Unity in the Vaishnava Family
Posted January 9, 2011
Narayana Maharaja has passed away, and in the wake of this tragic event, there has been many an appeal to unite, and take shelter, as one family, in the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This does not mean joining another group, or forming one around another Mahabhagavat, but recognizing what Krsna consciousness is- freedom from all designations- the breakdown of barriers between people on the basis of race, nationality, group or faith.
Those of us who are not followers of Narayana Maharaja or his teachings should have no lesser feelings of warmth and unity towards his disciples than disciples of our own gurus. Krsna consciousness is not an in-house thing, it is all-inclusive. We embrace Muslims, Christians, Buddhists- all are servants of the Lord according to their realization and place on the eternal, universal, evolutionary spiritual path. Just because I do not agree with the teachings of Buddha does not mean that I do not offer him all respect, and welcome and honour his followers when they visit the temple. And what to speak of other Gaudiya vaisnavas whose teachings happen to differ to our own eternal Gurudeva, Srila Prabhupada. They are not threats, unless we see challenges to our faith as threats, but no spiritual master in our line ever did. We welcome differences of opinion, they light the way to truth, either by eradicating our misconceptions, or by clarifying, by contrast, the truth of our own convictions. As Krsnadasa Kaviraja advised “One should not avoid controversy. It sharpens the mind”
It was with shock therefore that back in the year 2000, a very dear friend of mine with whom I had been contemplating developing a self-sufficient community, decided that I could not be a part unless I surrendered and got initiated by her Gurudeva, Narayana Maharaja. With her, I had lobbied for Narayana Maharaja disciples to be treated as family members by ISKCON, but the fault was apparently not only with ISKCON. This drove home my conviction that it is not by joining a group, or even associating with a saintly person, that misconceptions and attitudes antithetical to the vaisnava spirit are overcome. One may stand in broad daylight, but unless one opens one’s eyes, it is as good as standing in a dark room.
The very beginning of spiritual life is to overcome all designations, and to see all as servants of the Lord, His separated parts and parcels. Without achieving this very preliminary vision, how can one advance further into the deeper esoteric meaning of rasa lila, for example? It is like kindergarten children attending a university lecture. The fact that they are there at the university, in the association of a university professor, does not make them anything more than kindergarten students. Yet if the university professor teaches them ABC, he will do it very expertly, and they will get eager to learn more.
He will never tell them they are ready for university just because they have spent 30 years at the kindergarten. Yet many disciples think this is true- because they have spent 30 years in lower stages of bhakti, they must be ready for the higher stages. Bhakti, unlike mundane education, is independent of time. A moment of pure chanting is far greater than a lifetime of chanting with ulterior motives. Unless one is liberated, discussions of Krsna’s intimate pastimes with the gopis, while being narrations of the Absolute Truth, are simply inappropriate. Why they are inappropriate is that unless one is freed from the most insidious of anarthas, pride as an advanced devotee, one will conclude that because I am relishing rasa, I am far more fortunate and advanced than those poor souls struggling with Bhagavad-gita realizations. It is the anartha of being beyond anarthas, certainly a most desolate place!
Bhagavad gita gives an in-depth analysis of the character of a person who is liberated- if I become defensive when challenged, if I don’t have equal vision, if I become affected by loss and gain, victory or defeat, heat or cold, hunger or thirst, then I am quite simply, not transcendental, not liberated. Being not on the platform of a university student, I will hang out with university students and professors simply to make the point that I am up there with them. In the process, I lose myself- who I am- simply another lost conditioned soul, whom Srila Prabhupada has given directions for- to develop compassion by preaching, to develop generosity for giving prasadam for free, to develop non-attachment by not calculating what benefits preaching will bring me, to develop tolerance in my daily life and interactions, to develop attachment to the Lord by hearing and reading about Him, and discussing His teachings with like-minded souls, to value truth, even if it is unpalatable and destroys pride, to rid myself of impersonalism, oneness with God, most insidiously presented to the devotee as the feeling of being above others. All these teachings I must learn before attending university lectures of rasa-lila, gopi-lila, Radha-bhava and so on. I would rather be ignorant as to which Manjari brings catechu to the divine couple, than to know it so that others will be impressed of my knowledge of all things esoteric.
One Narayana Maharaja disciple once told me in a whisper “have you read of the (esoteric play) of Rupa Goswami? We have it here!” I whispered back “I am struggling with Bhagavad gita. How can I read that stuff?” Yet all that being said, with disagreements being rife, our essential nature is that we are all Krsna’s devotees, and one family. Our disagreements should be seen as external to our affection for each other, and we should welcome all to our temples and homes. Disagreements are challenges for the intelligence only, to sharpen its focus on the philosophy, and to challenge the mind’s attachments and understandings.
Friends bring us challenges, and thus uproot our false sense of security that we know the philosophy- that we are “fixed up”. When a persistent and arrogant challenger to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, suddenly one day did not turn up at his lecture, Bhaktisiddhanta enquired what happened to him. When he was told that the offensive rascal had passed away in the night, he cried genuine tears of separation, declaring that he had lost his best friend. From this we can learn that no challenge to us, our loyalties or our understanding, should ever evoke a spirit of separation or rejection, but quite the opposite- warmth and appreciation- genuine friendship.
Certainly the Lord, Who dwells in the hearts of all, could not but be pleased by such an attitude of being a kind friend to all, and evoking His pleasure is the goal of all sadhu sanga, and initiation by sad-guru spiritual masters.
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