What does it take to be a sincere devotee?

Satsang with Paramahamsa Vishwananda
Mauritius, 22 October 2019

Paramahamsa Vishwananda shared the qualities of a sincere devotee, and illustrates this with a few stories from the life of Narsinh Mehta, the saint and composer of the beautiful bhajan, 'Vaishnav Jan To'. Gurudev reads the translation of this bhajan while giving additional commentary on its meaning as well.


Jai Gurudev,

Question: What does it take to be a sincere devotee?

Oh, that’s difficult! 

You said it in the question itself: sincerity. You have to know what a devotee is. If you have taken initiation as a devotee, you have given yourself to the Lord, no? That’s what it is to be a devotee: you are here to serve Him and you have placed yourself in His care. Being a devotee doesn’t mean only to wear the tilak and the kanti (Tulsi necklace) and go around with your mala bag, and say, ‘I am a devotee.’ No, it’s not that. A devotee has love. 

When we take initiation as devotees, a Vaishnava tradition is that we have to have the same quality as the Supreme Lord Himself. We can’t be different from Him. He is the Master; He is the Lord; He is the Beloved; we have to reflect Him as a devotees. If you don’t reflect Him, then how can you call yourself a devotee? So, first that quality must awaken inside of you. 

The first quality of the Lord is loving; He is caring. He forgets about Himself for the sake of His devotees. In the Shreemad Bhagavatam there are many stories. The Shreemad Bhagavatam is about the Lord forgetting about Himself for the sake of His devotee. That’s what produces the sweetness of a devotee. Whenever you see someone who calls themselves a devotee, and yet they are full of pride and arrogance, they are still on the way.

You have heard about Narsinh Mehta? One famous bhajan he sang is: ‘Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je, Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re’

So, in that bhajan – it’s beautiful. Everybody is singing it lately because the Indian Embassy everywhere worldwide was celebrating the 150th birthday of Gandhi. The Indian Embassy put an emphasis on that bhajan because it was very dear to Gandhi. But why was it so dear to him? There are so many songs that are beautiful, why was it so dear to him that he was always murmuring this bhajan?

I have the translation here, so I will just read the translation; I don’t need to explain it. The translation is of the bhajan only, but it’s so beautiful, the nectar which he has given, and how he was singing this – it’s amazing. 

Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je,
Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re
Par Dukhkhe Upkār Kare Toye
Man Abhimān Na Āne Re
Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je,
Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re

So, that first line says, ‘One who is a true devotee, one who is a Vaishnava’, because of course, you have many paths, but here, Narsinh Mehta explains clearly what it is to be a devotee, what it is to be a Vaishnava. Firstly, you have compassion for others. You feel when somebody is suffering, you feel the pain that they are going through. You are ready to help those who are in misery. And a Vaishnava’s mind never lets pride and the ego take charge. Isn’t that so beautiful? Meaning you have to be humble. 

When you call yourself a devotee, you have taken shelter at the Feet of the Master. When you have taken shelter at the Feet of the Master, it’s not about you. Because when you take shelter at the Feet of the Master, nothing belongs to you. Everything belongs to Him. You don’t belong to yourself. You belong to Him. So, how can you have pride in that? How can you let the ego rise? How can you say, ‘I, mine, my’? Everything becomes His. This is a devotee. And not just saying it, but knowing it, meaning it.

Sakal Lok Mān Sahune Vande
Nindā Na Kare Keni Re
Vāch Kāchh Man Nishchal Rākhe
Dhan Dhan Jananī Teni Re
Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je,
Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re

So, a Vaishnava has respect for the entire world. Here he said respect, but not only for human beings, not only for the people who love you, he said for the entire world. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’: the world is one family. That is a reminder in our Shastras that we are one family and humanity is our true Self.

So, devotees don’t belittle anyone; they keep their word, actions, and thoughts, pure. They are positive. And he said that the mothers of those who have this quality, they are blessed. Here ‘mother’ means also your motherland, your surroundings and not only your physical mother.

Sam Drishti Ne Trishna Tyāgi
Par Strī Jene Māt Re
Jivha Thaki Asatya Na Bole
Par Dhan Nav Jhālī Hāth Re
Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je,
Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re

So, the devotees see all equally. They have renounced greed and avarice in their views of others. They have seen that the world, everybody, is their family, the Atma, and we are all related. We all come from the same place, no? So, we are all related through the Atma. We may not be related through the flesh and blood, but through the Atma we know each other.

The Vaishnavas, though their tongue might get tired, they will not lie. Their hands will never steal from others.

Moh Māya Vyāpe Nahi Jene
Dridh Vairāgya Jena Man Mān Ne
Rām Nām Shūn Tāli Lāgi
Sakal Tīrath Tena Tan Mān Re
Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je,
Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re

He says Vaishnavas don’t get attached to the world, because they have attached themselves to the Lord’s Feet. They are detached from the worldly pleasures. Because, you see, all the pleasures of the world will make you miserable. But the Vaishnavas are not miserable, because they have the Lord with them. If their minds are fully absorbed in Him, how can they be unhappy?

They have been enticed by the Name of the Lord Himself. You see, they are so much in love, so saturated with the Divine Name, that nothing else matters. All the holy places are present inside of them. That is a devotee. That’s why Bhagavan said, ‘You may offend Me, I will forgive you. But if you offend My devotee, I’ll come for you.’ There is a famous verse that says, ‘If someone wants to hurt me, Krishna will protect me.’

‘Rakhe Krishna Mare Ke, Mare Krishna Rakhe Ke’, so beautiful, this verse that says, ‘Rakhe Krishna Mare Ke’, if Krishna is protecting me, nobody can harm me.’ But if Krishna wants to do something to me, nobody can protect me. Only the Guru. That’s why in this verse it is said that all the holy pilgrimage sites are present inside this pure devotee himself.

Van Lobhi Ne Kapat Rahit Chhe
Kām Krodh Nivārya Re
Bhane Narsaiyyo Tenun Darshan Karta
Kul Ekoter Tārya Re
Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je,
Pīd Parāyi Jāne Re

Vaishnavas, in the absence of greed and deceit, have renounced anger and lust. This author of this, Narsinh Mehta, feels great and blessed to be among such devoted people.

This is what a devotee is. Devotees reflect the Lord Himself. It’s not to put a show on the outside or dress in very fancy, exotic clothes, or to put an exotic tilak on your forehead and walk around with the mala. The heart of a devotee has transformed into the heart of the Lord so that every part of such a devotee reflects only the Lord Himself.

Story of Narsinh Mehta

There is a beautiful story in the life of Narsinh Mehta, when he was chanting for Krishna. First, Narsinh Mehta was a Shiva bhakta. When he was small, he was very dumb and his parents were caring for him, but after the parents passed away, the brother and the sister-in-law were looking after him, but the sister in law didn’t like him too much. So, she was always provoking him. One day, when he was very small, he left the house. He went in the nearby forest with the intention to kill himself. As he was going into the forest, he saw a very dilapidated temple and he entered the temple and saw a Shiva Ling and said, ‘I will kill myself. I will hit my head on the Shiva Ling.’ So, as he was thinking to do it, he knelt down, hit his head, and after the first hit, fell asleep. When he fell asleep, he had a dream where Lord Shiva appeared in front of him and said to him, ‘My dear child, why do you want to kill yourself? You are destined for something great. You are destined to touch the lives of people.’

Then he said to Lord Shiva, ‘Are you sure it is me You are talking about? I’m useless. Everybody tells me I am useless!’

Then Lord Shiva blessed him and said, ‘Have devotion for Krishna.’

Narsinh Mehta said, ‘But I don’t know anything; how will I have devotion for Krishna?’

So, Lord Shiva touched his head and blessed him with the Kedar Raag. Kedar Raag is very dear to Lord Shiva. Ravana praised Shiva by singing the Kedar Raag.

When he came back to himself, he was transformed completely. Then he started praising. Whenever he opened his mouth, a poem would come out in praise of Lord Krishna. He became famous because whenever he would sing, the garland from Krishna’s neck would fly up and go around his neck. Wherever he went, that would happen. Of course, you see, jealousy also arises in the mind of people. So, one day there were some brahmins passing by and he was so happy, he wanted to invite them into his house, but he realised that there was nothing in his house. He wanted to prepare some food for them because when brahmanas come into a home, you have to offer them food. You can’t just say, ‘Come’. These days, a guest comes to your place, you don’t even offer them a glass of water. But this is not our culture. 

In our Hindu culture, when somebody comes to your house, the first thing you offer is water, and then you offer them food afterwards. I have seen this culture also in Greece and in Russia, but never in Europe. You hardly even get a glass of water somewhere. It’s true! In Europe, you have to phone them and make a rendezvous according to their availability, you know. But in ancient times it used to be like that. In the West, when people used to go and visit other people, what did they do? They used to not only offer water, they used to wash the feet of the people. But this culture is finished now.

So, he wanted to offer food. Then he asked his wife, and his wife said, ‘What do you want to give? Nothing. There is nothing in the kitchen.’ So, he rushed quickly to the grocery and asking for some dhal or chawal, rice, and so on, but he didn’t have any money with him. How to pay? So, he mortgaged his Kedar Raag and said, ‘Please, I will mortgage this, I give you my Kedar Raag. I will not sing anything of that Raag until I pay you back your money. When you unmortgage me, then I will sing it.’

The grocer knew him and said, ‘Okay, fine.’

So, he came, cooked the food and fed them. But these people had other intentions inside of their minds. They wanted to hear him singing and they wanted to see the garland going to his neck, so they asked him. And he was singing many bhajans, and many kirtans for Krishna, but not the Kedar Raag. Of course, this phenomenon would  happen only when he sang the Kedar Raag, because this Raag was blessed by Lord Shiva and whatever is dear to Shiva is dear to Krishna. So, he didn’t sing Kedar Raag.

The brahmanas left very unhappy and they went to the king and complained, and said, ‘This Narsinh Mehta, he is cheating the people. You know, he says he is a great devotee, but he is not!’ All kinds of things; they filled the head of the king – you know how gossip works. So, the king wanted to test Narsinh Mehta by himself. The king had this beautiful deity of Lord Krishna in his palace and he asked his servant to make a garland with very strong string and place it nicely on Krishna. And they invited Narsinh Mehta to sing. And, of course, Narsinh Mehta was singing all the Raagas, except the Kedar Raag.

The king became impatient, and was waiting and waiting, hours and hours, and nothing happened. Then he said, ‘Why do they say that when you sing for Lord Krishna, the garland comes, but nothing is happening?’

Narsinh Mehta didn’t want to say that he had gone and mortgaged the Kedar Raag. So he closed his eyes and thought of Krishna and said, ‘Lord, You have put me in a dilemma. I know it is Your lila.’ This is also another quality of the devotee. A devotee perceives the hand of the Lord in everything, because they know that they are never alone. It is Him which is doing everything. So, he said, ‘Lord, it’s all Your wish, whatever You want to do.’

So, seeing this dilemma of His devotee, Bhagavan took the appearance of Narsinh Mehta himself, went to the grocer late at night and knocked on the door. The grocer was sleeping, so his wife opened the door and the grocer asked from behind, ‘Who is it?’ The wife said, ‘Oh, it’s Narsinh Mehta.’

And He paid the money for the Rag. Then He asked, ‘Please, can you give me a receipt that I have given you the money?’ And, of course, he gave a paper that the money had been paid for unmortgaging the Kedar Raag. So, Krishna rushed quickly to the palace, changed Himself into what appeared to be a normal boy, came near to where Narsinh Mehta was sitting, dropped the paper on him, and left. Narsinh Mehta saw this paper, opened it and he read, ’The Raag has been unmortgaged.’ When he read that, he smiled, and he looked around but the boy was gone. He knew that it was Lord Krishna Himself who had come to save His devotee. Because if He had not come to save him, the king would have beheaded him. So, Bhagavan Himself had come to save him. Seeing that, he smiled and he started singing that Raag. The vibration of that place was so strong that everybody was in bliss. Then, Krishna Himself went and took the garland from the deity, from the vigraha, and put the garland on him. Seeing this, everybody praised Narsinh Mehta, asked him for forgiveness, and became his disciples.

So, you see, the relationship between a devotee and Bhagavan is unique. You can call yourself a devotee only when you have that uniqueness of that relationship, that intimacy, you know, that personal relationship with Him. Then you can say, ‘Yes, I am a devotee of Him.’ Then you reflect all His qualities. It’s not about you, it’s about Him. You don’t exist. It’s only Him.

Tukaram said in his poems, ‘Who is Tuka? Tuka is going around like a mad man, singing continuously the Name of Vitthala’, because he had been consumed by His Name. He said, ‘I have been so consumed by His Name that there is only Him that stays.’ So, that’s how a devotee should be.

Jai Gurudev, everybody!