Chakra Discussions

Forgiveness Requires Rectification

by Nara Narayan das

Posted August 17, 2006

With regard to the article "I Beg Your Pardon" by Chaitanya Mangala prabhu, I believe that His Holiness Jayadvaita Swami's response to Nityananda Rama prabhu mixes several elements of sin and forgiveness. He does not clearly distinguish between sins committed before taking diksa and after taking diksa.

Discussions regarding "forgiveness" or "lack of forgiveness" of Dhanurdhara Swami by the Vaishnava community find Jayadvaita Swami conflating present sin with past forgiveness as he defends Dhanurdhara's elevation to the status of guru after a decade of post-diksa abuse of his young students, declaring: "Even one who performs abominable acts can be seen as saintly." This comment was singularly unpopular with Gurukulis assembled to receive "a formal apology" from the GBC.

Deconstructing the chain of events yields a chronology that does not lend itself to the purport of that Gita quote.

The case of Dhanurdhara

  1. Dhanurdhara takes diksa from Srila Prabhupada. As stated in the diksa ceremony, whether "purified" or "unpurified," the sins of the diksa candidate are burned up in the power of the Agnihotra sacred fire. That cleansing through fire is given by the initiating guru in exchange for an oath of obedience, humility and unquestioning service.
  2. Dhanurdhara performs acts of torture, mental and physical abuse on children in his care (while posing as an exemplary, university-degreed educator). Such acts, prohibited by law and punishable by up to to 20 years in prison, were committed by a presumed-saintly educator who was to train his wards in becoming "gentle brahmins".
  3. Dhanurdhara is considered by the GBC to have been "rectified" after a punishment of not being allowed to initiate new disciples for two years. Does this really represent a full rectification of ten years of post-diksa attacks on young children?
  4. This was not just one "accidental" falldown. These post-diksa abuses continued daily for many years. In fact, Dhanurdhara was removed from his post for child abuse after several years as headmaster, and was then reinstated to the same post at a later date, even though this brutal abuse was by then well known. Holding such an exemplary post, he was doubtlessly attending morning and evening classes, chanting his 16 rounds and reciting the "Ten Offenses against the Holy Name" each morning during that extended period of time.

    In New Vrindaban in 1969, Srila Prabhupada lectured on this question, stating that one who sins and begs forgiveness can be forgiven by the mercy of the Lord. Suppose he inadvertently or intentionally sins again, and again begs forgiveness. Out of causeless mercy the Lord may indeed forgive him, but what about the third cycle of "sin and beg forgiveness"?

    Prabhupada showcased the Catholic Church's practice of offering forgiveness for any sin during confession. He asked what would be the basis for forgiveness. I commented: "He will sin again and confess again." Srila Prabhupada stated: "Yes, after the third time, it is merely business. 'I will sin, and You will forgive'." He admonished us that the Lord will not forgive without a move toward genuine rectification. Prabhupada clearly stated: "The third time He will not forgive."

  5. Given that he has not yet "picked up every stitch" of his ten-year post-diksa legacy of repeated emotional and physical abuse of the innocent boys entrusted to his care, Dhanurdhara cannot, in my opinion, be considered to be meaningfully rectified .

Rectification before diksa and rectification after diksa

Post-diksa sins, I submit, cannot be overlooked, as H.H. Jayadvaita Swami seems to suggest: "Whatever sins one may have committed — accidentally or intentionally — can be nullified by pure devotional service, and especially by the chanting of the holy name. Our scriptures declare this again and again." By the use of this quote, he apparently makes no distinction between sins committed before diksa or those commtted after diksa.

Jayadvaita Swami continues: " 'Simply by chanting one holy name of Hari, a sinful man can counteract the reactions to more sins than he is able to commit' (Brhad-visnu Purana). There is no limit to the sins that can be eradicated by the power of the holy name of the Lord."

Where is the shastric evidence that this quote exonerates sins committed after diksa, particularly if the same acts are continued as offenses against the holy name of Krishna? Certainly, we should not confuse legislated forgiveness by the GBC with transcendental forgiveness by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. It is understandable that this quote from the Brhad-Visnu Purana indicates that a completely sinful person of the worst sort can be delivered by the mercy of Sri Guru and Sri Krishna. It is my opinion, however, after this person has taken diksa, the rules completely change. Vows have been taken, where no vows had been taken before.

Jayadvaita Swami also quotes the Bhagavad-gita (4.36): " 'Even if you are considered the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.' Who can be delivered? Not just the somewhat sinful, or the occasionally sinful, or even the very sinful, but 'the most sinful of all sinners'."

It is certain that Lord Nityananda has come to deliver this exact category of sinners, but it must be understood that such reformed sinners are prohibited by vow from sinning and sinning again after diksa.

Examples from shastra

Jayadvaita Swami cites Valmiki, a murderer, who became a pure devotee of the Lord; Mrgari, who had enjoyed half-killing animals and watching them writhe in pain; and Jagai and Madhai, of whom the Caitanya-bhagavata says: "There is not a sin that they had not committed. Although born in brahmana families, they consumed liquor and beef, robbed, stole and burnt other personīs houses." All of these miscreants, he writes, became pure devotees by the causeless mercy of the Lord.

These are unfortunate examples for Jayadvaita Maharaj to pick. Valmiki was not able to chant "Rama," so he sat for 50,000 years chanting "Mara" until it transformed to "Rama" — a far cry from the two years of being "whipped by a wet noodle" that Dhanurdhara had been forced to "endure." Nowhere is it mentioned that Valmiki ever returned to his former evil behaviors; rather, he became exemplary and went on to write the loveliest of narratives, the Ramayana. There was no decade of post-diksa abuse against children by Valmiki; he had put his sinful life behind him.

Similarly, Mrigari gave up all the elements of his sinful life. The townsfolk, astonished by his transformation, brought him sumptuous foodstuffs as an excuse to visit him and "see for themselves." Mrgari, living on Krishna prasadam, never killed an animal again. Seeing the blazing heat of the Lord's Sudarshan Chakra, Jagai and Madhai left their sinful lives and remained sinless after diksa. When King Rahugana offended Jada Bharata but later became a pure devotee, there was no "free ride;" genuine rectification was involved.

Jayadvaita Swami continues: "As Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita (9.30): 'Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination'." It is clear that this quote, which requires subtle understanding, does not apply in Dhanurdhara's case. In 1977, for example, Srila Prabhupada said: "Even if you see Brahmananda [then the president of ISKCON] standing on a street corner smoking a cigarette, you must offer obeisances to him."

I interpret these words as follows. The Gita states that if a person falls from the devotional path, there is no "loss or diminution," as the sin is material and the result of devotional service is transcendental. A performer of abominable actions will again take up the devotional path after taking horrible births or spending long time in hellish planets. I do not take the Gita quote as licence for unlimited forgiveness for present or past "abominable actions." The Gita verse does not free the sinner from being dealt with harshly in Yamaraja's court. The quote accurately represents that a person cast into a hellish birth will not lose the result of prior devotional service and will be able to go on at a future time — though presumably not in this lifetime. The story of King Nriga demonstrates the mechanics of such rectification as a result of sin.

The need for rectification

One point Srila Prabhupada stresses again and again: to commit sins, thinking that one can nullify their reactions by chanting the holy name, is the worst of offenses. The sinful person who thinks he can get away with sinful life by chanting the holy name is entirely different from the person who commits sins, regrets them, and finally becomes saintly in his behavior.

Jayadvaita Maharaja's examples cannot justify "sinning on the strength of chanting," and I am sure that is not his intent. None of his examples, in my opinion, adequately deals with the case of sinning after diksa.

Jayadvaita Swami continues: "Even if a devotee has acted abominably, if he remains fixed in devotional service and does not try to use the holy name of the Lord as an instrument for justifying his sins, he has to be regarded as a saintly person."

How, I wonder, does he propose to sort out these contradictions? A person acting abominably is not fixed in devotional service. Such a person is called a gross hypocrite, not a devotee. Where is the call for rectification? If the "saintly person" commits sin, and does not rely on chanting to cleanse it, then what is his path of action to put himself "right" with his victims, and "right" with the Lord?

I conclude that a person who continues in "devotional service" while having committed sin, but who does not make a large and public plan for rectification, is purely and simply sinning on the strength of chanting.

There is also the issue of reincarnation. The Laws of Manu are based on "paying" for sins now rather than paying later with some sort of painful lower birth. In that light, "rectification" means calculating "what will I endure as punishment in this lifetime so that in my next lifetime, I will be able to have a nice birth once again"? Has Jayadvaita Swami or anyone else in a position to adjudicate rectifications seen beyond the socio-political issues to deeply consider what Dhanurdhara needs to undergo in this lifetime so that his slate will be clean in his next one? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? If by chanting Krishna's holy name we are to become pure and fit to express the love for Krishna that is our inborn right, it would seem that rectification is something all of us should seek so that the distance from where we are now to where we wish to be in service to the Lord might be shrunken down and reduced in terms of time.