Among the members of the varṇāśrama institution’s social orders (brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra), the brāhmaṇa is considered the foremost, for he is the teacher and spiritual master of all the other varṇas. Similarly, among the spiritual orders (brahmacarya, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyāsa), the sannyāsa order is the most elevated. Therefore a sannyāsī is the spiritual master of all the varṇas and āśramas, and a brāhmaṇa is also expected to offer obeisances to a sannyāsī. Unfortunately, however, caste brāhmaṇas do not offer obeisances to a Vaiṣṇava sannyāsī. They are so proud that they do not offer obeisances even to Indian sannyāsīs, what to speak of European and American sannyāsīs. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, expected that even the caste brāhmaṇas would offer respectful obeisances to a sannyāsī because five hundred years ago the social custom was to offer obeisances immediately to any sannyāsī, known or unknown.
The sannyāsīs of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement are bona fide. All the students of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement have undergone the regular process of initiation. As enjoined in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa by Sanātana Gosvāmī, tathā dīkṣā-vidhānena dvijatvaṁ jāyate nṛṇām: by the regular process of initiation, any man can become a brāhmaṇa. Thus in the beginning the students of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement agree to live with devotees, and gradually, having given up four prohibited activities—illicit sex, gambling, meat-eating and intoxication—they become advanced in the activities of spiritual life. When one is found to be regularly following these principles, he is given the first initiation (hari-nāma), and he regularly chants at least sixteen rounds a day. Then, after six months or a year, he is initiated for the second time and given the sacred thread with the regular sacrifice and rituals. After some time, when he advances still further and is willing to give up this material world, he is given the sannyāsa order. At that time he receives the title svāmī or gosvāmī, both of which mean “master of the senses.” Unfortunately, debauched so-called brāhmaṇas in India neither offer them respect nor accept them as bona fide sannyāsīs. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu expected the so-called brāhmaṇas to offer respect to such Vaiṣṇava sannyāsīs. Nevertheless, it does not matter whether they offer respect, nor whether they accept these sannyāsīs as bona fide, for the śāstra describes punishment for such disobedient so-called brāhmaṇas. The śāstric injunction declares:
- devatā-pratimāṁ dṛṣṭvā yatiṁ caiva tridaṇḍinam
- namaskāraṁ na kuryād yaḥ prāyaścittīyate naraḥ
“One who does not offer respect to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to His Deity in the temple or to a tridaṇḍī sannyāsī must undergo prāyaścitta [atonement].” If one does not offer obeisances to such a sannyāsī, the prescribed prāyaścitta is to fast for one day.