The Perfection of the Liberated Soul
Posted July 31, 2011
Gaurav Mittal’s article, “Avoid Misunderstanding of Bhakti”, has sparked a lot of discussion in the devotee community. Some feel that he may be committing the “mad elephant offense” by suggesting that some statements of Srila Prabhupada were simply wrong. The implication of Srila Prabhupada being wrong, is that he is not a liberated soul, free from the four defects- the propensity to cheat, to become illusioned, to have imperfect senses and to make mistakes. It is the last two items of the four, that are items for contention. I wrote about this many years ago, for I felt that if a person has to wear glasses for reading, as Srila Prabhupada did, it was not proof he was not a liberated soul. So what does it mean that the liberated soul has perfect senses? Back then, as now, I asserted that his senses are perfect because they are engaged perfectly. His perfection of sense activity is in relation to the Absolute Truth. Thus, a person does not have to literally see through walls, to be considered liberated.
Similarly, if we see a guru makes a common mistake, it does not mean, necessarily, he is not liberated. His perfection of not making mistakes is in relation to the Absolute Truth, which he presents unchanged, as it is, and thus he is perfect and free from any defect or mistake. Srila Prabhupada stated about himself: “I am not perfect. None of us are perfect. But we are presenting the perfect message of Godhead unchanged. That much we are perfect” Because he was not speculating in regard to the Absolute Truth, his statements in regard to it, were free from the imperfections of the limited mind and other senses. They were without mistake.
But not all of Srila Prabhupada’s statements were in relation to the Absolute Truth. Some of them related to bodily gender and race, features of this world only. For example, in one instant, while considering the high crime rate in black neighborhoods, Srila Prabhupada concluded that black people were misusing their freedoms and rights, and thus, for their own good, they should be treated as slaves or unpaid workers, provided only with food and shelter in return for service rendered... Recent statistical analysis has proven the opposite- that crime has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with poverty and desperation, for white neighborhoods, with the same level of income deprivation, are just as predisposed to criminal activity. So, Srila Prabhupada was wrong- black people should not have their freedom revoked because they otherwise misuse it. They should simply be given opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty and desperation.
This has been a recent revelation, however. In order not to make the mistake of concluding that black people are more likely to engage in crime, simply because they are black, Srila Prabhupada would have had to have access to a more recent evaluation of statistics than was available in the 70’s. His mistake was related to limited data, and to not being omniscient, like God. Had he had all the data available now, I doubt he would have made the same mistake, nor have come to the same conclusion.
If Srila Prabhupada was free from mistakes pertaining to this world of duality, then he certainly would not have made the mistake of bringing into positions of ISKCON leadership, people who proved themselves, later on, to be of low and abominable character. He would have instigated scrupulous background checks of all prospective gurukula teachers and had them thoroughly trained in how to discipline and educate children, without resorting to violence. Besides that, in relation to his writing, there were many grammatical errors made, which his editors had to omit. There are some mistakes that result from us simply not being able to see into the future, or know everything.
Sastra does mention a certain mystic perfection, tri-kala-jna, which is knowledge of past, present and future, but when asked about it, Srila Prabhupada related it not to premonitions as such, but sastric vision…(paraphrasing) “I know you will suffer in the future, because now you are performing sin. What you think of at the time of death- that decides your next body. You are performing doggish activities, such as barking at strangers. Since you have the mentality of a dog, then in your next life, you will take birth as a dog”…. Thus, his knowledge of the future was the knowledge of cause and effect, that we can all have access to. He did not relate it to any personal omniscience, but knowledge coming from the perfect, omniscient Lord, via the sastra.
Thus, all the perfections of the liberated soul are in relation to his knowing and presenting the perfect message of Godhead, unchanged. He does not make a mistake in relation to that message, because he does not speculate on it, and subject it to the limitations of the mind and senses. He has perfect senses because they are engaged in the service of the perfect senses of the Lord Hrsikesa. And of course, he has no propensity to cheat or become illusioned, because his heart is pure, and his vision, that of the sastra, sastra-caksusa.
But those who want to turn disciple-ship into a personality cult of their guru, and want to portray themselves as completely devoted to their gurus, cry out that by reasoning thus, we are “committing the mad elephant offense”. Their faith in their gurus is so shaky and superficial, they have to see proof that the guru is perfect in all respects, like unto God, before they can submit to his instructions with complete faith.
It is reason, not fantasy or condemnation, that proves one’s faith is not blind and thus not subject to deterioration. The disciple questions the guru until he achieves a faith that is not blind. If he sees personal imperfections in his guru, he knows them to be simply the proof of what his guru has told him already- he is not God, not perfect in all respects, but simply delivering the perfect message unchanged, with reason and logic, and great conviction and realization. The powerful force of his words, invigorated by the energy coming in parampara, the digested words of numerous acaryas, strikes a thunderbolt in the heart of the disciple, shattering his illusions, breaking open his misconceptions, revealing his doubts, assumptions and gray areas, and letting in the light of truth.
The disciple is in this way strengthened from within and does not have to prove to the world, or anyone, his faith in his guru, by any condemnation of doubters, or not even doubters, but those who do not buy into claims that the guru’s perfection is unlimited in every way. The disciple who has been given sastra caksusa, sees his guru as a man, but not an ordinary man… but a man, and not God. He has limited senses, like us. He makes common mistakes, like us. But he is extra-ordinary, because he is representing a very powerful thing, the universal government of Garbodaksayi Vishnu, and the origin of origins, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Srila Prabhupada explained the nature of the guru as one of an ambassador. As an ambassador delivers the message of a whole nation, the guru delivers the message of the Supremely Powerful Personality of Godhead. To disrespect the ambassador of USA is to disrespect the whole of the USA… kidnapping him, holds a whole nation to ransom… insulting him, insults a whole nation. Yet we know he is not a nation, but a man. We are not to equate the two. Thus, the ambassador analogy is perfect in regard to the guru and God. It is what he represents that makes him extraordinary.. If an ambassador has some fault, a lisp for example, it does not mean that the nation he represents are all lispers. Yet, to insult him “Jeeze you can’t even talk properly!” insults the whole nation he represents. Out of respect for the nation he represents, we overlook all personal deficiencies relating to him being a man, not a nation, while we focus on the message he is delivering on behalf of his country. He is a perfect ambassador if he delivers that unchanged.
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