“Devotees solely engaged in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, never fear any condition of life. For them the heavenly planets, liberation and the hellish planets are all the same, for such devotees are interested only in the service of the Lord.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.17.28)
न कुतश्चन बिभ्यति
na kutaścana bibhyati
“One thing I have found sort of troubling during this pandemic is that spiritual leaders that I used to trust and respect are more than happy to close up shop. They advise their followers to stay home. They are fine with the temples shutting down, denying entry to visitors.
“You listen close enough and you hear how some of them are actually happy with the new situation. They find more peace and quiet. They don’t have to meet with outsiders. I don’t know why, but this attitude bothers me. Isn’t a saintly person supposed to be an ocean of mercy, karuna?
“I guess self-preservation is understandable. On a commercial flight in the case of an emergency they instruct you to set up the breathing apparatus for yourself first, before trying to help anyone else. That makes sense. At the same time, you are a sadhu because you want to rescue people from illusion, in the same way that your teacher made the sacrifice to rescue you.
“Isn’t the path of dharma filled with difficulties? Isn’t there danger at every step in this world? Could you highlight some of the risks that itinerant preachers face? I know Prahlada Maharaja specifically rejected the choice of mauna-vrata, which is a vow of silence. He wasn’t afraid to speak the truth.”
1. Contagious disease
Contrary to what the behavior in the world right now might indicate, there has been contagious, potentially lethal disease since the beginning of time. It wasn’t only invented in the last year. There was just as much risk of contracting illnesses last winter, five years ago, ten years ago, and so forth, as there is today.
A travelling preacher like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada faces so many risks. They are in close contact with people from morning until night. Those people carry disease, just as you and I do. They may or may not know it, since there is not widespread testing for every single virus in the asymptomatic state.
2. Glorification of sense activity
A sadhu-like person, such as Prahlada Maharaja, speaks only on the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and devotion to Him. By extension, there is little to no interest in the material world. What to eat for dinner, where to spend the few weeks of vacation, how to enjoy sleep and comfort in the home, what to watch on television – these take lower priority.
Yet it is only natural to come upon such discussions when meeting with others. They are looking for spiritual wisdom, after all. They may bring up topics that the sadhu is intentionally trying to avoid, such as sex life, intoxication, and politics. Material nature is so strong that even a little indulgence can set a person back for a long time.
3. Hostile challenges
“There is no God. The person you worship runs around having affairs with young, married women. He promotes violence on the battlefield, in a war to end all wars. You guys carve these statues and then worship them in the temple. That is satanic practice. We are one with God. There is no separate existence. Your bhakti life is for the less intelligent. You will have to abandon it one day and reach the pinnacle that is oneness enabled by Vedanta study.”
The servant of the Supreme Lord faces many such challenges. If they remained inside of an ashrama, with no contact with the outside world, they would be spared the nonsense arguments. They would avoid becoming upset at listening to ignorance, at being criticized by people who know nothing about spiritual life.
4. Uncontrolled children
You are on the stage, delivering soul-stirring stories from Bhagavata Purana, Ramayana, or other important Vedic texts. You are so moved by the content that you have difficulty holding back tears.
In the midst of it all, there are babies crying within the audience. At the local temple, the young children run around uncontrollably. While you surely can relate to the exuberance of youth, you wonder how anyone can concentrate with so many distractions going on.
5. Accumulation of sinful activity
Extending the practice that takes place within families for generations, attendees to the spiritual discourse gatherings want to touch the feet of the speaker. They want direct contact with the sadhu. The problem is they bring so many accumulated sins, papa, with them. The sadhu is trying to stay free of papa; they want to remain pure.
In spite of these dangers, there are saintly people willing to take the risks. They are never afraid, no matter the condition of life. They wouldn’t be upset if punished to the hellish region, either, since they will always stay connected with the Almighty, chanting His names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Like fleet of ships forever docked,
Temple doors closed and locked.
Sadhu now in peace can stay,
With no others in the way.
But not with saintly nature aligning,
Wanting transcendental light shining.
So that others too can live,
The wonderful life bhakti to give.