Recently I heard of a young devotee-who I knew and disliked for some unknown reason- dying in a ghastly accident. As he was riding his bike on the highway, a giant bus speeding from the opposite direction, hit him head on, and while being rushed to the hospital, he breathed his last. The bus passengers, strangers that they were, felt amazed as they recalled how this boy gasped for breath and intensely chanted Krishna’s Holy Names during his final moments.
Later during a memorial organized by his friends, the boy’s devotional qualities were shared by all who knew him. He chanted prayerfully, served sincerely and had good friends whom he generously helped. In a short time of six months of practise of Krishna Consciousness, he had endeared himself to many devotees.
As the spiritually uplifting programme inspired hundreds of devotees and personally humbled me, I had tears of affection and even regret that I hadn’t associated with him much. I then realized I disapproved of him for a trivial reason; the few times we had met, I had seen him eat food with his left hand, and once seen him shout at another person. Little did I know the reasons why he did what he did then, yet I mentally judged him as a non-devotee. And as his eating and talking style was culturally repelling to me, I thought he was indecent and lacked proper training and culture.
And now hearing his qualities I only lamented at my narrow and selfish vision due to which I lost association of such a nice devotee of Krishna. For the next few days, I prayed for forgiveness, and eventually felt pardoned by the Lord. I resumed my services with a new lesson learnt; never judge devotees externally.
Then a few days later, while reading the Srimad Bhagavatam, I felt my heart filled with a rich realization.
Learning lessons from the Srimad Bhagavatam
While reading the Vritrasura pastime in the sixth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, I understood that a devotee of Krishna is not determined simply by his or her external position. To be a devotee of God is a very deep thing, and our eyes could easily deceive us to believe one is not a devotee because he or she doesn’t fit into my definition of a devotee.
Vritrasura was fighting a war against the demi-gods who were carrying out the Lord’s desire. He was raging with fury as he attacked Indra with a desire to destroy him. Indra had qualified himself to be the king of the heaven, and even the Supreme Lord supports his position. Naturally one would think Indra is a devotee and one who fights against such a trusted devotee is a demon. And Vritrasura was doing exactly that, and so it appears at this point of time in the war that Indra is a natural devotee and Vritrasura a vicious demon.
The dramatic turn of events
Yet a dramatic turn of events during the war reveals Vritrasura’s real heart.
As Indra hurled a powerful club at Vritrasura, he easily caught it with his left hand, and then threw it back at Indra with greater ferocity. Indra and his elephant, both fell, and were badly injured. As Indra recomposed himself to resume the battle, he was nervous; he looked at his specially prepared thunderbolt, and was unsure to fight the belligerent Vritrasura.
Vritrasura laughed hysterically at Indra, and roared he would take revenge for the unfair killing of his brother by Indra. As Indra was still shaken by Vritrasura’s terrible impact, he lost confidence in his thunderbolt weapon. The weapon was specially prepared to kill Vritrasura and it was blessed by Lord Vishnu. The Supreme Lord’s desire would certainly be fulfilled, but seeing the ferocious fighting of Vritrasura, Indra, the king of the demi-gods and the Lord of the heavenly planets was forlorn and dejected.
Vritrasura’s real devotion revealed
At this time, Vritrasura looked at Indra with compassion. “Oh king of the demi-gods, pick up the weapon”, urged Vritrasura, “do not doubt its potency; it will certainly kill me, and remember the Supreme Lord’s assurance” Vritrasura then assured Indra that he could use the thunderbolt to kill him, and then rule over the three worlds happily.
He then reveals his heart’s desperate hankering to be reunited with the Lord. “For me, I am eager to be reunited in service to my dearest Lord and His loving devotees”, declared Vritrasura. He then offered four special prayers to the Lord which the stalwart Vasihnava devotees and scholars over the millennia have considered as the essence of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Vritrasura then entered a deeper, internal mood of loving remembrance of Krishna. He wished to remember the Lord’s qualities and pastimes, even in a bloody battlefield. Feeling intense separation from the Supreme Lord, he prayed, “My dear Lord I don’t’ desire any heavenly or earthly opulences, I don’t want mystic perfections or even sovereignty over all lands if all of these mean to be away from you. I only seek your association”
He compared his situation of separation from the Lord to that of a small bird that looks up eagerly for its mother to come back to the nest to feed it. He appeals that he is like a calf that is eagerly waiting for her mother to return; he also feels like a lover who is desperately waiting to be reunited with her beloved. Finally in his prayers, he expresses a solemn desire to seek association of the Lord’s beloved devotees; he wishes to be detached from everything material and be totally focussed on Krishna.
Indra was humbled and inspired to see this spontaneous, devotional mood of Vritrasura. It’s said that at the time of death one can’t fake his emotions, and Vritrasura knew he’d die in the war. Seeing Vritrasura’s true nature, Indra glorified him. Then they resumed the battle and as ordained Indra won the war, but it’s Vritrasura who emerges as a hero in this heart churning episode.
Bhishma- another case of misunderstanding
The Srimad Bhagavatam reveals Bhishma as yet another pure lover of Krishna. He lovingly remembered the Lord on his deathbed, and the Lord being conquered by his devotion, chose to personally appear on the battlefield to give him audience as he left his body.
Earlier, complex political intrigues in the kingdom of Hastinapura caused him anguish; he was an enigma. On the one hand he expressed unflinching love for the Pandavas, the devotees of the Lord, yet he chose to fight for Duryodhna led Kaurava army that was avowedly envious of Krishna and His devotees- the Pandavas. Besides, Bhishma had remained a mute spectator as the Pandavas’s wife, the virtuous Drauapadi was being disrobed in the assembly, in an attempt to strip her naked. Bhishma’s contradictions would confuse anyone.
Yet as he lay on the battlefield, all the past issues had dissolved. His love for Krishna alone mattered, and he then offered intense prayers of gratitude to the Lord for choosing to appear before him as he lay on his deathbed. In his prayers Bhishma describes the Lord’s beautiful form, and concentrating on the resplendent, divine form of the Lord, he departs from this world.
Our hasty judgements
We live with devotees who may confuse us with their paradoxes. But who are we to judge them? While doing the needful on the external level to protect ourselves, we need to be careful not to hastily judge them. We really do not know what’s going on in their hearts; only the Lord knows their devotional status.
They could be intensely repenting their mistakes that we may choose to magnify as their terrible faults. They could be helplessly crying to Krishna for help even as we may accuse them of being incompetent or worse, duplicitous.
Devotees’ idiosyncrasies should be ignored
Externally both Vritrasura and Bhishma were totally misunderstood till the very end. Really speaking we may never know who a Vaishnava is; we may be living with advanced devotees but may dislike them, not for serious external aberrations from the devotional path, but for their insignificant idiosyncrasies like the way they chew food, or the way they talk or even their smile may put us off. Yet they may be pleasing Krishna by their sincere devotional service; and while giving up their bodies, they may lovingly remember Krishna while we may rot in this material world life after life.
We can’t judge another person simply by the way he talks, eats, or even behaves. Or just because somebody is not pleasing my senses, can I judge him or her as a non-devotee or worse a demoniac person?
While we strive conscientiously to respect all and follow the proper standards of social behaviour, and we also do the needful to protect ourselves and others from bad behaviour of others, yet we need to refrain from passing judgement on others based on their acquired, external personalities.
Let’s be respectful to all and pray that we can also develop sincere mood of devotion that glorious characters like Bhishma and Vritrasura from the Srimad Bhagavatam embody.