My progress through verses (SB 11.11.29-32) describing qualities of pure devotees might be slow but I see absolutely no harm in dwelling on the issue. It’s not like I am meditating on people’s attachments, among all topics to consider at length devotees are the best. Kṛṣṇa likes it even more than talking about Him. So far I got through nine out of twenty eight. What’s next?
Mṛdu – a devotee is soft and gentle and without “harsh mentality”. The purport explains it nicely – devotees always feel protected by the Supreme Lord, they are not afraid of anyone, and therefore they do not see enemies. When you see no enemies you have no reason to be harsh towards anyone. Materialistic people, otoh, always feel threatened and therefore are always ready to repel the expected aggression and subdue their enemies, very often preventively, just to show they should not be messed with.
Other two qualities in the same line are śuci and akiñcana. Śuci means clean and pure – that’s what constant association with Kṛṣṇa brings about naturally. Devotees are sticklers for cleanliness. Usually it is thought that women are naturally clean but even the best of them have nothing on devotees. I always admire how devotees cook, they always leave the kitchen cleaner when they first walked in. Internally, devotees stay clear of impure thoughts and that shows, too.
Akiñcana means without material motives or possessions. This also comes naturally – Kṛṣṇa personally takes those away. What’s more, when other people lament their losses devotees treasure losing their attachments instead. Renunciation is their only wealth and it’s greatly appreciated by the Lord. Artificial renunciation is a no go, of course, because it is done out of impure motives, in pursuit of fame, for example, and having these impure motives is the opposite of akiñcana.
Can these three qualities be seen in impersonalists? Maybe, but for impersonalists they are means to an end while for devotees they are fruits of their devotion. A fully liberated soul would not care if his body, with which he no longer associates with anyway, is harsh towards anyone, clean, or has no possessions. All these virtues are helpful but in the end need to be abandoned. A devotee, however, displays these qualities in full AFTER the liberation as he continues to engage with the material world in the spirit of service to the Lord.
The next three are common for both impersonalists and devotees: anīho mita-bhuk śāntaḥ, which means freedom from material desires, eating very little, and of peaceful mind. These are just signs of liberation. Śānti, peacefulness, being the result of having no material desires. Even Buddhists know that – desires bring troubles regardless of whether they are fulfilled or not. No desires, no trouble. Oṃ śāntī śāntī śānti is one of the best known mantras both in Hinduism and Buddhism. When I hear it I wonder why can’t these people simply surrender to Kṛṣṇa if they want peace and protection from troubles or from their own minds? It’s a cry of desperation that should naturally lead to devotion.
Then we have sthira, mat-śarana, and muni. Sthira means steadiness, which again comes naturally by Kṛṣṇa’s grace because He protects us from anything that can lead as away. It’s tempting to think that it’s our own quality but Kṛṣṇa’s energies are infinitely strong and can bewilder us and make us do all kinds of crazy things (remember the story of Tulasī?). We don’t do them because Kṛṣṇa would rather see us steady in our service, that’s all that keeps us together so He carefully calibrates the amount of māyā around us.
Mat-śaranam is exclusive only to devotees. They always take shelter of the Lord, pretty obvious, I don’t even know why Kṛṣṇa mentioned that because that’s like saying that water is watery.
Muni is translated as thoughtful but there are plenty of munis in our literature that tend to overthink things. It’s not really a compliment but it’s still a valid observation – devotees are thoughtful, their minds are always somewhere else, thinking of Kṛṣṇa and devising new ways to praise Him and His service.
In the next line we have a similar quality – gabhīrātmā – a devotee is deep. In this verse it’s translated as “not superficial, and thus unchanging” but it’s easy to see how it relates to depth – waves are found only on the surface of the ocean but deep inside everything is unchanging. Devotees are deep in their thoughts of Kṛṣṇa and they are undisturbed by trivialities of the material world. Everything here is in constant motion, devotees don’t have neither time nor inclination to react to those happenings. From devotees’ perspective the more things change the more they stay the same – waves are only waves even though each wave is distinctly different. Paying attention to these things can make one crazy, and there’s a special quality just to describe that.
Apramatta – not mad. Pramattaḥ means mad after material attachments. In this sense everyone in the material world is insane, we chase impossible dreams and hurt ourselves at every step, nor do we have any sense of reality, all we see is the illusion. Lots of people would agree that in this world everyone is insane even though for different reasons. Just look around the Internet to see tons of constantly updated, fresh examples of insanity, or look how psychiatry makes everyone appear mentally ill in one way or another. It’s only for practical reasons that they don’t call everyone sick, instead they single out those who significantly deviate from the general norm of crazy.
Next quality is interesting, dhṛtimān, which literally means of stable mind but is translated as “not weak or miserable even in distressing circumstances”. I don’t know how translators justified introduction of misery and distressing circumstances but it’s just another way to explain what “steady mind” is. It’s relatively easy to be steady when nothing goes on but the real test comes when the world turns against you. Can you maintain your composure then? Devotees can. As I explained earlier, Kṛṣṇa can make anyone to lose His mind so it’s not an absolute quality but it’s still incomparable to the fickle-mindedness of the ordinary people. They lose their marbles for the tiniest of reasons whereas devotees can be bewildered only by Kṛṣṇa personally.
This particular translation brings another dimension, too – devotees are not miserable when in distress. Even if they still possess material bodies and bodies react materially, devotees are not affected. They might react instinctively and their minds might register instinctive thoughts but their consciousness is undisturbed. Misery does not affect them because their consciousness is always with Kṛṣṇa and there’s no misery in Him, not of the material kind anyway.
Let’s stop on jita-ṣaḍ-guṇa, which literally means “conquering six material qualities, namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death”. There’s not much to be said here, that’s what liberation means – freedom from material influences. I don’t really understand how it happens, though – freedom from thirst and hunger, for example. Devotees, even the best ones, get hungry and thirsty, they also need to breath. That part of life never stops so what is meant by freedom here? Only yogis and those in deep meditation that looks like coma can be said to be free from hunger and thirst. Perhaps devotees are free in a sense they can always wait for the Lord to satisfy their bodily cravings. They know that the Lord will always provide so even if they are hungry they do not worry about maintaining their bodies. And if the Lord withholds nourishment, as when one is about to die, devotees accept it as the final relief. In this sense they are free not because they don’t need it but because they know they will always be provided.
I don’t know what “freedom from old age” means, though. Can’t even speculate on that. If I have some new thoughts about it I will surely type them down.