How to observe Ekādaśī
[The following is a compilation of the bhāva anuvāda of various discourses given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the Ekādaśī tithi, with a special focus on proper observance of Ekādaśī. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
EKĀDAŚĪ IS HARI-VĀSARA
Our purvācārya, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has stated that Ekādaśī is the mother of devotion and we should observe this day with utmost care.
mādhava-tithi, bhakti-jananī, jatane pālana kori,
kṛṣṇa-basoti, basoti boli’, parama ādare bori (2)
Śuddha-bhakata verse 2
Very carefully I observe Mādhava’s holy days [such as Ekādaśī and Janmāṣṭamī] for they are the mother of devotion. Because Śrī Kṛṣṇa dwells within the day of Ekādaśī, it is also known as Hari-vāsara. Hence, by honoring this tithi we can easily achieve Him.
THE ORIGIN OF EKĀDAŚĪ
Once, a demon named Murā wanted to kill the Lord, but despite his best efforts, he was unable to do so. However, one day, when Murā noticed that the Lord was taking rest (yoga-nidrā), he saw this as the most opportune moment to kill Him. As Murā approached the Lord, one of the Lord’s potencies appeared from His nose and killed Murā. Since this took place on the eleventh day of the fortnight, that potency of the Lord came to be known as Ekādaśī.
When the Lord awoke, He noticed that Murā was lying dead there while one personality stood nearby [with folded arms]. Upon inquiring about her identity, she submitted, “My Lord! I am Your potency and I appeared to serve You by slaying this demon Murā.” Pleased, the Lord bestowed the following benediction upon her - “You will be known as ‘Ekādaśī’ because you appeared on Ekādaśī tithi and whoever worships you on this day will attain the supreme destination.”
EKĀDAŚĪ – THE BEST SERVANT OF HARI
There are many types of servants. [Some are considered fallen and some are considered topmost]
There are many different kinds of adhama (fallen) sevakas; the śāstras mention six types.
alir bāṇo jyotiṣakaḥ
ṣaḍ ete sevakādhamāḥ
[There are six types of unsatisfactory sevakas. They are he who is fickle like a bee (ali); he who talks back, piercing his master like an arrow (bāṇa); the procrastinator (jyotiṣaka); the so-called sevaka who is lazy and inactive (stabdhībhūta); he who refuses to try to do anything on his own (kimekaka); and the so-called sevaka who passes the buck (preṣita-preṣaka).]
One of them is a bāṇa sevaka, who is likened to an arrow; meaning if gurudeva says, “Could I get a cup of water?” he will either respond in a way that hurts gurudeva or he will leave never to return. Because an arrow (bāṇa) has two specialties – it either pierces the target or once released, it cannot be withdrawn. So in the same way, the bāṇa sevaka, upon receiving gurudeva’s instruction, leaves and never returns to fulfil it or replies in such a way that hurts the heart of his gurudeva.
The kimekaka sevaka, upon being requested by gurudeva, “Could I get a cup of water?” immediately retorts saying, “There are so many sevakas around, why do you always order me and not others?”
When a preṣita-preṣaka sevaka is asked by gurudeva, he engages someone else to do that service.
A stabdhībhūtaḥ sevaka becomes confused, stunned or motionless whenever his gurudeva demands anything and therefore he does nothing.
An ali sevaka only follows gurudeva’s order when it becomes favourable to him. Not otherwise.
And finally there is the jyotiṣakaḥ sevaka who procrastinates when his gurudeva gives him an order.
[In this way there are different kinds of adhama sevakas.]
That sevaka who proactively serves by pre-empting what is required, is known as the topmost sevaka. Such a dedicated sevaka is ekātmā, one with the heart and desire of Śrī Guru, and he does everything to fulfil that desire. He doesn’t wait to act until instructed. He is just like Ekādaśī-devī, who promptly served the Lord [when the need arose] without being ordered and hence she is known as the best servant of Hari.
By the mercy of Ekādaśī, the bhakti residing in her heart gets transferred in the hearts of those who observe this Ekādaśī-vrata. That is why she is known as the mother of bhakti, mādhava-tithi, bhakti-jananī, jatane pālana kori.
UPAVĀSA – NOT JUST FASTING
Although it is one’s duty to perform upavāsa on Ekādaśī, upavāsa is not merely fasting from restricted foodstuffs like grains, beans, most vegetables except root crops and so on as the general understanding goes. Upa means proximity and vāsa means to reside, in other words, upavāsa means literally to reside in proximity to Bhagavān. The word upavāsa has appeared twice in Śrī Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, once for Ekādaśī and another time in the context of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī.
Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has defined upavāsa in Śrī Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (13-14) as follows:
yastu vāso guṇaiḥ saha
sarva bhoga vivarjitāḥ
[The word upavāsa or ‘fasting’ refers to staying aloof from all kinds of sinful activities and sense gratification while being in close proximity with a personality endowed with good qualities.]
One should not commit any sins on Ekādaśī. What does it mean? Sin means parasya utpīḍanam. Any act by body, mind or words that causes pain to any living entity is considered as sin. But how can we avoid this? One is bound to commit some kind of sin while residing in this world because whatever activities we perform, automatically translate into giving pain to one living entity or the other.
Just by placing a pot full of water onto the ground many living entities who get caught underneath are crushed; by igniting fire for cooking, many minute living entities are killed. Grinding spices also accounts as sin, as many living entities residing inside the spices die. Even as we walk, so many entities invisible to us die. So it is not possible to refrain completely from committing sins.
But there is one way. Only when we do everything for the Lord, no sin can touch us. For example when Hanumān burnt Śrī Laṅkā, so many living entities including brāhmaṇas, pregnant women and animals got consumed by the fire. Still no sin got attributed to him, instead he is worshipped all over the world as a great heroic devotee of Lord Rāma. This is because he did everything for the Lord without any personal motive.
On the other hand, even though the Lord Himself asked Indra to make a weapon out of Dadhīci Ṛṣi’s bones in order to kill Vṛtrāsura, still Indra got implicated in killing a brāhmaṇa [Vṛtrāsura appeared from a fire sacrifice and therefore he is classified as a brāhmaṇa] because Indra killed Vṛtrāsura for his own self-interest rather than for the service of the Lord.
In other words, don’t do anything for your own sense enjoyment. In this way, it does not matter if sins get committed inadvertently, you will not become implicated.
Especially, on the day of Ekādaśī, whatever activities you perform, do it for the pleasure of the Lord and His devotees, and not for your own pleasure.
ON EKĀDAŚĪ TAKE A VOW TO REMAIN SINLESS
On the eve of Ekādaśī, consciously take a vow that, “I will not commit any sin on Ekādaśī. I will engage all my senses in the service of the Lord and His devotees. Regardless of how I have conducted myself over the last fourteen days, I am now taking a firm vow that tomorrow I shall keep myself from all kinds of sins. And I will reside in proximity of that personality who possesses wonderful and special qualities.”
Staying away from sin is not enough; this verse also says “yastu vāso guṇaiḥ saha.” We should also reside with a personality possessing all good qualities. Where can one find such a personality?
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (5.18.12) states:
yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā
sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ
harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā
manorathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ
[All the devatās along with their superior qualities become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed bhakti to Śrī Bhagavān. On the other hand, a person who is devoid of bhakti and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. He is driven by his own mental speculations, and must submit to the Lord’s external potency. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?]
Yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā, only one who has akiñcanā bhakti in his heart has all good qualities. Akiñcanā bhakti means that he accepts only Bhagavān, and nothing else of this material world, as his wealth. He regards Bhagavān as his only wealth, maintainer, protector and all in all— a person who has this deep conviction in his heart is one who possesses all good qualities.
Lord Hari is the master of each and every thing. Harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā, thus for a person who is not completely dedicated to the lotus feet of the Lord, who does not possess Hari-bhakti, who is not completely surrendered, it does not matter how many material qualities he may seemingly possess, all of those qualities account for naught.
For example there may be one very charming and soft spoken housewife who is also expert at cooking, dressing, managing the household, nourishing all the family members and keeping the home very meticulous and beautiful, however she also maintains a relationship with somebody other than her husband. Though she may seem to be adorned with many noble qualities, because of this one major fault of being unchaste, all of her so-called noble qualities become null and void. [They are not considered as qualities.]
On the other hand, there is another housewife who is not so beautiful or soft spoken, who even uses harsh words sometimes, who does not cook so well or keep her house very clean but still she is fully dedicated to her husband. Because of this one outstanding quality of being very chaste, any shortcomings she may have are discounted.
In the same way, it is only possible for a person to possess good qualities when he is fully chaste to the Lord. If a person is not chaste to Bhagavān, it does not matter how many material good qualities he may be adorned with, in reality, he has no good qualities.
On Ekādaśī, one should resolve, “I will associate with pure devotees from whom this mood can come into my heart.” Then it is considered that one is performing Ekādaśī.
WITHOUT SĀDHU-SAṄGA ONE CAN’T BECOME SINLESS
The dacoit Ratnākara sustained himself by looting and killing, but later by the association of Nārada Muni he gave up all his sinful ways and transformed into the celebrated Vālmikī Ṛṣi. Mṛgāri, the hunter, used to mercilessly shoot animals in such a way that they were half-dead and derive great pleasure seeing them suffer as they approached an excruciatingly painful end. It is mentioned in the kīrtana, Āmāra Jīvana,composed by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura - nija-sukha lāgi’, pāpe nāhi ḍôri - for the sake of my own pleasure I am not afraid to commit any sin, just like Mṛgāri. But by the association of Nārada Muni, even Mṛgāri became transformed and gave up killing altogether. So only by getting the association of a sādhu we come to understand the real meaning of fasting.
This is why Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī says in Śrī Manaḥ-śikṣā (2),
nadharmaṁ nādharmaṁ śruti-gaṇa-niruktaṁ kila kuru
vraje rādhā-kṛṣṇa-pracura-paricaryām iha tanu
śacī-sūnuṁ nandīśvara-pati-sutatve guru-varaṁ
mukunda-preṣṭhatve smara param ajasraṁ nanu manaḥ
[O mind, please do not perform dharma (resulting in piety) or adharma (resulting in sin) as mentioned in the Śrutis, or Vedas. Rather, you should render profuse loving service to Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa here in Vraja. Always remember Śrī Śacī-nandana as non-different from Śrī Nandanandana and śrī gurudeva as most dear to Śrī Mukunda.]
“O Mind, don’t perform sinful activities and at the same time, don’t do anything which comes under the category of pious activities. You must give up both, because in reality, both come under the category of sin. Pious and impious activities alike are designed to make us wander around this fourteen planetary system. It is possible to circumvent all sin only by serving the lotus feet of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.” Only by serving the Lord and His devotees we will be able to separate ourselves from committing sins, not otherwise.
So, on the day of Ekādaśī, one must avoid committing sins and that is only possible by performing bhakti. Take a pledge: “Today, I will not commit any kind of sin and I will engage all of my senses in the service of the Lord and His devotees.”
If, on the day of Ekādaśī, one takes this vow and earnestly tries to renounce all activities of sense enjoyment, and acts for the pleasure of the Lord, only then it is considered that he is honoring Ekādaśī. To do this one must associate with those devotees who are capable of transferring this mood into the heart. By staying close to the advanced devotees and hearing Hari-kathā from them, and maintaining our life by following their instructions, we can even conquer the unconquerable Lord.
jñāne prayāsam udapāsya nāmantaeva
jīvanti san-mukharitāṁ bhavadīya-vārtām
sthāne sthitāḥ śruti-gatāṁ tanu-vāṅ-manobhir
ye prāyaśo ’jita jito ’py asi tais tri-lokyām
[Śrī Brahmā is saying to Śrī Kṛṣṇa: ‘The sādhana to obtain an object that is beyond the senses, with the help of knowledge obtained by the senses, is called āroha-vāda (the futile and laborious ascending process) or aśrauta-pantha (the path devoid of aural reception of the Vedic principles). However, those who do not make any endeavor for jñāna, and who instead maintain their lives by exclusively rendering service to the descriptions of Your pastimes flowing from the mouths of the sādhus, by body, mind, and words, are able to conquer You. Despite their not making any other endeavor, and despite Your being unconquerable, such persons control You by their prema.’]
Devotees are endowed will all great qualities but from where do they get all these qualities? From the Lord who is guṇamayī, the possessor of all qualities.
HOW CAN WE ASSOCIATE WITH THE LORD?
How can we associate with Bhagavān when He is in the transcendental plane and we are here in this material world?
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya līlā 17.129) states:
‘nāma’, ‘vigraha’, ‘svarūpa’—tinaeka-rūpa
tine ‘bheda’ nāhi,—tina ‘cid-ānanda-rūpa’
[“The Lord’s holy name, His form and His personality are all one and the same. There is no difference between them. Since all of them are absolute, they are all transcendentally blissful.]
We can stay close to Bhagavān by being close to His vigraha or by chanting His names.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has ordered us to do kīrtana on the day of Ekādaśī. What type of kīrtana should we do? There are many types of kīrtana- nāma-kīrtana, rūpa-kīrtana, guṇa-kīrtana, dhāma-kīrtana, līlā-kīrtana, parikara-kīrtana, and so on. Caitanya Mahāprabhu is telling us to do nāma-kīrtana because nāma-kīrtana is the topmost and will easily bring us close to Kṛṣṇa.
tan-nāma-saṅkīrtanam eva mukhyam
tat-prema-sampaj-janane svayaṁ drāk
śaktaṁ tataḥ śreṣṭhatamaṁ mataṁ tat
(Śrī Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta 2.3.158)
[Of the many ways to glorify Śrī Kṛṣṇa, congregational chanting of His holy name is the topmost. Because it has the power to instantly award the ultimate treasure of pure love for Him, it is considered the best.]
The second verse of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s Śikṣāṣṭakam (2) says,
nāmnām akāri bahudhā nija-sarva-śaktis
tatrārpitā niyamitaḥ smaraṇe nakālaḥ
etā dṛśī tava kṛpā bhagavan mamāpi
durdaivam īdṛśam ihājani nānurāgaḥ
[You have manifested all of Your potency in Your innumerable holy names. There are no restrictions on when they may be remembered. O Bhagavān, You are so merciful, but I am so unfortunate that spontaneous attachment (anurāga) for Your holy names has not arisen within My heart.]
The Lord is so merciful that He has ruled out all restrictions for chanting His holy names; regardless of time and place, day or night, in a pure or impure state; it does not matter whether one is lying, sleeping, walking or sitting, in whatever way one desires to chant, one can chant the names of the Lord. That is why nāma-saṅkīrtana is considered the topmost form of kīrtana.
The Lord is so merciful yet, we fail to develop a taste for chanting due to our sinful activities and tendency to commit offences. In this way we miss our golden opportunity for the greatest auspiciousness.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself adhered to the process He wanted us to follow; He showed us by His own example what we should do on Ekādaśī.
śrī hari-vāsare hari-kīrtana-vidhāna
nṛtya ārambhilā prabhu jagatera prāṇa
(Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya Khaṇḍa 8.138)
[On the day of Ekadaśī Mahāprabhu, who is the life and soul of all beings, decreed that everyone should gather for kīrtana. Hearing the sound of His own name, He began to dance in ecstasy.]
punyavanta śrīvāsa-aṅgane śubhārambha
uṭhilo kīrtana-dhvani ‘gopāla’ ‘govinda’
(Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya Khaṇḍa 8.139)
[In Śrīvāsa-aṅgana, Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s divine courtyard, He inaugurated the auspicious reverberations of the kīrtana in a booming voice: ‘Gopāla! Govinda!’ The prescribed duty is do harināma.]
Because nāma and nāmī are non-different, by performing nāma-saṅkīrtana automatically Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, qualities and pastimes will be present there.
So on the day of Ekādaśī, instead of focussing on fasting we should focus on being close to sādhus and engaging in devotional service; hearing hari-kathā from them and performing nāma-saṅkīrtana.
DO WHATEVER IS FAVOURABLE TO PERFORM HARI-KĪRTANA
The focus on Ekādaśī should be to do as much hari-kīrtana as possible. So accept vows accordingly. If there is any hindrance posed by the body, such as the need for water, then you should drink water. If water is not sufficient then you can drink milk, and if that is not sufficient then you can eat fruits or non-restricted foods such as root crops, buckwheat, milk products, etc. Also if any medicine is needed you should take it. Despite all this, if your body is still not supporting, then inquire with gurudeva what you must do to be able to perform hari-kīrtana. And if gurudeva is not there, then ask the Vaiṣṇavas who are available. That is why these provisions are given in the scriptures.