This is in response to Krishna Kirti Prabhu’s article “The “Buddhafication” of Srila Prabhupada” – Part 1 and Part 2.
Central to his argument is the observation made by Dr Thomas J. Hopkins that when we disagree with each other we all back ourselves with contradictory “Prabhupada saids” and have no way to move past that. This is so true, but the observation comes from the book published in 2007 – some thirteen years ago, and thirteen years is a lot of time so it’s a bit outdated. For several years now our answer to this problem has been “unity in diversity”. Personally, I don’t understand how it’s supposed so solve anything but there are plenty of devotees who are quite happy with this strategy. So, for better or worse, but we have moved on and disagreements are not seen as stumbling blocks anymore.
But let’s talk about Buddhafication itself – Buddhism happens to be one of the world’s oldest religions. Hinduism as culture is older but it’s rather a collection of religions and none of extant ones are as old as Buddhism. The point is that Buddhism displays an impressive staying power without relying on any non-Buddhist scriptures and explicitly rejecting Vedic ones. Somehow it still works.
Come to think of it, Christians also do not see any other way to salvation but through Christ. They accept Old Testament but there are many among them who believe Gospels are perfectly enough and they all interpret Old Testament through the teachings of Jesus. Islam also famously says that only Mohammad is the prophet and so he is the lens through which they perceive the Bible.
And what about Mormons? Looking at their set of beliefs one can come to a reasonable conclusion that they have one extra “m” in their name but they are also known as the fastest growing religion. Their allegiance to their founder doesn’t seem to be a hindrance. And what about BAPS? Recently in the news from the US there was an interfaith service organized by the White House and Hinduism was represented by a local BAPS priest, not by one of ours. Swami Narayan in their name doesn’t refer to Lord Narayana but to the name of their founder and in their manuals I’ve seen on the internet they do not rely on any other sources of knowledge. Technically, they can be considered as a branch of Sri Vaishnavism but they don’t care much for their larger tradition. So, once again, Buddhafication of Swami Narayan didn’t do them any harm. We don’t want ISKCON to become like BAPS or Mormons but I just want to say that even if we do it doesn’t spell immediate disaster.
Or consider “people of the book” – Judaism – they have no special allegiance to any historical personality apart from messiahs of the olden days but their allegiance is to seminal lines and one has to be born in a Jewish family first, so it’s not just accepting “the book” that qualifies one to become a Jew, and opinions of anyone who hasn’t accepted proper birth are not valued as much. Jews are not really “people of the book” in that sense, they are people of proper birth. In Vedic terminology it means one has to belong to their particular gotra and so the founder of that gotra is, effectively, their “Buddha” even if they forgot his name. One could argue that Judaism allows for conversions but it’s not an easy or widespread or universally accepted practice.
Besides, even as some of us rely more on Srila Prabhupada’s letters or anecdotes from his life, it would be a gross exaggeration to say that scriptures do not play any role whatsoever. Srila Prabhupada gave us Bhagavad Gita (“let there be one scripture only, one common scripture for the whole world” – quoted in BG Intro), Srimad Bhagavatam (“What is the need of any other scripture?” – SB 1.1.2), Caitanya Caritamrita, and The Nectar of Devotion. We used to boast how we have more than eighty volumes of translated scriptures and we all remember the warning not to read too many books. These four titles are perfectly adequate to answer all our questions but probably not in the way we are doing it now – not by arguing and throwing quotes at each other. Here is what Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had to say about pulling quotes out of context:
“Whenever you read a literature you should read it completely otherwise you will fail to abstract the actual meaning and ultimately become a logician.” (Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta 3/3)
Is there a need to demonstrate that logicians, those who engage in tarka, do not attain Krishna prema and are not counted among devotees? I myself recently gave a few examples of selective quoting, it’s a known problem and we also know the solution – don’t do it. Maybe not everyone in our society follows this rule but the solution exist and we don’t have to argue it into existence. I would rather argue that any sincere devotee who studies our books daily, who chants sincerely, and who engages himself in Krishna’s service 24/7 knows answers to all our problems of the day by heart. He just knows – because, as Srila Prabhupada often quoted – yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ – the import of Vedic scriptures opens automatically from within the heart, no quotes necessary.
If, however, this prescribed process fails for one reason or another then whatever arguments we build will be unavoidably wrong. These errors cannot be fixed by legislating what evidence should matter most – guru, sadhu, shastra, which shastra etc. People suffering from this condition will misinterpret any and all evidence to fit with their views and correct understanding can be established in only one way. Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes about that as well:
The eternity of the spirit soul and the existence of Brahman cannot be established through logical arguments, because arguments have no access to the subject matter that is beyond material universe. Direct self perception is the only establisher of such truths. By direct perception or spontaneous samādhi the saintly persons constantly realize the eternal abode of Vaikuntha and service to Krishna.” (Śrī Krishna Saṁhita 9/5)
Direct self perception. Not arguments.
One could note that I’m quoting from Bhaktivinoda Thakura and not Srila Prabhupada here. That’s because these are my recently saved quotes, no other reasons, really. Otherwise there’s “Krishna Consciousness is not an artificial imposition of the mind” message from the earliest days of our society. One who understands it and knows it to be true will fully agree with Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s quotes, too. Or how about “licking bottle from the outside” analogy Srila Prabhupada also used from the very beginning? It explains the same thing – we can’t argue truth into existence. No one can, it has to reveal itself to us. There’s also svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ. I have another relevant quote from Srila Bhaktivinoda:
“No one can attain the mercy of Krishna simply by studying the scriptures or hearing their conclusions. To give up endeavor for karma and jñāna and become fully surrendered to the Supreme Lord is the root of pure bhajana. As a result of this, one achieves the ultimate goal of life which is love of Krishna.” (Sajjana-toṣaṇī 11/7)
I’m not disagreeing with Krishna Kirti Prabhu here, problems he mentions clearly exist in our society and they have to be dealt with. I’m merely pointing out that we can’t convince our opponents into accepting guru-sadhu-shastra in the same way arguing over Trump on the internet has never ever convinced anybody to change their views. Sankirtana devotees know the method – one has to fully surrender to guru and Krishna and then Supersoul within people’s hearts will direct them to buy the books, and the Supersoul will also put the right words into distributor’s mouth. Likewise, our disagreements can be solved only when all impurities from our hearts vanish and Absolute Truth will shine through on its own. No one can argue against the appearance of Absolute Truth, especially the devotees. We just have to manifest it, which is not easy, of course.