Most of the inhabitants of Benares were and are impersonalists, worshipers of Lord Siva and followers of the pancopasana method
"Due to my past deeds, I am residing at Vārāṇasī, but here I do not hear anything but the words "māyā" and "Brahman.""
The word prārabdhe ("past deeds") is important in this verse. Since Candraśekhara was a devotee, he was always eager to hear about Kṛṣṇa and His transcendental pastimes. Most of the inhabitants of Benares were and are impersonalists, worshipers of Lord Śiva and followers of the pañcopāsanā method. The impersonalists imagine some form of the impersonal Brahman, and to facilitate meditation they concentrate upon the forms of Viṣṇu, Śiva, Gaṇeśa, Sūrya and goddess Durgā. Actually these pañcopāsakas are not devotees of anyone. As it is said, to be a servant of everyone is to be a servant of no one. Vārāṇasī, or Kāśī, is the chief holy place of pilgrimage for impersonalists, and it is not at all suitable for devotees. A Vaiṣṇava likes to live in a viṣṇu-tīrtha, a place where Lord Viṣṇu's temples are present. In Vārāṇasī there are many hundreds and thousands of Lord Śiva's temples, or pañcopāsaka temples. Consequently Candraśekhara expressed great unhappiness as he informed Lord Caitanya that he was obliged to live at Benares due to his past misdeeds. As said in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, durjāty-ārambhakaṁ pāpaṁ yat syāt prārabdham eva tat: “According to one's past misdeeds, one takes birth on a lower platform.” But in the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.54) it is said, karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājām: "There is no karma attached to the past deeds or misdeeds of one in devotional service." A devotee is not subjected to karma-phala, the effect of fruitive activity. Karma-phala is applicable to karmīs, not bhaktas.
There are three kinds of devotees: those who are eternally on the transcendental platform (nitya-siddha), those who have been elevated to the transcendental platform by the execution of devotional service (sādhana-siddha), and those who are neophytes advancing toward the perfectional platform (sādhaka). The sādhakas are gradually becoming free from fruitive reaction. The Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.17) describes the symptoms of bhakti-yoga thus:
- kleśa-ghnī śubha-dā mokṣa-laghutā-kṛt su-durlabhā
- sāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī ca sā
Devotional service is kleśa-ghnī even for beginners. This means that it reduces or nullifies all kinds of suffering. The word śubha-dā indicates that devotional service bestows all good fortune, and the word kṛṣṇa-ākarṣiṇī indicates that devotional service gradually attracts Kṛṣṇa toward the devotee. Consequently a devotee is not subject to any sinful reaction. In the Bhagavad-gītā (18.66) Kṛṣṇa says:
- sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
- ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear."
Thus a fully surrendered, sincere devotee immediately receives relief from all kinds of sinful reactions. There are three stages of fructification for sinful activity. At one stage, one commits the sinful act, before that the seed of this act exists, and before that there is ignorance whereby one commits the sin. Suffering is involved in all three stages. However, Kṛṣṇa is merciful to His devotee, and consequently He immediately nullifies all three stages—the sin, the seed of sin and the ignorance that leads one to sin. The Padma Purāṇa confirms this:
- aprārabdha-phalaṁ pāpaṁ kūṭaṁ bījaṁ phalonmukham
- krameṇaiva pralīyeta viṣṇu-bhakti-ratātmanām
For a further explanation of this topic, The Nectar of Devotion should be consulted.