Devotional Maturity

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From time to time we hear that a certain devotee is “mature”. We know it is a positive thing, but what does it really mean? How can we become the kind of devotee that others will call “mature”? What is the evidence regarding “maturity” in our revealed scriptures?

I think it is a good topic for discussion and would like to hear the realizations of others. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. One of the hallmarks of a madhyama adhikari is knowing how to properly interact with different kinds of devotees and non-devotees. Maturity in one sense means coming at least to that platform of knowing how to behave well with others.

2. Young, green devotees may have a tendency to be fanatical, to be “religious flag wavers”, or to be contemptuous of sense enjoyers due to their own lingering material attachments and envy (See, Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Lynne Ludwig, published in “Science of Self-Realization”). They may be overly attached to rules and regulations without knowing the purposes behind them, or unsteady in their observance of rules and regulations (nyama-agraha or niyama-aagraha). They may be very chauvinistic or “patriotic” about their connection with one church or organization or saint without themselves embodying the qualities of saintliness. Mature devotees will be enthusiastic for preaching, but careful to do so in effective ways without leaving bad impressions.

3. Obviously, “maturity” is not just a euphemism for being old. However, we do expect a mature devotee to be one who has regularly practiced the regulative principles for a long time. We know that a person can achieve perfection in bhakti yoga in a very short time, but usually it is a more gradual practice that ripens over a lifetime. A mature devotee is steady and in it for the long haul, not a “flash in the pan”. Moreover, such a devotee is patient and kind to less advanced devotees, knowing that they will become steady with gradual practice.

4. “He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison with his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and distress, O Arjuna!” (B.G. 6.32) A mature devotee has genuine compassion based on the ability to see, through his or her own experience, how spirit souls are suffering under the spell of false identification with their bodies, and how they can achieve real happiness by being fixed in Krishna consciousness.

5. Genuine maturity in devotional service has to come from one’s immersion in Krsna consciousness and not merely from “external” learning of good manners. One can graduate from finishing school and be well-trained in the rules of etiquette without being a mature devotee. Nevertheless, if a devotee is insensitive to the feelings of others, lacking in etiquette, or rude in speech or behavior, it is a good sign he or she is still immature in the matter of chanting the holy names. “One who wants to be recognized as a devotee should develop the good qualifications.” (B.G. 12.18-19, Purport)

6. In the Third Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Kapiladeva instructs Devahuti about mixed devotional service according to the three modes of nature. Those whose service is mixed with the mode of ignorance are harsh to others and consider themselves to be the best or the only devotee, those in the mode of passion expect some reward from devotional service, such as wealth or prestige. Srimad Bhagavatam aims at completely unmotivated and uninterrupted, spontaneous devotional service free even from the material mode of goodness, but are the symptoms of bhakti mixed with ignorance and passion what we mean by immaturity? Can we say that a mixed devotee whose service is in the material mode of goodness is mature?

We can probably all remember with embarrassment times we called our friends and families “demons” or otherwise acted or spoke like programmed robots, without genuine or deep understanding. Please share your thoughts, experiences and realizations about what “maturity” in devotional service means to you.

By Akruranatha Das

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