What Is Vaishnav Seva?
His Divine Grace Om Vishnupad
There are many kinds of offences—offences to the Holy Name, to the holy Dham, to service, to Vaishnavs. You can read about it at the back of the Bengali calendar. When you take initiation, you are also given a book about the offences to the Holy Name. Besides that, there are thirty-two seva-aparadhas, there are ten Dhama aparadhas, there are various Vaishnav aparadhas. You should read about it and understand what kind of offences we make, be conscious of it. Even unknowingly we also make many offences, unknowingly we think so many bad things about Vaishnavs...
We must serve Govinda with firm, strongest faith. Only if we can become servants of His devotees, if we can serve pure Vaishnavs, can we participate in the service to the Lord. First it is necessary to serve pure devotees. Unless you serve pure devotees, you cannot get the Lord. That is why we did not come here to become Vaishnavs—we must become servants of the servants of Vaishnavs. We must not think how we can please ourselves—we must think how we can please the Lord, how we can please our Gurudev.
Service to Vaishnavs is our main path. If we serve Vaishnavs, they will arrange everything for us. "Chhadiya vaisnava-seva nistara payechhe keba (ছাড়িয়া বৈষ্ণব-সেবা নিস্তার পায়েছে কেবা): without service to the Vaishnav, you can never get any relief." It is necessary to serve to the Lord, to serve Gurudev.
Many of you think, "Oh, we want to do Vaishnav seva!" and you rush to wash my feet, to drink the water from my feet, etc. but I do not allow this. Do you know why? Because I do not consider myself a Vaishnav.
'আমি ত' বৈষ্ণব', এ বুদ্ধি হইলে
"ami ta' vaisnava," e-buddhi ha-ile,
"If I think, 'I am a Vaishnav,' then I will never stop expecting honour from others (I will never become void of the desire for honour)."
(Kalyan-kalpataru, Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur)
That is why we do not let others touch our feet when they give obeisance to us. Many get upset, "Oh, Maharaj does not let us touch his feet..." but I consider that you are purer than me! You chant the Holy Name, you serve the Lord, and you are purer than me—you cook for Govinda, you serve Govinda with your pure hand, why will you touch the feet of a fallen soul like myself with this hand?
Mahaprabhu also did not allow it, but you know that there is one devotee who He did allow it. His name is Kalidas. When Kalidas touched Mahaprabhu's feet, other devotees cried, "Hey! Do not touch Mahaprabhu's feet!" but Mahaprabhu stopped them, "Do not prohibit him." Can you imagine what a big Vaishnav he was that Mahaprabhu gave him this right? Kalidas was a poor devotee, he had nothing and lived by begging, but what did he have? He had Vaishnav-dhan (wealth of devotion), Krishna-prema (love for Krishna). Do you know what he did? He was not like you or me.
তব নিজ-জন, প্রসাদ সেবিয়া
tava nija-jana, prasada seviya,
"Whatever remnants Your devotees leave behind after honouring Your prasad I will eat every day with great joy."
When we come to Vaishnav seva, we run to sit quickly in the line to take prasadam—we do not care whether Vaishnavs have taken prasadam or not, we do not care if others have taken or not, we worry whether we will get nice prasadam; and if somebody sits last and does not get something, they get upset and go away. What did this Vaishnav Thakur Kalidas do? He did not even sit with everyone to take prasadam—he hid in some place and waited when everybody had taken prasadam, then he came to the place where they had thrown their plates and took the prasadam left on those plates. Can any of you do this, tell me? Even if you take someone else's plate, you will worry if you will get sick if you eat from it. You do not understand what a fortune it is to do Vaishnav seva. We do not have that kind of devotion or faith to take others' plates and take from it, but Kalidas did. He was invited to that gathering, but he did not sit with everyone in the line. He thought he was nothing close to a Vaishnav, so he did not want to sit near them, he thought, "When they throw their plates, I will take from there to my full."
Mahaprabhu knew about it, that is why He said, "Do not stop him." Imagine how great his qualification was. He was qualified to touch Mahaprabhu's feet! Everybody does not have this right. So, we must understand it—why will I go to touch Gurudev's feet? I am a fallen soul, I am impure, why will I contaminate him by touching his feet?
Yet we hanker for Vaishnavs' feet dust, we touch their dust, we put it on our heads. "Tan-sabara pada-renu mora pancha-grasa: Their foot dust is my five forms of sustenance." You have heard it in the "Hari haraye namah" kirtan that we sing every day. What does it mean? We must take the dust from the Vaishnav's feet, we must touch it, take it, put it on our heads, etc. We must not only say, "Oh, their feet dust is the means of my subsistence." We must have faith.
People say, "I am a devotee of Lord Siva!" and because Lord Siva takes ganja people start taking ganja imitating him. Lord Siva may take ganja, but he also takes poison (that is why one of his names is Nilakantha) and holds it within his throat—can you do that? Krishna has many gopis and sahajiyas start keeping many wives, but this is not what the scriptures prescribe, it is irreligious. We think, "Krishna did this, and we will do this too," "Nityananda Prabhu did that and we will do that too." We must always remember that we must not imitate (anukaran) the Lord, we must follow (anusaran) the Lord. Lord Siva also wears a snake on his neck, can you do that? Try and see if it does not bite you. Lord Siva is a devotee of the Lord. He chants the glories of the Lord with his five mouths and he instructs everyone to chant the Name of Krishna. We wish we could chant the Holy Name with just this one mouth, but he chants the Holy Name with his five mouths.
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