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mṛduḥ śucir akiñcanaḥ
anīho mita-bhuk śāntaḥ
sthiro mac-charaṇo muniḥ
amānī māna-daḥ kalyo
maitraḥ kāruṇikaḥ kaviḥ
mayādiṣṭān api svakān
dharmān santyajya yaḥ sarvān
māṁ bhajeta sa tu sattamaḥ
Verses 29-31 describe twenty-eight qualities of a saintly person, and verse 32 explains the highest perfection of life. According to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, the seventeenth quality (mat-śaraṇa, or taking complete shelter of Lord Kṛṣṇa) is the most important, and the other twenty-seven qualities automatically appear in one who has become a pure devotee of the Lord. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.18.12), yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ. The twenty-eight saintly qualities may be described as follows.
(1) Kṛpālu. A devotee cannot tolerate seeing the world merged in ignorance and suffering the whiplashes of māyā. Therefore he busily engages in distributing Kṛṣṇa consciousness and is called kṛpālu, or merciful.
(2) Akṛta-droha. Even if someone is offensive toward a devotee, a devotee does not become offensive in return. Indeed, he never acts against the interest of any living entity. One may argue that great Vaiṣṇava kings, such as Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira and Parīkṣit Mahārāja, executed many criminals. However, when justice is properly administered by the state, sinful, destructive persons actually benefit from their punishment because they become freed from the severe karmic reactions to their illicit activities. A Vaiṣṇava ruler gives punishment not out of envy or malice, but in faithful obedience to the laws of God. The Māyāvādī philosophers who want to kill God by imagining that He does not exist are certainly kṛta-droha, or most injurious to themselves and others. The impersonalist imagines that he himself is supreme and thus creates a most dangerous situation for himself and his followers. Similarly, the karmīs, who are dedicated to material sense gratification, are also killers of the self, because by their absorption in material consciousness they lose all chance of experiencing the Absolute Truth and the truth of their own self. Therefore, all living entities who come under the control of materialistic regulations and duties are unnecessarily harassing themselves and others, and a pure Vaiṣṇava feels great compassion and concern for them. A devotee never uses his mind, body or words to perform any act harmful to the welfare of any living entity.
(3) Titikṣu. A devotee forgives and forgets any offense against himself. A Vaiṣṇava is personally detached from his material body, which is made of pus, stool, blood, and so on. Therefore the devotee is able to overlook the obnoxious behavior he sometimes meets with in the course of preaching work and always deals with people as a perfect gentleman. A Vaiṣṇava loudly chants the holy name of the Lord and tolerates and forgives those fallen conditioned souls who are unable to reciprocate properly with a pure devotee.
(4) Satya-sāra. A devotee always remembers that he is the eternal servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is omniscient, the reservoir of all pleasure and the ultimate enjoyer of all activities. By avoiding activities outside devotional service, a devotee remains fixed in the truth, does not uselessly waste time and thus becomes bold, powerful and steady.
(5) Anavadyātmā. A devotee knows that the material world is a temporary phantasmagoria and therefore does not envy anyone in any material situation. He never tries to agitate others or criticize them unnecessarily.
(6) Sama. A devotee remains steady and equal in material happiness or distress, fame or infamy. His actual wealth is his consciousness of Kṛṣṇa, and he understands that his real self-interest lies outside the scope of material nature. He does not become excited or depressed by external events, but remains fixed in consciousness of the omnipotency of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
(7) Sarvopakāraka. Neglecting one’s selfish desires and working for the satisfaction of others is called paropakāra, whereas causing trouble to others for one’s personal gratification is called parāpakāra. A devotee always works for the pleasure of Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is the resting place of all living entities, and thus a devotee’s activities are ultimately pleasing to everyone. Devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa is the perfectional stage of welfare work, since Lord Kṛṣṇa is the supreme controller of everyone’s happiness and distress. Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others, execute superficial materialistic activities rather than attending to the eternal happiness of others. Because a devotee remains pure and engages in missionary activities, he is everyone’s best friend.
(8) Kāmair ahata-dhī. Ordinary persons see all material things as objects for their personal gratification and thus try to acquire or control them. Ultimately a man wants to possess a woman and enjoy sex gratification with her. The Supreme Lord supplies the desired fuel that causes the fire of lust to burn painfully in one’s heart, but the Lord does not give self-realization to such a misguided person. Lord Kṛṣṇa is transcendental and neutral, but if one is eager to exploit the Lord’s creation, the Lord gives one facility through māyā, and one becomes cheated of real happiness by entangling himself in the false role of a great and lusty enjoyer of the world. On the other hand, one who has taken full shelter of Kṛṣṇa is enriched with perfect knowledge and bliss and is not cheated by the seductive appearances of the material world. A pure devotee does not follow the path of the foolish deer, which is seduced by the hunter’s horn and killed. A devotee is never attracted by the sensuous entreaties of a beautiful woman, and he avoids hearing from bewildered karmīs about the so-called glories of material acquisition. Similarly, a pure devotee is not bewildered by aroma or taste. He does not become attached to sumptuous eating, nor does he spend the whole day making arrangements for bodily comfort. The only actual enjoyer of God’s creation is the Lord Himself, and the living entities are secondary enjoyers who experience unlimited pleasure through the Lord’s pleasure. This perfect process of experiencing pleasure is called bhakti-yoga, or pure devotional service, and a devotee never sacrifices his auspicious position of steady intelligence, even in the face of so-called material opportunity.
(9) Dānta. A devotee is naturally repelled by sinful activities and controls his senses by dedicating all his acts to Kṛṣṇa. This requires steady concentration and a cautious mentality.
(10) Mṛdu. A materialistic person will always see people as friends or enemies and thus will sometimes justify cruel or small-minded behavior in order to subdue his opponents. Since a devotee has taken shelter of Lord Kṛṣṇa, he does not consider anyone his enemy and is never disturbed by the tendency to desire or enjoy the suffering of others. Thus he is mṛdu, or gentle and sublime.
(11) Śuci. A devotee never touches that which is impure or improper, and simply by remembering such a pure devotee, one is freed from the tendency to sin. Because of his perfect behavior, a devotee is called śuci, or pure.
(12) Akiñcana. A devotee is free from possessiveness and is not eager to enjoy or renounce anything, since he considers everything to be Lord Kṛṣṇa’s property.
(13) Anīha. A devotee never acts on his own behalf, but rather for the service of Lord Kṛṣṇa. He is therefore aloof from ordinary, worldly affairs.
(14) Mita-bhuk. A devotee accepts material sense objects only as far as necessary, to keep himself healthy and fit in Lord Kṛṣṇa’s service. He is therefore not entangled by his sense activities and never injures his self-realization. When necessary, a devotee can give up anything for Lord Kṛṣṇa’s service, but he does not accept or reject anything for his personal prestige.
(15) Śānta. Those trying to exploit the Lord’s creation are always disturbed. A devotee, however, is detached from such pointless activities and understands sense gratification to be diametrically opposed to his self-interest. Being always engaged according to the Lord’s desire, he remains peaceful.
(16) Sthira. Remembering that Lord Kṛṣṇa is the basis of everything, a devotee does not become fearful or impatient.
(17) Mat-śaraṇa. A devotee does not take pleasure in anything except serving Lord Kṛṣṇa and is constantly attentive in the execution of his duties. A devotee knows that only Lord Kṛṣṇa can protect him and engage him in useful work.
(18) Muni. A devotee is thoughtful and through intelligent contemplation avoids becoming distracted from his spiritual advancement. By intelligence he is freed from doubts about Lord Kṛṣṇa and confronts all problems in life with steady Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
(19) Apramatta. One who forgets the Supreme Lord is more or less crazy, but a devotee remains sane by offering his activities to Lord Kṛṣṇa.
(20) Gabhīrātmā. As a devotee merges into the ocean of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his own consciousness becomes deeper and deeper; ordinary, superficial persons hovering on the material platform cannot fathom the extent of a devotee’s awareness.
(21) Dhṛtimān. By controlling the urges of the tongue and genitals the devotee remains steady and patient and does not impulsively change his position.
(22) Jita-ṣaḍ-guṇa. By spiritual knowledge, a devotee is able to conquer the pushings of hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death.
(23) Amānī. A devotee is not puffed up, and even if he is famous, he does not take such fame very seriously.
(24) Māna-da. A devotee offers all respects to others, since everyone is part and parcel of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
(25) Kalya. A devotee is expert in making people understand the truth of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
(26) Maitra. A devotee does not cheat anyone by encouraging them in the bodily concept of life; rather, by his missionary work a devotee is the true friend of everyone.
(27) Kāruṇika. A devotee tries to make people sane and thus is most merciful. He is para-duḥkha-duḥkhī, or one who is unhappy to see the unhappiness of others.
(28) Kavi. A devotee is expert in studying the transcendental qualities of Lord Kṛṣṇa and is able to show the harmony and compatibility of the Lord’s apparently contradictory qualities. This is possible through expert knowledge of the absolute nature of the Lord. Lord Caitanya is softer than a rose and harder than a thunderbolt, but these opposing qualities can easily be understood in terms of the Lord’s transcendental nature and purpose. One who is always able to understand the truth of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, without opposition or confusion, is called kavi, or most learned.
The position of those on the spiritual path can be understood in terms of their development of the qualities mentioned above. Ultimately, the most important quality is to take shelter of Lord Kṛṣṇa, since the Lord can award all good qualities to His sincere devotee. In the lowest stage of devotional service one acts with a desire to enjoy sense gratification but at the same time tries to offer the fruits to the Lord. This stage is called karma-miśrā bhakti. As one gradually purifies himself in devotional service, he becomes detached through knowledge and gains relief from anxiety. In this stage he becomes attached to transcendental knowledge, and therefore this stage is called jñāna-miśrā bhakti, or devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa with a desire to enjoy the fruits of transcendental knowledge. But because pure love for Kṛṣṇa is actually the greatest happiness and the natural position of the living entity, a sincere devotee gradually overcomes his desire to enjoy sense gratification and knowledge and comes to the stage of pure devotional service, which is devoid of personal desire. Na karmāṇi tyajed yogī karmabhis tyajyate hi saḥ: “The yogī should not give up his work, but rather should cultivate detachment by which his material activities will automatically vanish.” In other words, one should continue to perform one’s prescribed duties, even imperfectly. If one is sincere about advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then by the strength of bhakti-yoga his activities will gradually be transformed into pure loving service.
There are innumerable examples of fruitive workers, mental speculators and materialistic devotees who became perfect by the strength of devotional service. By rendering loving service to Kṛṣṇa, one automatically experiences the greatest pleasure of life and is endowed with perfect knowledge. There is nothing lacking in the process of pure devotional service, and there is no need for any extraneous endeavor to acquire sense pleasure or philosophical satisfaction. One must be completely convinced that simply by serving Kṛṣṇa one will get all perfection in life. Even if one lacks some or all of the above-mentioned qualities, one should sincerely engage in Lord Kṛṣṇa’s service, and gradually one’s character will become perfect. One who is a sincere devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa will develop all godly qualities by the mercy of the Lord, and one who is already serving the Lord with the above-mentioned qualities is to be understood as the greatest devotee. As indicated in verse 32, a pure devotee of the Lord is fully aware of the pious advantages of executing duties within the varṇāśrama system, and he is similarly aware of the harmful mistake of neglecting such duties. Still, having full faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a devotee gives up all ordinary social and religious activities and engages fully in devotional service. He knows that Lord Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate source of everything and that all perfection comes from Lord Kṛṣṇa alone. Because of his extraordinary faith, the devotee is called sattama, or the best among all living beings.
As explained by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī in Upadeśāmṛta, a devotee who has not yet developed the good qualities mentioned above but is nevertheless sincerely endeavoring for Kṛṣṇa consciousness should receive the mercy of superior Vaiṣṇavas. One should not necessarily accept intimate association with such an aspirant to pure devotional service, but one should be confident that by chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa such a person will eventually attain all perfection. One can imagine the beauty of a society filled with saintly persons, as described in these verses. The wonderful Kṛṣṇa conscious qualities mentioned above are the basis of a peaceful and prosperous society, and if everyone takes to the loving service of Lord Kṛṣṇa, then certainly the present atmosphere of fear, violence, lust, greed and insanity can be replaced by a celestial situation in which all leaders and citizens will be happy. The essential points here are mat-śaraṇa (“one should take full shelter of Lord Kṛṣṇa”) and māṁ bhajeta (“one should worship the Lord through the authorized process”). In this way the entire world can become sattama, or most perfect.