This term has extremely negative connotations but, truth be told, it describes Kṛṣṇa consciousness rather well. We, of course, will never label ourselves like that in public but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. In public it’s sometime unwise to say that children get cancer because of karma so hiding our anti-intellectualism is a similarly political decision.
One can immediately object, however, that we can’t be called anti-intellectuals because we have vast philosophical tradition that defines every aspect of our lives and studying it is our daily duty. One could also say that, among other things, we practice buddhi-yoga, seeking God through sacrifice of our intelligence, and it’s buddhi that the Lord provides to help us find Him.
We aim for bhakti but bhakti comes only after the liberation and we are not actually practicing it yet. We convince ourselves through application of our intelligence that we must follow the vaidhī process which we hope would lead to bhakti. We control our minds by our intelligence, too.
It’s all true, but intelligence does not equal intellect. Intelligent persons chant the Holy Name, “intellectual” persons do anything else but. Modern intellectuality would label chanting as stupid and so we are certainly not that kind of intellectuals.
One could then object that we are not against using intellect per se, we apply whatever God has given us in His service, be it intellect or physical strength or natural charisma. Rejecting intellect would be false renunciation, it belongs to Kṛṣṇa, it’s Kṛṣṇa’s energy and so it’s meant for service to Kṛṣṇa, denying Kṛṣṇa this enjoyment would be undevotional.
Correct, but our application of intellect is different and we should realize that it has a rather low priority. The anti-intellectualism accusation is also relative – plenty of people would find us way too philosophical for their liking, I’m talking about a certain level that is above the average. Well, the word “intellectual” implies we are talking about above average person, too. We are anti-intellectual compared to this elite group of people, not the general population.
I’ve recently read an account by a follower of Madhvācārya, a genuine one, proper maṭha dwelling Hindu, or so he says. I’m not sure if it’s true about their entire tradition but what he says is that they spend A LOT of their time studying opposing philosophies, to the point they joke with each other they’ve read so much advaita they’ve convinced themselves of impersonalism. They know all the arguments pro and against every major Vedic philosophy, nyaya, all kinds of “dvaita” and so on and can recite them from memory with references to supporting śāstric arguments and commentaries by respective ācāryas.
This is when it struck me that we, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, do not accept this path at all. We are anti-intellectuals.
He didn’t explain why they do that (and they might not, genuine accounts of what they do in Madhva sampradāya are hard to come by) but it’s not hard to guess. They way he presented it it looked like a good thing, comparative study of philosophies in order to ascertain the truth and pre-eminence of their dvaita interpretation of Vedānta. This approach appeals to any intellectual person out there including atheists, it also gives weight to vaiṣṇava tradition in general. It keeps impersonalists in check, too. The level of knowledge displayed by Madhvas is really really impressive, and yet it fails to impress us. Because we are anti-intellectuals.
What is the point of studying all those other philosophies? To establish the truth? We already know what the truth is – devotional service to guru and Kṛṣṇa. We don’t need to convince ourselves of anything anymore, our only concern is slack in our practice, which is usually cured by studying OUR philosophy, or rather taking association of the devotees through such studies. Sometimes discoveries by other traditions might help us appreciate some finer aspects of our arguments but that is such a limited and accidental use we don’t rely on it as a method. There’s also something wrong with us if we can’t accept our instructions on the basis of what we hear from Bhāgavatam or Gīta and need to look elsewhere for confirmations.
As for Madhvas – since they don’t accept Lord Caitanya’s mercy they get stuck in their devotional advancement and so their inability to progress beyond a certain level is predicted.
Now, about our application of intellect – we might engage it in philosophical speculations as opposed to mental speculations by scientists and atheists. The difference is that they don’t know the answers, they pick up whatever arguments that come into their minds and try to make a coherent theory out of them. We, OTOH, know the answers already and we are interested only in explaining how evidence fit with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This approach would be definitely marked as anti-intellectual by atheists. Their intellectualism means being open minded and ready to embrace opposing evidence, and adjust their views accordingly. We are decidedly against that. If there’s opposing evidence we’ll try to cram it into Kṛṣṇa consciousness no matter what. We are anti-intellectuals.
Should we be? That last argument is pretty persuasive – what if we do find the opposing evidence that refuses to fit in? Moon landings, for example, or archeology. What should we do then?
Truth is, many of us try to use the intellectual approach and re-interpret the śāstra to fit with the evidence. In some cases people do not take śāstra literally. In some cases they accept that the śāstra must have been corrupted. In some cases they say that śāstra maintains spiritual purity while on the material level it reflects imperfect material understanding of ancient Indians.
Sometimes these solutions give us peace of mind, sometimes they don’t. Should they be acceptable? Not at all? Maybe to some degree?
I think the question itself is wrong. Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be about establishing our relationship with guru and Kṛṣṇa and acting on the basis of this relationship. Going around looking for trouble, ie opposing evidence, is not a part of this relationship and not a part of the process. Anything that is not part of the process is illusion and WILL lead to illusion. The opposing evidence is actually everywhere outside of our service. It’s not just some scientific or historic facts, those are just a subset of it. The perception that we can enjoy our senses is opposing evidence, the perception that observable phenomena are disconnected from the Lord is opposing evidence, the perception that we and people around us have free will and act on their own volition is opposing evidence.
We should avoid all of it in all totality. Those familiar examples of māyā are far more dangerous than some scientific facts anyway. With science we can at least wait it out until it proves itself wrong, which it always does. The Aryan invasion of India theory got debunked before I got the opportunity to find for myself why it was wrong. And it’s even faster with dietary prescriptions, for example. By the time you learn what supplements we must take as vegetarians they will change their advice already so I don’t even bother discussing diets anymore. Whatever Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us works perfectly and that’s enough for me.
The real catch, however, is that the more we practice our devotional service the less we feel the need to engage our intellect. It gradually falls aside just like our interest in eating or sex life. And it’s not just the interest, it’s our ability to pursue these activities, too. Verses and references get forgotten or very hard to remember, arguments become blurry while their conclusions clear, and soon enough we won’t even be able to “prove” our beliefs anymore. Something something something reincarnation. Something something something life comes from life. Something something something Kṛṣṇa is God. Something something something don’t waste your time reading other books.
Should we hold onto these fading memories? I don’t think so, let them disappear and become replaced by chanting, and let trying to understand and memorize the verses become replaced by relishing Prabhupāda’s association when we read. If Kṛṣṇa needs our intellect back He will provide it again, but for now let Him take it away just like He takes away our sex drive.