I got into a phase where everything I hear or read somehow gets connected to the topic that has been bothering me for the past week. I haven’t decided how I am going to deal with perceived “deviations” yet, so far I think that anything not in line with what Srila Prabhupada taught us is a fair game. Maybe one of these days I’ll make a coherent argument why it is so but for now I’m going to concentrate on “what” rather than on “what next”.
One new age website carried the following blurb, for example: “… Swami was a student of the spiritual activist A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, from whom he learned a contemporary version of bhakti or devotional yoga, which teaches that those who have found their true spiritual nature have an imperative to reduce suffering in the world.”
There’s so much wrong with it I don’t know where to start. Srila Prabhupada was a spiritual activist? Yes, he was, in a way, but this makes him sound like one of numerous mayavadi gurus who come to bless the world. That website itself is full of spiritual activists, it doesn’t take much to become one.
Also, to say that Srila Prabhupada taught a contemporary version of bhakti is just plain wrong. We try to learn bhakti from Lord Chaitanya and His followers who lived five hundred years ago, that’s not contemporary by any measure, not to mention Srimad Bhagavatam as the main scripture for our sampradaya. We take utmost care to strictly follow footsteps of great devotees from the beginning of the universe. Becoming contemporary is actually a proof of our failure – Srila Prabhupada never said he was teaching contemporary knowledge, if we think that what he taught us is not ancient than we mean that Prabhupada failed to deliver.
I also take an issue with “version” of bhakti. Bhakti does not have versions, it does not belong to us, it’s meant for Krsihna’s pleasure, we do it the way He likes it and we learn it from our acharyas. Mayavadis, on the other hand, are free to invent anything because they do not take Krishna seriously, as a real person with real demands and conditions. Since they assume that they are one with God they naturally think that whatever way they like to practice bhakti is legitimate. It is not. sruti-smrti-puranadi-pancaratriki-vidhim vina, aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate – any personal inventions or “versions” are simply a disturbance. Incidentally – I’m disturbed by reading this already.
But the real gem in that blurb is that bhakti leads to “imperative to reduce suffering in the world”. That is not the goal of bhakti at all, the goal is pleasing Krishna. Reducing suffering might please Krishna, too, but only if it means giving people Krishna consciousness, not feeding people or opening eye clinics as mentioned in the next sentence of that blurb.
This is such a gross misrepresentation of bhakti that it should never ever be attributed to lessons learned from Srila Prabhupada. Mayavadis teach like that – Ramakrishna Mission being the prime example.
Even more interesting than that is the allusion to the value of mercy and compassion, which is a main thread stringing together all various aspects of that type of preaching. In the end it all appeals to developing mercy and compassion. Being merciful is one of the qualities of a devotee, one might say, what is wrong with that?
I’ve found an interesting quote in that regard from the purport to Chaitanya Charitamrita (Madhya 9.49)
“..mercy is a relative thing. We show our mercy to a subordinate or to one who is suffering more than ourselves. However, if there is a superior person present, the superior person cannot be the object of our mercy. Rather, we are objects for the mercy of the superior person. Therefore showing compassion and mercy is a relative activity. It is not the Absolute Truth.”
This points to one fundamental feature of mercy – if you feel merciful and compassionate towards others you must also feel yourself as being superior. This is not a vaishnava attitude, which is trinad api sunichena – lower than the blade of grass. Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji was not merciful at all, he never gave anyone any blessings. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, and I gave an example once here, considered himself unworthy of offering benedictions to anyone he met and he looked for their blessings instead. That is a proper vaishnava attitude, as demonstrated by our acharyas, not “Oh, I’m so full of mercy already”, or “Becoming merciful is the goal of me practicing bhakti.”
Naturally, among vaishnavas some must accept superior positions and it’s their duty to show mercy to juniors but that’s how they should accept it – as a duty and as undeserved honor. They should never think themselves as being actually in a position of greatness and definitely not judge their progress by how much mercy they feel towards plebs around them.
If we have an instruction – become a guru and teach other about Krishna – it doesn’t mean that one day we decide – “Oh, yeah, now I’m a guru alright, time to dish out some lessons.” A sincere vaishnava never considers himself qualified to carry out the mission of his guru, he only hopes that guru’s power would work through him, and, subsequently, he never considers himself a fountain of mercy just like he thinks his guru is.
But what about mercy as a natural quality of a devotee? Srila Prabhupada answers that in the next sentence:
“Apart from this, we also must know what actual mercy is. To give a sick man something forbidden for him to eat is not mercy. Rather, it is cruelty. Unless we know what mercy really is, we may create an undesirable situation. If we wish to show real mercy, we will preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in order to revive the lost consciousness of human beings, the living entity’s original consciousness.”
It can’t be any clearer – real mercy is to preach Krishna consciousness, not open hospitals, not feed school children, not promote healthy living in eco-friendly environment. Those are plainly outside of our mission as followers of Srila Prabhupada, those are examples of mundane welfare work that only prolongs suffering of the living beings, deluding them with hopes that their material existence can be fixed. Making people comfortable here is the job of maya, not of devotees.
So, when being merciful is presented as some kind of spiritual perfection any sincere devotee should go “Meh, not interested, I’d rather attain humility necessary to attract attention of the Lord. Me spreading my own mercy is not going to please neither guru nor Krishna, it’s a waste of time.”