The order-carriers of Yamarāja, the Yamadūtas, are explaining the factual position of piety and impiety and how a living entity is entangled in this material world. Describing the history of Ajāmila, the Yamadūtas relate that in the beginning he was a learned scholar of the Vedic literature. He was well behaved, neat and clean, and very kind to everyone. In fact, he had all good qualities. In other words, he was a perfect brāhmaṇa. A brāhmaṇa is expected to be perfectly pious, to follow all the regulative principles, and to have all good qualities. The symptoms of piety are explained in these verses.
Apparently Ajāmila followed the rules and regulations of celibacy as a perfect brahmacārī and was very softhearted, truthful, clean, and pure. How he fell down in spite of all these qualities and thus came to be threatened with punishment by Yamarāja is described here.
Because Ajāmila was born into a brāhmaṇa family, he was naturally śruta-sampanna. Śruta means that by hearing the Vedas, Ajāmila was rich in Vedic knowledge. In India brāhmaṇas are called paṇḍitas, "learned men." A brāhmaṇa cannot be a fool and a rascal. Therefore one who has no knowledge of the Vedas cannot be a brāhmaṇa. Simply reading the Vedas from a scholastic viewpoint is useless. One must practically apply the knowledge of the Vedas. Armchair Vedāntists smoke cigarettes while reading Vedānta, but that kind of study is useless. We have seen many so-called sannyāsīs talking on Vedānta, smoking all the while. Ajāmila was not that type. He was a scholar of Vedic literature, and he was very well behaved. A brāhmaṇa must study the Vedas under the guidance of a spiritual master, and after the purificatory process of upanāyana-saṁskāra, he becomes dvija, or twice-born. At that time the sacred thread is offered to such a person. This is the sign by which we can understand a person has formally accepted a spiritual master. It is a kind of badge.
One who is not twice-born is unqualified to understand the Vedas. It is not that just because one happens to know a little Sanskrit he becomes expert in Vedic knowledge. Many foreign scholars have translated the Vedas, but we do not accept their translations as bona fide, because a student of the Vedas must be dvija. When a person has become truthful, able to control his mind and senses, clean, simple and tolerant, full of knowledge, and able to practically apply knowledge in life, and when he has full faith in God, Kṛṣṇa, he is dvija. Such a person can be said to have become a duly qualified brāhmaṇa, and he is able to study and understand the Vedas.
Ajāmila was not only born in a brāhmaṇa family, but he was qualified in Vedic knowledge. In his youth he studied the Vedas completely. He was śīlavān, "very gentle." He also practiced sad-ācāra, which means he observed the habit of keeping clean and rising early in the morning to attend Vedic temple ceremonies, such as maṅgala-ārati. He was a reservoir of good qualities. We too can practice sad-ācāra if we perform devotional service regularly, including daily attendance at maṅgala-ārati and chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra on beads. These practices will gradually cleanse us of material contamination.
Upon accepting initiation from the spiritual master, one takes a vow to perform these spiritual activities daily. Even the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, who were liberated personalities, regularly chanted the mahā-mantra many times daily, and they never failed to offer their obeisances to the Deity and the devotees. Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī would offer obeisances flat on the ground (daṇḍavats) many times daily. These activities indicate that the Gosvāmīs were dhṛta-vrata, accustomed to taking vows with great determination and carrying them out. Without practicing austerity and penance with firm determination, we cannot approach God. One who is serious about making spiritual advancement has to accept all these regulative principles.
Ajāmila possessed all brahminical qualifications, and he knew all the necessary mantras, such as the Gāyatrī mantra and the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. Also, he was always rendering service to his guru. That is the first qualification of a brāhmaṇa. In Vedic times, every high-caste family performed a fire sacrifice in the morning after taking a bath and chanting Vedic mantras. Agni (the sacrificial fire) was continually lit. They offered oblations to the fire, to the guru, and then to all the adult members of the family. Thus they daily offered respect to their father and mother and to the spiritual master. Nowadays this is not done, but in the Vedic system this was the first business of the day.
A good example of this practice of respecting elders is Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja, the great saintly Pāṇḍava king. After the battle of Kurukṣetra, Yudhiṣṭhira and his four brothers would go every day to offer their respects to their paternal uncle, Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Dhṛtarāṣṭra had contrived many plots to destroy the Pāṇḍavas, finally declaring war on them, but the result was that every one of his hundred sons died. Even after he lost the war, he still refused to welcome his nephews, the sons of his brother Pāṇḍu. This was a great insult to King Yudhiṣṭhira. One day Dhṛtarāṣṭra's younger brother, Vidura, a great Vaiṣṇava, went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and said, "My dear brother, you are so shameless that first you declare war against the Pāṇḍavas, and now that you are an old man, still you do not receive King Yudhiṣṭhira as your guest, yet you live in his house at his expense. Are you so shameless, my dear brother?" Vidura spoke in this way just to help Dhṛtarāṣṭra break his attachment to family life. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was an old man, and all his sons were dead, but still he sat in his household arrangement, eating nicely prepared food. From this we can understand that family attachment is very strong. Vidura chastised Dhṛtarāṣṭra: "You are coughing up mucus because you are very old, and your liver is weak. You will die very soon, yet you are still sitting in your comfortable chair, just like a dog. Have you no more shame than a dog, which always sits waiting for his master to feed him?"
Upon hearing Vidura's harsh words, Dhṛtarāṣṭra's hard heart softened, and he replied,"Yes! My dear brother Vidura, please let me know what I should do."
Vidura said, "Come with me immediately to the forest. For the remaining days of your life, just engage yourself in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Come with me." So without telling anyone, Dhṛtarāṣṭra left with Vidura, and Gāndhārī, Dhṛtarāṣṭra's faithful wife, followed. Together they went to the forest to finish their life in meditation on the Lord.
When King Yudhiṣṭhira came to offer his obeisances in the morning and saw that his uncles were not there, he became anxious, considering that Dhṛtarāṣṭra was an old man. At that time the great sage Nārada Muni appeared and informed him, "Do not worry. Dhṛtarāṣṭra and his wife, Gāndhārī, have been brought to the forest by your uncle Vidura."
This story from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam illustrates the system of offering respects to the elderly members of the family. After the morning's duties are performed, next one must go and offer obeisances to the spiritual master and the elderly persons in the family. One must also offer respects to a guest. Usually we know when a certain guest is coming to our home and can make preparations beforehand, but sometimes it happens that someone comes unexpectedly, and he too must be received with respect. And when it comes to eating, the head of the family should feed the older members first, then his children and other members of the family. He will eat last, and before he eats his food he should stand in the road and call out, "If anyone is hungry, please come. I still have not taken my food, and you are welcome!" Some remnants of food should be kept at home in anticipation of unexpected guests. The Vedic principle is that when someone comes and begs, "Sir, I am hungry," a man must give the hungry guest his own food even if he himself remains hungry. That is real gṛhastha-āśrama. I have seen that a young man will not smoke in the presence of an old man without permission, even if they are strangers. So a young man will show consideration even to an older stranger, what to speak of his father or elder brother. In Vedic society, any older man is offered respect. These principles are not hard and fast, but this is Vedic custom.
Thus Ajāmila was trained in his youth to offer respect to the spiritual master and his elders. This is one of the symptoms of sad-ācāra. Gentleness is another symptom. In other words, he was friendly to all living beings. A real brāhmaṇa is the friend of everyone, even an ant.
In this regard there is a story about Nārada Muni and a hunter. Once Nārada Muni was passing through a forest near Prayag and saw that many animals were lying half-dead. Feeling compassion for the suffering creatures, he cried out, "Who is the culprit who is killing these animals, leaving them to die in this way?"
The barbaric hunter Mṛgāri answered, "Dear sage, please let me do my business. If you have come here to beg for a deerskin, I shall give it to you."
But Nārada said, "I haven't come to beg anything from you, but to ask why you are only half-killing these animals. It is a great sin. It is better that you kill them outright."
Mṛgāri replied, "My father taught me to kill them like this. I did not know it is sinful."
Nārada said, "Yes, it is very sinful. You will have to suffer very much for it."
The hunter became thoughtful and asked, "What should I do?"
Nārada Muni advised him, "Give up this nonsense business."
Mṛgāri protested, "Then how shall I eat?"
But Nārada Muni said, "I shall provide you with food."
The hunter agreed, "All right, if you give me food, I can give up this business."
Nārada Muni then requested Mṛgāri to sit down on the bank of the Ganges and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa before a sacred tulasī plant. Nārada Muni went to the nearby village and announced that a pure Vaiṣṇava was now chanting nearby on the bank of the Ganges. Upon seeing Mṛgāri sitting and chanting peacefully, the village people said to one another, "He has given up his hunting business and is chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa." They began coming regularly to the bank of the Ganges to visit Mṛgāri. Someone brought rice, someone brought dāl, and someone else brought fruit. The food began to pile up.
The hunter Mṛgāri wondered, "Why is Nārada Muni sending me so much food? I have only myself and my wife to maintain." Thus he began distributing the food. Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and distributing prasādam daily, he became a perfect Vaiṣṇava. (This is the system introduced in this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement—chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra and distributing prasādam. In every temple of Kṛṣṇa we do this.)
After some time, Nārada Muni called upon his friend Pārvata Muni and said, "I have a very nice disciple who was a hunter. Let us go and see how he is doing." Pārvata Muni agreed. When the two sages approached Mṛgāri's house, they saw that he was jumping this way and that. Upon seeing Nārada Muni, he prepared to offer obeisances at his feet, but before he did so he took the edge of his dhotī and gently brushed away the ants crawling on the ground so as not to crush them. He had been jumping because he was trying to avoid stepping on the ants. This was the very man who a short time before had been tormenting all kinds of animals, yet now he was not prepared to kill even an ant. That is the nature of a Vaiṣṇava.
So, Ajāmila had this quality of gentleness, which is prominent in brāhmaṇas. Also, despite all his training, Ajāmila was not proud. He was free of ahaṅkāra, or false ego. The very word ahaṅkāra means "I am doing this, I am doing that, and therefore I have become so big." Ajāmila was free of this attitude. Nor was he envious. In these degraded times, everyone is envious of one or more persons. But brāhmaṇas like Ajāmila are free of this propensity. Only when one has acquired these brahminical qualities and is accustomed to brahminical habits can one expect to be liberated from material bondage.
Ruined by Sex Attraction
Unfortunately, as related in these verses, Ajāmila lost his brahminical status. Once, as a young man, Ajāmila went to collect flowers and other articles for Deity worship. His father ordered him, "Bring all these things from the forest." While coming back, Ajāmila came upon a fourth-class man and a prostitute, who are vividly described here. Drunkenness was sometimes manifest even in bygone ages, although not very frequently. In the present Age of Kali, however, such sin is to be seen everywhere, for people all over the world have become shameless. Long ago, when Ajāmila saw the scene of the drunken śūdra and the prostitute, he was affected, although up until then he had been a perfect brahmacārī. Nowadays promiscuity is visible in so many places, and we must consider the position of a brahmacārī student who sees such behavior. For such a brahmacārī to remain steady is very difficult unless he is extremely strong in following the regulative principles. Nevertheless, one who takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness very seriously can withstand the provocation of sin.
In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement we prohibit illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. In Kali-yuga, a drunken, half-naked woman embracing a drunken man is a very common sight, especially in the Western countries, and restraining oneself after seeing such things is very difficult. Nevertheless, if by the grace of Kṛṣṇa a man adheres to the regulative principles and chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, Kṛṣṇa will certainly protect him. Indeed, Kṛṣṇa says that His devotee is never vanquished (kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati [Bg. 9.31]). Therefore all the disciples practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness should obediently follow the regulative principles and remain fixed in chanting the holy name of the Lord. Then there need be no fear. Otherwise one's position is very dangerous.
Ajāmila had vowed to follow the regulative principles of spiritual life. But as we see, even when one is highly qualified there is the chance of a fall. Seeing the low-class couple engaged in public sex proved to be his downfall. Everyone knows that a husband and wife have sexual intercourse, but this should be done privately. Sex in public is animalistic. Similarly, sex with many partners is illicit. Nowadays illicit sex is common throughout the world, especially in the Western countries. A young girl thinks, "I will find a suitable man, attract him, and have sex, but I won't marry him right away. I will test this man, then that man. When I have found the one who makes me happy, then I will marry." This is the mentality of a prostitute. And similarly, the young boys are hunting for many sex partners. These are commonplace activities in Western countries, where the boys and girls receive no spiritual training.
In such a cat-and-dog society, there can be no peace. All the leaders talk about peace, and they meet in peace conferences, but there can be no peace from conferring and passing resolutions. There cannot be peace unless the whole social structure is reformed, and that can be done only by Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Kṛṣṇa consciousness is cultivated by good association, just as a degraded mentality is a result of bad association. As Lord Ṛṣabhadeva says in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.2), mahat-sevāṁ dvāram āhur vimuktes tamo-dvāraṁ yoṣitāṁ saṅgi-saṅgam: "If we want to open the door to liberation, we should engage ourselves in the service of the mahātmās, the pure devotees, but if we want to open the door to hellish life, then we can associate with those who are very attached to women." The lusty people of today's so-called civilized society do not care for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They do not care for their elderly family members. They indulge in sex in the street, on the beach, in the cinema. Sex is advertised constantly to attract the attention of the people. In this way materialistic atheists add fuel to the fire of lust, and people are going to hell.
So, Ajāmila became degraded by seeing a low-class couple embracing. Because both the śūdra and the prostitute were drunk, their eyes were rolling, and the prostitute's clothes were loose. Nowadays it has become fashionable to wear revealing clothing, but this practice is abominable. It simply makes the body more attractive for sex indulgence. It is said that if one's body is smeared with turmeric, it increases the lusty desires of the opposite sex. The word kāma-liptena indicates that the śūdra was decorated with turmeric smeared on his body. Because the śūdra and the prostitute were rascals, they were not ashamed. They exhibited themselves freely, not caring for public criticism. They were laughing, smiling, singing, and embracing, and the young Ajāmila saw everything when he passed by on the road.
In modern times sexual affairs of this kind are regularly shown in the cinema, and thus it is not hard to guess what kind of character is forming in the young men and women of today. By seeing these activities only once, Ajāmila fell down. In this way Ajāmila's spiritual education and training were finished. He was stunned and bewildered. When Cupid attacks, all one's education, culture, and knowledge are lost. Therefore one has to avoid this free-mixing, lusty society. Cāṇakya Paṇḍita advises, "Always avoid associating with persons too attached to sense gratification. Rather, associate with those who are engaged in the devotional activities of spiritual life." For this reason boys are sent to the gurukula, the house of the bona fide spiritual master, who trains them in spiritual life from the age of five.
Unless one is very strong in knowledge, patience, and proper bodily, mental, and intellectual behavior, controlling one's lusty desires is extremely difficult. Thus after seeing a man embracing a young woman and practically doing everything required for sex, even a fully qualified brāhmaṇa, as described above, could not control his lusty desires and restrain himself from pursuing them. Because of the force of materialistic life, to maintain self-control is extremely difficult unless one is specifically under the protection of the Supreme Personality of Godhead through devotional service.