Vanity thought #1596. Lines of authority

GBC has been promoting its paper on the lines of authority for several years now, everyone must have read it already. I have, and forgotten all the details. The principle is that all our lines of authority – guru, GBC, temple president etc should be perfectly aligned with each and should not step on each other’s toes.

I don’t remember them offering any solutions to situations when various lines of authority intersect and create problems, and while on the surface it might look like a major omission I admire approach in that paper very much. Instead of dealing with consequences they say that it’s the authorities themselves who should not get into these situations in the first place. Do not create unnecessary intersections and no one will get into any trouble. Easy and simple.

If someone starts pushing for his rights to do this or that and it clashes with other lines of authority then something must be wrong. If we perform our service correctly it should not happen, therefore no one has the [spiritual] right to run a roughshod over anybody else. Either you come to an agreement or abandon your claims to righteousness. “I’m right and pure and they are wrong and in māyā” is not a winning but a losing argument, Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not offer any leg to stand on there.

I don’t know how it works in real life, I hope our society is mature enough to follow these guidelines, I hope it’s the stuff of the past. What interests me more is how people deal with such problems on a personal level. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to find examples of doing it wrong – because that’s what becomes fodder for “news”, but there are still important lessons to be learned, at least in what not to do.

Let’s simplify the situation to Prabhupāda, GBC, and Prabhupāda’s disciples. Vast majority of our members are second generation devotees but introducing another level of complexity, a guru between Prabhupāda and a devotee, is not required in order to understand the basic dynamics. Maybe it could be introduced later, let’s see.

So, let’s say a devotee has some problem and, unfortunately, he wants to blame someone else rather than his own karma. Somebody else should take a responsibility and correct the situation, but who?

We all trust Kṛṣṇa to be infallible but no one has seen Him, so we think that someone standing between us and Him is the source of our discomfort. The next infallible authority after Kṛṣṇa is Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some have left his shelter but I don’t want to even talk about them, that’s not an option. There’s a case study of Nitai who left ISKCON for Rādhā-kuṇḍa bābājīs and it’s not clear cut and one-dimensional but in any case we don’t want any of that for ourselves.

Unfortunately, Śrīla Prabhupāda is not with us any longer, too. We can’t summon him to solve our problems, we can only bicker and throw quotes at each other, which doesn’t solve anything. Next in line is GBC, a body assigned by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself to be our ultimate authority, both in spiritual and managerial matters. Then there zonal secretaries and temple presidents, and then there is lower level management. They are all alive and well and so we have a choice in who to blame or who to approach for help. So, who becomes our target first?

Let’s say you work in a temple kitchen and you see something wrong with the way food is prepared and offered. Do you snitch on kitchen manager to the president? Do you allow for some leeway and close your eyes on minor transgressions? If you did that then the problem wouldn’t even be there because that’s already a kind of solution. Most of the time, however, we are hell bent on actually correcting it. Let’s say you do go to the president and complain, and then what?

Temple president has a bigger picture in his mind, he can’t just dismiss his kitchen manager for a million of reasons. He can’t banish him from the temple, there aren’t adequate replacement positions, giving a service well below is not an option either, and there’s no question of promotion, too. In big temples it’s little easier but in a small temple the kitchen manager does not go anywhere. Complain or don’t complain, he is going to stay.

Except now you have introduced a strain into your relationships with your boss and trust between you and your immediate authority has been lost. It doesn’t solve your original problem but only add to it. Now you can set your sights on the president himself because it was his “fault” that he didn’t reassign kitchen manager somewhere else. It’s nepotism, you think. The president is protecting the management, not the interests of simple devotees who only want to make things better. It’s all about power and personal comfort, not about improving our service. A few days of thoughts like this and you have a problem with the president. Who’s next?

You can complain to your guru, you can raise the question with visiting sannyāsīs, you can even approach the zonal secretary. Of course you’ll need a bigger argument then some minor improprieties in the kitchen but once you set your mind in a critical mood finding faults is easy, you have convinced yourself that your president is not a devotee but a demon in a vaiṣṇava disguise already, the supporting evidence is already in your mind, you just have to make it presentable.

None of the above authorities is likely to take you complaints seriously for obvious reasons – they can easily see through your little plan, it doesn’t take a genius. And if they don’t assuage you then the GBC becomes the next target of your righteous indignation.

Most of the time we don’t start with our own personal problems but go straight for matters above our pay-grade, things like preaching strategies or policy making. Depending on how big our scope becomes we declare appropriate level enemies. Could be some GBC ministry, could be zonal secretary, could be just vague “they”. In this case we do not have any beef with our local authorities and think that ISKCON is being mismanaged from the top, most likely by that impersonal “GBC”, which starts to sound like “KGB”.

What do we do then? Some simply refuse to recognize the authority of the GBC. They took initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda and their primary allegiance is to him while GBC is just an add-on, following it wasn’t part of their initiation vows. For second generation devotees it’s obviously not an option. Others admit that GBC is not up to scratch but they see ISKCON as a larger body of devotees who will always come to your help, clearly a less confrontational solution.

Ultimately, it’s all about shelter – where do we seek it? It might start with assigning blame but at the end of the day we all need shelter, so instead of talking about someone’s enemies we should look at who is that person’s shelter. Is it GBC? Is it ISKCON at large where they can go into hiding and live quiet peaceful life? Is it their outside work that provides for the necessities and so they don’t care what GBC is really up to anymore. Is it Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, with no intermediaries? Is it Kṛṣṇa? Is it the holy name? Is it a community of ex-ISKCON devotees who naturally want to look after each other? Is it some other, non-ISKCON guru?

All we need to know is this shelter and then adjust the level of our association with that devotee accordingly. If they can’t stop criticizing others they are to be avoided regardless of the situation, that’s a start, but beyond that we are talking about different degrees of delusion. Some are less harmful then the others but only a devotee who is at total peace with everybody else and who doesn’t see any faults in anyone is capable of infusing our hearts with bhakti. Everything else is only a substitution, not a real thing.

Problems will always be there, even for the best of us, but the wise ones won’t allow their consciousness to be polluted and won’t pay much attention to them. They are the ones we need to learn from while those who are at “war” fail by the standard of that GBC paper I mentioned in the beginning, no matter their reasoning.

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