Wikipedia defines Vaisnavism as “one of the major Hindu denominations.” This definition is misleading. To be a Vaisnava transcends any religious, social, or ethnic designation. A Vaisnava can come from any caste or any racial or ethnic group. Bhaktivinoda Thakura referred to this as “the principle of natural brotherhood.” This depicts a state when people give up their biases, hatred, and separatist religious mentalities. And only then, Bhaktivinode explains, “the people of all castes and countries will spontaneously chant the Holy Names of the Supreme Lord together.”
The way of the Vaisnavas is glorious and should not be seen in terms of birth but in terms of one having attained a unique, spiritual consciousness. These devotees wander in this world as agents of God’s love. They desire only to awaken those who are sleeping in the darkness of ignorance and help them re-establish their loving relationship with God. Unfortunately, the suffering, conditioned souls don’t realize that they are sleeping. They are all too accepting of the “reality” of their dreams.
Srila Prabhupada writes, “A Vaiṣṇava, or devotee of the Lord, his life is dedicated for the benefit of the people. . . They don’t care for personal comforts. Because they love Kṛṣṇa, or God, therefore they love all living entities because all living entities are in a relationship with Kṛṣṇa. So similarly, you should learn. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement means to become Vaiṣṇava and feel for the suffering humanity.”- Lecture, Los Angeles, December 9, 1968.
This was clearly described by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who encouraged the Vaisnavas to not consider who is fit or who is unfit, or who is worthy or unworthy to receive this divine gift. 500 years ago, Lord Caitanya mandated to not discriminate between the faithful and the faithless, the rich or poor, the brahmana or sudra, and the chosen or the unchosen. The Vaisnavas are all-merciful, and thus Caitanya’s movement is transcendental to all mundane considerations.
God’s house is big enough for everyone. The only stipulation is that one chants the empowered, holy names of God found in religious traditions all over the world. As is described in the CC ADi 7/26: “The Krishna consciousness movement will inundate the entire world and drown everyone, whether one be a gentleman, a rogue or even lame, invalid or blind.”
But a word of caution: a Vaisnava does not feel superior for having this intimate knowledge. Another important quality inherent in Vaisnavas is humility. Caitanya Mahaprabhu explains, “One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”
This humble mentality provides the devotee with a means to continue to chant, day after day and year after year. In the early part of the 20th century, the exalted Vaisnava, Vamsidasa Babaji, was asked about the essence of religion. He explained it this way: “Be kind to all beings, chant the holy names with great attention, and serve the Vaisnavas. This is true religion. There is nothing else.”
The Srimad Bhagavatam, text 3/25/21, offers us additional insights: “The symptoms of a sādhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.” In his purport, Srila Prabhupada begins to explain: “A sadhu, as described above, is a devotee of the Lord.”
These are all Vaisnava characteristics. There is no difference between a Vaisnava and a sadhu. Prabhupada explains that in their compassion, the Vaisnavas take great risks in presenting the transcendental teachings of bhakti-yoga, loving devotion to Krishna. He gives the examples of Jesus Christ, Haridas Thakur, and Nityananda Prabhu as devotees who were personally attacked. Prabhupada continues the purport, “But still they were tolerant because their mission was to deliver the fallen souls. One of the qualifications of a sādhu is that he is very tolerant and is merciful to all fallen souls. He is merciful because he is the well-wisher of all living entities. He is not only a well-wisher of human society but a well-wisher of animal society as well.”
Sri Isopanishad, text 6, reiterates this point of the Srimad Bhagavatam in a slightly different way: “He who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all living entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything never hates anything or any being.”
Vaiṣṇavas naturally develop all good qualities. He or she is someone intoxicated with love of God and simply wants everyone to feel that ecstatic experience for themselves. The Vaisnavas are demanding of themselves, but patient with others.
In the purport of Srimad Bhagavatam 2/4/18, Prabhupada offers a solution to the ills of the world: the politicians and leaders must allow themselves to be guided by the good counsel of the Vaisnavas, “then certainly there would be a great change in the world situation by the purifying propaganda of the devotees, as shown by Lord Caitanya.”
Prabhupada explains, “We do not ask anyone to first change his position and then come to us. Instead, we invite everyone to come with us and simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, because we know that if one simply chants and hears the topics of Kṛṣṇa, one’s life will change; he will see a new light, and his life will be successful.” – Purport SB 4/7/44.
The Vaiṣṇavas are transcendental to brahminical culture, the caste system, and even to varnashram-dharma. The Vaisnavas have attained the highest understanding of the Vedic literature and are free from the tight knot of the false ego. A Vaisnava only desires the highest benefit and welfare for all living beings, even for his enemies. Anyone who becomes a Vaisnava, regardless of their birth or previous activities, should be considered higher than a brahmana.
The Vaisnavas are non-envious and realistic because they have reestablished their relationship with the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. They do not wish to be famous or influential, nor are they interested in attaining the heavenly planets. If they can serve their worshipful Lord, they do not mind to endure millions of births or even reside in hell.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains the inclusiveness of Vaisnava culture in his Tattva Viveka-Tattva Sutra: “All the types of beneficence to others, like kindness, friendliness, forgiveness, charity, respect, and so on, are included in bhakti… charity of medicines, clothes, food, water, shelter, etc., during adversities, the teaching of academic and spiritual educations, etc., are the activities included in the devotional culture.”
And Narottama Das Thakur sings:
“O Vaisnava Gosvami, please be merciful to me.
There is no one except you who can purify the fallen souls.
Where does anyone find such a merciful personality
By whose mere audience all sins go far away?”
And thus, one of the great open secrets in Krishna Consciousness is that one can make rapid advancement by serving and honoring the Vaisnavas.
Sankirtana Das is a longtime resident of the New Vrindaban Community and an award-winning author and storyteller. His most recent book, Hanuman’s Quest, is acclaimed by scholars and has received a Storytelling World Resource Honors. For more info about his work see www.Mahabharata-Project.com
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies