In his parting comments to Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura the Muslim king said: “You are equal to everyone – both friend and enemy – but there is no one in the three worlds who can understand you.” That was a telling testimony – we think we know and understand Haridāsa’s status as a pure devotee but without having seen it with our own eyes our knowledge must be shallow.
Vast majority of our ISKCON members have never seen a certified pure devotee and since the 90s we’ve been taught that the current crop of our gurus are not there yet. Maybe it’s true, in general, and it means that we imagine pure devotees through the lens of our material experiences. If we actually seen someone truly equal to all living entities we’d probably reject such a person outright.
We expect devotees to behave in a certain way and value certain things over others and we can’t imagine it being any other way. When these values are challenged we protest, very loudly, and quickly identify our enemies. It’s not a bad thing to do, it’s how we are supposed to behave on our level, but it’s also not the stage of perfection yet. We have no mercy for meat-eaters and for some even milk-drinkers. We hate māyāvādīs and impersonalists of all persuasions. Some can’t stand the idea of female gurus, and others can’t stand patriarchal traditionalists in return. Strong opinions are everywhere and we all refer to the same authority – Prabhupāda.
If someone is non-committal to any of those issues we brand them as ignorant offenders and accuse them of not having “real humility”, which nowadays means going after your enemies with everything you got. Indifference is offensive, of course, but it’s not equal to equanimity, and that’s why I think a real well-wisher of everyone would have a hard time in our society if he decided to propagate his views.
Having observed Haridāsa Ṭhākura rise from the dead one would expect the king to praise a miracle but that was not what impressed Nawab the most – he was impressed by Haridāsa’s attitude throughout the whole ordeal. Having no such experience we can’t understand how impressive equanimity really is. We can’t imagine how anything could be more impressive than a dead person rising up and continuing chanting. I can’t explain it to myself, even when I heard about people’s impressions of Śrīla Prabhupāda I didn’t understand what the big deal was, and many didn’t see him that way either because externally Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared as very opinionated and always ready for a fight.
Well, I can’t talk about something I have no experience of, so let’s move on.
The king gave Haridāsa Ṭhākura a free pass anywhere in his kingdom and Haridāsa immediately went to Phuliyā and entered into an assembly of the brāhmaṇas. It was unusual in that Haridāsa was still a Muslim by birth and thus association with brāhmaṇas was forbidden but after his miraculous resurrection even proud seminal brāhmaṇas had to admit that Haridāsa was special. Everybody started chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and Haridāsa swam in the ocean of bliss, or, practically speaking, fell on the ground unconscious. Caitanya Bhāgavata says that at this point, seeing Haridāsa’s transformations, it was the brāhmaṇas who felt transcendental bliss. I suppose ordinarily a short kīrtana wouldn’t produce such an effect in those who were raised in pride but seeing Haridāsa Ṭhākura with their own eyes brāhmaṇas’ hardened hearts melt.
After a while Haridāsa came back to his senses and addressed brāhmaṇas concern. “Please do not feel sorry for me,” he asked, “I’ve committed a great offense by hearing blasphemy of the Lord and for it I got only a token punishment. I was supposed to go to hell, to Kumbhīpāka, but by Lord’s grace I was spared so that I may not commit such a sin again”.
Of all the explanations of what had happened to him this is the last one that would come to our minds. We consider Haridāsa sinless, he wasn’t supposed to go to any hell, and he didn’t receive a “token” punishment, he was beaten like no other devotee in our memory. Yet that’s how Haridāsa saw what happened himself and we can learn quite a bit from this.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī offered lengthy comments on each verse in Haridāsa’s explanations. Mostly they were directed against prākṛta-sahajiyā sampradāya. We don’t know it even still exists, though it does and one of the first ISKCON detractors from Prabhupāda’s time eventually joined it, no need to mention names. Does it mean that it is the only target group and everyone else is spared? I think not.
I think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī singled them out because they were prominent in those days and were the visible carriers of the offensive attitude described by Śrīla Haridāsa. These days they are nowhere to be seen but it doesn’t mean the offensive attitude disappeared with them. Being product of the illusion it affects every conditioned living entity equally. We all have to go through it from time to time.
The main charge by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was that we discount hearing blasphemy of the Lord on account of ‘Vaiṣṇava etiquette’ and this happens because we try to imitate tolerance and vision of a mahā-bhāgavata devotee like Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Imitation is sahajiyā’s trademark, of course.
Those who even after hearing the blasphemy of Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas display their ‘cleverness’ by posing as advanced and liberal on the pretext of artificial gentleness or tolerance without understanding the real purport of taror api sahiṣṇu – “more tolerant than a tree” are understood to be enjoying the results of their grave offenses.
We’ve seen it many times when devotees engage atheists and pretend to be unaffected by all the cruel words atheists say about God. We need to be ‘open-minded’ and, yes, ‘liberal’, if we want to reach to those people. Like hell we don’t.
Furthermore, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī paraphrases Śrīla Haridāsa as follows:
As a Vaiṣṇava, I will never again hear blasphemy against Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas under the shelter of tṛṇād api sunīcatā or on the pretext of taror api sahiṣṇutā. I have had a sufficient lesson this time. The Lord is most merciful; He taught me by awarding a token punishment for a grave offense.
Can we finally take a lesson from this? I know it’s hard for me to avoid making this mistake again and again, on the excuse of ‘preaching’. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t pain me very much and I think I should tolerate these offenses anyway because my ‘liberalism’ would somehow attract and convince atheists just like Haridāsa won over Muslims. In the meantime I also know that I’m not prepared to take any personal pain like Haridāsa did. I know it would affect me very much and I won’t consider it a “token punishment”.
Isn’t it duplicity? I want to have the cake and eat it, too, or I want to stand in the kitchen but I’m not prepared to take the heat.
Do we really have learn this lesson through our own misfortune? I bet Kṛṣṇa Himself is at a loss what to do about us. How to teach us not to do it again without subjecting us to necessary pain? Why can’t we help Him by simply taking it on faith from the mouth of our ācāryas?
Oh, sometimes we are such slow learners.