Somebody once asked me. What should be the balance between study and practical activity in Krsna-concsiousness? Coming from the pioneer generation of devotees who were put into active preaching field without training from the first day they arrived at the temple door, I could answer this question only in following manner: Yes, indeed, Srila Prabhupada put us instantly into a preaching position. Most of us, I hope not to offend anybody, were not at all aware what they were really preaching. At least not on the level of vijnana, or realized knowledge. The only thing which every member of this movement in 1972 knew was that he feels unconditional love for Srila Prabhupada. No statement could have been made without reference to His Divine Grace and any action had to be backed up by the reference to His words.
The fascination with Srila Prabhupada’s personality was so great that lecturers even produced quotes from Srila Prabhupada without actually knowing them to be authorized. Srila Prabhupada commented lovingly, but nevertheless critically, that “they always say Prabhupada said, Prabhupada said, but I didn’t say it.”Nevertheless it was unconditional love which often motivated the speaker and the instructor, not academic erudition.
Those who remained on a level of “deep sentimental attachment” towards Srila Prabhupada, got furthest to the point of His departure from this planet and then they went in to the trouble. Those who understood the need to learn fast what was to be learned acquired knowledge while daily facing new challenges within their service. It was this process of learning Srila Prabhupada introduced us to. You learn to swim by jumping into water.
Srila Prabhupada gave us the “ISKCON sandwich”, consisting of the morning program including a lecture, whole day intense service and evening program of arotika and Bhagavad Gita lecture, concluded with reading from Krsna book while drinking the evening milk. This Srila Prabhupada understood to be completely sufficient to educate His disciples in transcendental knowledge: a blend of two hours minimum sastric hearing and intense service for the rest of the day, entirely aimed towards preaching activities. This was the life of a brahmacary. Grhastas faced an additional set of challenges trying to combine the material and spiritual duties.
Individual and intensified studies were sanctioned by Srila Prabhupada only for those who were in need of them, mainly BBT devotees and those very few who were entrusted with specialized preaching projects such as; addressing the members of the scientific community, etc. Srila Prabhupada even emphasized that “we cannot expect all of our students to be studious, but they nevertheless have the enthusiasm to take part in preaching activities and so they should be facilitated to do so.”Srila Prabhupada even gave simple examples, showing that when there is huge fire, nobody even asks what language the fire brigade men speak. He considered the condition of the human society being disastrous and critical and so he took the risk to put even inexperienced fire brigade men in the midst of the fire.
The introduction of a division between studies and practical service arrived much later in Srila Prabhupadas movement, only to cause confusion and havoc. The idea that in a “healthy academically educated body dwells a healthy soul” opened the door for any speculator to enter the ranks of Srila Prabhupadas preaching army. The immature passion with which sometimes the preaching was initially conducted and the fall downs of some of the leaders propagating such passion only added to the desire for artificial education. As the pendulum was swinging to the other side, practical preaching activity became looked upon as the privilege of the “less intelligent ones”. Without any consideration of moral standards, what to speak of the varna and asrama qualification, any devotee became encouraged to equip himself, or even worse….herself, with academic knowledge without any trace of practical application or practical realization.
Defying even the basic need of human culture, varnasrama institution, asocial renegades occasionally became counselors, introverts became public dignitaries….simply enhancing the already established picture of “fools paradise” in this material world as was shown to us by Srila Prabhupada’s preaching. Once the majority sinks to the mental platform, the list of such human anomalies is endless. The proof of the poisonous effect of artificial knowledge, is the pride in the hearts of those who collected it. It is for this reason that Krsna places humility as the first symptom of knowledge on the list, which is a symptom of anybody who “knows that he doesn’t know”. Kanistha adhikaris like to know what others don’t know so that they can emerge on the scene as being distinct from the rest. Srila Prabhupada wisely contradicted that tendency by putting us constantly into active preaching field, specifically book distribution, where such a raise of pride is hardly possible.
The academic greed of such distinction seeking individuals, leads automatically to polarization and a rise of arrogance between such prematurely and inappropriately “educated” fellows. Those who prefer to serve Srila Prabhupadas mission honestly according to their varna and asrama, will be arrogantly looked upon as being inferior by those academically educated ones, who occasionally and unfortunately end up in leading positions. Regardless of their moral standards their academic erudition is considered brahminical. Such was the falldown of the Vedic society. As we here in the West cannot claim the artificial birth right of a descendant of a brahmana family, at least we can claim an artificially elevated status of our parrot-like erudition. Arrogance of the kanistha adhikaris creates disgust on the part of the public which again leads to a situation where even the innocent ones out of frustration embrace atheistic, humanistic, communistic, capitalistic or fascistic dogmas.
And so, one foolishness creates another foolishness, leaving the atmosphere polluted by arrogant speeches of the spiritually impoverished ones. Srila Prabhupada gave us the right blend of active service and time for schooling. When these scales get out of balance, havoc follows.
Those who never leave the mental platform progress towards their “vimukta maninah realizations”. As advertised in one of the projects dedicated to such purpose, such candidates will be trained to “make social contribution, develop independent thought and appreciation of spiritual equality”. The skills of “walking, canoeing and swimming” advertised in such seminars would be the least of the evil for such mentally aspiring students of mayavada thought. The worst is that thereafter they might engage themselves in “philosophical debate”. Finally aiming for the cherished goal of every conditioned soul, “the development of “excellent career and economic prospects”, such “learned fools” may increase their pride by accumulated information day by day. These above mentioned quotes are not of ironic nature, but direct quotes from an official ISKCON advertisement material.
Srila Prabhupada wanted us to know what is needed to be known and not what can be known. The sincerity and chastity of the thought of a sincere disciple who tries to simply gain knowledge so he can please his spiritual master more, is the key to his progress, not the accumulation of irrelevant data.
Spiritual knowledge is ultimately of descending nature, not of empiric nature. It is based on the mercy of guru parampara which can be only earned by serving the desire of the parampara manifested to us through the words of Srila Prabhupada. Those who develop their knowledge by studying and serving his mission have a good chance to grow steadily. Those who cultivate so-called knowledge merely by academic means will have to face the impact of their not yet purified material desires and the karmic reaction for their arrogance and offensive nature towards those who try to serve the desire of Srila Prabhupada in a meek and humble spirit. Ultimately transcendental knowledge is revealed in the heart. It cannot just be contained in the brain. Such a “bubble of artificial knowledge” will be sooner or later be perforated by the blade of grass held by Lord Balarama as He perforated the body of artificially intellectual Romaharsana Suta.