Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura gives the following commentary on this passage. A sādhu, or honest man, is called a mahājana or a mahātmā. The mahātmā is described thus by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 9.13):
- mahātmānas tu māṁ pārtha daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ
- bhajanty ananya-manaso jñātvā bhūtādim avyayam
“O son of Pṛthā, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” In the material world, the word mahātmā is understood in different ways by different religionists. Mundaners also come up with their different angles of vision. For the conditioned soul busy in sense gratification, a mahājana is recognized according to the proportion of sense gratification he offers. For instance, a businessman may consider a certain banker to be a mahājana, and karmīs desiring material enjoyment may consider philosophers like Jaimini to be mahājanas. There are many yogīs who want to control the senses, and for them Patañjali Ṛṣi is a mahājana. For the jñānīs, the atheist Kapila, Vasiṣṭha, Durvāsā, Dattātreya and other impersonalist philosophers are mahājanas. For the demons, Hiraṇyākṣa, Hiraṇyakaśipu, Rāvaṇa, Rāvaṇa’s son Meghanāda, Jarāsandha and others are accepted as mahājanas. For materialistic anthropologists speculating on the evolution of the body, a person like Darwin is a mahājana. The scientists who are bewildered by Kṛṣṇa’s external energy have no relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, yet they are accepted by some as mahājanas. Similarly, philosophers, historians, literary men, public speakers and social and political leaders are sometimes accepted as mahājanas. Such mahājanas are respected by certain men who have been described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 2.3.19):
- śva-viḍ-varāhoṣṭra-kharaiḥ saṁstutaḥ puruṣaḥ paśuḥ
- na yat-karṇa-pathopeto jātu nāma gadāgrajaḥ
“Men who are like dogs, hogs, camels and asses praise those men who never listen to the transcendental pastimes of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the deliverer from evils.” Thus on the material platform animalistic leaders are worshiped by animals. Sometimes physicians, psychiatrists and social workers try to mitigate bodily pain, distress and fear, but they have no knowledge of spiritual identity and are bereft of a relationship with God. Yet they are considered mahājanas by the illusioned. Self-deceived persons sometimes accept leaders or spiritual masters from a priestly order that has been officially appointed by the codes of material life. In this way, they are deceived by official priests. Sometimes people accept as mahājanas those who have been designated by Śrīla Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura as ḍhaṅga-vipras (imposter brāhmaṇas). Such imposters imitate the characteristics of Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura, and they envy Haridāsa Ṭhākura, who was certainly a mahājana. They make great artificial endeavors, advertising themselves as great devotees of the Lord or as mystic hypnotists knowledgeable in witchcraft, hypnotism and miracles. Sometimes people accept as mahājanas demons like Pūtanā, Tṛṇāvarta, Vatsa, Baka, Aghāsura, Dhenuka, Kālīya and Pralamba. Some people accept imitators and adversaries of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, such as Pauṇḍraka, Śṛgāla Vāsudeva, the spiritual master of the demons (Śukrācārya), or atheists like Cārvāka, King Vena, Sugata and Arhat. People who accept such imitators as mahājanas have no faith in Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Rather, they accept godless cheaters who present themselves as incarnations of God and cheat foolish people within the material world by word jugglery. Thus many rascals are accepted as mahājanas.
It is those who are devoid of devotional service who sometimes mistakenly accept persons with mundane motives as mahājanas. The only motive must be kṛṣṇa-bhakti, devotional service to the Lord. Sometimes fruitive workers, dry philosophers, nondevotees, mystic yogīs and persons attached to material opulence, women and money are considered mahājanas. But Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 6.3.25) gives the following statement about such unauthorized mahājanas:
- prāyeṇa veda tad idaṁ na mahājano ‘yaṁ
- devyā vimohita-matir bata māyayālam
- trayyāṁ jaḍī-kṛta-matir madhu-puṣpitāyāṁ
- vaitānike mahati karmaṇi yujyamānaḥ
In this material world, karmīs (fruitive actors) are accepted as mahājanas by foolish people who do not know the value of devotional service. The mundane intelligence and mental speculative methods of such foolish people are under the control of the three modes of material nature. Consequently they cannot understand unalloyed devotional service. They are attracted by material activities, and they become worshipers of material nature. Thus they are known as fruitive actors. They even become entangled in material activities disguised as spiritual activities. In the Bhagavad-gītā such people are described as veda-vāda-ratāḥ, supposed followers of the Vedas. They do not understand the real purport of the Vedas, yet they think of themselves as Vedic authorities. People versed in Vedic knowledge must know Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyaḥ. (BG 15.15) In this material world a person may be famous as a karma-vīra, a successful fruitive worker, or he may be very successful in performing religious duties, or he may be known as a hero in mental speculation (jñāna-vīra), or he may be a very famous renunciant. In any case, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 3.23.56) gives the following opinion in this matter.
neha yat karma dharmāya na virāgāya kalpate na tīrtha-pada-sevāyai jīvann api mṛto hi saḥ “Anyone whose work is not meant for elevating him to religious life, anyone whose religious ritualistic performances do not raise him to renunciation, and anyone situated in renunciation that does not lead him to devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead must be considered dead, although he is breathing.” The conclusion is that all pious activity, fruitive activity, religious principles and renunciation must ultimately lead to devotional service. There are different types of processes for rendering service. One may serve his country, people and society, the varṇāśrama-dharma system, the sick, the poor, the rich, women, demigods and so on. All this service comes under the heading of sense gratification, or enjoyment in the material world. It is most unfortunate that people are more or less attracted by such material activity and that the leaders of these activities are accepted as mahājanas, great ideal leaders. Actually they are only misleaders, but an ordinary man cannot understand how he is being misled.
Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura says, sādhu-śāstra-guru-vākya, cittete kariyā aikya: “One should accept as one’s guide the words of the sādhus, the śāstra and the guru.” A sādhu is a great personality like Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the śāstras are the injunctions of revealed scriptures, and the guru, or spiritual master, is one who confirms the scriptural injunctions. Accepting the guidance of these three is the actual way of following the great personalities (mahājanas) for real advancement in life (mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ (CC Madhya 17.186)). A man covered by illusion cannot understand the proper way; therefore Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu says, dharma-sthāpana-hetu sādhura vyavahāra: “The behavior of a devotee is the criterion for all other behavior.” Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself followed the devotional principles and taught others to follow them. Purī-gosāñira ye ācaraṇa, sei dharma sāra. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu personally followed the behavior of Mādhavendra Purī and advised others to follow his principles. Unfortunately, people have been attracted to the material body since time immemorial.
yasyātma-buddhiḥ kuṇape tri-dhātuke sva-dhīḥ kalatrādiṣu bhauma ijya-dhīḥ yat-tīrtha-buddhiḥ salile na karhicij janeṣv abhijñeṣu sa eva go-kharaḥ “A human being who identifies this body made of three elements with his self, who considers the by-products of the body to be his kinsmen, who considers his land of birth worshipable, and who goes to a place of pilgrimage simply to take a bath rather than meet men of transcendental knowledge there is to be considered like an ass or a cow.” (SB 10.84.13) Those who accept the logic of gaḍḍālikā-pravāha and follow in the footsteps of pseudo mahājanas are carried away by the waves of māyā. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura therefore warns:
- miche māyāra vaśe, yāccha bhese’,
- khāccha hābuḍubu, bhāi
- jīva kṛṣṇa-dāsa, e viśvāsa,
- ka’rle ta’ āra duḥkha nāi
“Don’t be carried away by the waves of māyā. Just surrender to the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, and all miseries will end.” Those who follow social customs and behavior forget to follow the path chalked out by the mahājanas; thus they are offenders at the feet of the mahājanas. Sometimes they consider such mahājanas very conservative, or they create their own mahājanas. In this way they ignore the principles of the paramparā system. This is a great misfortune for everyone. If one does not follow in the footsteps of the real mahājanas, one’s plans for happiness will be frustrated. This is elaborately explained later in the Madhya-līlā (Chapter Twenty-five, verses 55, 56 and 58). It is there stated:
- parama kāraṇa īśvare keha nāhi māne
- sva-sva-mata sthāpe para-matera khaṇḍane
- (CC Madhya 25.55)
- tāte chaya darśana haite ‘tattva’ nāhi jāni
- ‘mahājana’ yei kahe, sei ‘satya’ māni
- (CC Madhya 25.56)
- śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya-vāṇī—amṛtera dhāra
- tiṅho ye kahaye vastu, sei ‘tattva’—sāra
- (CC Madhya 25.58)
People are so unfortunate that they do not accept the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Instead, they want to be supported by so-called mahājanas, or authorities. Tāte chaya darśana haite ‘tattva’ nāhi jāni: we cannot ascertain the real truth simply by following speculators. We have to follow the footsteps of the mahājanas in the disciplic succession. Then our attempt will be successful. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya-vāṇī—amṛtera dhāra: “Whatever is spoken by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is an incessant flow of nectar.” Whoever accepts His words as reality can understand the essence of the Absolute Truth.
No one can ascertain the Absolute Truth by following the philosophy of Sāṅkhya or the yoga system of Patañjali, for neither the followers of Sāṅkhya nor the yogīs who follow Patañjali accept Lord Viṣṇu as the Supreme Personality of Godhead (na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇum (SB 7.5.31)). The ambition of such people is never fulfilled; therefore they are attracted by the external energy. Although mental speculators may be renowned all over the world as great authorities, actually they are not. Such leaders are themselves conservative and not at all liberal. However, if we preach this philosophy, people will consider Vaiṣṇavas very sectarian. Śrīla Mādhavendra Purī was a real mahājana, but misguided people cannot distinguish the real from the unreal. But a person who is awakened to Kṛṣṇa consciousness can understand the real religious path chalked out by the Lord and His pure devotees. Śrī Mādhavendra Purī was a real mahājana because he understood the Absolute Truth properly and throughout his life behaved like a pure devotee. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu approved the method of Śrī Mādhavendra Purī. Therefore, although from the material viewpoint the Sanoḍiyā brāhmaṇa was on a lower platform, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu considered him situated on the highest platform of spiritual realization.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 6.3.20) states that there are twelve mahājanas: Brahmā, Nārada, Śambhu, the four Kumāras, Kapila, Manu, Prahlāda, Janaka, Bhīṣma, Bali, Śukadeva and Yamarāja.
To select our mahājanas in the Gauḍīya-sampradāya, we have to follow in the footsteps of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His representatives. His next representative is Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī, and the next representatives are the six Gosvāmīs—Śrī Rūpa, Śrī Sanātana, Bhaṭṭa Raghunātha, Śrī Jīva, Gopāla Bhaṭṭa and Dāsa Raghunātha. A follower of Viṣṇu Svāmī’s was Śrīdhara Svāmī, the most well known commentator on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He was also a mahājana. Similarly, Caṇḍīdāsa, Vidyāpati and Jayadeva were all mahājanas. One who tries to imitate the mahājanas just to become an imitative spiritual master is certainly far away from following in the footsteps of the mahājanas. Sometimes people cannot actually understand how a mahājana follows other mahājanas. In this way people commit offenses and fall from devotional service.