Vanity thought #830. Cultural baggage part II

Female guru issue has flared up again, book changes war rages on, and ISKCON devotees in the meantime are preparing to Srila Prabhupada’s marathon, the biggest book distribution race of the year. What drives us to fight each other so mercilessly when we have a clear task at hand?

Kali yuga, of course, but I also think that cultural baggage plays an important role, too. Indians, just as most Asians, grow up in a communal society where everybody knows everybody else and total strangers can find a link between their families in about five minutes. The consequence of it is that everybody is practically a family and family always comes first. I mean before justice.

A person might be breaking all kinds of rules and even laws but as long as he is accepted as part of a family he will be treated with gentle and understanding gloves. Maintaining harmonious relationships is more important than being right, forgiveness and sharing blame is more important than punishment, too.

Consider the tradition of shraddha. You worship the ancestors so that they can stay in heaven a bit longer, when you die your descendants worship on your behalf, too. Everybody is dependent on everybody else. A great person will purify his lineage in both directions, saving both the ancestors and protecting his future descendants. His piety spreads horizontally to his siblings and his wife’s relatives, too. The entire gotra can be saved just by one pure devotee appearing in it.

As they say “It takes a village to raise a child” so the whole village in return reaps the benefits of that child’s advancement. Bad karma spreads around, too, so there’s no point in singling out and ostracizing any particular member of the commune, it’s everybody’s collective fault.

Maybe it was inattentive father who didn’t instill proper respect for dharma, maybe it was a mischievous uncle who undermined father’s teachings, who knows? A person’s life is formed entirely by his community and if he was exposed to outside influences it was probably community’s lack of protection.

So, with that understanding in mind, it’s easier to see why punishment of a selected member is secondary to maintaining overall community’s health, and it means that you should mind your business first and foremost because that is your main contribution to the community while running around and pointing fingers benefits nobody.

In the West we have had our communities broken hundreds of years ago during industrialization. People were uprooted, disconnected from their relatives, and made into individual units. In the cities they were employed as individuals, not as families. At best they were given enough money to support their wives and children but now even that principle has been eradicated, wives are expected to get jobs of their own.

Businesses formed a kind of their own communes but without any official responsibility. If you make a mistake you will be fired, it’s that simple. Nowadays it’s accepted as axiomatic but it was unthinkable and impossible in pre-industrialized communities. You can’t fire you father or your brother or you cousin by definition.

Organizing a society of such disconnected individuals has to be done differently, too. There’s no sense of shared responsibility, there’s no hierarchy, everybody is equal to everybody else and so it’s a jungle out there. Pyramids of power are filled not by nurturing but by fights to eliminate your enemies. Winning battles has become the default way to progress because being better and stronger is the only validation of your existence. If you are not a winner, you are a loser, there are no other options.

We are being bred to fight and to win and so our relationships with other devotees are still based on this principle. We naturally assume that we can advance only by winning, we need to be stronger and we need to capitalize on other devotees’ weaknesses. If we want something we must fight for it and earn our right. Begging for mercy and humbly waiting is not in our repertoire.

If we see someone making a mistake in his service we immediately think of exploiting it to our own advantage, after all, denigrating our opponent is the best way to make ourselves look better and more deserving. If Krishna were to shower us with mercy, why should He spend it on those inferior people who obviously lack intelligence, purity and dedication, therefore we should be at the front of the line.

And so it goes on and on and on.

It’s not that Indians are immune to greed and envy but at least it’s not institutionalized there as it is in the West. We are obviously at a disadvantaged position here – and look at me, I’m talking in exactly the same terms I just denounced!

Maybe there’s a way to engage and purify our crooked propensities but first we should learn to stop ourselves from criticizing devotees. That will never be permissible, and it also takes a long time to master. Personally, I sometimes feel that I have not grasped the limits of my own offending propensities yet, it goes so deep inside my soul I can’t estimate even the scale of the cleansing work to be done on my heart.

What I do know is the correct direction of the vector of my efforts – chanting, chanting, and chanting. It’s the only way to get some sense of where I am now and where I need to be in the future.

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