The other day I caught Śrīmad Bhāgavatam lecture streaming online and the class was given by some mātājī. She was very female about it, that is – very emotional. It kind of turned me off but as I continued listening I reassessed by initial impression.
Personally, I don’t consider myself an emotional person. It’s not that I don’t understand emotions or don’t feel things, it’s just that I don’t get very excited about feelings. Sad, happy, surprised – I know what it means and how it feels but I don’t think it’s worth experiencing.
To give an example – I don’t understand people who start to dance every time they hear music. Most of the time this music is really crappy but if they are invited on their feet they embrace this opportunity and start moving and swaying and five minutes later they look like they are having the time of their lives. To this music? Seriously? They just like how dancing makes them feel, they squeeze out every drop of potential emotion and try to experience every last bit of it. Why? It really isn’t that great.
Or take karaoke parties, if we are talking about music. People choose songs that are very meaningful to them, that move their hearts, make them especially sad or elated, and then they butcher them just because they want to relive those emotions. Why? They aren’t that great and even when emotions totally overwhelm you they don’t last that long.
This great attachment to emotional upheavals leads people to recreate circumstances where they lived through these experiences in hope that they will come back and touch their hearts again. To me it looks pathetic and totally not worth it.
On the other hand, our attachment to Kṛṣṇa works more or less the same way. We engage ourselves in pretend devotion in the form of sādhana bhakti, hoping to reproduce spiritual emotions that are absent from our lives. Isn’t this also pathetic? Of course it isn’t. To mature devotees it looks as worth of all respect and appreciation, and perhaps even as cute as a baby trying to walk or talk. So, perhaps my reassessment of that mātājī’s class was caused by the Lord teaching me a lesson. Every devotee’s service and dedication should be respected no matter how we might feel about their efforts. That was, incidentally, one of the major points of her lecture.
What initially turned me off was her stress on that Śrila Prabhupāda wanted to build a house for everyone to live in. That may be true, but it is also true that Śrila Prabhupāda didn’t come here to make our stay in the material world pleasurable, rather the opposite. We don’t want to live in this world no matter how nice the house is.
Then she went on about glories of the gṛhastha āśrama, how important it is, how good it is, how it develops all the nice qualities etc. That may be true, but family life still leads to the dark well of material existence. Gṛhastha āśrama is still a concession, a license for some enjoyment. Maybe not for pure devotees like Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura but for the rest of us – we wouldn’t become gṛhasthas if it wasn’t about sex.
People who grow up in western societies do not understand sex for procreation anymore, we are brainwashed from our childhood that it is an activity for pleasure and seeking this pleasure is a fundamental human right. It helps to learn proper attitude toward sex from our books but I don’t think our fundamental, acculturated attitude will ever go away. In short – we are not meant for gṛhastha āśrama, we are gṛhamedhis, no amount of talk about gṛhasthas will change our nature so I don’t usually buy it.
This mātājī, btw, herself had ten children and her husband had another nine children with some other wom(a/e)n. They are all devotees, I understand, and she comes from a big family herself. Now this is what sex for procreation should be like. Couples with only one or two children are not doing it right, that’s just not natural. Nineteen children is more like it. Respect.
Anyway, this mātājī was talking about her appreciation for Śrila Prabhupāda and how he changed everyone’s life and how he’d be very pleased to see thousands and thousands of new devotees from all over the world, how he’d be pleased to see our temples, our book distribution, our massive festivals etc. But then she said that there are things that would made Prabhupāda’s heart heavy, too.
This I don’t like at all. As Prabhupāda’s disciple she has the right to speak on his behalf but most of the time people referring to how Śrila Prabhupāda would feel about this or that are simply trying to give extra weight to their own arguments, they are using Prabhupāda’s name to advance their own agenda.
In this case it was about mistreatment of women. Big thing, we have a special ministry in ISKCON dedicated to taking care of women and correcting past mistakes. What I, personally, don’t like about it is that they somehow forget that we all, including women, are suffering results of our own karma. We all, including our women and even children, fully deserve whatever happens to us. There’s no injustice in this world however awful it sometimes look.
This does not mean that our authorities should not be corrected or even punished but we should never forget that they are not the causes of our suffering. I think I’ve seen my share of mistreatment but I, for some reason, never blamed my authorities. I did blame some devotees once and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve never seen my authorities being genuinely responsible for whatever I felt about their actions – it was my pain, no one else’s, they were just doing their service in their best possible ways.
So, at this point my impression of that class was pretty low. And then this mātājī mentioned something simple but also most sincere and amazing – Śrila Prabhupāda felt the need to fan even a slightest spark of interest in serving Kṛṣṇa. Whoever has this spark – it’s the most precious thing in the entire universe and we all should feel naturally eager to help that person develop it into real devotion.
At this point mātājī cried, she couldn’t stop herself, she was truly overwhelmed by appreciation for devotion to Kṛṣṇa and by Śrila Prabhupāda’s unlimited compassion. Just think of it – people go through thousands and thousands of lives and in this incarnation they go through years and decades of tribulations, lost in the forest of material life, but then they discover that little spark of devotion for the Lord and it’s the most rare, most beautiful thing that can ever happen to them. This one little spark of devotion outweighs everything they have experienced in this universe, ever.
I can’t convey it but mātājī’s appreciation was very persuasive. Emotional? Yes, but at that point I thought – does it really matter? If anyone expresses appreciation for devotional service or for their guru, does it really matter how they do it? I wouldn’t do it this way, I couldn’t do it this way, but it doesn’t mean her expression is any less legitimate.
Emotions for Kṛṣṇa are beautiful. They might be shallow, ie don’t extend beyond abilities of our current bodies, but they are still real. This mātājī CAN engage feelings in her heart, of which she has many, in service of the Lord. What’s the problem?
So, I listened to this lecture once again, from start to finish, and, luckily, my condescending attitude was gone.
Turns out, she had a special story – her mother with all their family was driven out of their temple and when they arrived to a new place no one wanted to accept them, knowing them as troublemakers. It was more than just a coincidence that Śrila Prabhupāda was visiting the very next day. They had written to him before and he knew who they were and he saw that spark of devotion. He immediately initiated all of them, four or five people at once, forgoing the usual process of getting recommendations and going through a trial period.
Many years later this mātājī met with the devotee who was responsible for driving them away from their original temple. He was very sorry for what he did and he said he’d take it all back if he could. “No, no, no,” mātājī protested, “I don’t want anything you’ve done to us taken away. If not for you we would have never left and never had a chance to see Prabhupāda and get initiated. Please don’t take it back.”
Well, Lord works in mysterious ways indeed.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens here without a reason and nothing deserves any blame once we realize that reason and reap the benefits.