Vanity thought #1033. Question of leadership

What if I put a question this way – is Putin the product of resurging Russia or is resurging Russia a product of Putin’s leadership? What would be the answer? Or is it an open ended question that leads to better understanding rather than definitive yes/no?

They say that in democracy people get the leadership they deserve. Interestingly, this quote was originally from a comment on Russian constitutional laws from two hundred years ago. English translation varies and sometimes the quote renders as “every nation gets the government it deserves”, not just democracies.

Russia isn’t a true western democracy anyway, people do not govern there in any sense of the word. They do not make any decisions and they do not lead the country, as in “government by the people”, they are being led by their ever-changing rulers and at best they approve of the leadership and do not grumble too much. It’s not Switzerland and liberalism is truly alien to their culture.

I’m not saying that democracy, freedom, rights, liberties etc. are in any way better than Russian arrangement, I’m just wondering in what way they could have deserved their rulers. I’m afraid that this is the country where law of karma must be taken mostly on faith rather than arrived at by deductive reasoning.

For most of the last century they didn’t have any choice in the matter of government whatsoever, and for centuries before that no one asked their opinions on the succession of their tzars either. Is it an argument pro or against the law of karma? It actually cuts both ways – the law of karma means connection between causes and results but there was no such connection observed here. OTOH, the law of karma also means that you can’t renegotiate your situation just as you can’t undo your past – you have to suffer the consequences no matter what you do now, and that explains eternal Russian suffering which appears as causeless as bhakti itself.

Back to my question – Putin himself denies any personal dictates on how Russia should be run. He says that it’s the office itself that influences his decision making. Russia has its national interests regardless of who is in charge and so the president responsibility to look after those interests rather than act on his personal whims.

Well, that wasn’t the case with their previous leaders who were beholden either to ideology or simply the bottle. What did they do to deserve such a responsible government now? I don’t know, it’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, which is another quote originally about Russia, and, curiously, it continues: “..but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

Still, one can’t deny Putin’s leadership, he appears confident, decisive, he is quick on his feet, he enjoys projecting power and he loves showmanship. In short, he is everything we should expect from a natural born leader.

Is this the case with our devotees there? Afaik, not at all. Apart from visiting GBC’s, their undisputed leader is HH Bhakti Vijñāna Svāmī, obviously a sannyāsī, not a kṣatriya. Prior to being appointed as the head of the Russian yātrā he was locked away in Sweden, serving as a translator for Russian BBT, and before that he was working on PHD in some Russian university – he is an epitome of brāhmaṇa, he never managed people in his life. Of course it’s perfectly okay for a brāhmaṇa to take on a managing role, especially in a spiritual organization, but it also explains his approach to governing.

He is very concerned about doing his job right, for example. He needs to justify all his decisions and all his methods. While for a kṣatriya “because I said so” is a perfect answer to every question it obviously can’t satisfy a brāhmaṇa like Bhakti Vijñāna Svāmī, he needs to also explain it at least to himself.

That’s why he never misses any leadership seminars, starting from the days when “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” took ISKCON by storm. As a brāhmaṇa he thinks that governing is a science that needs to be studied and that has to be as rational as possible.

Once again, I’m not passing a judgment on what style of governing is better, I’m just trying to understand why people do things they do. In this case, Bhakti Vijñāna mahārāja chose a particular verse for his Bhāgavatam class in Māyāpura, for example. During our annual festival there the speakers are free to choose any verse they like and so they choices reveal something about themselves.

Bhakti Vijñāna mahārāja went with dilemma surrounding punishment of Aśvatthāmā at the end of the battle of Kurukṣetra. What was the right thing to do? Should he have been killed? Should his life been spared? There were plenty of good, solid reasons to go either way and while a proper kṣatriya would not hesitate here even for a moment, maharāja thought about the correct way of solving such problems.

Maybe he is not a real kṣatriya but his answer was still the best – we have to act so as to please Kṛṣṇa. How? That takes real bhakti, real purity, and real clarity – something that is usually alien to the men of the ruling order.

It is a real challenge to guess what Kṛṣṇa would like us to do. In that particular situation Kṛṣṇa was there but He was non-committal, He seemingly liked every argument and He was smiling at everybody. No one knew what He wanted, He was okay with any course of action.

Mahārāja took this ambivalence as a special challenge to his leadership strategies but, perhaps, he was overthinking it here. Kṛṣṇa enjoys interacting with His devotees, whatever they propose (all for His pleasure, ultimately), He accepts. Whatever they say, He loves them very much. Whatever they do, it brings a smile to His face.

As for what should happen to Aśvatthāmā – there are laws of nature that would assure he gets exactly what he deserves regardless of what we think about it. It’s not something we should really concern ourselves with. That would be a default brāhmaṇa solution. Kṣatriya would say that whatever he does, law of karma works through him, no need to think too much, either, but mahārāja got caught between the two roles and needed a rational answer where it didn’t really matter.

Nevertheless, he found his solution, and the truly amazing part about it is that it works. He really figured out how to please Kṛṣṇa in whatever it is that he does. As I said, it requires purity, and it also requires deep concern and attention to the feelings and welfare of the devotees in his charge.

With nearly two decades of experience he honed these skills to perfection, he really sees devotees as Kṛṣṇa’s servants and, as such, he knows how to extract the best from their hearts, too, things they are surprised to see shine through themselves. When they all associate this way – devotees trusting him and him putting trust in devotees, Kṛṣṇa is pleased beyond any measure and everybody knows it.

On one hand we can say that by taking his managerial duties too seriously he descended on the bodily platform but I would say that he has been placed in the most fortunate position – his material body is nothing but an instrument for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. I can’t say the same about mine but he is like an associate of Lord Caitanya – they took birth here like ordinary people, got old, and died, but despite such appearances they were fully liberated Lord’s associates, He never saw them as separated in any way and they never did anything that wasn’t directed at serving the Lord with love and devotion.

All in all, with leaders like this, Russian yātrā should go from strength to strength despite being put in such a difficult position.


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