Vanity thought #866. Case study in liberalism

Yesterday’s speculations need examples to see if they make sense in real life. Pretty much everything could be considered but I thought it’s better to start with some contentious issues of the day, of which we have way to many. FDG has been my favorite for some time but I’ve grown tired of it. Among other issues there aren’t clear favorites and I decided to start with “ISKCON infestation by kirtaniyas” that I haven’t considered before.

There are, as usual, two sides to the story. To my knowledge, “pro-kirtaniyas” never engage in any public debates and I’ve never discussed this issue personally with any of the proponents, just heard a few excuses here and there and tried to fill the gaps.

The main argument is that these kirtan singers bring in the crowds, people who otherwise would never have come to ISKCON chant the Holy Names, and really, what other arguments are needed?

Fair enough. Now, the opponents, who are disproportionally vocal – they charge that this kind of kirtan is polluted, that there’s too much association with neo-mayavadis, that in Prabhupada’s time being on the same stage with hardcore impersonalists would have been unthinkable, as was inviting impersonalists to sing at our festivals.

Hearing Holy Name from the lips of mayavadis is poisonous, there are examples from Chaitanya Charitamrita if Srila Prabhupada’s own instructions are not enough. Associating with mayavadis is prohibited, too. All valid arguments that have no retorts, afaik.

How to be liberal about this then?

Let’s just step back a little and determine the context. Liberalism requires looking at a bigger picture, then what is unacceptable in one situation for a certain kind of devotees starts to look quite okay elsewhere for a different group of people.

For example, taking vegetarian non-prasadam is a no-no for temple devotees but for those outside it’s often a matter of necessity, and for non-devotees it’s certainly a progress towards a cleaner life. Veganism is certainly better than meat-eating but if someone has been coming to a temple for a while and still hasn’t given up his vegan ideas about milk then progress is not being made.

What we need to see is a vector – where the person had started and where he arrived. If a temple pujari eats a non-offered pizza on ekadashi he is going down, if a meat-eating karmi decides to have veggy pizza on the same day he is going up.

For devotees of Lord Chaitanya associating with mayavadis, listening to their kirtans or reading their literature is a spiritual suicide but I know devotees who were very well read in all kinds of impersonalism before taking up Srila Prabhupada’s books. Whether we like it or not, impersonalism is a natural and even necessary stage before becoming a devotee.

Some get causeless mercy, that’s true, but most living beings purify themselves through thousands and thousands of lives before coming in contact with devotees. Impersonalism is unavoidable.

How can we say with absolute certainty that it is dangerous and undesirable in such non-compromising terms?

Where opponents see mission drift, dilution of our philosophy and spreading the poison, we could try and see thousands and thousands of people coming to hear the sound of the Holy Name. Why would we turn them away unless they read up on philosophy? What do they know about drinking poisonous milk and how would they learn about it if they never come to our programs?

Being liberal in this case is looking at the issue from a different perspective. There are thousands and thousands of vaishnavas who look at “pure” ISKCON and think we are deviating and poisoning people, too. This kind of perception is not absolute, it’s never absolute.

The only real standard is the view of our guru and that’s what we should embrace in the face of all criticism but it’s a standard for US, not for our critics. They’ve never signed up for our program and we don’t expect them to gain mercy of Srila Prabhupada either. We can say that they are missing so much and wasting their lives on worthless pursuits but it’s their lives and their choices. Even as preachers we should not be trying to convert everybody, we should only look for people favorable to our ideas, so we can leave our critics alone and don’t worry too much about them.

So, the critics of “kirtaniya infestation” must be wrong then? No, not at all. We can look at them and see their genuine strive for the purity of our mission and preserving the legacy of our founder acharya. We might dismiss their criticism or decide to take it seriously and reform ourselves but that is not important atm. What is important is to see their sincerity even if their efforts might bring undesirable results, like vaishnava aparadha. Every effort in this world brings about undesirable results anyway, we can’t waste our lives focusing on those.

If we were to ask a paramahamsa which side to take in this dispute he’d tell us exactly the same things – both sides are doing their best for Krishna, and that would overwhelm him with respect and appreciation. He wouldn’t take sides at all and he’d be seen as a well-wisher of all living beings, in short, as paramahamsa.

Is it really that hard to theoretically visualize this kind of response? I don’t think so, it’s very simple, actually. Maybe I need a better case or maybe I’m missing something important, either way, not too bad for the first try, I think.

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