Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reflections on a conversation

There is a devotee in my temple who I had always admired from afar; he behaved very sweetly with everyone, not talking much 'prajalpa', always chanting and always having a nice smile for everyone. I never spoke with him much but we always exchanged greetings. A rather sweet person.

A conversation I had with him last week changed my opinion completely. Basically we were just having a chat about this-and-that when the topic came to sadhana (japa, etc). Then he started off with the usual "Prabhupada made many adjustments" line, so since we were talking about japa I decided to mention the "four rounds" rule. His face immediately screwed up so I quickly qualified my comments; "It may be that Prabhupada 'adjusted' the standard from 64 to 16, but it is interesting to note that throughout the whole Gaudiya tradition the barest minimum is taken at 4 rounds." I didn't have any particular agenda to push, as far as I was concerned we were just having an informal discussion.

Then he leaned over close to me and said, "I know where that idea comes from - Gaudiya Math." Well no, it didn't. The Gaudiya Math sure have this 4-round thing in their books (specifically, Sridhara Maharaja) but I was actually referring to the wider world of traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavism, something that this devotee obviously had no clue about and would just as easily dismiss the "babajis" just as he dismissed Gaudiya Math. Although I tried to explain to him that chanting four rounds is not meant to be a maximum for lazy people, but the barest minimum, fully affirming all injunctions to chant 16/64/lakh, but this guy just wouldn't understand. He then went into some sort of quiet tirade about the Gaudiya Math were watering the standards down even though their original founder (Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati) had set it at 64.

I quickly understood that there was no point in continuing this discussion and, just then, the time came for arati and so we ended it there and went about our business. We also discussed some other interesting points, but I just wanted to reflect on this issue. It seems to me that a lot of people in ISKCON still suffer from the mentality of criticising other Vaishnavas and/or their organisations. Even though the GBC has formally banned criticising Sridhara Maharaja (et al.) in one of their resolutions, I could just see this devotee dismissing it ("GBC? What GBC? They are also watering things down").

But it is not a problem about GBC, Gaudiya Math or anything else. It is about the deep-set problem of criticising or blaspheming other Vaishnavas, which is the mad-elephant offence that is responsible for the complete uprooting of the tender bhakti-lata. It's amazing to see how far I've come too; a couple of years ago I would have totally agreed with this devotee and we would have chinwagged about setting the entire Gaudiya world to rights, but I just found this rhetoric deeply offensive and hurtful. I didn't get the chance to remind him: amanina mana dena, [One must] offer all respects to everyone. And needless to say, I no longer consider this devotee to be the sweet person that I thought he was. I was actually angry about it, but anyway I have decided that it is bad company to associate with those who offend other Vaishnavas, and this is perfectly in keeping with Vaishnava principles. Of course I will continue to greet him as a matter of politeness but I am not interested in any long discussions which is a shame since we also discussed many interesting things in Sri Visvanatha's Sarartha-Darshini (apparently in some kalpas Krishna visits Mathura riding on Kaliya instead of Garuda).

It's just a pity that he doesn't even know how wrong and offensive he is being; in his own mind he is staying true and faithful to the path chalked out by Prabhupada and there is nothing wrong with that in itself, but it becomes a burden when one points fingers at other Vaishnavas in a critical tone. First of all the discussion wasn't even on equal terms; he clearly had an idea that he was a "senior" devotee and I was a "junior" which account for the condescending style of some of his points. More on that in the next post.

To be honest I have been stewing about it all week and have been very hurt by it. I don't know why, maybe I am just getting disillusioned again. Yet another person who I thought would be good association turns out to be just like the rest. It's so hard trying to find the "ideal association", the sadhu-sanga that Mahaprabhu and His great devotees have praised so much. Maybe that's why sadhu-sanga is so praiseworthy, because it's so hard to find a real sadhu?

And then today I got a massive idea. I was reflecting on the bountiful prema of Nityananda and Gauranga after quietly singing 'Parama Karuna' to myself: The one thing that we have to keep in mind above all others is how Nitai and Gauranga came and opened Their arms for everyone without exception. I wonder if the human mind can even comprehend such boundless compassion and kripa? With the sole exception of Vaishnava-aparadha, Nitai and Gaura accept everyone into Their fold regardless of past histories, sins, and other disqualifications. They even tolerate insults and abuse against Themselves but They don't care. No one should be turned away. Contemplating this brings a feeling of humility.

And what this means is that since Nitai and Gaura have opened Their arms for everyone, you can be sure you cannot get along with absolutely everyone. But we must make an effort to try and do so if only to honour and uphold Their desire. It's not an easy task because much personal development has to be undergone before one can reach the stage of real implementation of trinad api sunicena taror iva sahisnuna. No wonder Kaviraja Gosvami said we must make a garland of this verse and string it around our necks, it is that important!! A lot of complications may arise but they should put aside in the face of the larger purpose of coming together under Nitai-Gaura's banner.


  • At 13 November, 2006 06:06, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gaura Nitai open Their arms for everybody but surely that doesnt meant that anything goes? The Gosvamis have said that Gurus that are immoral, arrogant, hateful and ignorant must be dismissed, and that one must associate with like-minded devotees who are more advanced than oneself. Otherwise we'd morally degrade our religious community no end.

  • At 14 November, 2006 02:22, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Of course not everything goes, but I am merely referring to how Vaishnavas should be ever-mindful of Gaura-Nitai's boundless love for all. Perhaps in the initial stages faults/offenses can be tolerated just as they are everywhere, but this does not mean that one can be 'faulty' forever. Sadhakas are expected to improve as they grow in sraddha and kriya (practice). And so it is not a desirable trait to criticse other Vaishnavas just because they ar ein a different "camp".

    Actually I have read of one Vaishnava acharya saying tht it is not the business of a Vaishnava to criticise at all, it is the guru's business to chastise.

  • At 14 November, 2006 09:12, Anonymous Malati d d said…

    Radhe Radhe

    I couldn’t help but write in. About criticizing advanced Vaishnavas/Gurus. Frankly the only time I will criticize any guru is when he/she commits immorality , criminality and not being able to help me build up my Krishna prema. Being arrogant and ignorant are, to me, not grounds for criticizing/rejecting a guru also .

    I know that a guru is representative of Krishna. But I also acknowledge that the guru because he/she can not defy gravity still has a certain human dimension: eg. emotions and moods. Even Krishna has Nrshingadev. To criticize or reject a guru based on that criteria says about our tolerance. However, I know that there are many people who are fragile and would flinch at the sight of a guru showing some signs of being human because they have created a certain mysticism on his/her personality. Even in marriage to go the long haul you need a certain degree of tolerance.

    Being ignorant or not very sharp on the siddhanta will not make me criticize a guru because being sharp and being dull can be subjective, depending on the level of the listener. Of course, one of the characteristics of a guru is that he must be very learned on the shastra. However, I believe that anyone who can teach prema is higher than someone who is a good debater/logician. Afterall the gopis are just simple cowherd girls whose only qualification is having lobha for Krishna. Even some very great Vaishnavas like Sri Saddhu Baba of Advaita das did not write books and at face value were not very scholarly but he has such big prem for Radha-Krishna. Therefore, I will not criticize or reject a guru because he is not so scholarly and because I can defeat him/her philosophically.

    I am saddened that the internet is sometimes used to overly criticize great Vaishnavas which borders on aparadha. I work and live in an environment where diversity of opinion is encouraged and seen as beneficial therefore I hope that there could be like that in the GV world too. Fair enough, that Advaita das wrote his critique in Nitai das’s site. That is exercise in diversity in viewpoints. And I hate that other devotees do not like him for that. But I am equally disgusted that a GM Guru is also heavily criticized for giving his critiques on the Babajis, criticizing their abuse of the rasa lila. Afterall that is his viewpoints.

    I hope that 40 years after GV was introduced to the West, we would have thrown the “active recruiting mentality” which results in criticizing other gurus and instead embrace unity in diversity.

  • At 14 November, 2006 21:18, Anonymous Malati said…


    Can you not post my recent comments about Guru and criticisms as Advaita das has similar topic in his blog and I do not want add to the heat, ok.
    Be well

  • At 16 November, 2006 14:29, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Yes sorry, I was away for a couple of days, it has been posted above as you can see.

  • At 16 November, 2006 14:31, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    I also fully condemn unwarranted criticism of gurus/sadhus, as has been done on the Net in the most disgusting ways.

    There is a procedure for criticisms and even then only the qualified can do so. My post was really about how I was upset to discover criticism of other Vaishnavas in a person who I thought was a sweet devotee.


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