Yesterday I spent half a post trying to figure out a proper attitude towards those devotees who say what looks like nonsense. I’m still on the recent North American GBC letter, of course. In many ways it looks like a hoax or as if someone used GBC letterhead for his/her own half baked thoughts. I mean the use of terms like OMG in official GBC correspondence? Come on, GBC should have secretaries weeding out this kind of stuff.
As it stands it IS nonsense that can’t be taken seriously. What it really is, I suspect, is a badly edited e-mail, most of it simply copy pasted into the official letter and rubber stamped by GBC. To be fair – Sampradaya Sun does present it as follows: “bill of complaint … written by Malati devi dasi and sent out by the GBC North American Executive Committee to all temples.” However, it does mean to sound super official with all those “whereas” and it does speak of “our” part, not just Malati’s. Actually it doesn’t say “our part”, that would be too grammatically correct for this publication. It says: “There is no personal agenda on our (on the part of Vaishnavi’s & others)” – and there’s no period at the end either.
So, how to deal with this without being offensive? If it’s clearly nonsense in content as well then it could also be considered our duty to explain why it is so in a restrained way. I don’t know how to do it, though.
Some take the highest possible road and simply refuse to criticize all vaiṣṇavas and everything they say, no matter how erroneous they are. The advantage of this approach is that no offenses are made and there could be no harm. The disadvantage is that sometimes inaction can be considered as an offense as well. If we hear blasphemy we must react, for example. If we can’t confront the blasphemer than we should at least leave the place/discussion. Practically, it would mean that we excuse ourselves from all controversial topics when other devotees might still appreciate and even need our input. We can’t just sit and watch a greater body of devotees being misled by cleverly disguised arguments either. If we consider ourselves as part of the community then it’s our obligation to occasionally speak up without fear of personally accrued reactions.
Another problem with taking the high road is that it’s reserved for paramahaṁsas, we won’t be able to stay there for long and eventually will be dragged down and forced to act according to our level of advancement. And even paramahaṁsas would still find a way to offer their comments in an inoffensive way because this is the age of saṅkīrtana – we need to talk things our together in glorification of the Lord, paramahaṁsas are not excused from that either.
On the other end of the scale there are fearless devotees who don’t mind slashing other people’s egos for what they believe is a good cause. They are fearless of offenses and that is a sure way to end one’s spiritual life prematurely. Right or wrong, Kṛṣṇa wan’t accept disrespectful treatment of His devotees. We have api cet su-durācāro verse on this (BG 9.30) which prescribes us to treat all devotees as sādhus. The condition given there is bhajate mām ananya-bhāk ~ engaged in devotional service without deviation, and this certainly applies to Mātājī Mālati.
I guess what we are seeing here is the material nature of her body and mind. Unless one has a fully spiritual body he/she is bound to act according to the laws of karma regardless of his/her devotional position. One has to eat and sleep, one has to talk according to how he was taught at school, same goes for mathematical calculations and all other things that bodies do in the material world.
This means that Śrīla Prabhupāda WAS an Indian gentleman who behaved according to Indian customs and saw the world from Indian perspective. Typical examples are his knowledge of Hitler or his inability to operate tape recorders unless taught by his western disciples, or statements on the physical size of female brains, but it also goes for how he cooked food, what flavors he preferred, how he dressed, his accent etc etc – it all looked undeniably Indian, or Bengali, to be precise.
We should learn to see this kind of things as separate from his spiritual position and we should learn to see how he used all these material facilities (and handicaps, as in case of using gadgets) in an unalloyed service to the Lord. Whatever the material nature supplied him in terms of mind and body he used it selflessly with love and devotion to Kṛṣṇa.
Due to his extraordinary level of devotion everything he did came out perfectly, or most it, or most of what we choose to remember. We can’t replicate that and we can’t expect his followers to be absolutely perfect and free from faults either. Souls trapped in their bodies will make mistakes, they will have the tendency to cheat, too. Occasionally they will be less than truthful, they will try to present themselves in a positive light, they will produce silly arguments to prove themselves right, they will take advantage of others – there’s no escaping that kind of behavior for conditioned souls.
We need to learn how to overlook all that and see only their devotion. As spirit souls they are not doing any of those things, these are attributes of their bodies, as I said earlier, and so we shouldn’t blame devotees themselves for the actions of the material nature. And since the material nature acts under the direction of Kṛṣṇa even blaming these activities would be equal to blaming the Lord Himself.
There’s no easy way out here, not unless one has a truly equanimous vision and has no trace of personal motives but is rather seen as a friend – pretty much like the Supersoul himself. We can’t imitate that but we should strive to offer our sincere service without any hidden agenda to the people we feel the need to correct.
I’m not the one to offer advice to Mātājī Mālati. I’m not qualified to tell her how she should read Bhakti Vikāsa Svami’s book, I’m sure there are devotees closer to her who Kṛṣṇa could inspire to say a few words if necessary. I also don’t want to be critical, just show that arguments used in that letter should not be taken seriously. I know that if someone hears this kind of assessment of his own work he is not going to take it gladly and I don’t want to cause Mātājī or any of her followers unnecessary discomfort.
However, if their goal is to convince people like me of something then they should be ready to accept the feedback, too. I’m not going to agree with everything they say just to be polite, certainly not when I’m sitting alone in front of my computer – I have my own nature that controls my responses. I can only hope that this criticism is accepted as my humble service, I really wish that these devotees notice these errors in their arguments.
Ultimately, all Mātājī Mālati wants is for all of us to become better servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda and advance in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This effort needs to be appreciated regardless of the externalities.