Vaisnava Etiquette

Srila-Prabhupada-Quotes-08“Suppose I am not there. Manage very nicely. Independently. Not to create havoc. But really to manage. I am still present; I will give you direction. Don’t spoil it. We are in very good, prestigious position. That is sure. Don’t spoil it. So much hard labor. I started with very humble condition. Now it has come to this, such exalted position. You don’t spoil it. That is my request.” (Srila Prabhupada; Room Conversation, April ’77 Bombay)                  

Download pdf (700kb)  “Vaishnava Etiquette English Manual”


Since the disappearance of His Divine Grace in November of 1977, the bickering has been intense. Some greater, some lesser. While I’m not drawn toward white-washing any of his instructions, at all, I do feel we need to let the small stuff fly.

After that, look into the quotes left behind for us by Srila Prabhupada, so we would know what he wants.

“Vaishnava means offering respect to Vishnu. It is stated also that as a matter of etiquette as soon as one sees a Vaishnava one must immediately offer him respect, indicating the Supersoul sitting within. A Vaishnava sees the body as a temple of Vishnu. SB 4.3. 22 P

There are devotees who think an offense [or Vaisnava Aparadha] can only be committed to the pure devotees. This is not quite accurate. There are larger and smaller levels of devotee, thus larger and smaller levels of an offense can be committed, accordingly. Everyone who believes Krishna is God, fit the category of ‘devotee.’ Of course we must be most careful not to make any offense to the pure devotee Srila Prabhupada. Amongst ourselves it can be a tightrope walk.

“A devotee never finds fault with others, but tries to find his own and thus rectify them as far as possible.” ~ Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.33

What to do? We are mixed, part devotee, part… still working on the purification. 🙂 We can not pretend someone didn’t hurt us [significantly] when they did. May develop an ulcer. Simultaneously we need to be careful not to over-react, as it can result in bad karma. Keep it simple, do the needful, and try best to get beyond it. Often a change of topic will do it, and what better topic than to read Krishna Book?

“While describing the system of protection for the creeper of devotional service, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has especially stressed protection from offenses unto the lotus feet of Vaishnavas. Such offenses are called vaishnava-aparadha. Aparadha means “offense.” If one commits vaishnava-aparadhas, all of his progress in devotional service will be checked. Even though one is very much advanced in devotional service, if he commits offenses at the feet of a Vaishnava, his advancement is all spoiled. In the sastras it is found that a very great yogi, Durvasa Muni, committed a vaishnava-aparadha and thus for one full year had to travel all over the universe, even to Vaikunthaloka, to defend himself from the offense. At last, even when he approached the Supreme Personality of Godhead in Vaikuntha, he was refused protection. Therefore one should be very careful about committing offenses at the feet of a Vaishnava. The most grievous type of vaishnava-aparadha is called gurv-aparadha, which refers to offenses at the lotus feet of the spiritual master.” ~ Srimad Bhagavatam 4.21.37

Since breaking Vaishnava Etiquette can bring on some horrid karma, its good to know employing Vaishnava Etiquette protects the soul of everyone.

“My dear Sanatana, although you are the deliverer of the entire universe and although even the demigods and great saints are purified by touching you, it is the characteristic of a devotee to observe and protect the Vaishnava etiquette. Maintenance of the Vaishnava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee.” CC, Antya Lila, 4.4.129-30

Thus preaching, and sharing, knowledge of Vaisnava Etiquette is highly important to absolutely every single devotee’s advancement.

“If you think the Deity as Sila, means stone, and gurusu nara-matih, if you think guru as ordinary human being, vaisnave jati-buddhi, and if you think a Vaishnava, “He is American Vaishnava. He is Indian Vaishnava,” jati-buddhi näraké—you become näraké immediately. These are the descriptions.” SP lecture, Bombay, april 17, l76

Similarly:

“A Vaishnava, when he’s asked about his identification, he gives acyuta-gotra. “Now I belong to the Acyuta, not to my original family.” ~ SP lecture, SB 1.7.16, Sept 14, 76

Next, there is an important issue needing to be addressed. Not all agree. This post is about Prabhupada’s quotes and instructions, thus others opinions may or may not be touched upon. His words shall remain central.

The current problem? Some newer devotees are under the impression anyone who says they are a ‘senior devotee,’ is either one of the fallen authorities who did bad things, or else extremely puffed up. And some, tho not all newer devotees, are wanting to be rubber-stamped onto the same level without doing the spiritual work. Now some of this is comes from misunderstandings, some from stubbornness.

Basically most senior devotees these days had the same problems with authorities, moved out and are sitting home behind their computer – gently private. Also most senior devotees, even when they did live in the temple, the majority were not lording-it-over the new devotee, or judging them. Really their minds do not go in that direction. If you find a few that do, remember they are the exception, not the rule.

I wish to apologize to those who have had such a term “misused” on them, abused upon them, in order to manipulate, or control, even for belittlement purposes, and sometimes worse. That is misuse, at best. We need to realize the term itself: “senior devotee” is not a concoction by those desiring admiration or power. Srila Prabhupada gave us this phrase.

Often the proper definition is not understood. To be a senior devotee does not mean the senior devotee is always 100% correct. It does not mean they are a pure devotee :-), or even a very advanced devotee. It does not automatically mean they are puffed up for using the term [tho some may be, but most are not], and it does not refer to any “clique,” or “elitist” group …because Srila Prabhupada doesn’t give us instructions to create cliques or elitism. Instead, it is a part of the system of Krishna Consciousness he instructed.

Of course the idea was for a senior devotee to be more advanced, or at least, to set the example.

“Now you continue executing your Krsna Conscious activities, chanting 16 rounds, studying our books, going on sankirtana, worshiping the deity, etc., and in this way you will become advanced more and more. Also as you are senior devotee you must set a nice example for the others to follow.” Srila Prabhupada, Calcutta, Jan 28, 73

Problems arose with the guru-take over, removal of older devotees who refused to worship their “godbrother” as guru, or dared to preach the truth; along with Prabhupada no longer at the center as spiritual master. After undergoing so many experiences like this, direct or indirect [discovering what happened to our respected godsibling who dared try], we all are struggling to do our best.

IMHO honesty should be one of the first qualities to look for. I myself rather associate with a devotee who admits to their falldowns yet struggling to get back up and try, than some temple authority who puts on a show of advancement & later we hear, has to drink a cup of coffee to attend Mongala Arotika.

Senior devotees need to behave truthfully. Those who joined later need to nevertheless show respect. Srila Prabhupada gave the example to offer all respects to Brahmananda even if we were to catch him smoking a cigarette. So the idea of “senior devotee” also had a lot to do with nonjudgmental treatment.

Back in the day when Prabhupada was here, the term ‘senior devotee’ was in common usage & didn’t have a stinging backlash. If someone misused it, we recognized that, & laughed them off. If that was insufficient, we simply knew that person as an individual to be unqualified, regardless of their position. But these days it seems “all” get lumped in together, indiscriminately .

Sometimes the younger, or rather newer [can be physically old yet spiritually new] devotees don’t like to hear this phrase because it makes them feel inferior. Often they argue “Age means nothing, its spiritual advancement that counts.” This can be true. Yet it is more of a Western train of thought and not where Prabhupada placed his focus. His focus was to respect elder devotees.

“You are right to say that the example and kindly guidance of our elder members in the Society is the most profound force for motivating our students both new and old towards advanced Krsna Consciousness. Neglect of following the regulative activities and so-called advancement on the basis of self-motivation are both offensive. One should sincerely try to bring himself to the stage of devotional service motivated by pure love of Krsna, and our personal example must set a guide for them.” Srila Prabhupada letter, Bombay 25 November, 1970

A new devotee can still achieve advancement beyond that of the senior devotee. Simply they don’t compete with senior devotees, they don’t boast, and they maintain following Vedic ways of thinking.

“Study our literatures with the help of your senior God-brothers and sisters, go on Sankirtana when possible, take special care to remain always engaged in some Krsna conscious activity, chant Hare Krsna Mantra always and be happy.” SP, India, Sept 29, 70

Similarly there are times older devotees do not like to hear they must behave like a senior amongst the newer; as it is not always as easy as some may think. However, Srila Prabhupada gave the instruction. It is the duty, the responsibility, of the senior devotee to help and advise the newer devotee.

Hearing that may surprise some who maybe thought us senior devotees to be viewing ourselves wonderful. Reality is, we often feel unqualified, uncomfortable, or imperfect at our endeavors.

Thus it’s common to see old devotees lay low during debates or just overall topics, where they often have more to offer than they give themselves credit. Or sometimes more than they can handle. Its not always easy to preach, occasionally having to inform another devotee they made a mistake about something; or explaining they themselves have experience that Prabhupada did not do things that way, etc. No one likes to hear correction, and no one likes to give it. Yet back in the day, it was more easily accepted, because, love it or hate it 🙂 we all wanted to go Back to Godhead and were willing to take on whatever necessary to get there.

Yes, all can still go Back To Godhead, especially when there is better understanding of what has gone on, and what is now going on. I hope to have shed even a smallest light.

“understand that your Godbrothers are as your younger dependent brothers: kindly treat them as you younger dependent brothers and try to advance them in Krsna consciousness as good as you can.” SP letter, January 21, 68

Moving on…

“Even though one is a brāhmaṇa strictly following all the rules and regulations of brahminical culture, if he is not a devotee, a follower of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, one should not accept his invitation. At the present moment people have become so degraded that they do not even follow the Vedic principles, to say nothing of Vaiṣṇava principles. They eat anything and everything — whatever they like — and therefore the members of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement should be very cautious about accepting invitations.”~ CC Madhya 8.49, purport

“So in your letter you are not finding fault with anyone. So you are good Vaishnava. You do not find fault with anyone. This is the qualification. We should always think ourselves humble and meek. This you must know. So we all have to cooperate amongst ourselves, otherwise what will people think if we ourselves fight with one another? A devotee is always ideal in behavior.” SP Letter to Patita Uddharan (12/12/74)

“I beg to thank you very much for your letter pointing out some of the discrepancies of many of the devotees in New York. You are correct regarding the items which you have stated, such as sleeping in front of the Deities, taking of unoffered foodstuffs, drinking water from the bathroom, and non-chanting of rounds. But the thing is discipline cannot be observed unless there is obedience. As you are obedient to me, you should be similarly obedient to my representative. Your statement about Brahmananda that he is a wonderful devotee is hundred percent agreed by me. He is in charge of the New York center, and therefore, if proper obedience is not given to him, it will be impossible for him to manage affairs of the temple. Under the circumstances, the discrepancies you have observed in the temple may be referred to him, and he is quite reasonable, and will handle the matter with the respective devotees.” ~ SP Letter to Nara-Narayana 2/7/69

“I think we need at least one big place for training up the new devotees just to the proper highest standard, just as we are doing in Los Angeles, New York, London, and other places. So also in Africa you require one such model center. If you remain only traveling parties, that will be nice for distributing many many books, and for having the sankirtana, but for new devotees that will be too much rigorous and they will not be able to adjust to the constant moving and changing about. That will spoil their chance for developing in their Krsna consciousness from neophyte stage. So keep the Nairobi center always very active, nicely decorated, worship the deities just to the highest standard, making sure that all of the students are rising to attend the mangala aratrika, chanting regularly sixteen rounds, reading books—in this way utilize what Krsna has given us there and develop it for the headquarters building for Africa.” ~ SP Letter to Cyavana, Bombay 29 December, 1972

“This is called Vaikuntha attitude. In the Vaikuntha factually there is no fault in anyone, but there is another type of competition. The competition is that one devotee thinks of other devotees how nicely they are serving the Lord. In the material world the attitude is that everyone likes to think that I am doing better than others. This is material conception. In the Spiritual Sky it is just the opposite: Everyone thinks that my contemporary devotees are doing better than me. We are trained to address Godbrothers as Prabhu, which means Master. This means we shall try to find out always the serving side of our Godbrothers. Sometimes there are misgivings, but we should try to overlook.” ~ SP Letter to Brahmananda 11/15/69

The TEN Offenses to Avoid – chanted in the temple room daily:

“The offenses against the chanting of the holy name are as follows:
(1) To blaspheme the devotees who have dedicated their lives for propagating the holy name of the Lord.
(2) To consider the names of demigods like Lord Shiva or Lord Brahma to be equal to, or independent of, the name of Lord Vishnu. (Sometimes the atheistic class of men take it that any demigod is as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu. But one who is a devotee knows that no demigod, however great he may be, is independently as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore, if someone thinks that he can chant “Käli, Käli!” or “Durga, Durga!” and it is the same as Hare Krishna, that is the greatest offense.)
(3) To disobey the orders of the spiritual master.
(4) To blaspheme the Vedic literature or literature in pursuance of the Vedic version.
(5) To consider the glories of chanting Hare Krishna to be imagination.
(6) To give some interpretation on the holy name of the Lord.
(7) To commit sinful activities on the strength of the holy name of the Lord. (It should not be taken that because by chanting the holy name of the Lord one can be freed from all kinds of sinful reaction, one may continue to act sinfully and after that chant Hare Krishna to neutralize his sins. Such a dangerous mentality is very offensive and should be avoided.)
(8) To consider the chanting of Hare Krishna one of the auspicious ritualistic activities offered in the Vedas as fruitive activities (karma-kanda).
(9) To instruct a faithless person about the glories of the holy name. (Anyone can take part in chanting the holy name of the Lord, but in the beginning one should not be instructed about the transcendental potency of the Lord. Those who are too sinful cannot appreciate the transcendental glories of the Lord, and therefore it is better not to instruct them in this matter.)
(10) To not have complete faith in the chanting of the holy names and to maintain material attachments, even after understanding so many instructions on this matter. Every devotee who claims to be a Vaishnava must guard against these offenses in order to quickly achieve the desired success.” ~ Nectar Of Devotion, ch 8

“Lord Caitanya was once asked by one of His householder devotees what the general behavior of a Vaisnava should be. In this connection, Lord Caitanya replied that a Vaisnava should always give up the company of nondevotees. Then He explained that there are two kinds of nondevotees: one class is against the supremacy of Krsna, and another class is too materialistic. In other words, those who are after material enjoyment and those who are against the supremacy of the Lord are called avaisnava, and their company should be strictly avoided.” ~ Nectar Of Devotion, 7

“So if these boys will come to Los Angeles to follow the discipline as it is practiced here, that will be the best thing. Otherwise, they may not cause this disturbance in our temples. So both of these boys, whoever they are, should come immediately to Los Angeles to be trained up nicely in Krishna Consciousness. Unless one agrees to follow all of our principles, he may not be allowed to live at the temple. This must be our policy. ~SP Letter , Los Angeles 16 August, 1969

“Now all my disciples must work combined and with cooperation to spread this sankirtan movement. If you cannot work together, then my work is stopped up. Our Society is like one big family and our relationship should be based on love and trust. We must give up the fighting spirit and use our intelligence to push ahead. You should accept help from your Godbrothers.” ~ SP Letter to Upendra 8/6/70

“We should never waste Krishna prasadam. Best thing is to cook only what is required and then give each person what he wants. That is the Vedic system that the people sit in rows behind their plates and servers pass down the rows and put a very small portion of each foodstuff on each plate, unless there is some objection by a person. Then nothing is given. Then if anyone wants more, the servers pass up and down the rows continually and give more if anyone requests. In this way nothing is wasted and everyone is satisfied.” ~SP letter to Kirtiraja das 11/27/71

“dadati pratigrhnati
guhyam akhyati prcchati
bhunkte bhojayate chaiva
sad-vidham priti-laksanam

The words bhunkte bhojayate indicate that one should eat with devotees. One should carefully avoid eating food offered by nondevotees. Indeed, a devotee should be very strict in not accepting food from a nondevotee, especially food prepared in restaurants or hotels or on airplanes. Srila Nityananada Prabhu’s reference in this connection is meant to emphasize that one should avoid eating with Mayavadis and covert Mayavadis like the sahajiya Vaishnavas, who are materially affected.—Cc Madhya-lila 12.195

“When a Krishna Conscious person is elevated to a responsible position, he becomes humble, as a tree laden with fruits. When a Krishna Conscious person is elevated to a responsible position, he never becomes puffed up. Just like a tree when overladen with fruits becomes humble and lower down; similarly, a great soul in Krishna Consciousness becomes humbler than the grass and bowed down like the fruitful trees because a Krishna Conscious person acts as the agent of Krishna, therefore he discharges his duty with great responsibility. ~ SP letter, January 27, 1970

“The eating area must be thoroughly cleansed with water, since the area has become impure by the act of eating. One thing is tha tyou should keep everything very clean. Thsi is the first business. Every room should be as clean as a mirror. The prasadamroom shoul be immediuately cleaned after taking prasadam, otherwise you are inviting rats.” SP Letter,10,20, 73

“Another thing I request is that everything in the Temple should be kept nice and clean. Everyone should wash hands before touching anything of Krishna’s. We should always remember that Krishna is the purest and similarly only the purest can associate with Him. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” ~ SP Letter to Nandarani & Krishna Devi 10/4/67

“Yes, a non-initiate can work under the direction of a devotee in the kitchen.” ~ Letter to Mahapurusa (3/28/68)

“Krishna consciousness means full cooperation with Krishna, and Krishna means with all his entourage. We should always remember this. Just like when we speak of a tree, it includes the root, the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the flowers-everything. Therefore to love Krishna means to love Him along with all His Name, His fame, His qualities, His entourage, His abode, His devotees, etc.” ~ SP letter to Yamuna dd, March 2, 1970

“Regarding your question about the dancing, the dancing should be done enthusiastically by raising the hands like Panca-tattva. You can also dance enthusiastically by raising hands. All of Lord Chaitanya’s followers used to dance with raised hands. If someone dances with ecstasy, that is all right, but it is better to dance with raised hands.” ~SP Letter to Kirtanananda 11/10/74?)

“In the Caitanya-caritamrta, the devotee’s desirable qualities are described to be twenty-six in number. They are stated as follows: He is very kind; he does not quarrel with anyone; he accepts Krsna consciousness as the highest goal of life; he is equal to everyone; no one can find fault in his character; he is magnanimous, mild and always clean, internally and externally; he does not profess to possess anything in this material world; he is a benefactor to all living entities; he is peaceful and is a soul completely surrendered to Krsna; he has no material desire to fulfill; he is meek and humble, always steady, and has conquered the sensual activities; he does not eat more than required to maintain body and soul together; he is never mad after material identity; he is respectful to all others and does not demand respect for himself; he is very grave, very compassionate and very friendly; he is poetic; he is expert in all activities, and he is silent in nonsense.” ~ Srimad-Bhagavatam 3:15:25 Purport

“In the Tenth Canto, Fourteenth Chapter, verse 8, it is said, “My dear Lord, any person who is constantly awaiting Your causeless mercy to be bestowed upon him, and who goes on suffering the resultant actions of his past misdeeds, offering You respectful obeisances from the core of his heart, is surely eligible to become liberated, for it has become his rightful claim.

Purport: “This statement of Srimad-Bhagavatam should be the guide of all devotees. A devotee should not expect immediate relief from the reactions of his past misdeeds. No conditioned soul is free from such reactionary experiences, because material existence means continued suffering or enjoying of past activities. If one has finished his material activities then there is no more birth. This is possible only when one begins Krsna conscious activities, because such activities do not produce reaction. Therefore, as soon as one becomes perfect in Krsna conscious activities, he is not going to take birth again in this material world. A devotee who is not perfectly freed from the resultant actions should therefore continue to act in Krsna consciousness seriously, even though there may be so many impediments. When such impediments arise he should simply think of Krsna and expect His mercy. That is the only solace. If the devotee passes his days in that spirit, it is certain that he is going to be promoted to the abode of the Lord. By such activities, he earns his claim to enter into the kingdom of God.” Nectar Of Devotion, Chapter 10

The next quote, may feel a bit intense to some. Please know the most important thing is to chant Hare Krishna. Everything else will then fall into place.

“In the supplementary Vedic literature, there is the following list of thirty-two offenses in the matter of serving the Lord: (1) One should not enter the temple of the Deity in a car or palanquin or with shoes on the feet. (2) One should not fail to observe the various festivals for the pleasure of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, such as Janmastami and Ratha-yatra. (3) One should not avoid bowing down before the Deity. (4) One should not enter the temple to worship the Lord without having washed one’s hands and feet after eating. (5) One should not enter the temple in a contaminated state. (According to Vedic scripture, if someone dies in the family the whole family becomes contaminated for some time, according to its status. For example, if the family is brahmana their contamination period is twelve days, for the kstriyas and vaisyas it is fifteen days, and for sudras thirty days.) (6) One should not bow down on one hand. (7) One should not circumambulate in front of Sri Krishna. (The process of circumambulating the temple is that one should begin circumambulating from the Deity’s right-hand side of the temple and come round. Such circumambulation should be performed outside the temple structure at least three times daily.) (8) One should not spread his legs before the Deity. (9) One should not sit before the Deity holding the ankles, elbows or knees with one’s hands. (10) One should not lie down before the Deity of Krishna. (11) One should not accept prasada before the Deity. (12) One should never speak a lie before the Deity. (13) One should not talk very loudly before the Deity. (14) One should not talk with others before the Deity. (15) One should not cry or howl before the Deity. (16) One should not quarrel or fight before the Deity. (17) One should not chastise anyone before the Deity. (18) One should not be charitable to beggars before the Deity. (19) One should not speak very harshly to others before the Deity. (20) One should not wear a fur blanket before the Deity. (21) One should not eulogize or praise anyone else before the Deity. (22) One should not speak any ill names before the Deity. (23) One should not pass air before the Deity. (24) One should not fail to worship the Deity according to one’s means. (In Bhagavad-gita it is stated that the Lord is satisfied if some devotee offers Him even a leaf or a little water. This formula prescribed by the Lord is universally applicable, even for the poorest man. But that does not mean that one who has sufficient means to worship the Lord very nicely should also adopt this method and try to satisfy the Lord simply by offering water and a leaf. If he has sufficient means, he should offer nice decorations, nice flowers and nice foodstuffs and observe all ceremonies. It is not that one should try to satisfy the Supreme Lord with a little water and a leaf, and for himself spend all his money in sense gratification.) (25) One should not eat anything which is not offered first to Krishna. (26) One should not fail to offer fresh fruit and grains to Krishna, according to the season. (27) After food has been cooked, no one should be offered any foodstuff unless it is first offered to the Deity. (28) One should not sit with his back toward the Deity. (29) One should not offer obeisances silently to the spiritual master, or in other words, one should recite aloud the prayers to the spiritual master while offering obeisances. (30) One should not fail to offer some praise in the presence of the spiritual master. (31) One should not praise himself before the spiritual master. (32) One should not deride the demigods before the Deity. This is a list of thirty-two offenses.” ~ Nectar Of Devotion, ch 8

Please remember, the most important is to chant Hare Krishna, then go at your own pace. Add one little thing from anywhere on this blog and relax. When ready, return here and select another. Do ‘not’ put yourself down because you can’t do it all at once. For those who are sincere in heart, Krishna will take care.

Material from (12 Aug 2013): www.HareKrishnaBlogging.blogspot.in

Related webpage: www.VaishnavaEtiquette.com

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About BVG Janaka das

BVG Janaka das has international exposure across geographies, cultures, sciences, and Spiritual Practices, that he is bringing out the best in the participants and empowering them “Live Powerful Life what They Love to Live. He has experience as a leader of Transformative and Experiential Education, Balanced and Healthy lifestyle Education, of Personality Development, group dynamics and team building group seminars-workshops. He has experience and knowledge in coaching, consulting, leading, creating and managing innovative educational programs and management projects.
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