Conflict - Seek It, Reconcile It Or Avoid It?
Posted January 9, 2006
Gour Govinda's article "A Letter to Athum" was on track in regard to his emphasis on chanting, for it is true that nothing should eclipse or replace the practice of harinama. I want to thank him for that, for it is something that personally I need to be reminded of, as it is my only shelter and whenever I forget that I find myself lost. However, I find a discrepancy in his seemingly straightforward article about avoiding conflicting arguments as a means to achieve this. He advises Athum to "avoid bad association", and yet at the same time he claims "the situation is always favorable". Thus, he recommends avoiding conflicting arguments yet he gives us the same. It seems that even one who tries like anything to avoid conflict will find it anyway in his life. Reconciling arguments on the basis of scripture is the right use of the intelligence in Krsna's service, and once one finds resolution, one finds one's faith increased ever the more, and enthusiasm rebounds and life is ever more of a challenge. Therefore our acaryas engaged in vigorous philosophical debate and were always blissful in their practice of chanting, because their intelligence was always immersed in the thought of Krsna.
With a view to following in their holy footsteps, I would like to give some thoughts as to how to reconcile the above conflict that Gour Govinda has found himself in. The situation is indeed always favorable for a devotee, because there is always an opportunity for him to serve the Lord in some way, and such service requires to avoid bad association (asatsanga tyaga). Thus a devotee is always in favorable circumstances, for he accepts whatever is favorable for Krsna's service and rejects all that is unfavorable.
The question then arises- who is bad association? Clearly it is the materially attached, but even more so it is those who are misrepresenting the philosophy. This is clear from the example Srila Prabhupada gave us: when he found several of his disciples preaching deviant philosophy, he promptly excommunicated them. He never excommunicated the materially attached, which is practically everyone of us. Therefore, the worst association is he who twists the philosophy of Krsna Consciousness, for it is the purity of the philosophy which is the basis of our continuance. We have taken bad association to mean the association of non-devotees only, but our acaryas warn us that even worse association is the materialist who dresses as a vaisnava, who uses the philosophy not to enlighten hearts but to darken them and cause confusion.
Inside and outside ISKCON there are people who fall into this category, and they are to be avoided. The ritviks spread the darkness of the belief that there can be no gurus after Srila Prabhupada and they advertise the accidental falldowns of our gurus as their proof. Firstly, accidental falldown is never to be taken seriously, according to Krsna (Bg 9.30), and one who does so (what to speak of one who advertises it) is an offender according to Srila Prabhupada's instruction. The real issue of whether someone is a guru, is whether he can enlighten and guide those who take shelter of him. He should be able to teach his disciples the difference between material and spiritual motivations for devotional service, to equip them with the tools to survive even when they no longer have his direct guidance- he must give them sastra caksusa. If he is rightly doing so, he will have empowered his disciples and given them something priceless. Such a person is qualified to be a spiritual master, but the ritviks want to disqualify him and sling mud. They take what is socially abominable to be everything, and the determination to serve Krsna despite being thrown off a cliff, as nothing. Actually, the fallen gurus who never give up their service are to be admired, provided that it actually is a service, not a position of social and economical security. Unfortunately, this is prominent in ISKCON- gurus who take daksine and their annual quota of glory and honour but who do very little to actually train their disciples to see their various illusions, anarthas, weaknesses of heart and so on, as Krsna did with Arjuna. ISKCON has become so superficial that a clean track record and blind obedience to the GBC has become all that is required to stay "in good standing", regardless of how many of their disciples are being lost to the illusory energy. I doubt they even keep count.
Good association can be found in one's peers in the simple straightforward devotees who will follow a leader when his guidance is Krsna conscious and reject him when it is not. Such followers help their leaders through their own wisdom; they are leaders by default. They do not join the jackals in attacking the social corpses of sannyasis fallen off the cliff. They help all they come into contact with, regardless of social position. Nor are they crippled by the false humility that they are unqualified to judge who is giving proper guidance and who is not; who is using his position as spiritual guide to rid himself and others of material attachments and who is using it to acquire or maintain such attachments. Good association is one who does not oversimplify the process, but tries to understand it from all angles of vision, but who also knows what is the actual process and what is the shadow it casts- same shape without substance or light. When one is thus aware of what is good association, one can avoid asat sanga in whatever circumstances he finds himself in, and thus the situation is always favorable for his chanting. It might even be that for a time he has no association or very little, but the courage to stand alone is integral to his faith in Krsna's protection. When he finds that courage, his faith increases along with his quality of chanting, for he recognizes that harinama is his only shelter.
So in conclusion, though Gour Govinda was well-spoken of the need to take shelter in harinama, avoiding conflict is not always the way to achieve this end. Arjuna was more Krsna Conscious when he faced conflict for Krsna's service. We can also be the Lord's soldiers and fight the various misrepresentations of the philosophy thrown at us, solely with the aim of finding enthusiasm for service and inspiring that enthusiasm in others. This is not the pontification of pundits; nor is it word jugglery nor mental wrangling. The activity may appear very similar, but one is subtle sense gratification and the other is devotional service. According to one's motivation, the result may be darkness or all-encompassing light.
*GG: "When these activities begin to manifest in our lives then all confusion, anarthas, offenses and whatever will be removed from our hearts." *
Here Gour Govinda is saying that activities such as taking prasada, chanting 16 rounds, and so on will automatically remove obstacles such as confusion, anarthas and offenses. If that were so, then why do we have such detailed philosophy to destroy confusion? Or such precise description of the anarthas and offenses that we must try to avoid in order to chant purely? If chanting and taking of prasada automatically destroys them, why would we, who are chanters, be advised to avoid them? Srila Prabhupada tells us that there is a quality to chanting, and that quality is cultivated by deliberate effort. Not that mechanical offensive robotic chanting can do that. Indeed we are told that one can chant like that for lifetimes and never achieve Krsna prema.
" *We can not waste our valuable energy contemplating the faults of others. If we do then those faults will become ours. We will inherit them. And don't we have enough of our own? " *
Here Gour Govinda is equating fault finding with discrimination on the basis
of sastra. Again, the two appear similar, but one is for mental or
egotistical gratification and the other is for the service of the Lord.
Clearly to find good association and avoid bad association, one must
discriminate who is a genuine vaisnava and who is imitating, who is
innocent, simple and straightforward in his dealings and who is exploiting
or distorting the philosophy for ulterior motives. When one contemplates
the faults of others in order to feel superior that is gratification of the
ego. But if there are faults in others which are damaging one's spiritual
growth, not insignificant faults but dangerous faults in their character,
then one needs to at least be aware of them to fulfill the requirement to
"avoid bad association". Gour Govinda accepts this requirement, but
rejects the vision required to follow it. His suggestion is to "hear no
evil, see no evil" but that is artificial imitation of the uttama adhikari
who sees all in relation to Krsna. For most of us who are not on that level,
it is important to see evil wherever and however it is dressed, and
particularly when it may infiltrate the association of those who purport to
be vaisnavas. It is essential to our very survival.