The example of that brāhmaṇa who unknowingly cooked for Lord Caitanya leaves quite a few questions hanging (details and sources here). How relevant it is to us exactly? Was he a nitya-siddha associate of the Lord? Can we follow his footsteps or should we separate some aspects of his behavior that do not look as fully devotional? Can we even talk like that about a person who attained the mercy of the Lord?
Well, there were associates of Lord Caitanya who were not accepted by the body of His devotees, like Vallabha Bhaṭṭācārya who dared to criticize saṅkīrtana. Even Gadādhara Paṇḍita was ostracized for associating with him. It all worked out in the end but we certainly shouldn’t follow Vallabhācārya’s teachings blindly, only when they are explicitly approved by our sampradāya.
If there’s something not quite right about behavior of that brāhmaṇa we should be cautious about him, too. Even if he is nittya siddha devotee we cannot imitate all aspects of his behavior, what is acceptable for liberated associates of the Lord should not be automatically accepted for us.
I think this allows me to analyze his behavior in terms of suitability for us, not as criticism of him.
To start with – his traveling to holy places. Lord Balarāma traveled to holy places, too, as did Lord Nityānanda, but it’s not prescribed for us. Devotees must reside in dhāmas associated with Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya, seeking blessings elsewhere shows a lack of faith and is offensive. Our surrender must be to our Lord alone, we can’t be seen wandering elsewhere begging for mercy from anyone else.
At the end of the story with offering food to Bāla Gopāla but seeing it eaten by Śrī Gaurasundara the brāhmaṇa realized who His worshipable Lord is and he stayed in Navadvīpa for a while and came to see the Lord Gaurāṅga daily but eventually he left. Where? No one knows. No one even knows his name and I don’t think he was mentioned in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā either.
Leaving Navadvīpa for any other place at that point was just unfortunate. It was still many years until inauguration of saṅkīrtana movement and so it’s understandable but missing it while being so favored by the Lord is just sad.
When the Lord revealed His form to that brāhmaṇa He specifically asked him to hang around as there would be many saṅkīrtana pastimes in the future but the wait was apparently too long. We can easily imagine how it went – the brāhmaṇa couldn’t of course forget what happened to him that night but coming to see the Lord day after day didn’t reveal any additional miracles. Eventually he got bored of waiting and his mind took him someplace else.
It was said that he traveled in search of Kṛṣṇa, then he found Him, and then left?
Should we follow this kind of behavior? Absolutely not.
In the beginning that brāhmaṇa was introduced as always chanting his Bāla Gopāla mantra and always relishing love for Govinda. That deserves attention, too.
There are many devotees who constantly chant the Holy Name but that alone is not enough for us – such chanting must be pure and offenseless, and the devotee must follow the orders of a bona fide guru who is fully dedicated to saṅkīrtana mission. Chanting for the sake of chanting is not enough, it must be done as a service to the paramparā not for one’s own enjoyment, either material or spiritual.
One could say that only pure devotees could chant the Holy Name constantly but that is not entirely true. There are many reasons people do things, not all of them acceptable. Chanting is the yuga dharma for this age, no one is excluded and so it means that people are allowed to chant regardless of their level of purity. Even demons can chant the Holy Name for their own selfish ends – that’s probably why we still keep doing it, too.
I guess the only reason to be unable to chant is extreme envy towards Kṛṣṇa Himself. Demons might not care enough about Him personally and so could be allowed to chant as much as they want.
Then it would depend on one’s determination and one’s faith in the power of the Holy Name. People who grew up in the west have lots of alternatives but for Indians five hundred years ago worshiping the Lord was probably the best and only way to get what they wanted. Chanting, therefore, could have been not a symptom of love of God but a symptom of one’s dedication to his other goals. As long as they were met or expected to be met, chanting continued.
In case of this brāhmaṇa, we don’t know what he ultimately wanted but he left Lord Gaurāṅga’s company, meaning he wanted something else. So what if he continued chanting his mantra? What good it is if it drives one away from participating in saṅkīrtana līlā?
Therefore I am a but skeptical about the claim that just because someone chants a lot and looks like he relishes internal love for Govinda then it’s exactly what’s going on there. That is not a behavior that should be imitated either.
Chanting is not absolute in this sense, I’m afraid to say. It only works if it pleases guru and Kṛṣṇa, if we chant for any other purpose it’s a waste of time, and if we chant to weasel our way out of following guru’s orders we are most unfortunate indeed.
Of course the only way to cure us of our stupidity is to chant and hope that the Holy Name eventually purifies us enough to see the error of our ways and the value of following guru’s orders, so ultimately chanting IS absolute, but we could save so much time if we just did it properly from the start.
Offensive chanting can go on for hundreds of lifetimes, it’s not a trivial.
There is another argument against purity of that brāhmaṇa’s chanting – he observed the Lord every day and he must have seen how Jagannātha Miśra and Mother Śacī loved their boy and he must have heard them chanting the names of Hari to pacify Śrī Gaurasundara but he didn’t appreciate neither their devotion nor their chanting. What was good enough for Gaurāṅga was not good enough for this brāhmaṇa. Not a good example to follow either.
My point is that there was a lot of room for improvement in that brāhmaṇa’s service, he was born again and again to participate in Lord’s pastimes but he didn’t seem to appreciate them in full. Maybe that’s why he was born again and again in the material world – to perfect himself.
So groundhog day is real.
Yet we can also see his life in a different way – his perfection came the moment he saw the Lord reveal Himself in front of him. Everything else I described as imperfect is non-essential. We all must be born here, we all must have karma to drive us through our lives. We all must eat, sleep, and defend ourselves. We all have restless minds to take us here and there. A lot of it will look imperfect no matter what and therefore there’s little point in trying to improve it.
Bhakti does not depend on such external perfection and such “imperfect” behavior is necessary for Lord’s pastimes, too, if only to provide contrast. I mean Six Gosvāmīs were perfect but only if we compare them with the rest of the devotees. Someone must have slept more than two hours a day and chanted less than three lākhs of rounds to make Six Gosvāmīs appear so good, so even imperfection has its place in Lord’s līlā. We shouldn’t judge devotees by it.
What we should definitely take away from that particular pastime is the value of a single moment of association with the Lord even if it looked as not fully appreciated. We should also understand the value of patience in waiting for the Lord to manifest His līlā even if that particular devotee couldn’t wait for saṅkīrtana to start in earnest. We should also not take apparent ecstasy very seriously, success in chanting takes time and a lot of patience, we shouldn’t judge it by material side effects and we should discount material motivations to chant as irrelevant and distracting.
Might sound hard but it will be worth it.