“For the devotees there is no need for performance of prescribed sacrifices because the very life of the devotee i a symbol of sacrifice.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.16.20 Purport)
1. Is it because of their dress?
“Similar to the military man, the police officer, or the fireman, they are known by the dress. There is a uniform of sorts, identifying to which group they belong. In general, the saintly person of the Vedic tradition wears some sort of robe. A specific color to indicate the official status in progression through the ashrama system, but no matter the case they are to be respected.
“In truth, anyone can put on a uniform or dress. People do so intentionally on the annual occasion of Halloween. There is something known as the costume party. This means that I cannot respect someone simply because of what they wear. They may have the tilaka on the forehead, but anyone can apply this. I mean to say that I will not be fooled into offering full and complete respect to a person simply because of how they decorate themselves.”
2. Is it because of their diet?
“The saintly person is generally thin. This is for a variety of reasons. If they are in the official renounced order of life, then there is no home with a refrigerator. There is no cooking for themselves, usually. In the strict sense, they should never stock up for a rainy day.
“You beg for a living, which includes the food that you eat. Travelling from place to place, not staying anywhere too long, you accept whatever others are willing to offer in charity. This aligns with the basic principles of renunciation.
“In truth, anyone can go on a diet. Plenty of people reduce their eating, for a variety of purposes. Sure, it is cool that someone gives up eating meat, fish, and eggs. If they refrain from intoxicants, all the better, but many animals have such a diet and no one approaches them with reverence because of it.”
3. Is it because of where they live?
“It is said that one of the reasons to visit tirthas is because saintly people tend to congregate there. A tirtha is a place of pilgrimage, as designated through scripture and tradition. As a way to understand, if we visit a baseball stadium, we will find people who are interested in baseball. This could range from the players themselves to those selling memorabilia on the streets.
“If we are interested in spiritual life, we will do well by visiting a tirtha. Saintly people might take up permanent residence in such a place, considering the circumstances to be conducive to advancement in their craft, which has the goal of liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
“In truth, anyone can live anywhere. If they have money, they can buy a home in one of these sacred places. They might stay inside the entire time and watch television, living with the same consciousness as someone outside of the tirtha.
“The same can be said of the saintly person. If they are begging for a living, why not go someplace that features an abundance of tourists? The visitors will be more willing to part with their money. It is like the salesperson finding a place full of customers; business will be good.”
4. Is it because of what they have renounced?
“Sannyasa is the highest order of the ashrama system. Full and complete renunciation. Suicide in terms of life within society. No more friends. No family. No safety-net. You are at the mercy of others, accepting every situation to be the influence of the Almighty.
“This ashrama is ideally suited for the end of life, since every other responsibility has been taken care of. If you are on the verge of death, you might as well prepare for it. Physically, not much can be done, but mental preparation hopefully purifies the consciousness to the point that there is a smooth transition to the next life.
यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं
त्यजत्य् अन्ते कलेवरम्
तं तम् एवैति कौन्तेय
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
“In truth, people renounce home all the time. Look at the homeless people living in the big cities. Granted, they are usually addicted to intoxicants, never bathe, and are not interested in spiritual life at all, but their level of renunciation is similar. Do we offer them respect or do we stay miles away from them?”
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, the devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead lives in such a way that their life is a symbol of sacrifice. This is the reason they deserve respect.
They are considered saintly not necessarily because of the type of dress they wear, the place where they live, the level of renunciation they implement, or their lack of attachments. Rather, their ability to liberate others, to bring them into the life of genuine sacrifice, to forge a connection with the Almighty – these are of such high value that they deserve respect from every living entity.
तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
Shri Krishna explains that the combination of service in humility and submissive inquiries towards the person who has seen the truth, tattva-darshi, is the key to success. The external indications help us to identify, but the full verification is evident through how the person lives in total, how they embody the connection to the all-attractive one, and how they can help us to follow the same path: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Not by dress alone,
Level of devotion known.
Or where they live,
What others to give.
Helping maybe to identify,
But full picture to verify.
Symbol of sacrifice worthy of respect,
From them secret of life to get.
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