Weekends always throw me off the sent and I have half forgotten what I was going to write about today so forgive me if I’m a bit out of focus.
So far I got this – devotees need to discriminate in their association and they should be independently thoughtful. Both statements should be taken with a caveat. The verse quoted in support of discrimination doesn’t tell us how it should actually be done and independence was meant only in the material sense. Well, this needs clarification.
Let’s take Bhagavad Gītā. Did Kṛṣṇa want Arjuna to be independently thoughtful? At the end He offered him a choice but that’s not it – once the choice is made independence ends, and Kṛṣṇa didn’t say anything about independence after surrender anyway, and yet Arjuna’s independence was respected by Kṛṣṇa all throughout, albeit it was implied rather than stated directly.
Consider how Śrīla Prabhupāda used the phrase “independently thoughtful” – it was an advice given to GBC no how to relate to their subordinates. “Don’t micromanage”, in short. I insist that this independence was not meant to be exercised in a relationships between temple management and GBC but further down the hierarchy, outside of GBC’s reach. Temple management was meant to be temple presidents’ domain and GBC was advised not to get involved with it.
This advice was for the GBC from their authority, Śrīla Prabhupāda. When Kṛṣṇa was talking to Arjuna He didn’t need any advice, of course, so He only displayed this attitude rather than sound it out. He told Arjuna to fight but didn’t say a word about how to do the actual fighting, He left it to Arjuna Himself. He wasn’t even concerned with the outcome of the battle, didn’t worry how Arjuna would perform, it was not His domain to manage but Arjuna’s.
Kṛṣṇa specifically said not to worry about the outcome but to simply carry on with Arjuna’s duty. “You’ve got a body of kṣatriya so go and fight, it doesn’t matter to me how,” He said, “it’s your karma, live it out, not my business to interfere with your execution of your duties.” Maybe not in these exact words but that was understood, Arjuna didn’t expect to be babysat through the war, the idea of delegating his fighting to anyone else didn’t even cross his mind, surrendering to Kṛṣṇa had no effect on his responsibility as far as war was concerned at all.
If we apply independent thinking to the relationships with our superiors or to our spiritual association, otoh, all kinds of weird things will start happening right away. In the lecture that started this series of posts the speaker said that if you see some person imposing his authority on you based on his false ego and contradicts Śrīla Prabhupāda then he is an imposer and we should keep our distance from such people, according to advice by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. It gets better.
Such a devotee should be understood as materialistic, as desiring to enjoy the material energy and his power trip is a manifestation of that. To such a devotee we should show respect from a distance. “Hare Kṛṣṇa” and that’s it. You don’t take prasādam together, don’t open your mind to him etc. If his association is unavoidable then you tolerate it and try to find the exit door. Simple, right? Except Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī didn’t say anything like that.
The advice to offer mental respect applies only to kaniṣṭha adhikārīs, as explained by Srīla Prabhupāda in the purport (NOI 5), and there are supporting quotes there as well. There’s some leeway in who exactly should be considered a kaniṣṭha so it’s probably easier to spot a madhyama – one who has undergone spiritual initiation and is engaged in worshiping the Deity (īśam in the verse itself). Madhyama adhikārī is engaged in service by his spiritual master, as Prabhupāda says in the purport. Madhyama adhikārī makes friends with devotees, is merciful to the ignorant and avoids the envious, says Bhāgavatam (SB 11.2.46).
To such a devotee one should offer humble obeisances, according to NOI, and, according to Bhāgavatam, he is suitable for making friends, which should include taking prasādam together, exchanging gifts etc.
What would happen if you instead start avoiding him and treat him as leper, as a lowly kaniṣṭha? Going on an occasional power trip is not a disqualification. You could say that power trips is a sign of a lack of understanding how to treat other devotees but as long as that person is initiated by a guru and engaged in Lord’s service he is a madhyama. If he goes out to preach, has friends among devotees, and avoids association of atheists his position is even more solid. And if you designated him as a kaniṣṭha – who doesn’t know how to treat devotees now?
NOI verse says that we should seek association of uttama adhikārīs so that could be used as an excuse to avoid those who we think are still materialistic, but that would be wrong. On the śāstra basis it’s wrong because madhyama adhikārī should be friends with other devotees and on a personal level it’s just being snobbish, as if no one is good enough for you. Where is your titikṣavaḥ kāruṇikāḥ suhṛdaḥ sarva-dehinām, why are you acting as such a dick instead of being merciful well-wisher of all living beings?
Where can we expect any mercy ourselves if devotees would start avoiding us every time we display materialistic tendencies? I think everyone experienced being ignored like that at some point in their devotional lives. Come to think of it, for all the times I’ve been to Vṛndāvana or Māyāpura I don’t think any local devotee ever displayed any interest in me, or in any other visitor, for that matter. Sometimes I feel we are just crowds to be managed to them and they prefer to respect us from a distance. I never knew who the temple president was, for example, devotees on that level always stay away from the hoi polloi.
I’m not saying they are wrong but withholding association from “lesser” devotees could be a problem. We are meant to serve, nurture, and nourish those who see us as seniors and expect to be inspired by our association. If all we give them is a cold shoulder we are not even doing our duty, let alone being genuine in our service.
Of course our society will always be full of devotees ready to share, ready to help, and ready to serve so nothing is really lost but we should not contribute to the struggle imposed on devotees by the illusion and treat them as if they are not worth our time.
As I said, all this independent thinking and deciding for ourselves who to accept as authorities, who to ignore, and how to best progress in our lives will lead to all sorts of problems.