It’s very easy to theorize how a devotee should live his life and what attitude he must develop but in real life things never work out the way they do in theories. I can talk about “real” humility all I want, we still need to see examples of real devotees showing us how to live our real lives.
Our problem is that we don’t know any “real” devotees anymore. When Śrila Prabhupāda was present he was the only example we knew and trusted, and I shouldn’t use “we” because I wasn’t there, but in his absence we got nothing. As second and third generation devotees we have our gurus but, truth be told, we also have our reservations because we know from experience that whatever we assume as pure and transcendental in their behavior might very well turn into a cause of their falldown.
It doesn’t seem to be wise to accept everything present day devotees do as vaiṣṇava standard. This problem is two faced.
On one hand we have to be careful with accepting everything at face value. There’s no shortage of complaints about our authorities, and some are very reasonable. With all due respect, and I don’t mean it lightly, some examples set by otherwise irreproachable devotees are not meant to be followed (Hare Kṛṣṇa Cruise, looking at you).
This isn’t an ideal situation, far from it. Lord Caitanya Himself took great care not to do anything that could damage His reputation. Our leaders do not seem to mind anymore and I understand devotees who are apprehensive about accepting their sometimes questionable practices as having the same level of purity we expect from Śrila Prabhupada, our predecessor ācāryas, and Lord Caitanya Himself.
We need faith in our authorities to make progress but, as things stand now, can’t wholeheartedly accept their authority without fully developed faith either. Catch 22.
If we had full faith that we wouldn’t doubt actions of our seniors at all, seeing them as merely tools in Kṛṣṇa’s hands. Without faith we do not see them as such and that’s actually our problem.
Here’s the other side of our doubts in our seniors – our own lack of faith and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We are the ones who lack determination to surrender, who are holding back, doubting Kṛṣṇa’s power and Kṛṣṇa’s protection. We need guarantees and we need them manifested externally, on the material plane. We tell ourselves that we will surrender only if devotees can prove their divinity. That’s not what unconditional means, of course, and that’s why we never get anywhere spiritually.
Truth is, we are still holding back, negotiating the terms, waiting for a better deal, waiting for Kṛṣṇa to prove Himself. Actually, since we must surrender to a living breathing guru we are waiting for gurus to prove they are non-different from the Lord. Not in their powers, obviously, but in their purity.
This negotiated surrender is no surrender at all, it’s simply accepting defeat and trying to control the damage, it’s not done out of love and Kṛṣṇa doesn’t need it and has no interest in it. Sometimes we think that by accepting defeat at the hands of material energy and in face of Kṛṣṇa’s greatness gives us some kind of leverage and a leg up in attaining devotion. It doesn’t. We are just trying to outwit the Lord here.
We still see our relations with the material energy as that of a winner and a loser. Externally we might say “I lost” but our attitude is actually “I didn’t win” and it speaks a lot about our priorities and what we really want. We should be honest with ourselves, given a chance we’d jump on the opportunity to assert control over everything we see, become rich or learned or powerful or famous or postpone old age and death.
So, humility, it’s not in admitting our insignificance before the Lord and His energies, it should not depend on the state of the world around us in any way at all. Big, small, young, old, famous, infamous – we cannot even think in those terms and as long our consciousness depends on them real humility won’t manifest, we shouldn’t even seek it there.
Where do we find it, then? Who can provide us with examples? Śrila Prabhupāda, of course, but also devotees of bygone ages.
Take the case of Mahārāja Parīkṣit, for example. He was out hunting, got thirsty, saw a little hut, went in to ask for water but the resident ṛṣi, deep in mediation, didn’t even acknowledge his presence. Parīkṣit got angry and hang a dead snake on sage’s shoulders.
Was it an example of humility, patience, and tolerance on Mahārāja’s part? Obviously not. Yet when the sage came back to his senses he nevertheless praised Parīkṣit as a devotee (SB 1.18.48):
The devotees of the Lord are so forbearing that even though they are defamed, cheated, cursed, disturbed, neglected or even killed, they are never inclined to avenge themselves.
Here we have it – just a few verses earlier Bhāgavatam spoke of Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s anger and envy but then declared him a great devotee and praised devotees’ forbearance and patience. How’s that possible?
Or take example of Jagadānanda Paṇḍita who was perpetually angry at Lord Caitanya for one thing or another. Sometimes Mahāprabhu even said He was afraid of Jagadānanda’s anger. One time he brought a pot of scented oil with him prepared by devotees in Bengal but the Lord refused to accept it. Angry Jagadānanda then threw the pot he carried hundreds of miles to Purī on the ground and broke it. Must have been quite a scene. Was it an example of humility, tolerance, and patience? Obviously not.
In both cases we are told that these devotees were acting under the direction of the Lord or that Jagadānanda’s anger was a manifestation of his deep love for the Lord, either way, their anger was not material. Fine, how do we know OUR anger is not caused by the Lord Himself, too? What about anger of our senior devotees, GBCs, and gurus? Why shouldn’t we accept that their “deviations” are not Lord’s pastimes, too?
After all, we know that Kṛṣṇa is fully in control of everything that happens with His devotees. We might still be attracted to His illusory energy but it doesn’t mean we are left on our own, He always watches over us and absolutely nothing can happen to us without His sanction.
How do we know what’s transcendental anger and what’s material anger then? In case of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there was also envy, matsarah, which, btw, Śrila Prabhupada once translated as “intolerance”. The thing with envy is that it cannot be engaged in devotional service, it doesn’t have any place in spiritual relationships. Anger is a legitimate rasa, not one of the five main mellows but still it’s legitimate. Jagadānanda’s anger at the Lord is therefore perfectly admissible, Parīkṣit’s envy, however, should not have happened at all.
Śrila Prabhupāda’s anger at some of the devotees is also perfectly legitimate, guru must show displeasure with his disciples when necessary, but Parīkṣit’s case is not like that at all, it was a temporary aberration caused by the Lord Himself to create a pretext for retelling Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.
Mahārāja has proven himself later on when he refused to counteract the curse by ṛṣi’s son. When time was right he displayed that famous patience, tolerance, and absence of any desire for revenge – qualities that are so profoundly manifest in the devotees. He accepted his fate and he didn’t flinch when the snake came and bit him in the end. Instead Parīkṣit’s son, Janamejaya, got angry and started a big anti-snake sacrifice. And then Bṛhaspati, the guru of the demigods, showed up and asked Janamejaya to stop and Janamejaya complied with request of senior authority without any grudge, because he had genuine humility.
So, it appears that as long as we live under the influence of the modes of nature it is not unusual to display undesirable qualities from time to time but, as devotees, we should quickly gather our senses and do what’s right ASAP. That would be humility. We should not try to justify our wrongful behavior and insist on continuing with it.
This is the lesson I learned from Bhāgavatam today.