The more we love...
Posted February 13, 2005
Since the publishing of the exchange by Prithu das and Rambhoru dasi prabhus, I have noted with interest the many letters addressing the issue of compassion in the hearts of the devotees.
It seems to me that the real question is that of love: love in the lives of the devotees. Over the many years that I have been attending lectures in ISKCON temples, and in innumerable discussions that I have had with devotees in the past, the most common attitude that I have come across is that human love is at best something to be avoided or, at worst, a real impediment (an anartha to be destroyed ) in developing our Krishna consciousness.
The majority of the asana-sitters of the morning classes would repeat incessantly that human love is an illusion, that the only real love is that of Krishna's. More so, human love was almost always equated with sexual lust, ignoring the vast difference between the two. Maya, Maya, Maya, they cried out.
While this resonates perfectly with the counter-culture origins of our society, where parents and family may have seemed 'the enemy,' who would destroy our faith, given any kind of a chance, it is legitimate to ask whether the emotional wasteland that this attitude has created is the field in which the plants of a durable family life -- and, by extension, a viable society -- can be seeded.
The fruits of this assault on love itself are dysfunctional families, emotionally starved (if not neglected and abused) children and stilted relations between devotees. Instead of love being the basis of personal relationships, what appears are the power struggles in marriages and the sexual politics of ISKCON. When we lose the ability to love, we rely on power: it is a last ditch effort to somehow hold onto something meaningful in our lives.
Many devotees still retain the qualities needed for success in interpersonal relationships: honesty of the heart, personal courage, humility and kindness. But many, also, having failed to navigate our societal demands of self-abnegation and self-denial, are left with life's bitter fruits: being hurt, rejected, despised by their children and estranged from their spouses. A few have lost the ability to love, their hearts dried out; and some live in dislocated marriages where they are even ashamed of the partners to whom they have sworn a lifetime of loyalty.
In this, the only thing greater than our illusions are our pretensions. Our illusion is that, in piety and devotion, our men -- who control the general scheme of things -- are so much greater than our women. Our pretension is that we can build a society on this foundation of misogyny. It would be honest to admit that the majority of devotees who have left the movement, have done so not out of doubt of the spiritual process, but out of the deep disappointments in their relationships with other devotees. Indeed, this was the conclusion reached in a survey, conducted many years ago, by a devotee named Shukavak das, and published under the title, Apostasy and Krishna Consciousness.
This bodes ill for a relatively small religious movement like ours, which has far greater aspirations. In India at least, we have a chance for success; there we operate within the cultural context of, yes, Hinduism; here in the West, we operate in a vacuum. There, in India, is a codex of shared, accepted, personal behaviors, passed on from one generation to the next. This is called a Personal Law, and it is the skeleton on which the body of a society is built. In the forty-some-odd years that this movement has existed, we have yet to formulate a spiritual Personal Law -- hopefully based on love and trust, and not on power and control) -- that would guide us in these matters and help us avoid tragic mistakes in our personal lives.
Where does human love fit into the scheme of things? Maybe the answer to this lies in two further questions: one philosophical and the other prosaic. The philosophical question is this: What is the connection between human love and spiritual love? Does love for Krishna preclude love for each other? Or more fundamentally, what is the nature of Krishna: Is He the jealous God of the Abrahamic religions, who demands all love and loyalty for only Himself, or is He truly the reckless lover of Vrindavan, who loves all, without reason and without distinction? Which version of God is greater? Can we not say that Srila Prabhupada's mission is to make the Lamb of Abraham lie down in the Land of Vrindavan?
The other, everyday question is this: Could our loving personal
relationships actually enrich our spiritual lives, rather than detract
from them? Could it be that the more we love, the more we love God?