Yesterday I wrote about our lines of authority and ended talking about devotees taking shelter of particular manifestations of this authority, I mean Supreme Absolute Truth, Kṛṣṇa, who appears to us in many forms. That part probably needs a little expanding on.
Typically, we are very radical in our movement, it’s our way of highway, and I support this orthodoxy one hundred percent but we should remember the bigger picture, too. We absolutely must submit ourselves to GBC and its local representatives but that’s because we want a place in Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya’s service. We won’t get there any other way. There are other people, however, who would gladly settle for something more modest and for them there are less demanding provisions. Today I want to talk about them.
If you ask people they’d never say they settle for something small. We would never say we are going after nothing less than a happy life in Vṛndāvana either. The reality is, however, somewhat different and deep within our hearts we know it. If we cut through the sweet talk for the general population Śrīla Prabhupāda’s goals for us were quite demanding. We are supposed to preach non stop every second our lives and we don’t have any other purpose. We often heard the saying “work now, samādhi later” but in reality even that is a cop out.
We do not aim for “samādhi”, we do not aim for comfortable life amidst desire trees, we aim only for the service to the lotus feet of our guru. It might not be very pleasing to us personally but it’s what impresses Kṛṣṇa the most and Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure the only thing we should care about in our spiritual lives.
Not long ago I heard a class where a devotee was reading from one of the books by Sanātana Gosvāmī and there was a story there how Kṛṣṇa often, more often than we expect, asks a newly returned devotee to go back and preach in the material world. I don’t know what to make of it. It sounds a bit cruel and uncaring on His part but that’s what He likes, and He asks us, by that time “formerly conditioned souls”, to go and do this service on His behalf because we know the place better than anyone else. Sanātana Gosvāmī didn’t say how often people refuse, which is understandable, or at least hesitate long enough to indicate they’d rather not, but the assumption is that we are supposed to take these assignments without a blink and with full enthusiasm.
That’s our line of rūpanugas, we are servants of the servants of the servants and we do not seek our own little sweet spot in Kṛṣṇa’s entourage. We take up service no one else is taking and we don’t expect anything in return.
It is very hard to accept this attitude with an open heart, it requires complete purity, but we know it’s what is demanded of us, if we are up to it. Nowadays even the intellectual understanding might not be so widespread anymore but the demand for this service is there and to satisfy it we need to be one hundred percent dedicated to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the mission he left for us, GBC, presidents, the whole institution. We are servants of everyone and we should not dare to criticize anyone, not even the littlest, clumsiest of wannabe bhaktas. We are their servants, too.
People who are not ready for this kind of commitment still need a place in ISKCON and for them demands are more relaxed. They can seek shelter in a wide circle of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s net. They can, for example, be faithful to him in their own way but not be on good terms with GBC. Or they can be faithful to GBC as an idea but not to some particular policies. Or they could be faithful to their local ISKCON chapter but not their temple president.
For us there might not be spiritual world outside of Śrīla Prabhupāda but actually there is, he never claimed to be one and only true representative for all eternity, that’s from another religion. For us, however, going around Prabhupāda would be offensive, we don’t really have a choice. Still the world is out there and it’s ready to provide shelter to those who seek it.
As far as I can see, there’s not much spirituality left outside of our movement, devotees in other sampradāyas don’t get Kṛṣṇa premā without taking shelter of Lord Caitanya so their progress is limited to Vaikuṇṭhas, which isn’t very much comparing to possibilities offered to us. There are Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas outside of ISKCON, too, but they have discredited themselves by not supporting Prabhupāda when they had a chance and so their prospects aren’t bright either. Maybe some other day I’ll write about Prabhupāda’s attitude towards them. However crippled, they are still devotees and if one seeks their shelter he would still be protected by Kṛṣṇa, still guided by Him, they will never be rejected no matter what they do or say. We should also remember that those who rejected Śrīla Prabhupāda will never get the same opportunities as the original members, which isn’t much in the first place.
Hinduism, however is bigger than vaiṣṇavism and allows for gradual spiritual progress to all kinds of people. One time Śrīla Prabhupāda said that worshipers of Durgā are better than Christians because they follow the Vedic way which guarantees eventual success while those who call themselves Christians are on their own, no one can guarantee anything there.
Perhaps the biggest Hindu school is advaita these days and it manifests in the form of pañcopāsāna, worshiping the five principal deities. Externally it looks very much like vaiṣṇavism because Viṣṇu is also there but conceptually it’s impersonalism. Most people can’t be bothered with learning the difference and they will never miss a chance to worship a deity so pañcopāsāna flourishes.
As followers of Lord Caitanya and Śrīla Prabhupāda we do not like impersonalism one bit but it’s a legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth, albeit an incomplete one, and no one actually realizes it these days. Still the attempt is there and it also counts.
We often say that slaughtering goats for Kali is Kṛṣṇa’s concession to those who can’t live without meat but so is impersonalism. Advaita might be a misleading path and it might be meant to trick people into atheism but it was sill given by Lord Śiva in the form of Śaṅkarācārya and so is Vedic and eventually purifying. I mean if people want to be atheists it’s better for them to be Vedic atheists. They aren’t a pleasant company but they are still taking shelter of the Vedas.
My point is that we might not think much of all these non-vaiṣṇavas or non-ISKCON vaiṣṇavas, or ex-ISKCON vaiṣṇavas, and all kinds of apa-sampradāyas, but they are still taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu, or Śiva, or Durgā, and we should have nothing but respect for that. Kṛṣṇa’s net is very very wide and everyone caught in it safe, if not in this lifetime then in the next.
In the bigger scheme of things they do not deserve condemnation, we only allow it when we talk about our narrow, single-minded objective and only when we talk with similarly minded devotees. It’s not a talk for outsiders and we should be careful not to appear as sectarian and argumentative. We have our own thing and it’s big enough to attract everybody without the need to put anyone else down.