Yesterday’s post about turmoil in Māyāpura raises an important question – how holy is the holy dhāma? Why does it allow such obvious corruption? This isn’t about just one latest incident, don’t get me wrong, the “problem” of apparent contamination is a persistent one.
Spiritually, both Vṛndāvana and Māyāpura are pristine and full of opulences but materially they appear as affected by the external conditions on Earth as any other place, maybe to a lesser degree but still. Up to a five hundred years ago Vṛndāvana was completely covered, for example, and no one had any idea that Navadvīpa was in any way special either. In fact, in Advaita Ācārya’s perception it was overrun by gross materialism. It was closer to vaṛṇāśrama than it is now but chanting of the holy name was absent and so it didn’t bring any pleasure to the Lord whatsoever.
Since then Vṛndāvana came under persecution by Muslim rulers and then later became a shelter for all kinds of materialistic devotees. Māyāpura, in turn, was completely abandoned and no one even remembered where birthplace of Lord Caitanya was. It was populated by meat eating Mohammedans and Hindu Bengalis living off the fruit of the sea (I mean fish). Even Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavas were engaged in all kinds of abominable activities in the name of the Lord.
By historical standards whatever ISKCON is guilty of is peanuts, though alleged child abuse is not a matter to be taken lightly. It still isn’t as bad as desecrating altars or deflowering disciples’ brides. The point is, better or worse, but the dhāma always appear to be covered by faults, so we need to address the root of the problem, not our currently observed symptoms.
The truth is that the dhāma never manifests itself to neophytes like us, we always see only its material covering and then judge its quality by standards we borrowed elsewhere. Slapping kids is bad now but thirty years ago no one thought much about it, and in Prabhupāda’s time it was probably considered necessary. On that matter, I once saw a page from a book about party games in the 40s America – they were brutal, with assurances like “swelling would subside in a couple of days so don’t worry”. Our perception of criminality is time conditioned even though some moral values are more or less eternal. What I’m saying is that we always look at current material covering of the dhāma and judge it by our current standards, we never see the real thing.
Having this relativism in mind, is righteous outrage at perceived wrongdoings principally better than quiet complacency when things appear as “normal”. Constitutionally, for us they are never normal, after all, because the only normal condition is eternal pastimes of the Lord and whatever else we see is materialistic.
More practical question is how we should behave in these relative conditions? What should be our eternal anchor? The lotus feet of the Lord are a perfect shelter, of course, but we can’t see them yet, we just imagine them however we want, the only criterion being that our mental fabrication must be somewhat connected to śāstra. Even shelter of our guru is open to interpretation – because we constantly disagree on how to serve better or on who channels Prabhupāda better.
Does it also mean that dhāma we can’t see is no dhāma at all? If we see only the material covering, what spiritual value does it have? There’s a good, authoritative answer to this type of question from Prabhupāda himself. He said that devotees maintaining materialistic attitudes in the dhāma will get born in animal species where they can satisfy their material cravings, clear up their karma, and then go back to Godhead. In one class he had this to say about them:
Vṛndāvana means, those who are in Vṛndāvana… If they actually want to live in Vṛndāvana, their business should be how to satisfy the senses of Kṛṣṇa. That is Vṛndāvana. Not that “I am living in Vṛndāvana and trying to satisfy my senses.” That is not vṛndāvana-vāsī. That kind of living is… There are so many monkeys, dogs and hogs also; they are in Vṛndāvana. Do you mean to say that they are living in Vṛndāvana? No. Anyone who wants to satisfy his senses in Vṛndāvana, their next life is dogs, hogs and monkey. You must know that.
As long as we try to satisfy our own senses instead of Kṛṣṇa’s we are not living in Vṛndāvana either, the only difference between us and these hogs and dogs is the type of our body and a type of our sense enjoyment. Of course we also have the opportunity to become Kṛṣṇa conscious while in human form of life but dogs and hogs are SURE to return to Kṛṣṇa after dying while we aren’t, we might become dogs and hogs in the future ourselves. Who’s more advanced now, once we consider this possibility?
It appears that dhāma is always a very special place but there’s a difference in perception and in the outcomes of our interactions with it depending on our consciousness. It would always be better to be born a dog in Vṛndāvana or Māyāpura than to be born elsewhere on this planet but it’s not what our ācāryas are expecting from us, it’s not what Prabhupāda and our gurus are training us for.
If we settle on the possibility of being born as dogs or monkeys in the dhāma we might consider ourselves lucky but it would still be a disappointment for our spiritual mentors. We shouldn’t shortchange their mercy for breadcrumbs, relatively speaking. They want us to serve Kṛṣṇa, not spend our days stealing bananas.
Sometimes, however, it’s all we can ever do and no one would blame us for not living up to our potential but it’s still not an excuse for fooling around and extending our spiritual childhood for as long as possible, we should become mature and take responsibility for our service. The fact that Kṛṣṇa’s service is not going anywhere and we can resume it in the next life or the one after next should not become our master plan, not even plan B. It’s something that can, unfortunately, happen, but we should not aim for it.
In not so many words, we all should grow up, stop stroking our egos, and rise above the material tribulations. Or rather go below them and keep our consciousness undisturbed by the waves in the ocean of the material existence. Then we might be able to appreciate the depth of the dhāma and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.