“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)
येषां त्व् अन्त-गतं पापं
भजन्ते मां दृढ-व्रताः
yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpaṁ
bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ
“I know they say to not be overly concerned with someone’s past. There is a saying that all sinners have a future and all saints have a past. No matter how bad someone is right now, there is the opportunity to reform.
“The potential is always there. We look upon them negatively at the moment, but that is merely due to time. We should remember the three periods: beginning, middle, and end. The person in a bad position right now might only be experiencing their beginning.
“That is well and good. I think I understand the concept. With saintly people, however, the past tends to matter. You can bring up past transgressions as a way to discredit. The opportunity to discredit is vital for the competitors. If someone is speaking to me about shaping up, about changing my ways, I can argue against them if they have any perceivable flaws.
“Past transgressions are the easiest flaws to identify. Especially in the present day and age, someone in school could have uploaded an unflattering picture online. They may have posted something in jest, to now remain in the documented history forever.
“Should not the saintly person who has been sinless their whole life be treated better? Are they not superior? Should not tenure count for something? If they have been a surrendered soul since birth, why shouldn’t they get preferential treatment?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that anyone who approaches the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, looking for help is a mahatma. This is a compound Sanskrit word, consisting of atma and maha. They are a great soul.
There is no particular stipulation or qualification. This means that the past is of little concern. The idea is that a person can only approach Krishna if they have reached a state of purification. They must have done something previously that made them eligible for the approach. Bhagavad-gita confirms this truth.
चतुर्-विधा भजन्ते मां
जनाः सुकृतिनो ऽर्जुन
आर्तो जिज्ञासुर् अर्थार्थी
ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
There are four general categories of people who approach God for assistance. You could say there is an informal ranking system in terms of who is better situated moving forward, but at least they have made the approach. Even if the meeting appears to be accidental, like taking a wrong turn while in search of something else, the contact is everything.
बहूनां जन्मनाम् अन्ते
ज्ञानवान् मां प्रपद्यते
वासुदेवः सर्वम् इति
स महात्मा सु-दुर्लभः
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
The mahatma is rare to find. Birth after birth the living entities seek transcendence. Birth after birth they fall short. They spend the time in vitality focusing on eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. They enjoy until there is nothing left. Thinking they have no other option, they chew the chewed.
मतिर् न कृष्णे परतः स्वतो वा
मिथो ’भिपद्येत गृह-व्रतानाम्
अदान्त-गोभिर् विशतां तमिस्रं
पुनः पुनश् चर्वित-चर्वणानाम्
matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā
mitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām
“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.30)
Their arrival at the lotus feet of Shri Krishna is something to be celebrated. They are ready to understand transcendence. They are prepared to start living in a way that matches the purification of consciousness. They are soon to be a symbol of sacrifice for others.
Sacrifice is everything. The Sanskrit word is yajna. Happiness in the human birth is through yajna, which is already a kind of tapasya. Austerity and penance are incorporated into the surrender to Krishna; a separate endeavor is not necessary.
Whether I am in distress, searching for money, in pursuit of higher knowledge, or generally inquisitive, I should approach the speaker of Bhagavad-gita. He is the origin of everything. He is the guide from within, the chaitya-guru. His personal representative is the guide from without, and the two combine to lift me out of hopelessness and despair. They help me to make the most out of this existence.
Of the past not much to care,
Since now of transcendence aware.
Concerned not from where they were,
Past sins the picture to blur.
At least now surrendered so,
And with proper example to go.
Mahatma by wise considered,
Through them many delivered.