I was listening to a class the other day and there was one curious question at the end – who is better, a pakka jñānī or a sloppy devotee? I’m going to somewhat disagree with both the speaker and the devotee who asked the question so I better not mention any names. Bad enough I know who I am talking about, no need to spread potential offenses any further.
The answer was actually perfect. The devotee giving the class immediately brought up api cet su-durācāro verse (BG 9.30) and gave some new insights into it. New for me anyway.
First, he concentrated on the meaning of su-durācāro, the most abominable actions. We tend to think it’s just some awkward stuff, silly mistakes no one wants to admit in public, but here Kṛṣṇa talks about really the most abominable stuff. Stuff that convicted felons kill each other for because it’s inexcusable even for them.
Nice turn, if you think about it. Instead of trying to determine “most abominable” limits by our own experience we can look at the dregs of the society and see what is considered the lowest by them. Or one could just visit 4chan and read some of their commentary. The downside to this is that if Kṛṣṇa meant socially unacceptable stuff, then, as He was talking to Arjuna, it must be judged by standards of that time, not ours. OTOH, His words are eternal and His mercy is absolute so He should be able to top up anyone claims at any time, including 4chan’s.
And then this devotee mentioned the next verse, which we don’t always quote in this connection – kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā – he soon becomes righteous. Kṣipra means “quickly”, and in this verse Śrīla Prabhupāda translated it as “very quickly”, but then again, it’s quick by Kṛṣṇa’s measure.
To illustrate this the devotee gave an example of Kṛṣṇa’s answer to the Ganges when she complained about troubles awaiting her in Kali Yuga – she was afraid of all the sinful reactions people were going to deposit in her waters and she didn’t want to become a toxic dump, but Kṛṣṇa assured her that there would be no problem – in five thousand years … *Five thousand years* – no wait at all! Well, I checked the verse in our present, unauthorized Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, and it’s just a loose rendering to suit the occasion, Kṛṣṇa didn’t use the word kṣipra there and He didn’t promise it would be fast, but it’s a good point anyway – what is kṣipra by His time might appear unbearably slow by ours. That’s why first quality of a devotee is patience, we have to chant the Holy Names with patience, everything else must wait and would come in due course of time.
Coming back to the verse, another important feature there is that Kṛṣṇa was so insistent on it that He asked Arjuna to announce it because Arjuna’s word was considered more solid than Kṛṣṇa’s own. So, it must be true. We must consider such devotees as saintly and we must accept that they will never perish for their sins. Remember this when you come across someone willing to dance on Kīrtanānanda’s grave. We have plenty of those who will not even consider overlooking other devotees’ sins, whatever they are.
Anyway, before delving into the answer the devotee asked for a clarification of what “pakka jñānī” and a “sloppy devotee” mean in this question. For “sloppy devotee” it was established that it’s someone who has committed himself to Kṛṣṇa consciousness but he is loose in following four regs and he doesn’t always complete his rounds. This was accepted and that was who api cet su-durācāro was applied to in the answer.
Pakka jñānī is more interesting here. Pakka is an Indian word meaning “neat”, “perfect”, “mature”, “complete”, and so on. Jñānī here was someone qualified by Vedic standards – reading up on Vedic literature, following Vedic injunctions (probably smarta rules, though). Following brahmacarya, vegetarian, the regs, etc. Probably with a tinge of impersonalism in his outlook but open to other ideas, too.
This is where I strongly disagree. I’m pretty sure I understand what the questioner had in mind, it was clarified, the answer mentioned these qualities, too, and I understand and agree with the answer, so I’m confident that I know where this question is coming from. This pakka jñānī is a non-devotee. He has heard of Kṛṣṇa but he has never thought of surrendering to Him and never chanted the Holy Name in proper attitude.
How can we possibly compare him to a devotee?
How can we possibly compare any kind of jñāna devoid of bhakti to devotion and chanting of the Holy Name? All repositories of all jñāna in the entire universe are not worth a drop of bhakti, not worth of one syllable of the Holy Name cried with humility and devotion.
I completely reject this premise. It should never be put up for a discussion, the possibility should never be acknowledged, even silently.
We can analyze it from another angle, too – what does “better” mean in this context? Better for whom? As conditioned souls we understand “better” in personal terms. We think we know what is “better” for us. We can also empathize with others and see how things might be “better” for them, but as devotees our only meaning of “better” should be “better for Kṛṣṇa”.
Now, in what possible way a non-devotee jñānī can please Kṛṣṇa? Absolutely nothing he does interests Kṛṣṇa in any way. Nothing, complete indifference. A devotee, OTOH, however sloppy, constantly chants Kṛṣṇa’s names and begs for His mercy, protection, care, shelter, and love. He might be marginally annoying at times but He has PERSONAL relationship with the Lord, however fragile and unsteady. It is ALWAYS better than indifference. Kṛṣṇa will NEVER forget this devotee, as was cited in the verse above.
I don’t know how one can think that Kṛṣṇa would consider non-devotees, however pakka, as being better than His bhaktas. We might be total crap but we can’t accuse Kṛṣṇa of not caring. His mercy is absolute and boundless, it is always better than His indifference.
In questions like this, and they are not new, the idea is that while sloppy devotee might have a head start, the pakka jñānī has fully charged batteries and as soon as he turns to Kṛṣṇa he will make tremendous progress in a very short time, leaving sloppy devotee in the dust.
There’s so much wrong with this assumption, too. We can’t trade a possible future turn of heart for bhakti now. Bhakti is not measured by time, of course, but it needs to be planted in the heart first. If it’s not there than fertile soil is still barren and cannot be compared to a growing bhakti creeper.
It is also false to assume that one person would make faster progress than another based on their external behavior. Bhakti does not depend on one’s karma, only on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. It might be more difficult to practice for someone with a more sinful background but these things are relative, even in ISKCON acceptable standards of sādhana vary from zone to zone and temple to temple. Kṛṣṇa won’t be impressed by external following anyway and you can’t “overtake” someone simply because you know more and eat less.
There’s no “overtaking” in Kṛṣṇa consciousness anyway, it’s not a competition, a sign of “pakka devotee” is that he doesn’t want to be better than others in any aspect, it’s just pride talking, he knows not to listen to it.
Suppose everything above is clear and agreed on, where do these wrong assumptions come from? I think they are side effects of too much sattva. People get attached to it, that’s why the fascination with “pakka”, perfection. It seems naturally better, and it validates one’s own sattvic position, reflects one’s own sattvic values. Perhaps the real question is not about pakka jñānīs but about oneself comparing to sloppy devotees who are so not “pakka” but get lots of credit anyway, which seems unfair to someone with more sattva in their lives.
This is where I should not mention any names, this is the kind of fault that is hopefully absent in the devotee asking the question but we can find traces of it in ourselves when similar dilemmas come to our minds, too. We can easily find ourselves wondering whether measured perfection is better than sloppy spontaneity, there are lots accusations against non-pakka devotees in our debates, too.
We are always sure that our preferred way to preach or to practice is the best and we easily judge others for deviating from our standards, either into pakka or sloppy way. Ultimately, none of it matters if we consider what is good for Kṛṣṇa, and when such “good” is found we should see it as absolute so talk of “better” should not even arise, certainly not at the risk of offending anyone.
Now, if I could only purge the names from my own memory and completely remove all doubts and judgments…