In one of his songs, Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura writes:
- karma-kāṇḍa, jñāna-kāṇḍa, kevala viṣera bhāṇḍa,
- amṛta baliyā yebā khāya
- nānā yoni sadā phire, kadarya bhakṣaṇa kare,
- tāra janma adhaḥ-pāte yāya
"Fruitive activities and mental speculation are simply cups of poison. Whoever drinks of them, thinking them to be nectar, must struggle very hard, life after life, in different types of bodies. Such a person eats all kinds of nonsense and becomes condemned by his activities of so-called sense enjoyment."
People are generally enamored of the fruitive results of worldly activity and mental speculation. They generally desire to be promoted to heavenly planets, merge into the existence of Brahman, or keep themselves in the midst of family life, enchanted by the pleasures of the tongue and genitals. The great sage Nārada clearly instructs King Barhiṣmān not to remain his entire life in the gṛhastha-āśrama. Being in the gṛhastha-āśrama means being under the control of one's wife. One has to give up all this and put himself into the āśrama of the paramahaṁsa, that is, put himself under the control of the spiritual master. The paramahaṁsa-āśrama is the āśrama of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, under whom the spiritual master has taken shelter. The symptoms of the bona fide spiritual master are stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 11.3.21):
- tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta
- jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
- śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ
- brahmaṇy upaśamāśrayam
"Any person who is seriously desirous of achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of a spiritual master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities, who have taken complete shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters."
A paramahaṁsa is one who has taken shelter of the Parabrahman, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If one takes shelter of the paramahaṁsa spiritual master, gradually, through training and instruction, he will become detached from worldly life and ultimately return home, back to Godhead. The particular mention of aṅganāśramam asattama-yūtha-gātham is very interesting. The whole world is in the clutches of māyā, being controlled by woman. Not only is one controlled by the woman who is one's wife, but one is also controlled by so many sex literatures. That is the cause of one's being entangled in the material world. One cannot give up this abominable association through one's own effort, but if one takes shelter of a bona fide spiritual master who is a paramahaṁsa, he will gradually be elevated to the platform of spiritual life.
The pleasing words of the Vedas that inspire one to elevate oneself to the heavenly planets or merge into the existence of the Supreme are for the less intelligent who are described in Bhagavad-gītā as māyayāpahṛta jñānāḥ (BG 7.15) (those whose knowledge is taken away by the illusory energy). Real knowledge means understanding the miserable condition of material life. One should take shelter of a bona fide liberated soul, the spiritual master, and gradually elevate himself to the spiritual platform and thus become detached from the material world. According to Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, haṁsa-śaraṇam refers to the cottage in which saintly persons live. Generally a saintly person lives in a remote place in the forest or in a humble cottage. However, we should note that the times have changed. It may be beneficial for a saintly person's own interest to go to the forest and live in a cottage, but if one becomes a preacher, especially in Western countries, he has to invite many classes of men who are accustomed to living in comfortable apartments. Therefore in this age a saintly person has to make proper arrangements to receive people and attract them to the message of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, perhaps for the first time, introduced motorcars and palatial buildings for the residence of saintly persons just to attract the general public in big cities. The main fact is that one has to associate with a saintly person. In this age people are not going to search out a saint in the forest, so the saints and sages have to come to the big cities to make arrangements to receive the people in general, who are accustomed to the modern amenities of material life. Gradually such persons will learn that palatial buildings or comfortable apartments are not at all necessary. The real necessity is to become free from material bondage in whatever way possible. According to the orders of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī:
- anāsaktasya viṣayān
- yathārham upayuñjataḥ
- nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe
- yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate
"When one is not attached to anything, but at the same time accepts everything in relation to Kṛṣṇa, one is rightly situated above possessiveness." (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.255)
One should not be attached to material opulence, but material opulence may be accepted in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement to facilitate the propagation of the movement. In other words, material opulence may be accepted as yukta-vairāgya, that is, for renunciation.