by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada
Question 1: How can one hear harikatha in the association of devotees when one is residing far away from them?
Answer: In our mathas, harikatha is being delivered all the time and everyone there is engaged in hari-seva. It is our foremost duty that, by all means, we should associate with devotees whose life and soul is service. Staying in a place where harikatha is absent is absolutely undesirable, even if that place is very comfortable and we are surrounded by loved ones. I am able to contemplate the special mercy of Mahaprabhu when I witness at every moment that, by the grace of Bhagavan, the topics of Sri Hari are being discussed and everyone here is exhibiting the inclination toward divine service.
Those gentlemen who desire true welfare should visit the matha on occasion and listen to harikatha from sri guru and the Vaisnavas. Our taste for hearing harikatha and our inclination to serve Sri Hari shall itself separate us from unfavourable association. And if we constantly beseech sri guru and Gauranga for their mercy while we read and discuss the spiritual books and periodicals of our great acaryas, then we can achieve the same benefit we would achieve by listening to harikatha directly from the mouths of the devotees.
In our sojourn on this planet, we do not always have the opportunity to meet many great devotees from the transcendental realm. Nevertheless, there is no reason to be disappointed; the dialogues and pastimes of Sriman Mahaprabhu and His associates are eternally present in the form of spiritual literature. If I perpetually immerse myself in bhagavad-katha while residing in this world, I shall, without a doubt, be benefited, and nothing shall ever cause me any harm.
By the sweet will of Bhagavan, we shall realize His mercy, the subject of His bhakti, and remembrance of Him, no matter where we stay – even amidst all sorts of worldly talks and activities – if we simply continue to hear and discuss harikatha. In whatever state Bhagavan is satisfied and pleased to keep His devotees, it is appropriate for them to stay in that very state and to forget all of their sorrows.
When the inclination to serve Sri Bhagavan arises in the heart by associating with the devotees and regularly hearing harikatha, one is able to remember Sri Hari, the Supreme Lord, in all circumstances.
In order to test us, the Supreme Lord remains just behind the veil of the material world. By perceiving the presence of Bhagavan’s mercy in every event and circumstance, no distress shall remain in our life. In fact, this material world is specifically the place where the Supreme Lord examines us. In order to pass this exam, one must listen to harikatha spoken by the pure devotees of the Lord. Presently, even though we may not always get the opportunity to hear harikatha in the physical association of the devotees, if we listen to harikatha in the form of reading sacred books, we will not feel the deficiency of physical association so much.
The devotees of the Lord are able to have darsana of the Lord everywhere, while the non-devotees, who are envious of the Lord, do not even believe that the Supreme Lord exists.
We are presently situated midway. That is, sometimes we show an inclination towards hari-seva, but in the next moment we busy ourselves in sense enjoyment. Only when the desire to be immersed in hari-seva becomes dominant in us can we find relief from sense enjoyment. Within material sense objects, we may find temporary happiness and distress for ourselves, but hari-seva is meant for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. Therefore, we shall eternally strive to remain engaged in His service solely for the purpose of giving Him that pleasure.
Question 2: Should every arrangement by the Supreme Lord be accepted with pleasure?
Answer: Definitely. All the arrangements of one who is full of auspiciousness are solely auspicious. In the arrangements of all-auspicious Bhagavan, there is not and can never, ever be any inauspiciousness. Everything is the mercy of the all-benevolent Supreme Lord. It is all for the best. Whatever He does is for our good only. Now, only learning to perceive His mercy in everything and in every circumstance can grant us auspiciousness.
Wherever, whenever, and in whatever condition the Supreme Lord keeps someone, he should stay there cheerfully and happily accept reward or punishment from Him. Whatever praise or criticism He bestows upon us is solely for our welfare. In contrast, we tend to appreciatively accept the rewards His illusory potency (maya-sakti) gives us, but find her reprimands painful. Devotees consider such punishments from maya to be meant to grant us the mercy of the Supreme Lord and therefore never dishonour such punishment. On the contrary, they happily accept them with patience, considering them to be the Lord’s mercy. Those who are not able to understand that worldly troubles are the mercy of the Supreme Lord again take up the search for material happiness and progress, but inevitably without any success.
Everything is His desire. Therefore when some trouble arises, with the quality of patience one should wait for the mercy of the Supreme Lord, knowing it to be their only means. Sri Nrsimhadeva always protects the devotees from all sorts of troubles. Therefore, there is no cause for worry for one’s maintenance and protection when one is situated firmly on the path of bhakti. As one surrenders to the Supreme Lord, all the disturbances of the material world are dispelled.
As a result of my previous karma, I may sometimes be healthy and sometimes ill. When I consider myself healthy, then I certainly become forgetful of Krsna and begin to consider devotees who are by far my superiors to be inferior to me. Because of this, Sri Krsna, who sees my situation, bestows upon me varieties of trouble, pain, illness and inconvenience in general, for it is only then that His devotees try to understand the meaning of the verse beginning “tat te ‘nukampam*”.
Whatever pleases Sri Krsna, we ought to accept with a contented heart, and nothing else. If Krsna is pleased to keep me in a state of not being devoted to Him, then the pain of accepting that situation is also acceptable to me. “tomara sevaya duhkha haya yata, sei ‘ta’ parama-sukha – “whatever troubles come to me in the course of rendering service to You, I accept as the highest pleasure (Atmanivedana by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Verse 4).” This is the realization of the Vaisnavas. It is essential to try to follow this principle.
Question 3: Are Vaisnavas ever impure?
Answer: No. Whether they are householders or renunciants, Vaisnavas are never impure. Only in performing hari-seva can we truly offer helpful oblations to our forefathers. Hence, devotees need not make any separate arrangements to offer such oblations. However, as a social custom, householder devotees may perform such duties as the sraddha oblations by offering mahaprasada to their forefathers, and by engaging in harinama for the eternal purification of everyone. This is Vaisnava sraddha.
Translated by the Rays of The Harmonist team from Srila Prabhupadera Upadesamrta Questions re-numbered for this on-line presentation
* “tat te ’nukampam su-samiksamano | bhunjana evatma-krtam vipakam | hrd-vag vapurbhir vidadhan namas te | jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak – A person is entitled to the treasure of serving the lotus feet of Godhead, who redeems us of our worldly bondage, if he lives with his heart, speech and body submitted to Him and if, through his good vision, he truly sees the mercy of Godhead in the sufferings he brought about by his own deeds. There is no other way of being delivered from this world. Whatever Godhead does is for our good. We can be redeemed if we behold His mercy in every event and in every activity. But if we notice any defect in His work, or realize any cruelty therein, it is sure to result in evilness and difficulty.”