Recently I wrote an article on how ethics are important in spiritual life and how a saintly person, or sadhu, also needs to follow moral ethics. Depending on one’s grasp of philosophy, there are opinions for and against it. To those who do not agree with this, I suggest you hold back your reaction for a few minutes, and read through this article. I believe that by the time you finish reading it with an open mind, you will not only like it but would like to share it with others.
Due to the influence of Kaliyuga there is no dearth of pseudo saints on this planet today. It is extremely difficult to find a genuine sadhu, a saintly person, or, a mahatma in real sense of the term. People in general have gone so far away from scriptural knowledge that they hardly recognize a saintly person. Even worse, they almost always accept a cheater posing to be a saint as a saintly person. When I say “cheater” I don’t necessarily mean only those who knowingly deceive others but also those who follow a cheating parampara, that is, those who have accepted untruth as truth and are passing such so called “truth” onto their students, fans and followers. Such people are not teachers but cheaters. This may sound harsh but it is the most lenient term one could use to describe them. Let me tell you why.
Some of the qualities of a sadhu
Just as we recognize a scientist through his scientific achievements and a politician through his political skills, we recognize a saintly person or sadhu through his spiritual merits and qualities described in the scripture. The following two verses from Srimad Bhagavatam briefly describe the position of a sadhu:
titiksavah karunika suhridah sarva-dehinam
ajata-satravah santah sadhavah sadhu-bhüshanah
“The symptoms of a sadhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.” (SB 3.25.21)
mayy ananyena bhavena bhaktim kurvanti ye drdham
mat-krte tyakta-karmanas tyakta-svajana-bandhavah
“Such a sadhu engages in staunch devotional service to the Lord without deviation. For the sake of the Lord he renounces all other connections, such as family relationships and friendly acquaintances within the world.” (SB 3.25.21)
Srila Prabhupada explains in his purport to these verses that such a sadhu’s concern is to enlighten people in devotional service to the Lord because he knows that without devotional service to the Lord, human life is spoiled. A Sadhu is not satisfied with his own liberation. He always thinks about others. He is the most compassionate personality towards all the fallen souls and because while engaged in preaching work, he has to meet with so many opposing elements, he has to be very tolerant. Someone may ill-treat him or even physically harm him because the conditioned souls are not prepared to receive the transcendental knowledge of devotional service. They do not like it; that is their disease. But the sadhu tolerates it as he has the thankless task of impressing upon them the importance of devotional service and thus benefiting them.
A sadhu is merciful to and well-wisher of all fallen souls, not only of human society or of his dear ones. Srila Prabhupada points out the words sarva-dehinam, which indicate all living entities who have accepted material bodies. But, for example. these days we hear of many so called saintly persons shamelessly consuming food not meant for civilized human beings. Delivering lectures on compassion and cleanliness, they don’t mind swallowing filthy meat of cruelly tortured and killed animals. They are indifferent to the pain the animal, bird or reptile goes through in the process. Similarly, some so-called sadhus are indifferent to others’ difficulties and are peaceful until the difficulties affect their own life. What kind of compassion is this? What kind of sadhus are they? And when people see such pseudo sadhus behaving in that manner, they learn from it.
Identifying a pseudo sadhu
Technically, a person in the renounced order of life, a sannyasi, can also be called a sadhu because he renounces everything—his home, his comfort, his friends, his relatives along with his duties towards family and friends. In fact, a true spiritualist gives up his duties towards his country also because he knows that he, as a spirit soul, does not belong to a particular country or religion. His mission is to help all people of all countries and all faiths. He renounces everything for the sake of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He knows that preaching God consciousness or Krishna consciousness is the best possible help one can do to the world. However, if someone renounces all worldly obligations for personal sense gratification, he is an escapist no better than other selfish persons. Such persons are surely punished by the laws of nature as they take undue advantage of their sadhu profile.
A pseudo sadhu is he who lacks sense control and who, despite his many defects, thinks himself to be a sadhu and, even worse, presents himself to be a sadhu. Unfortunately, these days, in the name of spiritualism and bhakti, various types of polluted and imaginary conceptions are spread everywhere like the plague germs.
Some pseudo spiritualists say that God is only an imaginary sentiment. Some say that one can become God by enlightenment. And some others say that we are simply a bunch of chemicals and will cease to exist once the body is dead. None of them make sense to a wise person. These concoctions and people promoting them are the greatest enemies of the world. No society can be peaceful in a godless civilization.
A person who denies the existence of God, as a person, in effect denies his own existence. This can be understood by proper reasoning and hearing from a sadhu. Bogus sadhus themselves do not know what is God, who is God, and as such cannot guide others on that path. When a blind man guides another blind man, both of them are destined to fall in the long run.
However, for those who have scrutinizingly stuidied the scriptures under a bona fide spiritual master, protection is assured. Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur says in his Bhakti-tattva Vivek book: “these types of people, though opposed to bhakti, cannot do much harm to us because we can easily recognize them and avoid them.” He continues: “Therefore, with great endeavor our previous acharyas have defined the svarupa or intrinsic nature of bhakti and have repeatedly cautioned us to keep ourselves away from polluted and mixed concepts.”
Ironically, as I myself traverse the path of devotional service, or bhakti, which gives one the highest perfection unknown to mayavadis and impersonalists, my hard struggle to recognize real sadhus continues to disappoint me every now and then. This shows how rare a pure devotee is in this world. In the absence of pure devotees, oftentimes people tend to believe that such and such person is a pure devotee. This may sound like a harmless idea but it is not and only demonstrates how callous one could be towards his or her spiritual life. I call such tendency an extended self-deceiving.
Yes, it is true that in order to fully recognize and adequately appreciate the qualities of a pure devotee, a sadhu, one needs to be a sadhu himself; but it is also true that with the help of the Vedic scriptures carefully studied under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master one can confidently recognize a genuine sadhu, a pure devotee of the Lord. Or else, the pseudo sadhus and their misled followers would have a free ride saying that because others are not genuine they cannot recognize the genuineness of such (so-called) sadhus. As mentioned above, these people are surely punished by the law of nature and most of the times they end up exposing themselves by their abominable acts. Without a doubt, this is Lord Krishna’s mercy upon them just as in order to cure a diseased person, the doctor first exposes the disease.
People can be saved from a thief if they know him as a thief. In effect, exposing such a thief is a service to the society. It also gives the thief a chance to rectify himself. A pseudo sadhu is like an unexposed thief who steals the faith and devotion of innocent people in the name of religion and bhakti. On the other hand, an atheist is like an exposed thief who does not understand the dangers of his acts until he is again caught but, nonetheless, because he is known to be a thief people have the opportunity to be watchful of him and avoid him. This shows how a pseudo sadhu is even more harmful than someone who claims to be an atheist.
As the followers of Srila Prabhupada, who was a genuine sadhu, a pure devotee of Lord Krishna in the real sense of the term, and who stressed on purity, it is of utmost importance that we sincerely endeavor to be real sadhus, and not only keep distance from pseudo sadhus but also help others recognize them. Not doing so is mere sentimentalism and selfishness. This is not to encourage character assassination or offenses in any way but to promote purity in the society. Mildly put, to knowingly cover a criminal and present him to be a saint is a crime towards humanity. Throwing the baby with the bath water is not the intention here; the intention is to clean the water to bathe the baby, especially when the cleansing process is available by the unfathomable grace of Lord Sri Chaitanya.