Sometimes we see that devotees, even though they are following the rules and regulations, appear not to be making very much spiritual advancement. Often we see that they appear to be going backwards rather than forward in their devotional lives. This is often the case of “the mad elephant offense” or vaisnava-aparadha, which can stop or destroy their devotional career, and should be carefully avoided. We have included a few select verses from Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam which support this statement.
…To commit an offense against a devotee is very dangerous in devotional service. Lord Caitanya therefore said that an offense to a devotee is just like a mad elephant run loose; when a mad elephant enters a garden, it tramples all the plants. Similarly, an offense unto the feet of a pure devotee murders one’s position in devotional service…
…One’s pure intelligence, or pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness, becomes polluted by material activities. Pure consciousness can be revived by the process of sacrifice, charity, pious activities, etc., but when one pollutes his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by offending a brāhmaṇa or a Vaiṣṇava, it is very difficult to revive. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has described the vaiṣṇava-aparādha, or offense to a Vaiṣṇava, as “the mad elephant offense.” One should be very careful not to offend a Vaiṣṇava or a brāhmaṇa…
Srimad Bhagavatam 3.15.39
snehāvaloka-kalayā hṛdi saṁspṛśantam
śyāme pṛthāv urasi śobhitayā śriyā svaś-
cūḍāmaṇiṁ subhagayantam ivātma-dhiṣṇyam
The Lord is the reservoir of all pleasure. His auspicious presence is meant for everyone’s benediction, and His affectionate smiling and glancing touch the core of the heart. The Lord’s beautiful bodily color is blackish, and His broad chest is the resting place of the goddess of fortune, who glorifies the entire spiritual world, the summit of all heavenly planets. Thus it appeared that the Lord was personally spreading the beauty and good fortune of the spiritual world.
When the Lord came, He was pleased with everyone; therefore it is stated here, kṛtsna-prasāda-sumukham. The Lord knew that even the offensive doormen were His pure devotees, although by chance they committed an offense at the feet of other devotees. To commit an offense against a devotee is very dangerous in devotional service. Lord Caitanya therefore said that an offense to a devotee is just like a mad elephant run loose; when a mad elephant enters a garden, it tramples all the plants. Similarly, an offense unto the feet of a pure devotee murders one’s position in devotional service. On the part of the Lord there was no offended mood because He does not accept any offense created by His sincere devotee. But a devotee should be very cautious of committing offenses at the feet of another devotee. The Lord, being equal to all, and being especially inclined to His devotee, looked as mercifully at the offenders as at the offended. This attitude of the Lord was due to His unlimited quantity of transcendental qualities. His cheerful attitude towards the devotees was so pleasing and heart-touching that His very smile was attractive for them. That attraction was glorious not only for all the higher planets of this material world, but beyond, for the spiritual world also. Generally a human being has no idea of what the constitutional position is in the higher material planets, which are far better constituted in regard to all paraphernalia, yet the Vaikuṇṭha planet is so pleasing and so celestial that it is compared to the middle jewel or locket in a necklace of jewels.
In this verse the words spṛhaṇīya-dhāma indicate that the Lord is the reservoir of all pleasure because He has all the transcendental qualities. Although only some of these are aspired for by persons who hanker after the pleasure of merging in the impersonal Brahman, there are other aspirants who want to associate with the Lord personally as His servants. The Lord is so kind that He gives shelter to everyone—both impersonalists and devotees. He gives shelter to the impersonalists in His impersonal Brahman effulgence, whereas He gives shelter to the devotees in His personal abodes known as the Vaikuṇṭhalokas. He is especially inclined to His devotee; He touches the core of the heart of the devotee simply by smiling and glancing over him. The Lord is always served in the Vaikuṇṭhaloka by many hundreds and thousands of goddesses of fortune, as stated by the Brahma saṁhitā (lakṣmī-sahasra-śata-sambhrama-sevyamānam [Bs. 5.29]). In this material world, one is glorified if he is favored even a pinch by the goddess of fortune, so we can simply imagine how glorified is the kingdom of God in the spiritual world, where many hundreds and thousands of goddesses of fortune engage in the direct service of the Lord. Another feature of this verse is that it openly declares where the Vaikuṇṭhalokas are situated. They are situated as the summit of all the heavenly planets, which are above the sun globe, at the upper limit of the universe, and are known as Satyaloka, or Brahmaloka. The spiritual world is situated beyond the universe. Therefore it is stated here that the spiritual world, Vaikuṇṭhaloka, is the summit of all planetary systems.
Srimad Bhagavatam 4.26.24
tasmin dadhe damam ahaṁ tava vīra-patni
yo ’nyatra bhūsura-kulāt kṛta-kilbiṣas tam
paśye na vīta-bhayam unmuditaṁ tri-lokyām
anyatra vai mura-ripor itaratra dāsāt
O hero’s wife, kindly tell me if someone has offended you. I am prepared to give such a person punishment as long as he does not belong to the brāhmaṇa caste. But for the servant of Muraripu [Kṛṣṇa], I excuse no one within or beyond these three worlds. No one can freely move after offending you, for I am prepared to punish him.
According to Vedic civilization, a brāhmaṇa, or one who is properly qualified to understand the Absolute Truth—that is, one belonging to the most intelligent social order—as well as the devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is known as Muradviṣa, enemy of a demon named Mura, is not subject to the rules and regulations of the state. In other words, upon breaking the laws of the state, everyone can be punished by the government except the brāhmaṇasand Vaiṣṇavas. Brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas never transgress the laws of the state or the laws of nature because they know perfectly well the resultant reactions caused by such law-breaking. Even though they may sometimes appear to violate the laws, they are not to be punished by the king. This instruction was given to King Prācīnabarhiṣat by Nārada Muni. King Purañjana was a representative of King Prācīnabarhiṣat, and Nārada Muni was reminding King Prācīnabarhiṣat of his forefather, Mahārāja Pṛthu, who never chastised a brāhmaṇa or a Vaiṣṇava.
One’s pure intelligence, or pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness, becomes polluted by material activities. Pure consciousness can be revived by the process of sacrifice, charity, pious activities, etc., but when one pollutes his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by offending a brāhmaṇa or a Vaiṣṇava, it is very difficult to revive. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has described the vaiṣṇava-aparādha, or offense to a Vaiṣṇava, as “the mad elephant offense.” One should be very careful not to offend a Vaiṣṇava or a brāhmaṇa. Even the great yogī Durvāsā was harassed by the Sudarśana cakra when he offended the Vaiṣṇava Mahārāja Ambarīṣa, who was neither a brāhmaṇa nor a sannyāsī but an ordinary householder. Mahārāja Ambarīṣa was a Vaiṣṇava, and consequently Durvāsā Muni was chastised.
The conclusion is that if Kṛṣṇa consciousness is covered by material sins, one can eliminate the sins simply by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra,but if one pollutes his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by offending a brāhmaṇa or a Vaiṣṇava, one cannot revive it until one properly atones for the sin by pleasing the offended Vaiṣṇava or brāhmaṇa. This was the course that Durvāsā Muni had to follow, for he surrendered unto Mahārāja Ambarīṣa. Avaiṣṇava-aparādha cannot be atoned for by any means other than by begging the pardon of the offended Vaiṣṇava.
From the Introduction to the Srimad Bhagavatam
…The Lord taught the Gosvāmī about devotional service, comparing it to a creeper, and advised him to protect the bhakti creeper most carefully against the mad elephant offense against the pure devotees. In addition, the creeper has to be protected from the desires of sense enjoyment, monistic liberation and perfection of the haṭha-yoga system. They are all detrimental on the path of devotional service. Similarly, violence against living beings, and desire for worldly gain, worldly reception and worldly fame are all detrimental to the progress of bhakti, or Bhāgavata-dharma.