I occasionally check Hinduism subreddit. Usually these places are overrun by māyāvādīs and devotees appearing there are immediately insulted and chased off but this one maintains a modicum of civility. It doesn’t mean it’s not completely off the chart when it comes to philosophy, though, and it’s this part that is truly scary.
Just on this last visit I saw at least three postings that make me lose hope in humanity. One was made by a devotee, btw. He happens to be a disciple of one ex-ISKCON swami, won’t mention any names but it’s the one whose disciples are into research and making their own minds as they read Vedic literature. Nominally in GM, he himself diverts greatly from them on jīva falldown issue, for example, because he’s read Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa and so has an informed opinion on this (as opposed to “lesser” ācāryas in both GM and ISKCON?).
Anyway, this particular devotee digs up rare books on all sorts of issues, I’m not sure how much he retains but if you want to check on dvaita schools in Kashmiri Śaivism he’s got you covered. This time he asked about vaiṣṇava dvaita, though, and wanted to see their teachings on free will. Speaking for Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism he said that Baladeva took a compatibilist position on this and provided helpful links to Stanford’s overview of philosophy explaining what compatibilism is.
He was immediately corrected because in our tradition we don’t take Western philosophical positions, we don’t have freedom to take any positions other than the ones given by our guru. Being a devotee he agreed, and yet this small episode betrays the dangerous attitude common to all of us.
We still approach our books as wannabe philosophers. We read stuff, try to understand it, and then form the conclusions. If we are lucky these conclusions are in line with Śrīla Prabhupāda but even this luck is limited in its power because these are still OUR conclusions, it’s what WE think Kṛṣṇa consciousness is, it’s a product of OUR minds.
Real knowledge, on the contrary is what Kṛṣṇa REVEALS about Himself. If He hasn’t done so then we don’t have it and whatever we do have is useless, it’s just a concoction of one’s mind with his memories as ingredients and guṇas as a cook.
Kṛṣṇa, however, reveals this knowledge gradually, so sometimes it’s hard to tell our own speculations from realizations provided by Him from within our hearts. I think a sure way not to make this mistake is not speculate in the first place, just accept what Prabhupāda says and try to realize it through service. Of course analyzing guru’s teachings is a service, too, and so next one should see a difference between philosophical and mental speculations and between trying to come to our own conclusions and comprehending conclusions offered by ācāryas.
That’s why our path is not easy even though it’s relatively simple. If only we could surrender unconditionally.., but even that ability is granted by the Lord. Therefore we depend on Him and our guru in all respects – the fact that we often forget.
Two other requests were from non-devotees reading our Bhagavad Gītā As It Is and asking for better translations. What do you say to that? They’ve read Prabhupāda’s books and purports and weren’t impressed. I don’t know if we have a protocol for dealing with this, I thought we should just sigh and move on, some people are hell bent on going to hell, that’s what Kali yuga is for, and we should just let them. Time spent with Prabhupāda’s purports will not go in vain anyway, they’ll be back.
The problem here, however, is that it’s a public forum and so if people start saying that our Gītā sucks everyone else would notice and it would undermine our otherwise spotless authority. Of course hardly anyone would agree that ISKCON is spotless but we maintain that our process is – read the books and bhakti would naturally grow, it works all the time, except when it doesn’t, sadly.
The only solution I see so far is that these people aren’t after God or bhakti, one wanted to read up on the war and the other wanted the text itself, without purports. I think that if we can highlight this point then we can explain why our Gītā didn’t satisfy their interests. Still, the problem remains – our Gītā should satisfy all desires because it gives one Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Obviously, these particular readers didn’t get enough of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to forget whatever they wanted in the beginning, and it’s not supposed to happen. Or, perhaps, atheism is particularly strong in them and they are hell bent on avoiding surrendering to the Lord or accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda as an authority. Perhaps they want to use both Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda for their own ends and so it might take a long time before they realize that they might have missed the real treasure in our books.
I mean there’s a lot of people out there who think Bhagavad Gītā is just a collection of words and it’s up to us to construct a meaning from them, not that these words convey existing meaning already. They still think that if they translate the words differently the meaning would change.
Concepts like disciplic succession and guru mean nothing to them, guru is just a teacher, as in “paid service provider”, and these days teachers tell students to question everything, including themselves. So guru is needed to gain the ability to question his authority.
In these people’s view to become a guru one only needs to gain followers, no other qualification is important. It’s not gaining trust from your predecessors but the ability to dupe the ignorants. No wonder that all these gurus must be questioned and rejected in the end – they are frauds.
And so people are left in this self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and rascaldom. They can’t take to bhakti because of their arrogance and pride and bhakti is the only way out. What can we do? Nothing short of a miracle.
We need to give people actual realization, compared to which all these mental speculations will appear as worthless waste of time. That’s all people will respond to in the end – rasa, the taste of the Absolute Truth, we are all after this ānanda – ānanda mayo ‘bhyāsāt. Can we give it to them ourselves? Obviously not, and if they can’t get it from Prabhupāda then what?
I have a couple of ideas but I don’t want to start a new topic today.