Thinking about the sermon I’ve been discussing for a couple of days made me look at Christianity again and wonder what the differences and similarities between us and them are. I won’t go as far as to suggest that we can learn something useful from them, though we probably can, but I’d rather focus on hangups that are holding us (and them) back.
Two thirds through this Rhesa Storms’ sermon and there’s relatively little I can find in common with her. Sure, we all live in the same world and can relate to the topics and examples she raised, but then she, as a New Yorker, thinks she is special. We are not special, it’s the first thing we realize in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – because spiritual life begins with humility. When I listen to Rhesa I do not see a spiritual person on a quest for God, I see a woman who wants to make something out of her life and it just so happens that her Christian God has got to play a big role in her plans.
She talks, for example, how she one day realized that running around everywhere, angling for the best spot in front of the queue when waiting for the green light and checking Instagram when there were five seconds left on the countdown clock, is not the attitude most conductive to spirituality. Great, but we, in ISKCON, are being told that this is just stupid from day one. It’s rajas and tamas, it’s being in māyā, if we catch ourselves doing this we immediately think “Oh, shit, I’ve done it again.”, and when we shake it off we don’t go “Wow, I’ve never experienced this before, it’s really cool.” Instead we fill ourselves with guilt and remorse and lament slipping up. Well, maybe not so dramatic and maybe this isn’t the best reaction but the point is that it’s not a “discovery”, it’s pretty much the bog standard ideal for every bhakta.
Does it mean that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is superior? Umm, yes, it does. Let me approach this from another angle.
We talk about sanātana dharma, for example, an eternal nature of every living being. It’s not about being a Christian or a Hindu or a Hare Kṛṣṇa. Every living entity possesses it constitutionally, so we all are capable of manifesting it. The difference is only in the degrees of purity. Excuse me for generalizing, but Christianity is an upa-dharma for the less advanced class of men, in the same way as karma-kāṇḍa or jñāna kāṇḍa are objectively inferior to bhakti.
Christianity doesn’t translate directly into any of those lesser Vedic schools because it is about bhakti and loving God with all your heart but their problem is contamination, their miśra. They might get the main idea right but the execution holds them back just as anarthas are holding our progress towards pure devotion. We, however, have relatively few of those.
Christianity is for meat eaters and drinkers and woman chasers and sinners of all kinds, they openly admit so themselves, and that means that when they run into obstacles they have to deal with problems we, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, have left behind a long time ago. Not completely, of course, but on a doctrinal level we are solid. They, otoh, are wondering if they could have practicing gay priests. Practicing the gay part, I mean.
In Rhesa’s case and her vision of Christianity it’s about God helping us with our lives. Not us helping Him with His, as is the case in our philosophy. At one point she actually gets pretty close to an acceptable ideal, when she expands on that “Be still and know that I am God” psalm. Rise above the busyness of your life and seek solitude with God, realize that this busyness is not meant for us, it’s alien to our nature, it’s alien to spirituality.
She gives examples from JC’s own life, how he lived under considerable pressure himself. His ministry was short but an eventful one. Someone always was asking him to do this or do that, save this soul, cure that disease, do a miracle here, preach there, and he had his own GBC to manage, too, and they were equally clueless. In the midst of all this, just like Prabhupāda, Jesus found time to be alone with God and pray. Prabhupāda, of course, used that alone time to write books, which meant write down Kṛṣṇa’s dictation.
Jesus needed that down time alone with God to renew himself and prepare himself to withstand crazy demands of his mission. I think we can say that Prabhupāda used his connection with Kṛṣṇa to prepare for whatever challenges were facing him when the rest of ISKCON woke up and started pestering him for help, too.
So far so good, but then she reduced JC’s ministry to giving rest to weary people. Yes, Lord Caitanya does that, too, but we don’t stop on solving our own problems, it’s not bhakti, it’s not devotion, we aspire for something more, a lot more actually – serving guru and the Lord with all our hearts.
Here’s another thing that we have in common but which is holding us back – we want God to go along with our desires, want the same things that we do, so that when our wishes are fulfilled God is happy, too. Very few Christians realize that it’s still selfishness, just as very few of us realize that this is not an actual bhakti yet.
Bhakti starts when we want the same things as the Lord, not the other way around, when we fulfill His desires, often against our apparent self-interest. It’s not a one time sacrifice either, not one episode from our lives for the history books, but it should be our way of life, 24/7, nityam bhāgavata sevayā.
Again, philosophically we are solid on that but in practice very few of us can honestly say that we are are simply doing what guru and Kṛṣṇa want. Most of us are doing what WE want, but ostensibly for Kṛṣṇa. Getting ourselves into a situation where we go along with Kṛṣṇa’s flow is a rare privilege achieved only by the best of us, and, as far as I can tell, it happens only when preaching.
We can stay still and know that Kṛṣṇa is God and trust Him in every respect, He has enough power and supplies to look after us for the rest of our lives, but doing what HE wants means preaching, if we aren’t constantly engaged in preaching we are wasting His time.
Just think about it – Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was an illustrious ācārya, a preacher of the highest standard, but among thousands of his disciples only Śrīla Prabhupāda can be said to have fulfilled his desire and got himself engaged in a worthwhile preaching mission. The ratio among Prabhupāda’s disciples is definitely better but if we ourselves are not included then generalizing won’t help.
I honestly don’t know how to earn this privilege, not for myself, not for anybody else. Perhaps it’s only by causeless mercy, but not the kind we usually reserve for saving our sorry asses from material troubles, we need the grant of love of God, that’s the only platform from which we can preach for real.
Preaching, btw, is another common area between us and Christians, but it’s a big topic I don’t want to start now.