There are five qualities left out of twenty-eight and I hope to finish them today (SB 11.11.29-32). I think it’s a very good, solid list and there are interesting ways to apply it in our society.
The first two are the same as in Śikṣāṣṭaka – amānī and māna-da. A devotee has no desire for prestige and if fame comes he doesn’t take it seriously, he is far more interested in showing respect to others. The last one looks very common among a certain type of materialists, the ones with “service attitude”, but for them it is nothing but cheap flattery. They only want you to feel good about yourself so that you kindly grant them their wishes, which reminds me of compassion again – they want you to feel superior and compassionate so that you foolishly give them your money or whatever favors they might want from you.
Respect shown by devotees is nothing like that at all, there’s not a hint of selfish motives behind it. It exists in the material world, too, but is much much rarer. Used to be common but not for the upcoming Gen X,Y, millennials, of whatever they are called. We can appreciate this kind of respect only because we know about it and recognize it in devotees, and same is true for all the other qualities on the list, but I’ll get to that later.
Then there’s this curious kalya – a devotee is expert in making people understand the truth of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I don’t know where this translation comes from, the only other version I could find says it means “invigorates” while Sanskrit dictionary has one of the meanings for this adjective as “instructive”. Perhaps we can combine these two meanings together and then see how imparting Kṛṣṇa consciousness invigorates people. Then there are meanings like “healthy” and “good wishes”, but also “death and dumb”. My favorite one, however, has got to be “spirituous liquor” – you drink it and you become intoxicated with spiritual knowledge. Maybe we should understand it as devotees are spiritually nourishing to others. It goes nicely with “giving respect” and the next one, too.
“Maitra. A devotee does not cheat anyone by encouraging them in the bodily concept of life; rather, by his missionary work a devotee is the true friend of everyone.” That’s straight from the purport. The word itself is a common one and it means “friend” or “friendly” but the translators felt the need to add “no cheating” even to word-for-word. It makes sense, though, because that’s what true friendship means. We should understand that Kṛṣṇa is not talking about general friendship here and so distinction must be made.
Ordinary friends will always have you back and what they want is for you to be happy, but that means material happiness and a devotee would never be interested in offering that. He would not encourage sense gratification and that’s what the purport called cheating. Our definition is not what being friendly means in common language at all. Friends get invited to parties, watching sports games etc and no one would invite a devotee to any of that. He is not a friend material in that sense. He is needed only when people get serious about their lives, he will be the one they turn to because his association is spiritually nourishing, kalya, as described above.
Next is kāruṇika, a devotee is merciful, he is compassionate, and he does that by relieving people of the cause of their suffering. He keeps people sane, as they say in the purport, which is a very apt observation. People are generally crazy, pramatta, this was covered yesterday, and that causes all their problems. Restoring their sanity, which means making them see themselves as Kṛṣṇa’s servants, is the ultimate act of compassion. Lighting their pot pipe is not it. Giving them money is not it, even giving them food is not it, only prasādam helps. Poor sods generally think that their material needs need to be addressed first and expect devotees to shower them with material benefits but that’s also a sign of their insanity. A devotee is able to relieve them from it. We might want to and try to, too, but without genuine devotion we will not succeed.
Final quality is kavi, which means “learned” or even “poet”. The purport explains that a devotee is expert in reconciling various contradictory qualities in Kṛṣṇa, he is never confused by apparent contradictions and therefore he is called learned. Fair enough, but then Lord Caitanya warned us about attachment to sundarīṁ kavitāṁ, sometimes translated together and sometimes separately. In either case, it’s about beautiful poetry. We should not become literature lovers and while we might appreciate a clever turn of phrase we shouldn’t not give it any value unless it makes Kṛṣṇa look better.
I mentioned this about story telling a while ago – if there’s no deep, underlying lesson behind it then all the drama is just a waste of time. Beauty must come from within, so to speak, from ultimate and intimate connection with Kṛṣṇa. The speakers voice should tremble because he describes Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, not storms or ghosts or whatever. It should not be done artificially. If we don’t feel Kṛṣṇa in our stories we should not pretend we do and we should not substitute our lack of appreciation with decorative elements either.
The last śloka in the series gives a general advice regarding ordinary religious duties but the best part of it is that a devotee should be considered the best among all living entities.
Here’s the main point I got into this devotee features business at all – we can find people like that all around ISKCON and they MUST be considered saintly and, therefore, above all criticism. We can still find faults in their behavior but in general they are undoubtedly pure. We can go through the list one by one again and easily find practical examples from the lives of devotees around us, it’s not that difficult, what is described in these verses is the norm in our society, not just some unattainable standard from days long gone. The beauty of these qualities is that we can see them in ordinary people around us and see how they develop in devotees to the full extent, there’s no magic to it.
Our critics demand way more, however, they demand people being able to personally go into Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and report directly from Goloka, otherwise they are not fit to be gurus. That’s just nonsense, sheer nonsense. Everybody who sticks with Kṛṣṇa consciousness long enough becomes automatically qualified, in as far as Kṛṣṇa’s grace is automatic and the above qualities develop naturally. Not only that, these people must be considered as liberated even though their external bodies seem to still act under the laws of material nature. It comes straight from Kṛṣṇa’s mouth and I don’t care what critics say.
Anyone who has surrendered himself to the Lord becomes liberated on the spot. His body continues to live out his karma but it is done under Kṛṣṇa’s direct supervision, he is not in māyā’s clutches anymore. From this point on even māyā works for Kṛṣṇa, making us into tools for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. Her job is tough and she has to ease us into the new role but we can forget about things like hell and cold impersonalism of “karma is a b*tch”. No, for us it isn’t, not anymore. Karma is our best friend and best medicine, which explains why it sometimes tastes bitter.
Yeah, we don’t get to see Kṛṣṇa personally and we don’t even get to swim in the ocean of Brahman realization but these things will come in due time, it hardly ever happens before we leave our bodies. Liberated jñāna yogis are supposed to wander about like retards (SB 11.11.17) but devotees should be always engaged in service instead, and as far as I can see everyone in ISKCON does that, so they are perfect.