A Vaisnava Is the Only Real Brahmana – Initiation Lecture

Assorted Lectures | September 1, 2004 | Devotee, Social Topics, Sadhana Bhakti, Attitudes in Devotional Service, Varnasrama, Philosophy

English; Denver, Colorado, USA

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What does Make a Devotee Senior?

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Question: I was wondering if you could bring clarification to me as to what it is that makes a devotee senior. I think our movement impresses upon the devotees that Srila Prabhupada’s diksa disciples are more senior than those who took initiation after his disappearance.… Expand>

Question:

I was wondering if you could bring clarification to me as to what it is that makes a devotee senior. I think our movement impresses upon the devotees that Srila Prabhupada’s diksa disciples are more senior than those who took initiation after his disappearance.

Pradyumna prabhu, one of Srila Prabhupada’s Sanskrit editors, once recalled a pastime of Srila Prabhupada wherein he instructed him to show respect to a devotee who had come to the movement before himself, as senior to him.

I was hoping that you might kindly shed some light on this for me.

ANSWER by HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami:

There are various factors in determining seniority. We see, from here, that Śrīla Prabhupāda established that one who is initiated prior to another is considered more senior.

There are various factors on material platform, and on the spiritual platform. On the spiritual platform, the only real factor is one’s spiritual advancement, but usually some other factors are also considered, such as who took initiation prior to someone else is considered, in one way, more senior even if the other is clearly in other way more advanced.

DIFFERENT CONSIDERATIONS
Among varṇas, brāhmaṇa is always considered superior. It’s stated that even a very old (in terms of years) kṣatriya should offer obeisance even to a young boy who is a brāhmaṇa.

There are other factors, wealth. If one is very wealthy, that is very important amongst vaiśyas.

If one is very powerful that is important among kṣatriyas.

If one is very learned among brāhmaṇas, that is very important and respected by all the varṇas.

Among śūdras, age alone is determining factor of seniority, because they have not much else to go on. They don’t have wealth, or value of learning.

In any society, except in mostly degraded, if one has good character, that would often be respected.

Position, that should be respected. Just like Temple President should be respected for the position.

Material position also. If the Mayor comes to the Temple, although he is an ordinary person in many ways, but he has that position, so we offer respect.

Sannyāsi is to be respected by everyone.

Those who are senior devotees in terms of initiation, they are to be respected by others. If they are not practicing actually very properly, then that respect…One has to offer respect, but…Well, the term given is yathocita — befitting. One should give respect according to how it should be properly given.
So, one may respect someone as senior, but you might not want if you suspect that the devotee who is initiated many years ago…they may not have been following the principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness very properly, or their philosophical understanding might be deviated from that which may be considered as orthodox understanding of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings, and you may not offer them to give the class. So there are various considerations.

EXAMPLES
We see in Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s pastimes also, that He did not violate the social rule of not allowing Sanātana Gosvāmī and Haridas Thakur into the Temple of Lord Jagannātha, but He would personally come and visit them. So, that was the outside convention, which Caitanya Mahāprabhu observed, and He congratulated Sanātana. He was very pleased with Sanātana Gosvāmī.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu called Sanātana Gosvāmī, at this time of the year, in the month of Jyeṣṭha, to come to see Him. And there were two paths to come. One was in shaded area via the temple premises, and the other was along the beach. And you can imagine on the sandy beach, how hot that would be.
So, Sanātana Gosvāmī came along the beach, and Caitanya Mahāprabhu was very pleased because Sanātana had a habit not to go in the temple area because the priests in the temple are not supposed to touch outside people. And especially the one who is considered very fallen according to social convention, because he had been in the service of Mohammedans.
So, Caitanya Mahāprabhu was very pleased with that, and He said:

maryādā rākhile, tuṣṭa kaile mora mana
tumi aiche nā karile kare kon jana?”
“By observing the etiquette, you have satisfied My mind. Who else but you could show this example?” (CC Antya 4.132)

It is the characteristic of a vaiṣṇava to uphold the etiquette. But then, Caitanya Mahāprabhu would personally embrace Sanātana Gosvāmī and say:

prabhu kahe, — “tomā sparśi ātma pavitrite
bhakti-bale pāra tumi brahmāṇḍa śodhite
The Lord replied, “I am touching you just to purify Myself, because by the force of your devotional service you can purify the whole universe. (CC Madhya 20.56)

So, there may be some outside conventions that we follow and some internal conventions that we follow also.

Haridas Thakur was always invited by Caitanya Mahāprabhu to take prasād with Him and other devotees because he would always take it outside, but he would not come inside. He wouldn’t eat with other devotees. He was upholding the social convention.

“yadyapio tumi hao jagat-pāvana
tomā-sparśe pavitra haya deva-muni-gaṇa
tathāpi bhakta-svabhāva — maryādā-rakṣaṇa
maryādā-pālana haya sādhura bhūṣaṇa
“My dear Sanātana, although you are the deliverer of the entire universe and although even the demigods and great saints are purified by touching you, it is the characteristic of a devotee to observe and protect the Vaiṣṇava etiquette. Maintenance of the Vaiṣṇava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee. (CC Antya 4.129-130)

It’s slightly off subject. We talk about seniority here. But the point I’m making is that there’s the spiritual line of understanding and there’s the material line of understanding. Many questions come up because of this. The rules for the material world, like varṇāśrama rules, they don’t often clash, they are not always in line with spiritual consideration. They may clash also. So, how to manage the two of these.

Hare Kṛṣṇa. 

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