Vanity thought #865. Bridging broadmindedness

Spiritual progress towards the stage of paramahamsa is accompanied by changes in attitudes and behavior which sometimes are difficult to understand and difficult to appreciate even for devotees, what to speak of materialists. Compassion seems to diminish, as I talked about yesterday.

I don’t think I gave examples but for materialists compassion is about providing care for basic bodily necessities. Religious people sometimes overlook those in favor of saving souls – there are examples of outrageous behavior that results in death of their own children, when instead of taking them to a doctor they try to heal them with prayers. I suppose there’s a value in this kind of compassion even if the results could be unacceptable to materialists.

Compassion of advanced impersonalists, in Aurobindo-Chinmoy-Chopra range looks like no compassion at all as they aim at people who aren’t materially suffering in the first place. No money, no wisdom. Same holds for Buddhists – they simply avoid those deeply affected by misery, meditation etc is for those in the mode of goodness, otherwise it simply won’t work.

I guess their kind of compassion has its value, too, because “rich” people need spiritual knowledge more than anyone else – they have finally achieved a human stage of life where eating, sleeping, mating and defending are not a primary concern and it is time for athato brahma jijnasa.

Now devotees are not simply more advanced humans, they are not of this world at all, their compassion does not bring any material benefits whatsoever, they don’t promise health, wealth or peace of mind, they aim at pleasing the Lord instead. For someone afflicted with material suffering it makes no sense – “I am in pain here, why are you talking about well-being of your Krishna who is full of knowledge and bliss anyway?”

Paramahamsas don’t seem to notice any suffering at all, no pain inducing misbehavior – this we don’t understand. As aspiring madhyama adhikaris we spend all our time differentiating between good and bad and choosing correct paths and this means rejecting some ideas and fiercely defending others. We bring examples of Srila Prabhupada’s wrath towards mayavadis or scientists or feminists or any other concepts we choose to fight against. It seems legit.

Well, we place Srila Prabhupada above ordinary paramahamsas yet in these cases we choose to highlight relatively lower aspects of his behavior, aspects that are suitable for devotees on madhyama level who do most of the preaching in this world. We think that if Srila Prabhupada behaved like us, displaying attitudes that we can relate to ourselves, ie chastising rascals, it is the highest principle of all.

Not really, first there’s a stage of paramahamsa where all these complaints disappear, then there’s a voluntarily step backward because personal spiritual progress and well-being ceases to be a priority – a perfect devotee happily agrees to live in any conditions and behave in any way Krishna wants him to without care for what it would do to his spiritual health. It cannot be destroyed anyway, he is incorruptible.

If we say we shouldn’t imitate paramahamsas, why should we imitate Srila Prabhupada who is situated even higher than that? There’s a thin line between following and imitation here which is beyond the scope of this post.

Let’s talk about broadmindedness instead. How does that change as one progresses spiritually through the above mentioned stages?

Surprisingly, one of the synonyms for “broadminded” is “catholic”. No one has ever accused catholic of being liberal or tolerant but that’s what’s in the dictionary. What I see here is the gradual change in meaning of the term as we observe its movement across different levels, from gross materialism towards spiritual perfection, pretty much like it happens with compassion.

For materialists “broadminded” means sexually permissive. They might object to such simplification but it’s true – almost everything they feel broadminded about is of sexual nature. Porn, masturbation, feminism, homosexuality or plain old freedom to copulate with anyone you fancy – these are ABCs of broadmindedness. If you are still fixated about those things, you can’t hope to progress towards liberalism of “higher” nature, whatever it means for them.

Freedom from rules and repression starts with sex just as any kind of spiritual progress demands sex control first and foremost. Simple but true, sex is at the root of everything here.

In this sense “Is the Pope catholic” becomes more than a rhetorical question because liberalism in church means anything but sex. Even “Liberal Catholics” use this word in a different way from how Catholics define it for themselves.

They say they are liberal because they accept a common goal for every human being, because their salvation is for everyone, because they never turn away anyone who comes to Christ.

This meaning is almost the same as was used by Srila Prabhupada. It’s not the opposite of conservative, as is understood by materialists and as it is used in modern society. We, devotees, are most liberal because we accept every living being as Krishna’s servant. We do not talk about liberalism as acceptance of every living being’s right to enjoy material nature in any way they want.

Then there’s a stage of paramahamsa where devotees do not see living beings enjoying material nature at all. They do not see what we call material nature, they see it as Krishna’s energy and therefore they see conditioned living entities interacting with Krishna through a medium of prakriti.

At that stage they become liberal in the modern sense of the world, too. Everything is permissible and deserving worship if it’s connected to Krishna, even when it looks like degraded sense enjoyment to us. There’s nothing degraded in relationship to the Lord. If we don’t see the connection it’s the fault of our perception only, it doesn’t mean that the connection isn’t there.

This is what happens with broadmindedness as one advances to a level of paramahamsa, one ceases to exclude or condemn anyone else.

We can’t imitate that and we shouldn’t imitate that because we have our own instructions to follow that say we should differentiate between spiritually favorable and unfavorable things but, philosophically speaking, we should never forget that nothing in this world really deserves condemnation, it’s only a temporary technique for us as neophytes in devotional service.

I think this needs lots of practical examples but I haven’t got any ready for today yet, so I’ll finish here.

Vanity thought #626. Broadmindedness

It has become a popular word used to describe Krishna consciousness or Srila Prabhupada or our ideal devotee. We should become broadminded.


What does it even mean?

Dictionaries define “broadminded” as tolerant of opposing viewpoints, respectful of opinions different from one’s own, or inclined to condone departures from expected behavior.

We come into a tradition that is “completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated” – where’s the scope for broadmindedness? We come into tradition of Rupa Goswami who banished his own nephew from Vrindavana, we come into tradition of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who purged Gaudiya vaishnavism of all malignant outgrowths, we come into tradition of Srila Prabhupada who taught us to fight impersonalism – where’s the scope for broadmindedness?

We are broadminded towards people who surrender to Krishna in a sense that we forgive and temporary overlook their minor transgressions but any philosophical deviations are unacceptable. Regarding new members Srila Prabhupada once said – give them three days to clean up and shave, if they don’t, they can’t stay in our temples.

One must surrender to Krishna with all his heart, with his mind, body, and soul – that’s the price of admission into our movement – where’s the scope for broadmindedness?

In the early days of our movement no one would ever describe Hare Krishnas as a broadminded religion. Four regs, no excuse, shaved head, tilaka and vaishnava clothes – take it or leave it. Once we were very proud of our own strict standards. Now we want to be broadminded.


I can only guess that it comes as a reaction to being accused of narrow-mindedness and a desire to be liked and accepted. We don’t want to be seen as a sect anymore. Perhaps at some point it was strategically important to present ourselves as broadminded, when our devotees were yanked out and deprogrammed, or when we were sued for solicitation (book distribution). Similarly, Russian devotees need to present themselves as part of a Hindu tradition to gain state protection.

Beyond that, I think we just want to be liked. It didn’t matter to us when we lived mostly in the temples but as a congregation based movement we are now part of the society, and, naturally, we don’t want to appear weird or brainwashed, we need to become broadminded. This means we have new masters now – the society. This also means that we renege on our loyalty – no more dhotis and saris in public, no shaved heads, no tilakas.

We are not even closet Hare Krishnas, we are Hare Krishnas that have gone mainstream.

I don’t actually have a problem with that – I see it as a necessary differentiation within our movement. As we take more and more people we can’t expect them all to be on the same level – renounced paramahamsas fully devoted to preaching and nothing else, even those living as grihasthas. Naturally, the vast majority will be nothing of the sort.

What we should clarify, however, is our standards. People who leave temples and take jobs cannot expect the same respect and recognition as those who stayed on as brahmacharis or those who stayed fully dependent on ISKCON in every aspect of their lives. They have traded their tickets to Vaikuntha for their salaries, that’s the reality.

Never mind that.

Srila Prabhupada was actually very fond of the word “broadminded” but his meaning was very unconventional one. He contrasted it with his own definition of narrow-minded, too. Narrow-minded people accept teeny, momentary pleasures of this material world as their highest goal. Broadminded people don’t waste their time on these low quality substitutions of real spiritual happiness. Broadminded people are those who are interested only in our Lord, they do not concern themselves with trivial material pursuits.

This makes sense – our minds should be broad enough to embrace the Absolute. In comparison to that petty squabbles of materialistic people look insignificant and not worthy of attention. With this attitude we can approach both sides of any conflict and tell them they are both losers and that they should give up their materialistic aspirations and look up to the higher goal of life.

In this sense we are forgiving of each sides pursuit of self-satisfaction and whatever transgressions they’ve committed to achieve it. Give it all up and it will all go away – aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah.

That is our broadmindedness.

This is also where it stops because every mistake we make after that would be counted as an offense against the Holy Name.

So, we do want to become broadminded but not in the conventional sense, we should clarify this to people when we make such claims, and our tradition is absolutely broadminded up to a certain point – surrender, beyond which the karma counter stops but offense counter starts instead.