Doubts, enquiries & developing implicit faith
by Carsani devi dasi
Posted February 7, 2003


Reading the recent letter posted by Subhadra Mayi dd (December 17, 01) left me with feelings of sadness...sadness, primarily for her to write a letter like that on a public forum she quite possibly felt that there was nobody amongst her devotee friends & aquaintainces...especially authority figures to who she could reveal her mind & attempt to rationalise & clear what doubts she had regarding ISKCON & her place within it. Quite possibly she had tried, yet maybe her cries for help, understanding...and answers were not dealt with in a satisfactory way. I have never met her personally yet could empathise deeply with many of the points that she was making. I could sense that behind the angry words was a very sinsere, yet hurt devotee who had at some point tried very hard to surrender to life in the temple yet when she needed answers & understanding there was nobody around. Reading that article also prompted me to reflect on the importance of genuine & compassionate Vaisnava association & especially on the importance of spiritual enquiries (as well as sensitive & honest replies) & their role in clearing doubts & helping the aspiring devotee to cultivate deep & implicit faith in Lord Krsna, Srila Prabhupada & ISKCON.

What is OUR response when another devotee comes to us tired, burnt-out & feeling vulnerable...doubtful? Do we actually listen? They may have spent many years...even most of their adult life living in the temple, trying their best to surrender & follow the process nicely, yet when they build up the courage to express doubts or weaknesses do we quote a few slokas & simply tell them to chant Hare Krsna? Do we give a quick token reply & rush off to do our service? Or make them feel foolish or a nuicance for having such doubts & bothering us with them? Do we ridicule them for their weaknesses & human vulnerability or resort to sarcasm? Or accuse them of being radical & extreme...? Do we try to influence them in some way so that they will "surrender" & come around to our way of thinking? If they don't do we accuse them of not being submissive, surrendered & sinsere? If it's a mataji...simply instruct her to be submissive to her husband, regardless of the situation? Or do we interpret the inevitable pain, confusion & tears that invariably come when we're trying to reevaluate any difficult aspect of our lives, as signs of emotional disturbance & go away, telling others that this devotee is having "problems"...and therefore not worthy of listening to? Or do we sit down with them & actively listen to them...their thoughts & feelings, their doubts & fears, without trying to butt in? So many doubts can be cleared simply by taking the time to be there for another person. We don't have to agree with everything they have to say. In many cases the simple act of caring enough to listen is enough to restore some faith.

In so many places in Srila Prabhupada's books we read of the importance of spiritual enquiries. Without enquiring from the Vaisnavas how will doubts be removed & without our doubts being removed (about the institution as well as the philosophy) how will we be able to cultivate the deep & implicit faith that is necessary for us to make advancement spiritually? What is more, without faith in the institution that we've taken shelter of how can we preach to others to also join? Our enthusiasm will invariably diminish & there is the danger of simply becoming a blind follower...if we choose to remain active at all. In Nectar of Instruction Srila Rupa Goswami describes the six loving exchanges between devotees, of which the two most intimate are revealing one's mind confidentially & enquiring submissively. However, for us to open our hearts & reveal our mind to others involves some courage & trust as it leaves us open & very vulnerable. There is nothing more devastating than to attempt to do so, yet when we try to be misunderstood & misinterpreted...ridiculed or belittled. That serves to minimise faith even more & completely destroys trust. We often hear the analogy that ISKCON is like a big spiritual family. If this is so, then how much more important for us are confidential & caring relationships built on love & trust. However, especially in Kali Yuga it is not uncommon for even "nice" families to be highly disfunctional...in many cases largely due to ineffective communication between the members & lack of sensitivity towards the needs & feelings of each other. ANY relationship requires cultivation. If I claim to have any more than a superficial relationship with my husband, child or friends (or anyone) there must be some cultivation & work put in. Such cultivation is a symptom that the person & the relationship are important to me. This is especially crucial in a society such as ISKCON where submissiveness & surrender to authority figures is emphasised so much. How can we maturely surrender if we feel that we're not cared for? Any institution, group of people or relationship...whether that is a family or a society such as ISKCON... can only flourish when the individual is genuinely valued for their individuality & uniqueness rather than what we can get from them...whether that is practical service or money. Often the needs of the institution take precedence over the needs of the individuals serving within it, when in fact to survive & flourish it should be the other way around! Each devotee is so special & dear to the Lord.

Feelings such as those expressed by Subhadra Mayi don't simply arise overnight. Often the devotees who express such intense feelings are those who have (or are) attempting to surrender a lot by living in a temple & felt that when they needed help, encouragement & understanding nobody cared. When many of us come to ISKCON, & especially to life in the ashram we are very young & naive...materially & spiritually. In many ways we are like young innocent children to whom life & their parents are wonderful, beautiful & can do no wrong. However, as the years go by we "grow up" & like teenagers who are trying to discover their place in the world we start to see inconsistency & hypocrisy in the world around us. We start to ask "difficult" questions & for our faith to become fixed & mature we really need direct, honest & sensitive answers. Responsible & loving older family members will be open & available to their dependant children...not only to encourage & nurture the new & helpless "babies"(new devotees) but to also answer those difficult questions that most "teenagers" (older devotees) invariably ask at some point or another & which are in many ways necessary to ask if they are to grow into the mature & "independantly thoughtful people" that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to be. In fact, in the same way that it would be irresponsible & impersonal for a parent to neglect to address the doubts & enquiries of their children about the unpleasant realities of life in the world, the same could be said of authority figures in our society who fail to address the doubts & genuine spiritual enquiries of younger devotees.Honesty & directness in regards to such issues breeds genuine faith & respect, rather than denying that they even exist, or trivialising the doubts of the devotee, in much the same way that a teenager will respect a parent who honestly , directly & logically addresses such unpleasant life issues as drug abuse & promiscuity. Doubts are impediments, in our attempts to perform devotional service, so such enquiries should really be welcome as they give us the chance to help another devotee become free from blocks which are stopping him or her cultivating mature faith & enthusiasm.