A HUMBLE APOLOGY!
By Gauranga Darshan Das
“Mistakes are common! What matters more than a formal apology is
an honest repentance and an attempt to avoid repetition.”
To Err Is Human
Everyone is prone to make mistakes. While some people commit small mistakes, some do big blunders, and some do rarely while some do often; after all, no mortal being is perfect. The scriptures say that in this world, a human being is subject to four kinds of defects namely: (i) imperfect senses, (ii) committing mistakes, (iii) getting illusioned, and (iv) cheating propensity. Thus even very intelligent and advanced personalities commit mistakes at times.
King Parīkṣit was the glorious descendant of the Pāṇḍavas. He was a noble king who was protected by Lord Kṛṣṇa even within the womb of his mother. He also chastised the personality of Kali and counteracted his influences. Once, he went to the forest for hunting. Afflicted by thirst, he approached the hermitage of a sage called Śamīka and requested for some water. The sage was absorbed in deep meditation and couldn’t respond to the request of Parīkṣit Mahāraja. Offended by the sage’s neglect, Parīkṣit took a dead snake and placed it around the neck of Śamīka Ṛṣī, who was still in trance. He then left the place and went to his palace.
King Citraketu was a great devotee of Lord Sankarṣaṇa. He attained the darśana of the Lord in seven days, by chanting a mantra given to him by Nārada Muni. Once, he was travelling in his airplane given by Lord Viṣṇu. He arrived at a place where Lord Śiva was sitting, embracing Pārvatī on his lap, in an assembly of great sages and other exalted persons. Seeing this, Citraketu laughed and said that ordinary men embrace their wives in private, but how could Lord Śiva do that in public in front of the sages.
Intentional Vs. Accidental Mistakes
Although committing mistakes is common for a human, one should at least make sure that one doesn’t do them purposefully. Incidentally or accidentally one may err sometimes, but premeditated mistakes done deliberately will have more serious repercussions. Honest people do mistakes accidently and do not justify them, but sincerely apologize for them. Dishonest people do wrong things knowingly, yet instead of admitting them they try to cover them up or justify them.
Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “The Lord is always prepared to excuse His devotee, but if a devotee takes advantage of the Lord’s leniency and purposefully commits mistakes again and again, the Lord will certainly punish him by letting him fall down into the clutches of the illusory energy. One must strongly adhere to the lotus feet of the Lord in devotional service. Then one’s position is secure.” (SB 5.18.4 Purport)
What Parīkṣit Mahāraja did was certainly a mistake, however, it was due to his fatigue, thirst and hunger. Thus it was totally circumstantial. One proof was that he never insulted any sages or brāhmaṇas before or after this incident. Another proof was his honest repentance for what he did.
Citraketu’s criticizing of Lord Śiva was also a mistake, but he did it with a good intent. He knew that exalted Śiva would not be affected by such uncommon behavior. However, Citraketu was concerned that a common man might misunderstand and criticize or disrespect Śiva, and thus become a victim of offending the great demigod. Citraketu wanted to protect the honor of Lord Śiva and protect common people from offending Śiva.
Regret, But Don’t Forget
Mistake is a mistake if one fails to learn a lesson from it. A sane person is not one who never commits mistakes. When a sane person does a mistake, he sincerely regrets for it, honestly apologizes for it, genuinely attempts to rectify it or atone for it and truly endeavors not to repeat it. He also takes responsibility for the consequences without shifting blame.
Parīkṣit Mahāraja, after returning to his palace, reflected on his act of garlanding Śamīka Ṛṣi with a dead snake. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “The pious King [Parīkṣit] regretted his accidental improper treatment of the powerful brāhmaṇa, who was faultless. Such repentance is natural for a good man like the King, and such repentance delivers a devotee from all kinds of sins accidentally committed. The devotees are naturally faultless. Accidental sins committed by a devotee are sincerely regretted, and by the grace of the Lord all sins unwillingly committed by a devotee are burnt in the fire of repentance.” (SB 1.19.1 P)
Genuine regret or remorse, when done in a positive spirit brings out auspiciousness, just as Parīkṣit’s regret made him turn towards God and God’s representatives with humility. But unjust and egoistic regret could lead to depression or destructive tendencies.
Remembering one’s mistakes is beneficial in one sense. Because, when one does good work, there is a possibility of becoming proud of one’s accomplishments and think high of oneself. But if one is aware that he also has some shortcomings and honestly remembers one’s earlier mistakes, one really can’t be proud. This is in no way to discourage rejoicing one’s success, but it helps to keep one’s feet on the ground by not becoming unnecessarily puffed up and look down upon others. By committing mistakes, one becomes humble and by remembering them one remains humble.
Expecting and Accepting the Reaction
An honest person is prepared to suffer the consequences of one’s misdeeds without trying to escape. It’s natural to expect a punishment for one’s mistake, but Parīkṣit not only expected a punishment, but being such a man of integrity, he desired a punishment. He considered that if he were not punished, he would be encouraged to do such mistakes again, or his family members might be punished for his wrong deed. A devotee doesn’t want others to suffer for his mistakes.
sa cintayann ittham athāśṛṇod yathā
muneḥ sutokto nirṛtis takṣakākhyaḥ
sa sādhu mene na cireṇa takṣakā-
nalaṁ prasaktasya virakti-kāraṇam
While the King was thus repenting, he received news of his imminent death, which would be due to the bite of a snake-bird, occasioned by the curse spoken by the sage’s son. The King accepted this as good news, for it would be the cause of his indifference toward worldly things. (SB 1.19.4)
A student of Śamīka Ṛṣi named Gauramukha came and informed Parīkṣit that he has been cursed to die in seven days by Śṛṅgī, the son of Śamīka Ṛṣi. Parīkṣit happily received the curse seeing it as the arrangement of the Supreme Lord and retired form his role as an emperor and heard Śrīmad Bhāgavatam from Śukadeva Gosvāmī.
When King Citraketu criticized Lord Śiva, Pārvatī became upset with his arrogant behavior, and chastised him just as a mother chastises a mischievous son. Citraketu should have noticed the elevated position of Lord Śiva and restrained himself from criticizing him in public. So, Pārvatī became angry and cursed him to become a demon. Citraketu didn’t protest but accepted the curse gracefully and left. He became the great Vṛtrāsura in his next life.
Why and Why Not Apologize?
Apologizing and begging forgiveness are natural responses of a sane person, who realizes that he has done a mistake. That apology is not a formality, but is born out of a sincere regret for one’s own misdeed and empathy towards others’ feelings.
Parīkṣit regretted for his mistake, but didn’t go to Śamīka Ṛṣi and apologize. Because Śamīka Ṛṣi himself was so remorseful that a great monarch and devotee like Parīkṣit has been cursed by his son unnecessarily. Parīkṣit’s mistake was minor but Śrīngi’s punishment was severe, highly disproportionate to the offense. Śamīka Ṛṣi’s embarrassment was clear to Parīkṣit when the news of the curse was communicated to him. Therefore, Parīkṣit didn’t apologize to not further increase the embarrassment of the sage.
King Citraketu, when cursed by Pāṛvatī, immediately got down from his airplane, offered obeisances to Pārvati and apologized, addressing her as mother. A chaste wife becomes angry and upset when her husband is disrespected. Thus Pārvatī felt offended to the criticism of Śiva by Citraketu. And acknowledging her feelings, Citraketu told her that he didn’t mean to disrespect Śiva, but because she was displeased by his behavior, he begged forgiveness from her.
atha prasādaye na tvāṁ
yan manyase hy asādhūktaṁ
mama tat kṣamyatāṁ sati
O mother, you are now unnecessarily angry, but since all my happiness and distress are destined by my past activities, I do not plead to be excused or relieved from your curse. Although what I have said is not wrong, please let whatever you think is wrong be pardoned. (SB 6.17.21)
In the case of Parīkṣit Mahāraja, Śamīka Ṛṣi was not offended, but embarrassed. In the case of Citraketu Mahāraja, Pārvatī was offended and angry. So, in not apologizing and apologizing, Parīkṣit and Citraketu, only cared for the feelings of Śamīka and Pārvatī respectively. Being exalted devotees, they didn’t consider how they were cursed so severely for their small mistakes. This showed their detachment, maturity and dependence on the Supreme Lord.
Mistakes of great souls: In fact, the unprecedented behavior of the virtuous Parīkṣit and devoted Citraketu were a part of the divine plan of the Supreme Lord. By the Lord’s will, Parīkṣit was put in an awkward situation, so that the Holy Scripture Śrīmad Bhāgavatam could make its appearance. To purify a slight tinge of pride in King Citraketu and quickly bring him to the spiritual world within one short lifetime, the Lord inspired Pārvatī to curse him. By these arrangements in the lives of His pure devotees, the Lord also taught us beautiful life lessons.
The Attitude Behind Apology
Expression is important, but the emotion behind that expression is more important. The internal attitude behind one’s external apology shows how sincere is that apology. Apology isn’t a ritual, but it’s a heartfelt expression of one’s honest emotion.
Confession as a profession: Some admit their mistakes and apologize for them, but later repeat the same mistakes. Of course, no one can become perfect overnight. It takes some time to come out of a bad habit and thus one may repeatedly commit mistakes, but a sincere intent to overcome them will eventually bring them the right consciousness and behavior. But if one has no intention to rectify one’s mistakes, but just formally or ritualistically says ‘sorry’ and continues them, he is considered a professional sinner. This is compared to the bath of an elephant who puts dirt on his body after having taken a nice bath in the river.
Clarification Vs. justification: One may clarify the circumstances under which one happened to commit an accidental mistake. One may clarify one’s intentions behind one’s apparent unpleasant deed. But denying one’s faults and justifying one’s misdeeds by philosophizing is not the nature of a sober person. Citraketu clarified his intentions to Mother Pārvatī, but didn’t justify his actions; he readily accepted her curse as his destiny and respectfully departed.
Offense after apology: Sometimes, mistakes or offenses are not innocent and circumstantial, but are out of one’s prolonged and deep rooted envy and anger towards others. One such example is Prajāpati Dakṣa who envied Lord Śiva, who was more exalted than him. Once he publicly criticized Śiva and cursed him. His offensive mentality later made him even neglect and disrespect his own daughter Satī, the wife of Śiva, who then committed suicide. Angry Śiva sent Vīrabhadra, who beheaded Dakṣa. Thereafter, upon Lord Brahmā’s request, Lord Śiva kindly revived the life of Dakṣa. Dakṣa repented for his offense and begged forgiveness from Lord Śiva. Yet, due to the traces of his offensive attitude and behavior towards Śiva, in his next life he again committed a similar offense towards the great sage Nārada Muni by criticizing and cursing him.
Sincerity in apology: If one’s apology isn’t sincere, one may commit similar mistakes again. Once Indra, the King of the heaven, became so puffed up of his position. To humble him, Lord Kṛṣṇa stopped his worship and encouraged the residents of Vṛṇdāvana to worship the Gvardhana Hill. Indra became angry and caused devastating rains to destroy Vṛṇdāvana. But Kṛṣṇa lifted Govardhana and saved His people. Indra realized his mistake towards the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa and apologized him. Kṛṣṇa gave him a caution and forgave him. However, Indra’s apology wasn’t sincere as he committed a similar mistake again later. Once, Kṛṣṇa went to the heaven and wanted to take a special tree called Pārijāta to satisfy His beloved queen Satyabhāmā. At that time, Indra protested and got into a fight with Kṛṣṇa.
Sincere Apology Attracts Forgiveness
Śamīka Ṛṣi regretted for his son’s overreacting and cursing Parīkṣit. Pārvatī also felt ashamed for having cursed Citraketu for his small mistake. When others humble themselves and sincerely apologize, a noble person wholeheartedly forgives them without maintaining further grudges.
The hope for someone who accidentally does a mistake is ‘forgiveness’ from the other person. When we commit a mistake, we hope and expect to be forgiven. Similarly, when others do some mistakes, we should be willing to forgive them. If the Supreme Lord Kṛṇṣa takes all our mistakes seriously and doesn’t forgive us, who in the entire universe can give us shelter? Our worship of Kṛṣṇa is often filled with many shortcomings and mistakes. Thus it is recommended that we always beg forgiveness from Him after worshiping Him.
aparādha-sahasrāṇi kriyante ‘har-niṣaṁ mayā
dāso ‘ham iti māṁ matvā kṣamasva madhusūdana
Thousands of offenses are performed by me day and night. But thinking of me as Your servant, kindly forgive those, O Madhusūdana.
The Lord’s forgiving nature and mercy are our only hope. Otherwise with all one’s imperfections, one cannot be over confident to offer a flawless worship and win His favor.
pratijñā tava govinda na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
iti saṁsmṛtya saṁsmṛtya prāṇān saṅdhārayāmy aham
O Govinda, Your promise is that Your devotee will never perish. By remembering this over and over again, I am able to retain my life-airs.
Making mistakes is common. But an honest person realizes them, regrets for them, rectifies them, remembers them and doesn’t repeat them. He honestly apologizes for his mistakes, not a ritual but as a heartfelt gesture towards the effected party.
Gauranga Darshan Das, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (www.vidyapitha.in) at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including Bhagavata Subodhini and Caitanya Subodhini, and teaches Bhagavatam courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.