Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dealing with psychological conflicts

As someone who has experienced significant changes in their belief-system over time (as if that was ever in doubt, how many people are born as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, for example?) it seems to me that one of the functions of an intelligent mind is to observe any arising conflicts and deal with them as an when necessary. Since religion seems to be a touchy subject for many and strongly-held beliefs rarely change except after a significant amount of persuasion and/or a shifting of the shores, it is a reason to celebrate when an intelligent mind becomes merely cognisant of a conflict. Changes that take place on account of said conflict are rather a rare event but equally laudable in my view, if not more so. Such changes should not take place lightly, but over time and with measured consistency and internal (or external!) discussion.

I find an example of an intelligent mind recognising a conflict in this recent article at Chakra.Org: When's the Time for Raganuga, Anyway? The author gets straight to the point in the very first paragraph:

"In Srila Prabhupada's books we see a stress on the need for following sadhana bhakti- up to a point- and then rejecting rules and regulations in favor of the spontaneous loving platform. The difficulty is knowing exactly when to make the transition, and again Srila Prabhupada's books have the answer- when one is pure, free from material desires. But this presents another problem- devotees never think themselves pure, or advanced. So does this mean that by definition, devotees never approach raganuga? That cannot be right as the implication of this would render meaningless much of Srila Prabhupada's teachings and that of the line of acaryas before him. How can one approach raganuga while still maintaining the vaisnava standard of humility? Is it that when one is free from material desires one is automatically in raganuga, without even knowing it? That cannot be so, for then there would be no meaning to the instruction to give up rules and regulations. Clearly there must be a conscious deliberate move towards it, and one not based on an assessment of one's personal level of purity. What then is the basis of this conscious decision to move towards spontaneity?"

This is a conflict that devotees in IGM must address in order to further along their journeys. A deeper theme to be observed from this writing relates to an issue of humility: How can one adequately measure one's advancement when one is trained to think of themselves in a continually subordinate position? A thoughtful concept indeed. The author then provides a couple of examples that show how mere following of rules is practically useless when they fail to serve the spirit of the rule. Just as it is the trend these days to make light of rules by quoting the following verse from the Padma Purana:

smartavyaH satataM viSNur vismartavya na jAtucit
sarve-vidhi-niSedhAH syur etayor eva kiGkarAH
"Always remember Vishnu and never forget Him.
All scriptural rules and regulations are the servants of this rule."
- Quoted in BRS 1.2.8

This is the active principle in devotional life. 'Tis indeed a pointless affair to regard the rote as the all-in-all and ignore the broader application in the wider service of the object. The author makes this point even clearer:

"It seems that while following rules and regulations, these servants of the Lord did not consider them very important, and certainly did not consider them the basis of their love. Yet in our temples we see, painted all over, the assumption that one can judge a person's merit by how many mangalarati's he attends each week, and, generally speaking, how strictly he follows all the rules and regulations, right up to how perfect he has applied his tilaka."

A fine observation indeed! Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in discussion forums will doubtlessly know of ridiculous instances of nit-picking such as whether 'pada' is an appropriate epithet to be affixed on the end of Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti's name, or other instances of some practices being criticised because there is no "historical precedent". This situation is sadly prevalent in the wider world too. But the general point of this article is that one should be sufficiently intelligent to examine his own motives and to be frightfully honest with one's own self in regards to his suitability and/or eligibility to pass upwards into the advanced stages of devotion:

"After all, the process we are following is about purification- and it is specifically purification of motives. If ones is following the rules and regulations to please the Lord, it is not an impediment, but if one is doing it just to please the Lord, it is unlikely that one will always follow, as there are other ways to please the Lord, which at times become apparent to the devotee. They may not be apparent to others though, and for this the inner followers may be judged by others to be not so strict- maybe even a 'fringie' but he cares not."
It is unfortunately a prevalent tendency - even among religionists - to demonise (in small or great ways) a person who deviates from the groupthink even if it is obvious that they have done so through careful and deliberate intelligent reasoning. It is unfortunate. But as an amusing riposte, why not observe that the judgers are themselves subject to judgement? Didn't a notably "Christian" preacher say that around 2000 years ago? ;-)

The article ends with a call to take up the process of raganuga-bhakti with due care and consideration. I can only imagine how certain quarters will howl in derision at this suggestion as they have done every time this issue comes up. For some groups, this issue of raganuga-bhakti is the elephant in the room that is troublesome to sweep up under the carpet. I cannot understand how this grudging attitude is so prevalent in supposedly religious movements; it is as if one is so poor and bitter and disappointed that they cannot make sufficient progress, that they would grudge against other people who want to move ahead. "I can't have it so no one else can have it either!" Childish and immature.

But the author indeed advises that one should attempt to move forward with due care and consideration:
"Taking all this into consideration, let us examine again the question 'When's the Time for Raganuga?'. It appears the time is now, in fact, don't waste a minute, but not because you are pure, but because you have started to cultivate an understanding of the spirit of vaisnavism, as opposed to all its rules, to the letter. Don't give them up prematurely, but don't make them your foundation, for they are not. The foundation is love and all the qualities that nurture it. If you cannot love, try to, for even the attempt is loving. Then Krsna will help you from within. It might be that you need to take his mercy in the form of helping words from a counselor or psychotherapist, to find out what history of abuse you suffered long ago, that now impairs your ability to give yourself to others, which is your inner nature. It might break the rule of 'avoiding association of non-devotees' but it might be, in this case, a rule that needs to be broken. And who is a non-devotee anyway, someone who helps devotees to find their hidden inherent nature, or someone who judges everyone by appearance alone- like at 4.30 am?" (emphasis added)

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  • At 02 February, 2008 02:27, Anonymous Malati dasi said…

    Radhe Radhe

    The article is an eye opener especially coming from someone initiated into the ISKCON line.

    I’d like to make some comments however. For me, being truly Krishna conscious is to see, hear, touch, smell and feel everything around, about him in relation to Krishna. Having said that I also believe that any “belief system” if you’ll allow me to use that phrase, has its own symbols, tradition and external practices. Being on a higher platform of devotion and going to manga arati regularly are not mutually exclusive.
    Therefore a devotee on a higher platform of devotion can also be a stickler for promptness in attending mangal arati. I think her point about that is not very cogent .

    Raganuga bhakti platform also involves a structured external sadhana and of course the free flowing love motivated internal service to the Divine couple. A REAL raganuga devotee should feel no differentiation of his external and internal sadhana.
    A REAL raganuga devotee’s love for Radha Krishna flows freely within and without.

  • At 02 February, 2008 23:21, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Yes, this is of course correct. The point is also made by the Gosvamis that engagement on the raganuga path does not necessarily mean giving up the 'vaidhi' items of sadhana.

    I think the general point the author was making is that devotion should not be judged by "superficial" items like attendance at mangal-arati. For example, I have also seen devotees chanting their rounds at 5am after the arati, but they are not chanting and are openly talking to each other while fingering their beads. So who is chanting? They are "attending" the chanting and fingering their beads, but will they get the benefit?

    I also another devotee (who happens to be a friend of mine), he only attends the mangal-arati in the morning (as far as I know) and the rest of the day he is doing his seva in the temple where he lives. This is one of the hardest workers in the temple.


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