and chastised him, “Why are you disturbing me? Let him take the money. Money will come and go, but the mood that we are experiencing at this moment may not come again.”
Who can recognize a praṇayi-bhakta?
Of all the people in front of whom Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was singing, who among them could truly understand his mood or the cause of his irritation? It is only when one is highly sincere and spiritually mature—or in other words, completely surrendered—that one will be able to even notice such a thing, what to speak of understand it. Therefore, although a praṇayi-bhakta may be present before us, and though we may personally witness his conduct, we will be unable to recognize him until we become completely sincere and surrender ourselves to his will. Without sincerity and surrender, we will not realize that his activities are those of a mahā-bhāgavata, and not of an ordinary devotee.
It is only when we become sincere that a praṇayi-bhakta, out of his non-duplicitous mercy, reveals his true identity and exalted position. At such a time, we will be able to not only understand the conduct of the praṇayi-bhaktas, but also keep it in our mind and heart and preserve it by imbibing it ourselves. By the mercy of those elevated Vaiṣṇavas, we will be granted the vision to clearly understand the true form of their transcendental activities and deep moods behind them.
There is no possibility that praṇayi-bhatkas will manifest their mercy in a place where a fault in surrender is present. In the absence of their mercy, we will remain unable to recognize such advanced personalities, and because of this, we will misconstrue their conduct as improper.
mahat-kṛpā vinā kona karme ‘bhakti’ naya
kṛṣṇa-bhakti dūre rahu, saṁsāra nahe kṣaya Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.51)
One cannot attain bhakti without the mercy of a great devotee. What to speak of kṛṣṇa-bhakti, one cannot even be relieved from the bondage of material existence.
Therefore, it is only when one receives the mercy of praṇayi-bhaktas that one can identify both praṇayi-bhaktas and those who are sincere in their efforts to become praṇaya-bhaktas.
We have seen that if anyone would give even a single rupee to Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, he would take it, touch it to his forehead and then very carefully keep it in his bag, saying, “This money has been sent by Śrīla Prabhupāda for the service of Bhagavān.” But in the above-mentioned incident, Śrīla Mahārāja has said, “Let them take my money, but do not bother me.” Why is it that he has in one instance shown deep respect for an object he considers to be sent by his Guru Mahārāja for the service of Bhagavān, but in another instance has exhibited disregard for that very same object? Through this, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja is demonstrating that when one is absorbed in performing a higher service, a smaller service may be automatically neglected. There is no consideration of loss or harm in this.
Many people were present when the pickpocket was stealing Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s money, and each reacted to the incident according to his respective qualification. The senior Vaiṣṇavas were fully absorbed in kīrtana and the divine moods of the Ratha-yātrā festival, and were therefore not at all agitated. The junior, neophyte devotees, however, wanted to apprehend and punish the pickpocket, and so they must have felt unhappy when Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja chastised them for disturbing his mood.
When I witnessed this incident, I was reminded of a verse from Bhagavad-gītā: (2.69):
yā niśā sarva-bhūtānāṁ
tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī
yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni
sā niśā paśyato muneḥ
Intelligence related to the soul is like night for common, materialistic persons. However, a steady and controlled person with fixed intelligence remains awake in that same intelligence. The common person remains awake when intelligence is engaged in sense objects, but for he who perceives the Absolute Truth, this same situation is like night.
Materialistic persons are conscious only of things related to this material world, and their concern for collecting money is such that they may fight over a single penny. They have no time to think about their true, spiritual welfare (paramārtha), nor are they the least bit bothered to know about it. Inversely, those who are completely aware of ātma-tattva, or the truth about the soul, always endeavor to accrue their real, transcendental wealth; they do not waste even a single moment by caring for material possessions, knowing well that such things are without value.
In accordance with this verse from Bhagavad-gītā, I could observe that the senior Vaiṣṇavas participating in Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s kīrtana were completely absorbed in a similar mood expressed by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu during Ratha-yātrā. Due to their absorption, they were oblivious to the pickpocket. The neophyte devotees, however, were oblivious to the senior Vaiṣṇavas’ absorption, and so they gave priority to apprehending the pickpocket.
Only a sincere student is qualified to assess the qualification of his teacher
Suppose we come across two individuals: one is a praṇayi-bhakta, and the other is only claiming to be a praṇayi-bhakta. We may observe that the person pretending to be a praṇayi-bhakta is externally exhibiting all the symptoms of a praṇayi-bhakta and is forcing us to accept him as such, while the actual praṇayi-bhakta makes no endeavor to prove his position to others. If we are unqualified, insincere and not adequately intelligent or well-versed in the śāstras, how we will be able to differentiate between the two?
A student in eighth standard was assigned a tutor by his parents. The tutor was highly qualified and possessed a PhD degree. However, after receiving lessons for some time, the student complained to his parents, “I am unsatisfied with this tutor; he is unable to teach me properly. It would be better if you could arrange for a new tutor.”
Because of the student’s sincerity in his studies, he was easily able to realize that the tutor was not teaching him properly. Similarly, we will only be able to identify a praṇayi-bhakta if we too are completely sincere. If we are not sincere at heart, we will simply cheat ourselves, whether we happen to meet with a praṇayi-bhakta or a pretender.
The true meaning of sincerity
When used in normal speech, the word ‘sincere’ can have one of two meanings, the first of which indicates truthfulness: “Whatever I say is one hundred percent true.” When composing letters, we present ourselves as trustworthy individuals through the use of such sign-offs as ‘sincerely’ and ‘yours truly.’
The second meaning of the word ‘sincere’ relates to one’s serious and honest efforts to accomplish an assigned or consciously accepted commitment. A Sanskrit synonym for ‘sincere’ is found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.7.42):
yeṣāṁ sa eṣa bhagavān dayayed anantaḥ
sarvātmanāśrita-pado yadi nirvyalīkam
te dustarām atitaranti ca deva-māyāṁ
naiṣāṁ mamāham iti dhīḥ śva-śṛgāla-bhakṣye
Anyone who is specifically favored by Bhagavān due to their sincere surrender—that is, surrender without pretention to the service of Bhagavān— can overcome the insurmountable ocean of illusion and can understand Him. But those who are attached to this body, which is fit to be eaten by dogs and jackals, cannot do so.
Here, the concept of sincerity is indicated by the use of the word nirvyalīkam, which refers to a person who never nurtures desires belonging to this material world, and wishes only to remain constantly engaged in kṛṣṇa-bhakti. It is this second meaning that should be accepted when the word ‘sincere’ is used to describe individuals whose one and only desire is to serve Bhagavān and His devotees. Although temporary material desires may manifest in a devotee due to the presence of anarthas that have not yet been fully removed, he should be considered as sincere if he possesses in his heart genuine feelings of remorse and prays for the mercy of the Vaiṣṇavas to overcome his anarthas.
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa has said to Uddhava:
tato bhajeta māṁ prītaḥ
juṣamāṇaś ca tān kāmān
duḥkhodarkāṁś ca garhayan
bhajato māsakṛn muneḥ
kāmā hṛdayyā naśyanti
sarve mayi hṛdi sthite
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi
mayi dṛṣṭe ‘khilātmani
A sādhaka who has developed faith in narrations about Me and is disgusted with all types of karma may still be unable to give up material enjoyment and the desire for such enjoyment. Knowing that such pleasures are actually sources of misery, he should condemn himself while attempting to enjoy them. Thereafter, in due course of time, he may be able to worship Me with love, faith and fixed determination. When the sādhaka constantly worships me by the method of bhakti-yoga that I have described, I come and sit in his heart. As soon as I am established there, all material desires and the saṁskāras on which his material desires are based are destroyed. When the sādhaka directly sees Me as Paramātmā situated in the hearts of all living entities, the knot of the false ego in his heart is pierced, all of his doubts are cut to pieces, and his desire to perform karma is completely eradicated.
The use of the word prītaḥ here indicates that the sādhaka becomes completely engaged, and that the entirety of his efforts, which are full of sincere love and affection, are done solely with the aim to make kṛṣṇa-bhajana his life and soul. He does not engage in performing these activities as a matter of duty; rather, he performs them with complete sincerity out of true, intrinsic love, or prīti.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has expressed this idea in his kīrtana based on the fourth verse of Śrī Śikṣāṣṭakam, in which he prays in the mood of a sincere sādhaka:
tviṣaye ĵe prīti ebe āchaye āmāra
sei mata prīti hauka caraṇe tomāra
Whatever affection I have for worldly pleasures, may I develop the same affection for your lotus feet.
Similarly, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has prayed:
yuvatīnāṁ yathā yūni
yunāṁ ca yuvatau yathā
mano ’bhiramate tadvan
mano me ramatāṁ tvayi Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.153)
Just as young women take pleasure in thinking of young men, and young men take pleasure in thinking of young women, kindly let my mind take pleasure in You alone.
In the aforementioned ślokas from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that although devotees may possess certain shortcomings in their śādhana (such as the inability to control their senses) due to their remaining anarthas, He Himself cuts the roots of all the material desires of those who, while lamenting their anarthas, worship Him with sincerity—the same type of sincerity expressed by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī—and have full faith and firm conviction in their hearts that they want to perform, at all costs, the sevā of Bhagavān and His devotees without concern for the material outcome. By this, the devotees will be free from all material hindrances.
It is merely the desire to become sincere that ensures a devotee’s attainment of sincerity. With this sincerity, the devotee becomes eligible to perform the type of bhakti that will elevate him to the platform on which he can identify a true praṇayi-bhakta.