Service and obedience to the right person
Posted December 17, 2004
In regard to Yasomati- stanya-payi prabhu's article on the virtues of obedience to the husband, I felt it necessary to add that while obedience is a virtue, so it is to think for oneself. Both are virtues, and vaisnava behaviour is a careful balance of the two, at times choosing one over the other, as appropriate for the service of Mukunda.
Therefore Srila Prabhupada, while stressing the need for obedience to the husband or guru, also warned "blind following is always condemned". He stated as his goal for the Krsna Consciousness movement "to produce an independently thoughtful class". He encouraged his disciples to question their understanding, and when they did not, due to mental apathy, he questioned it for them. By such challenges he was opening their eyes. No genuine guru or vaisnava husband demands, expects, or even tolerates blind obedience.
Specifically, let us examine the case on the table. Should a devotee tolerate her husband whose behaviour is not befitting a vaisnava, and should she still be expected to serve him and obey him as if he were a respectable guru? Should she further his illusion that he is purusha, and allow him to enjoy sex life while he neglects and ignores and even abuses his family? Should she tolerate his preaching to non-devotees about ideal behaviour and the importance to soften one's heart with the vaisnava qualities while he is not making any headway in this direction himself?
In other words, should she tolerate hypocrisy? Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was very strong in his admonishing of those who tolerate hypocrisy in the name of being meek, mild and subservient. He stressed that, if one wants to qualify as a chanter of the holy name of the Lord, one must always speak the truth "regardless of person, place and time". In his essay "Enemy of Hypocrisy", he stressed this again and again.
There is a time and a place for obedience, but it is always good to speak the truth, regardless of whether it involves a person in a superior status. Truth purifies the speaker and the listener also. Srila Prabhupada in his definition of truth given in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, described it as "calling a thief a thief", and elsewhere he said that a devotee always speaks truth, even if it is unpalatable. These are recommendations given by our predecessor acaryas to help us avoid hypocrisy, and they are appropriate for all circumstances, as indicated by the word "always".
Obedience, on the other hand, is dependent on circumstance. If one is given an order that goes against one's conscience, then one should ignore it. This was exemplified by Bali Maharaja (one of the Mahajanas we are enjoined to follow), when he ignored the instruction of his spiritual master. One therefore has to judge each circumstance carefully, being mindful of Rupa Goswami's advice that above all other rules is the rule to accept what is favorable for one's Krsna consciousness and reject what is unfavorable.
Generally speaking, it is favorable to serve; after all, it is our constitutional position. But even here, Srila Prabhupada warned us to be careful: "A mundane person in the dress of a vaisnava should not be respected but rejected. The word upeksa means neglect. A preacher's duty is to love the Supreme Personality of Godhead, make friendships with vaisnavas, show mercy to the innocent and reject or neglect those who are envious or jealous. There are many jealous people in vaisnava dress in this Krsna Consciousness movement and they should be neglected. There is no need to serve a jealous person who is in the dress of a vaisnava. When Narottama dasa Thakura says chadiya vaisnava seva nistara payeche keba, he is indicating an actual vaisnava."
Thus, service and obedience should be to actual vaisnavas, whose
behaviour is merciful, non-envious, gentle and so on. To others who are
equals, one can be friends and serve each other on an equal level,
sharing realizations, sharing prasadam, disclosing one's mind in
full confidence and so on. Those who are pretenders, one should reject.
Interestingly, there is no recommendation to let anyone walk all over
you "to help you become humble/tolerant". Only rejection is the
recommended behaviour towards a devotee who is not showing friendly or
merciful behaviour. Thus, while I agree with Yasomati-stanya-payi dasi
on the need for obedience, I do not think that it is the appropriate
stress in the given circumstance.