Taking Krishna’s side defines us as Krishna’s devotees. Taking a different side defines us as something different. Krishna’s side is described in sastra and, therefore, sastra is a self-evident authority.
I am writing this article because our faith in sastra has gradually slackened. Some 20-30 years ago, ISKCON devotees used to accept certain sastric statements as they are. Nowadays, the same statements are up for a discussion. Some time ago the mood was, “This is the instruction, how do we apply it?” Now the mood is, “Do you really expect us to believe in all of this? Do we really have to follow all these rules and regulations? I mean it is 2019. Things have changed.” True, some things have changed.
Taking Krishna’s side is not so easy because all of us have many impressions from our previous materialistic life. They are pushing us to enjoy as we did before. Some authorities define anartha as “Fond memories of sense enjoyment”; well, we have a lot of those stored in our subtle body. Things worsen especially when the mundane influence infiltrates into the ISKCON ranks and our internal enemies (doubts and misgivings) receive reinforcements from outside. As a result, taking a stand on even simple issues seems to have become a complicated affair.1
We all know that materialists are “in maya” but sometimes we hesitate to say this openly because one of the main tenets of political correctness dictates that nobody should be made to feel inferior. (Interestingly, the politically correct people do not mind putting down in inferior position everyone who disagrees with them). Gradually, from being shy in declaring who we are and what do we stand for, we move to the next stage of decline, that is, we are not sure anymore who we are and what we stand for. The lack of a strong sense of identity and mission paralyzes the preaching work so much so that even the word “preaching” becomes outdated in ISKCON. That means that we are, to some extent, siding with certain group of materialists.
Devotees are supposed to accept what is favorable to their devotional service and reject what is unfavorable. Therefore, devotees do not usually take sides in conflicts between mundane people – this is unfavorable. Such conflicts are under the spell of the illusory energy and whatever the outcome, there is no solution to the real problems of life. Take for example the conflict between the environmental activists and the pollution industry. The first group is trying to make the world a cleaner and better place for sense enjoinment. The second group doesn’t care whether the world is polluted as long as it gets their profits to ensure, again, their sense enjoyment. Both groups are not even aware what the real problems of life are, what to speak of solving them. Therefore, a devotee supports neither of them.
While recognizing that clean environment is more conducive for developing Krishna consciousness (Prabhupada said “cleanliness is next to godliness”), the devotees know that there is no material solution to material problems. In fact, as pointed out by Prahlada Maharaja, the so-called material solutions are worse than the problem itself. Unless both parties, the one that demands clean environment in order to enjoy better, and the one that simply does not care, recognize that this is Krishna’s world and we should follow His rules in order to maintain it in proper order, there will be no relief. Srila Prabhupada explains that in Bhagavad-gita 5.29 Lord Krishna gives the peace formula:
A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.
Here Krishna claims three positions, which are extremely attractive to materialists. These are the position of the Supreme controller, the position of the Supreme enjoyer, and the position of the best friend of all living entities, respectively. The demons are really after them, so much so that they regularly attempt to kill the Lord in order to be able to enjoy full control over others and at the same time pride themselves as the benefactor of human society. Here is how Kamsa was planning to become God:
And after killing these two boys [Krishna and Balarama], I shall kill Vasudeva and Nanda, who are supporters of the Vrishni and Bhoja dynasties. I shall also kill my father, Ugrasena, and his brother Devaka, because they are actually my enemies and are hindrances to my diplomacy and politics. Thus I shall get rid of all my enemies. Jarasandha is my father-in-law, and I have a great monkey friend named Dvivida. With their help it will be easy to kill all the kings on the surface of the earth who support the demigods. This is my plan. In this way, I shall be free from all opposition, and it will be very pleasant to rule the world without obstruction.
This is the demons’ ultimate ambition, to get rid of the Lord and the devotees and to establish themselves as the supreme authority. Nowadays, such blunt mission statement would not be very popular not because of religious sentiments, but because it is not politically correct. Still, the ambition to be the controller and enjoyer is at the bottom of all materialistic endeavors. The problem is that it just does not sound nice. However, being “the best friend of all living beings”, man, now we are talking. And that is what is going on, so many people talk on so many different topics posing as the well-wishers of all living entities. You name them environmentalists, vegans, humanists, liberals, conservatives; they are all convinced that they have the formula of peace and happiness. However, all these ideas are simply a manifestation of envy to Krishna’s supreme position as the best friend of all.
Back to our previous statement, devotees don’t like to take sides in controversies between materialists. Devotees know that without Krishna consciousness nothing will work and that there is no happiness in the material world. In CC, Antya 4.176 it is stated:
In the material world, conceptions of good and bad are all mental speculations. Therefore, saying ’This is good’ and ’This is bad’ is all a mistake.
In Bhagavad-gita 7.27, Lord Krishna says that our attachment to this duality of good and bad is the symptom of our delusion:
O scion of Bharata, O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, bewildered by dualities arisen from desire and hate.
Neither do devotees like to take sides in controversies among devotees (especially senior devotees) because it may lead to offences. Neophytes (we are all encouraged to think of ourselves as neophyte devotees) are often unable to understand the real meaning of the arguments; thus leaping to a conclusion and taking a stand can amount to a serious aparadha.
There are, however, many cases where a devotee should take a side, in fact one’s very identity as a devotee requires one to do so. For example, Srila Prabhupada states that there are two types of living entities in the Universe, suras and asuras, devotees and non-devotees. The very acceptance of Krishna consciousness defines us as devotees and distinguishes us from the nondevotees’ camp. We are supposed to be faithful to our devotional camp, following in the footsteps of great devotees like Prahlada Maharaja:
Narada Muni continued: When Prahlada Maharaja spoke about the path of self-realization in devotional service, thus being faithful to the camp of his father’s enemies, Hiranyakasipu, the King of the demons, heard Prahlada’s words and he laughingly said, “This is the intelligence of children spoiled by the words of the enemy.” (SB 7.5.6)
Of course, a devotee is ajatasatru, without enemy, because he is a friend of all living beings, just like Krishna. Even if somebody considers him an enemy, a devotee does not see him as such. Still, a devotee has to perform his duty in spite of the opposition of the non-devotees. For example, Srila Prabhupada continued his preaching work in spite of the vocal opposition of certain non-devotees. A devotee does not like to provoke; he always tries to present the spiritual knowledge in a respectful manner because he knows that the Lord is in everyone’s heart. When despite this the envious are disturbed, a devotee should simply continue with his preaching work avoiding the demons as far as possible.
It is true that an uttama-adhikari sees no demons at all; he sees everyone as a devotee of the Lord. He is above everything material, not taking sides with anybody on the material platform. But it is also true that the uttama-adhikaris are rare. The method of attaining such an exalted level of devotion is to follow the process of sadhana-bhakti which means to take sides according to the injunctions of sastra.
For example, in The Nectar of Devotion Srila Prabhupada writes that a devotee should tolerate offences against his own self but should not tolerate offences against Krishna or the Vaisnavas. If a devotee of the Lord is criticized we should take a stand and defend him by silencing the opposition. We cannot stay idle on the pretext that we are on a higher level of bhakti and see with an equal vision. That would be hypocrisy and would betray a deep impersonal contamination.
Another example. Ajamila was a very sinful person. He left his young, beautiful and pious wife to marry a prostitute. In order to maintain her and her children he performed many abominable activities. At the end of his life, when he was about to be arrested by the Yamadutas, he became very scared and called out the name of his son, Narayana. Then the Visnudutas appeared on the scene and forbade the Yamadutas to take him to hell. Their voices resounding, the Visnudutas proclaimed that Ajamila has chanted the name of the Lord at the time of death and because of this he was now sinless. They said:
Although calling the name of his son, he nevertheless uttered the four syllables na-ra-ya-na. Simply by chanting the name of Narayana in this way, he sufficiently atoned for the sinful reactions of millions of lives. (SB 6.2.8)2
This was outrageous to the Yamadutas. “How is that possible? This person performed so many sinful activities and you want to tell me that just by calling out the name of his son once all his sins have been now wiped out?? Just because it so happened that his son was named Narayana?? This is absurd! This is not fair! We demand justice!”
The Visnudutas replied, “Yes, you think like this because you are materialists.”
And that was that, the Visnudutas won the argument and saved Ajamila from hellish suffering. Now, which side would we have taken in this case?
It is a relevant question because I sometimes see that we are not willing to forgive a devotee who performed some sinful activities 20 or 30 years ago. What does that say about our faith in the potency of the holly name, in the process of bhakti? What about our faith in the Bhagavatam? Where from have we taken this concept of eternal damnation of the soul? Surely, not from the Vedic philosophy because it does not exist there. In Bhagavad-gita 9.30 Krishna says that even if a devotee commits the most abominable action but is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. Do we actually accept this for real?
Let us give another example. Impelled by the illusory energy of the Lord, Prajapati Daksa begot ten thousand sons in the womb of his wife. When their father ordered them to beget children, they all went to the great place of pilgrimage, Narayana-saras, to perform austerities in order to become purified. Gradually, becoming very much purified, they became inclined toward the activities of paramahamsas. Nevertheless, because their father had ordered them to increase the population, they performed severe austerities to fulfill his desires. One day, the great sage Narada approached them. He convinced them not to waste their time in materialistic pursuits and take sannyasa immediately. Hearing this, Daksa was mortified because he thought that he has lost his sons. When Prajapati Daksa was lamenting over his lost children, Lord Brahma pacified him with instructions, and thereafter Daksa begot another thousand of children. But Narada Muni came again and gave them the same instructions. The sons of Daksa followed the example of their elder brothers and abandoned materialistic life. The Bhagavatam says, “Like nights that have gone to the west, they have not returned even until now”. This time Daksa became so angry that he cursed Narada Muni. He spoke to him as follows:
Alas, Narada Muni, you wear the dress of a saintly person, but you are not actually a saint. Indeed, although I am now in grihastha life, I am a saintly person. By showing my sons the path of renunciation, you have done me an abominable injustice… If you think that simply awakening the sense of renunciation will detach one from the material world, I must say that unless full knowledge is awakened, simply changing dresses as you have done cannot possibly bring detachment. Material enjoyment is indeed the cause of all unhappiness, but one cannot give it up unless one has personally experienced how much suffering it is. Therefore, one should be allowed to remain in so-called material enjoyment while simultaneously advancing in knowledge to experience the misery of this false material happiness. Then, without help from others, one will find material enjoyment distasteful. Those whose minds are changed by others do not become as renounced as those who have personal experience.
In short, Daksa’s argument is that one should experience the troubles of the family life for himself; only then is one ready for renunciation. In other words, he thinks that everybody should be a person of a second-class intelligence. (First class intelligence is to attain realization simply by hearing from authority).
In his purports, Srila Prabhupada supports Narada Muni’s position and discards Daksa’s. Where do we stand on this? In the beginning of the Bhagavatam it is stated that truth is different from illusion for the benefit of all. What is our truth in this case?
I have heard Daksa’s arguments defended by respected ISKCON devotees. Probably you have, too. The problem is that such talks should not be talked inside of ISKCON because our Acharyas do not approve of them. We cannot disagree with the founder-Acharya and stay in his institution at the same time.
Or, let us consider this: Srila Prabhupada wanted the Temple of Vedic Planetarium built in Sridham Mayapur, ISKCON’s head-quarters. Inside there will be a presentation of the Bhagavatam model of the Universe, which is at odds with the contemporary western cosmology. Suppose, we’ve actually built the temple as Prabhupada wanted, following his instructions. Imagine that you are an educated person and somehow your friends and colleagues happen to hear about the newly built enormous temple presenting the Puranic model of the universe with the Bhu-mandala, Jambudvip, the tortoise at the bottom, the huge mango tree, the elephants and all of that. They will perhaps ask you, “Do you really believe in all this bizarre descriptions??”
What would you say? Would you say “Yes, sure I do”, or, ashamed, you would try to find a way to distance yourself from Bhagavatam, Prabhupada, and Krishna? Or perhaps, too insecure to do any of those, would try for an “in-between” option?3
In other words, what is more important to us, to be accepted by our “cool, intelligent, open-minded, non-dogmatic friends as their peer”, or to be accepted by Srila Prabhupada and the Acharyas as their faithful servant? Saint Peter denounced Jesus because of fear of severe corporal punishment; would we denounce Srila Prabhupada over trivialities like social acceptance, false prestige, or unwillingness to feel guilty or inferior because of our weak faith in sastra?
I make it sound a bit dramatic and I guess there is a certain eschatological flavor in it. And it is true that sooner or later we will be faced by this dramatic and final (in this lifetime) choice between Krishna and maya, between staying chaste to our tradition and making compromise with the mundane. The truth, however, is that we are facing this choice every day. Every time we decide to compromise the proper performance of our devotional duties we are choosing the wrong side.
Thus, in all cases taking side is required if we want at all to be counted among the suras, devotees. And inside the devotee’s camp we still have to make the proper choice between pure and mixed devotional service. And even then we will have to make a further choice, this time between pure devotional service and pure unalloyed devotional service.
All these choices mean taking sides. In the mundane realm taking side means making opponents. Jesus had them, Srila Prabhupada had them, even Lord Krishna had them. In the material world it is unavoidable to make some people angry. This happens no matter if you are right or wrong. As Michel Foucault wrote:
“…a battle front crosses the entire society, continuously and constantly, and it is this battle front that places each of us in one camp or another. There is no neutral subject. We must be someone’s opponent.”
This should not stop us from performing our duties.
Since we will have to make choices and bear the consequences of them, we might as well make the right choice following the instructions of Srila Prabhupada and Krishna. Then our unavoidable struggle in this world will be worthwhile.
We are tempted to take the wrong side because we still do not accept sastra as the absolute authority. As a matter of formality, we as devotees, will say that sastra is always correct, but in our personal life we often take our samskaras as more important. That means that in general we do as we like and sometimes what we like is supported by sastra. That is the best we can hope for on the neophyte level. At least we are pious enough to offer some lip service to sastra while our most important decisions are taken on the basis of our likes and dislikes (iccha-dvesha).
This is normal in the beginning of our devotional practice. However, we should not stay neophytes, or even worse – imagine that our neophyte ways are equal to pure devotional service.
Nietzsche said that those who have a “why” can deal with any “how”. Throughout history, people with firm faith in something endured many hardships, even tortures and death without wavering and kept their ideals. They sacrificed their comfort and their life, often for trivial, materialistic causes. It so happened that by Mahaprabhu’s causeless mercy we have the most exalted cause to serve – to spread the yuga-dharma, the congregational chanting of the holy name. And by Mahaprabhu’s grace, we can still do this openly in most places, without fear of persecution. Will we back on our duties just because we want the acknowledgment of some fools and rascals? (Which they will never give anyway. And even if they do, what is the value of it?)
A devotee should take all the risks in serving Guru and Krishna, even the risk of being marginalized or even banished by mundane society. This is the price we have to pay in order to be recognized by Krishna. “Only once in a while does the Supreme Lord give bhakti, and only to a rare intelligent person who desires only that, indifferent to the opinions of the world.” (Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, 2.4.233)
1 For example, do we have to follow varsnasrama? Or, do we believe that all of Prabhupada’s statements are absolute, or do we take some of them to be materially influenced by his “cultural conditioning”?
2 The Lord always looks for an excuse to bring the soul back home, back to Godhead. Sometimes, because of His unlimited mercy, He does so even by breaking His own rules (like when He personally appeared as Gopa kumara’s Guru, Jayanta). This is the opposite of the materialistic mentality, which always looks for an excuse to act negatively because of envy. Srila Prabhupada said, for example, that the job of the bureaucrat is to say “no”. This is the reason why ordinary people and even neophyte devotees often insist on heavy retribution for sinful action, generally not considering what the ultimate benefit for the person is (engaging him in Krishna consciousness).
3For a long time, I was puzzled why would Prabhupada insist on presenting the Vedic model of cosmology inside ISKCON’s main temple. After all, we are not a Vedic Cosmology movement. Recently, it dawned on me that Prabhupada might have foreseen how in the future many devotees would lose faith and as a result would try to “blend in” the materialistic society thus blurring the clear borders of spiritual and mundane, or between pure and mixed devotional service. Therefore, Prabhupada wanted to erect this huge temple as a challenge to materialists and materialistic devotees. “Where would you take your stand? With the Bhagavatam, or with the karmis?”
Pandava Prabhu lives in Bulgaria. He is a disciple of His Holiness Suhotra Swami.