“One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.21)
Who doesn’t seek honor? Who actually wants people to think less of them? Who wants to be known as weak and devoid of good attributes? Who wants others to say bad things about them? Thus it is natural to desire fame, attention, honor and privilege. But in pure devotion to God, one does not seek honor for themselves. In that ideal state they can always chant the holy name of the Lord.
By doing good works you become honorable. If you open a school or hospital, you may get your name on the building. Then others will honor you for as long as the establishment remains intact. You’re helping others, so of course they will want to repay the favor. But if you’re only doing this to get noticed, are you really that good a person? You have a personal motive. Your interest is not entirely focused on the recipients.
“But charity performed with the expectation of some return, or with a desire for fruitive results, or in a grudging mood, is said to be charity in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.21)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes this kind of charity to be in the mode of passion. Basically you’re making an investment, where you want some return. Perhaps it is to improve your reputation in the community. Perhaps this charitable act will help you land deals in the future for your business. Perhaps you want the satisfaction of hearing praises come your way. Charity in the mode of goodness occurs when there is no expectation of reciprocation. You do it because it is the right thing to do.
So the same concept can be applied to genuine spiritual life. If you acknowledge that God exists, you’re taking an important first step. The Vedanta-sutra, a string of Sanskrit aphorisms describing the ultimate knowledge, says that the human birth calls to attention the need for understanding Brahman. Brahman is spirit. The other species cannot understand Brahman. When they want to eat, they eat. When they want to sleep, they sleep. They don’t question why these things must occur. They don’t worry over their inevitable death. They don’t lament for what they don’t have, and neither do they hanker after things.
The human being has the advanced intelligence, and it is meant to be used for inquiry into Brahman. Once that inquiry is made, there are a host of options available. To further increase knowledge, there is jnana-yoga. To help alleviate the distresses caused by the senses accompanying the encasing of the soul, there is meditational yoga. To help become free from attachment to the results of activity, there is karma-yoga.
In each case the motivation is not pure. It is like seeking honor for oneself through giving charity to some worthy cause. I am seeking some result for myself, which automatically equates to honor. Lord Chaitanya says that in such cases chanting of the holy name will not occur frequently. Perhaps in my search for jnana, or knowledge, I will say the name of Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive.” It perfectly describes the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Once I get my knowledge, however, I won’t have much motivation to continue saying the name “Krishna.” The same goes for meditational yoga. I may recite the holy syllable of om, which is the impersonal representation of the same Krishna, but once my meditation fructifies, I won’t have any desire to continue saying this name. Through karma-yoga, once I establish myself in a higher material situation, I will forget entirely about the Supreme Lord, from whom everything emanates. Therefore I will neglect the chanting of the holy name.
What is so bad in giving this up? Does the college graduate need to remember all the rules of grammar and the equations they learned in math class? They achieved the end result, so why should they focus on something of lesser importance? Ah, but the holy name is both the means and the end. That name is fully invested with the potency of the Supreme Lord. That name is the Lord Himself. Therefore one who chants it gets the direct company of God.
It makes sense then that to always have God’s company means to eschew desire for personal honor. The mentality flips, wherein the worshiper seeks to give praise to others. And they don’t have to work very hard to do this. Thinking themselves to be very low, they marvel at how others can be so dedicated to honoring the material energy, which comes from God. They know that others can be so much better at devotional service, if only they are given the appropriate education and training.
Ironically, the devotee who always chants the holy name, maintaining the proper attitude, becomes the most honorable. Likely the most worshiped deity of the Vedic tradition is Shri Hanuman. Paintings of him are prevalent in India and beyond. Only the lowest of the low can think of anything negative to say about him. Both atheist and devotee alike have much respect for Hanuman. And what is he known for? Devotion, and nothing else. When not travelling to foreign lands to rescue Rama’s wife from the clutches of evil ogres, he is always chanting the holy names. His name of choice is Rama, which means “one who holds all transcendental pleasure.”
Lord Chaitanya is famous for always chanting the name of Krishna, as He is Krishna Himself in the guise of a sannyasi, or renounced monk. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu never desired fame, but He is the most famous. The instruction that one should not seek honor for themselves comes from Him. As honor gets offered to the Supreme Lord, the same gets returned to those who honor Him. In this way, one should know that all problems get solved through devotional service, even if it seems otherwise at first. On the authority of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one can take up bhakti-yoga and not have any regrets.
Charitably disposed to be,
But seeking only honor for me.
How praises my way to come,
And ill words for me none.
Routine of chanting holy name can’t keep,
When personal honor at same time seek.
When to others and God praises to give,
With His mercy eternally in devotion to live.