Ever since encountering Krishna consciousness we undergo several paradigm shifts. The first one is the most impressive one – we suddenly realize that there’s God watching over us and expecting our return. The sweetest moments of everyone’s life, no doubt about it.
Then we read the books, absorb the philosophy, and always wear very pink glasses. When we go to the temples everyone is a saint there, everyone is a pure devotee. We beg everyone’s mercy and we bask in it to our full satisfaction. We make a lot of progress in a very short time. Prema bhakti is just around the corner, maybe next morning when I wake up it will be there. Chanting, kirtans, prasadam – we’ve never seen so much bliss in our lives.
Then we move into the temple. Maybe it’s not a custom anymore but in the earlier days it was the natural next step. New sadhana seems like living on Goloka Vrindavana already, just need one more push to really feel it. Everything is easy – waking up in the morning, distributing books, preaching, sacrificing our lives for the mission of the spiritual master. You will never find a more determined bhaktas than those a few months short of their first initiation.
Then we start to settle in and that’s where we notice, for the first time in our lives, who the devotees around us really are. At first we tell ourselves that it’s okay, we came to a hospital and so we should expect to meet sick people but in a short while it starts resembling a mental asylum instead.
This is where we hit the second paradigm shift – we convince ourselves that we are a part of the select club of real devotees. We join our peers and we get the privilege of having some juniors around us, too. We got all the formalities right – initiation, second initiation, probably a respectable position in the temple hierarchy – we are truly in.
That realization of our own progress and importance and the maddening reality of a temple life lead us to become judgmental and critical of all others who can’t do a single thing right. It might not be so bad when we boss around new bhaktas but we start dispersing advice to our seniors, too – after all they are just like us, just a few years up the ladder, they are still human, not pure devotees for sure. In fact at this stage we are extremely skeptical about any pure devotees getting to live in this temple ever.
What naturally happens is that we commit enough aparadhas to seriously damage our enthusiasm for service. Material desires creep back – we get new dhotis, nice chaddars, an iPod, maybe a new computer, all for the service and for thinking of Krishna, of course. Then we get wives.
That is a third paradigm shift – we realize that we are nowhere near pure devotee level. Nowhere, never, not in this lifetime (well, maybe towards the end, when genitals stop working…)
If we overcome that big hit we emerge much stronger and humbler, much more appreciative of others, much more considerate, in some cases even the enthusiasm comes back. That’s when we really get noticed in the community, we might even become pillars, our lectures are sought out, maybe we’ll start giving seminars and travelling all over the place. We dispense wisdom and advice, we know shastras through realization, we made it. Another paradigm shift has been completed.
This is where we start teaching everyone. Not sannyasis and gurus yet, but we are watching them. They would often need our advice anyway, they can’t be expert in everything themselves. Sometimes they miss our advice and fumble things being left on their own. We are there to pick it up and put it back together. Marital advice, administrative matters – you name it, we know it inside out.
This is where we realize that gurus, sannyasis, and even Prabhupada himself were human. They have limitations, they are prone to making mistakes. We mean no disrespect, we just want to be helpful and make everything absolutely perfect.
If we step to that plate we complete yet another paradigm shift, so far the most dangerous of all, simply because the stakes are so high and we might become offensive towards really untouchable people.
Let me illustrate how it worked in Lord Chaitanya’s times. Jiva goswami was Rupa goswami’s nephew and he stayed with him in Vrindavana, serving his uncle and initiating spiritual master (it must have been sannyasa initiation). One day Sri Vallabhacharya of Shiva sampradaya visited Rupa goswami and pointed out a few mistakes in the new verses of Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu. Jiva goswami found a private opportunity to discuss them with Vallabhacharya and defend his uncle. Vallabhacharya was very impressed with his scholarship, Rupa goswami wasn’t.
In fact, Rupa goswami was incensed at Jiva goswami’s breach of etiquette – he was absolutely in no position to correct his seniors, devotees on the same level as his spiritual master. Right or wrong, knowledgeable or not – this is just not done. Sri Rupa goswami simply told Jiva to get lost, leave Vrindavan and don’t come back until he clears himself of his pride and bad attitude.
We must never ever “think objectively” when meeting senior vaishnavas. Objectively they might make mistakes here and there, it’s human nature, after all. Objectivity, however, is not devotion, it won’t give us love of God. As far as devotee is concerned – senior vaishnavas are guided by Krishna Himself and thus they cannot make mistakes by definition.
Objectively minded people might see things in terms of right and wrong, short, medium and long term. We are not objective people, however, we want devotion and we want unconditional surrender – everything Krishna does is right, every doubt that Krishna or His devotees committed a mistake is wrong.
Objectively, all other devotees we meet in our lives are on the same level as us – jivas, Lord’s marginal potency, prone to falling into an illusion. For our spiritual advancement, however, we assume a different position. We must treat our guru and his equals as representatives of Krishna, not as our equals in any sense, not as other humans, we must treat them as external manifestation of God, and also we must be trinad api sunichena.
For an objective observer this is plain silly – we can’t treat a mortal guru and his pals as God, this is delusion. We might respect them for what they have done in their lives but they are not God. If we want to live in a wider society we should drop this nonsense – no one can be God in this world, isn’t it our own philosophy, too?
Our current paradigm, if you followed me a few paragraphs earlier, assumes that we can see ourselves as part of the wider world and be vaishnavas, too. We practically set out to prove that we are not just some crazies wrapped in bedsheets, that we indeed are perfect gentlemen, just like Prabhupada wanted us to be.
Thus we understand that Prabhupada was not God, he was human, and he made a few mistakes here and there. Everybody can see that, he himself had a whole BBT department to correct errors in his books.
Objectively this is correct, devotionally it’s a massive fail.
For the sake of our spiritual health we cannot, under any circumstances, think that Prabhupada made any mistakes. Not with the Moon landing, not with astronomy, not with regulative principles – nothing, never, not possible by definition. Prabhupada was an external manifestation of Krishna, or Balarama, or Lord Nityananda specifically.
Maybe the problem is that we are still short of the last paradigm shift – seeing the whole world as working under the direction of Krishna and all devotees enjoying His special attention. Objectively speaking, I mean knowing that there’s nothing here but the play of Krishna’s energies, there are no such things as mistakes at all. Everything Krishna and His energies do is absolutely perfect and free from all illusion. We are not free from our illusion but that’s our problem. We see people making mistakes when it’s actually they are not doers of anything and every mistake is sanctioned by the Supersoul with utmost love and care and for that living soul’s ultimate well-being.
Before we get to that level we might try to see “mistakes” as Krishna’s special messages for us, too, as He knows exactly what He is doing and He personally oversees the process of committing those mistakes from start to finish and he knows how it might affect us.
If we see the “mistakes” then it’s probably a sign that we have the capacity to deal with them appropriately, too, and continue building our respect for the devotees that commit them. All to often, however, we decide that the mistakes are there so that we could come to the rescue and save the day. Sometimes it works, Vallabhacharya didn’t take any offense either, remember? That doesn’t heal the damage we made to our own spiritual advancement, however. If Rupa goswami didn’t point it our Jiva goswami wouldn’t have probably noticed it and continued living in Vrindavana and writing scholarly books, he had a perfect mind for that.
Rupa goswami, however, put him straight – this is not the attitude of an aspiring devotee amd it does not bring one closer to selfless loving service to Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. Jiva goswami probably didn’t really need this lesson himself, it was all arranged for our benefit, just like Arjuna’s apparent confusion before the battle.
Jiva goswami didn’t leave Vrindavan, btw, he was on his way and then he just couldn’t go any farther, he stopped and started fasting. It attracted attention of some other devotees and then they asked Sanatana goswami for help who eventually settled the matter between Rupa and Jiva goswamis, so it all ended well.
I’m not sure there will be help just around the corner every time we decide to correct Srila Prabhupada, or any senior devotee for that matter.
We just have to hold on until that very last shift to the real Krishna consciousness. I hope we are not too far away and Krishna will take care of us so that we get there safely.