Chakra Discussions

Misra Misconceptions

by Niscala d.d.

Posted February 12, 2004

Srila Prabhupada once expressed concern that our devotees don't read books- they only distribute them. In his purport to CC Adi lila 7.102, we see that philosophy is not to be not only read by the vaisnava student, but scrutinizingly studied under the tutelage of his guru, and that the student must be "seriously inquisitive"- seriously question his understanding of it. This thirst for detailed and precise knowledge about the Absolute Truth immensely pleases the genuine guru. How is it then that in our movement, detailed questioning of the guru is degraded as "wasting his time"?

There is indeed a misconception that serious philosophical thought is unnecessary! "For one who serves his guru faithfully all the purports of the vedas are revealed automatically, prabhu!" How this happens, they presume is by magic, not by the guru becoming genuinely pleased and inspired to teach, which of course is the type of revelation we see over and over again in the scripture. Submissive service sets the mood for the receptive and attentive dynamic of questioning and assimilating answers. It is never meant to eclipse or replace it, exploiting a whimsical interpretation of this verse.

Then there is the idea that becoming too philosophical carries with it the threat of jnana misra bhakti. Srila Prabhupada cleared this misconception in this purport by defining the levels of a devotee in terms of knowledge- those lacking in knowledge are of a lower grade and perform their devotional service primarily out of sentiment. They must elevate themselves in knowledge and act with discrimination on the basis of sastra to become madhyama devotees, steady on the path. On the other hand, jnana misra bhakti is described as an impediment on the path. Clearly two objects with such different results cannot be one and the same thing.

This contradiction is resolved thus. In the process of bhakti, every activity, both physical and intellectual, is purified when engaged in the Lord's service. Indeed, this is the very purpose of having such advanced facilities in the human form of life. Srila Prabhupada described that all departments of knowledge should be used thus, and thus turned into the nature of bhakti- pleasing to the Lord. Bhakti, then, is a question of motivation. Everything from cleaning the bathroom to scrutinizingly studying the nature of things, is transformed through a motivation to please the Lord. Through knowledge gained by serious enquiry to the "vastly learned" spiritual master one learns the uselessness and danger of knowledge which cannot be used in, or is inimical, to bhakti, such as mayavada philosophy.

When one is not serious to discriminate between the two, one may still sentimentally perform devotional service while harboring attachment to speculative mayavada or mundane knowledge. Or one may cultivate knowledge- even of bhakti- partially to promote oneself as a learned scholar. These are examples of jnana misra bhakti. They are weeds which can choke the bhakti creeper.

Actually, bhakti is pure. It cannot be contaminated by anything- it purifies everything. When we say "mixed devotional service" a more accurate description would be "devotional service, mixed with other motivations"... "mixed" refers to one's motivations, not bhakti itself.

Up until one's motivations are thoroughly pure they are affected by the modes of nature. Devotional service in ignorance is without knowledge and is sentimental. Often the devotees performing it consider themselves superior to those in knowledge whom they sarcastically refer to as "intellectuals". Devotional service in passion is done for profit- social or economic. In order to become purified of these lower modes one must cultivate devotional service in goodness- solely with the motivation of purification- and engage both mental and physical facilities for this end. The genuine guru, perceiving this motivation in his disciple's endless enquiries, is pleased to no end, and never considers such enquiries a waste of his time, but rather encourages his disciple to question, more and more...

It is through lack of such knowledge that misconceptions regarding devotional service arise. For example, in order to avoid the responsibility of serious philosophical research, sentimental devotees often quote Lord Chaitanya as saying " My guru considered me a fool and not fit to study vedanta. He therefore advised me to just chant Hare Krishna" They may be surprised that in the purports to this section of Chaitanya Charitamrita, Srila Prabhupada stresses how essential it is for devotees to study vedanta, and how it is the defining quality between the devotee and the sahajiya. "Cheap vaisnavas (sahajiyas) do not care to study the vedanta philosophy as commented upon by the four acaryas..." Clearly, he was concerned that this statement would be misused and confusion prevail. Despite his lengthy unambiguous purports, it has. Well, at least he tried...

"Devotional service, which is based on the foreground of full knowledge, combined with detachment from material association fixed up on the aural reception of vedanta sruti is the only perfect method of realizing the Absolute Truth by the seriously inquisitive student..."