(Click to enlarge the front page of Srila Prabhupada's Back to Godhead, Vol. 3, Part 2, 1956)
The Sanskrit word 'Sadhu' is translated into English by the word 'mendicant' and very rarely with another word 'Sage'. But 'Sadhu' is differently meant in the revealed scriptures like Srimad Bhagwat Geeta or Srimad Bhagbatam. In the ‘Bhagwat Geeta’ the qualification of a 'Sadhu' is based on one’s faithfulness in the transcendental service of the Personality of Godhead. One who is firmly fixed up in the devotional service and nothing more—is called a 'Sadhu' and Mahatma in terms of Bhagwat Geeta. Even if a man is apt to some vicious habits which a 'Sadhu' must not have as part of his personal qualification, is accepted also as a 'Sadhu' for the only qualification of his staunch faithfulness in the service of the Personality of Godhead. The sloka in this connection mentioned in the Bhagwat Geeta runs as follows:—
api cet su-duracaro
bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah
Api, Chet, Sudurachara, Bhajate, Mam, Ananyabhak, Sadhu, Eba, Sa, Mantavya, Samyak, Byabasita, Hi, Sa.
Api=Though, Chet=Even, Sudarachara=Accustomed to vicious acts, Bhajate=Does render service, Mam=unto Me, Ananyabhak= Unflinchingly, Sadhu=A devotee, Eba=Must, Sa=He, Mantabhya=Be concluded, Samayak=Perfectly, Byabasita=Well settled, Hi=Certainly, Sa=He.
Even though a person is accustomed to vicious habits, he must be concluded a devotee sage, for his only qualification of unflinching faithfulness in the service of the Lord-because in that way he is well-settled.
The prime qualifications of a devotee Sadhu are mentioned in the Chaitanya Charitamrita. It is said there that a 'Sadhu' has innumerable good qualifications but primarily a 'Sadhu' is always found to have possessed the following signs of goodness. He is (1) kind, (2) tolerant, (3) truthful, (4) equal, (5) stainless, (6) liberal, (7) mild, (8) clean, (9) meek, (10) altruist, (11) peaceful, (12) self-surrendered to Krishna, (13) satisfied, (14) humble, (15) fixed up (16) self-restrained, (17) frugal, (18) sagacious, (19) respectful (20) simple, (21) grave, (22) compassionate, (23) friendly, (24) poetic, (25) expert and (26) silent.
Bhagwat Geeta has not nullified all the above mentioned primary twenty six qualifications of a 'Sadhu' by the statement—'even if a man is accustomed to vicious habits.' The idea is explained in the following sloka in which it is said that such well-settled devotee shall soon be well-qualified with all the pious qualifications of a 'Sadhu'. But because one has become faithfully fixed up in the service of the Lord—the seed of all godly qualifications is sowed therein and the resultant fructification will come in vogue, without delay. And therefore the primary qualification of a 'Sadhu' is that he must be an unflinching devotee of the Lord.
A conditioned soul is actuated by twofold activities. The one is acted in relation to his material connection and the other is acted in relation to his spiritual identity. So far his relation with the material body is concerned he has to observe so many things and conventions in the matter of maintaining the body and soul together observing social customs and all other paraphernalias in respect of his material body and mind. But the relation of his spiritual identity is different from his material relation and this spiritual identity is exhibited by one’s staunch faithfulness in the transcendental service of the Lord. That is one’s pure consciousness of devotional service. And in conditioned stage i.e., so long this material body and mind has to be sustained—one is surely to keep relations bothwise i.e., materially and spiritually. Even though one is highly spiritually elevated, he has to pull on the bodily relations and this bodily relation or material need is diminished in the proportion of one’s advancement and progress in the spiritual realm. Because a person is spiritually inclined—he cannot have unnecessary material hankering-just like a man fully fed cannot have any further hunger. The material hankerings do completely stop at the highest stage of spiritual perfection. India’s civilization was based on this principle. Because they were spiritually advanced they demanded the utmost material necessities of life. Less material advancement in the past was not due to lack of material knowledge but they did not like to bother in unnecessary paraphernalia.
But in the interim period i.e., transition stage of spiritual advancement from materialism, it may sometimes occur that a spiritualist, is suddenly materially miscarried due to his past material vicious habits. We should not be disturbed by such occasional signs provided one has not diverted from the service of the Lord. Fixed up faith in the service of the Lord, will put a diverted devotee again on the right path and the devotee will make undisturbing progress. The devotional path is so assured.
The word 'Sudurachara' or vicious acts include all actions of the lowest quality such as killing, stealing, kidnapping etc. and in spite of all these, the staunch devotee will be saved by his only qualification of unflinching faith, in the service of the Lord. But it should be noted here that these disquieting habits are exhibited in a Sadhu very rarely. On the contrary such disturbing habits of a Sadhu disappear in no time for his being fixed up in the devotional service. The idea is that spiritual fervour of service to the Lord, is just like a kindled fire. It is so strong and pure that all impurities of a neophyte beginner vanquish in no time and he becomes qualified with all the good qualities of 'Sadhu' as above mentioned. The conclusion is therefore that a 'Sadhu' and a pure devotee of the Personality of Godhead are identical.
Such a 'Sadhu' is primarily forbearing, kindhearted, friendly to one and all, without any enemy and peaceful at the basis.
A 'Sadhu' has to be recognized by the ear and not by the eyes. Chemical-Sadhu, magician-Sadhu, astrologer-Sadhu, smoker-Sadhu, beggar-Sadhu, mystic-Sadhu, worker-Sadhu, nurse-Sadhu, physician-Sadhu, politician-Sadhu and many other types of Sadhus which are generally met with by persons who do not hear the Sadhu and sees them only,—are not 'Sadhus' in terms of the revealed scriptures. They are called 'Veshopajibi' or one who profanes the dignity of Sadhu. Shreepad Sankaracharya predicted that for the matter of solving the problem of bread many unscrupulous persons will take to the red garments.
Clever materialists go to the so-called 'Sadhus' for getting information of manufacturing gold out of copper, for cure of some disease, for becoming victorious in one’s notorious acts, for astrological directions, for learning the art of smoking Ganja and many more things. When they are baffled and cheated by such so-called Sadhus, they become a Sadhu-hater and make counter propaganda against the Sadhus. Because these materialists do not know what sort of 'Sadhu' they should approach, most of them are cheated by the above mentioned different groups of Sadhus.
A Sadhu’s main business is to rouse up the potent divine consciousness of human being. The householders are generally very poor in their vision of life. People in general do understand that civilization means a polished way of animal life. The animals eat what is fixed up by nature as its eatable but a civilized man eats not only what is fixed up by nature for him but also many other things which are outside the purview of his eatables. In other words a civilized person mishandles the problem of eating etc. and yet he calls himself something more than the animal. This is a disease of the civilized man. Not only in this but also in other affairs also, the narrow-minded householder encumbers his precious life in many other ways and therefore a Sadhu’s business is, because he is kind to all, to awaken him to his rightful position. A Sadhu sometimes accepts the position of a mendicant because in that dress he can easily introduce himself to the householders. Formerly the people would respectfully receive a mendicant and a Sadhu because they knew that they would be benefitted by the association of such qualified Sadhu. And the Sadhu also being kind to all would disseminate the knowledge transcendental to all the householders. And for the bare necessities of life, they would certainly beg.
The typical Sadhu was Lord Chaitanya. Once upon a time while He was passing on His way back from Brindaban, He fell unconscious in His mode of transcendental ecstasy. His associates were attending Him and chanting the holy name of God. At that time some soldiers of the Moghul Emperor were passing through the place and they arrested the associates of the Lord thinking that they might have poisoned the Sadhu to rob off his belongings. The associates argued that the matter was different and all of them waited till the Lord got His consciousness. When the Lord came to his senses He was asked by the soldiers if He had lost anything of his personal purse or possession. The Lord replied that He was a mendicant beggar. He had nothing to lose because He did not possess anything except His loin cloth.
But nowadays the so-called Sadhus do possess more than a householder can do. Some of them do possess enormous landed property and do money lending business also. People flock to these 'Veshapojitbi' Sadhu captivated by his opulence and such Sadhus cheat the public by some magical feats, as chemical Sadhu, physician Sadhu, astrologer Sadhu and so on. I know personally a Sadhu who used to show magic to villagers by two chemical solutions of acid and alkali to make a show how his 'Charnamitra' immediately acts. All these are not Sadhus.
The Sadhu is a pure devotee of the Lord and he may not be a mendicant by dress. He knows the Supreme Truth scientifically. And he disseminates this transcendental knowledge to all out of his causeless mercy upon them. People must patiently hear what a Sadhu speaks about God and not see him outwardly. One who is faithless in the Person of God cannot be a Sadhu.
mahatmanas tu mam partha
daivim prakrtim asritah
jnatva bhutadim avyayam