The Sweetest Thing of All
Posted March 27, 2005
Shyamarani's article seems to convey the idea that any sort of criticism is against proper vaisnava behaviour. Interestingly, her case in point describes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati criticizing his disciple for criticizing another disciple. What was the difference? Can only a guru criticize? Or is it that the quality of criticism has to be changed from envious, proud and destructive to loving and compassionate?
Srila Prabhupada wrote that "devotee" means he who "speaks the truth whether or not it is palatable". Srila Bhaktisiddhanta further elaborated that such truth speaking is an essential qualification to chant the holy name and must be done "regardless of the person, place and time". And yet both acaryas amply warned against criticism also. So we have a problem. We are being strongly advised to always do what we are strongly warned to always avoid. How to resolve this apparent contradiction and act on both pieces of advice?
The problem is that it is our mundane social convention to equate criticism with any sort of speech that is unpalatable to be heard. Our acaryas do not have this defect, and therefore in the example given by Shyamarani and in so many other examples it is clear that whenever our acaryas warn us against "criticism", it refers to that which- even though truthful- is destructive, being based on ignorance of the person's welfare, or on hate. It is character assasination and destroys any spiritual advancement of he who possesses it even in the mind. However, in the context that "criticism" is unpalatable speech spoken to separate illusion from truth, it is loving and compassionate to the nth degree. Therefore it is absolutely necessary as a qualification to chant and achieve the desired success.
Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner...
Hate the anartha and love the Bhakta
Unlike his disciples in the story, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta would never have criticized the falldown of another devotee, as gross falldown is always apparent and is mostly therefore sincerely regretted. However, time and again our gurudevas have shown us and advised us that criticism which separates matter from spirit is essential to vaisnava good behaviour, indeed essential to keeping the parampara alive; it is shining the torchlight.
There are many subtle anarthas more dangerous than the gross ones, as they appear just like the bhakti creeper. For example, the bhaktas who reported the falldown to their Gurudeva no doubt thought they were being very staunch brahmacaris in slamming their brother, but actually they were being cold-hearted, judgmental and proud: all qualities they were unaware of. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's criticism "shone the torchlight" on these mundane anarthas that were being mistaken for spiritual assets, and in so doing he showed vaisnava love and compassion.
Therefore, it may be social convention to ascribe "criticism" to any sort of unpalatable speech, but in the context of vaisnava behaviour, it is not all unpalatable speech. To allow one's brothers and sisters to continue to think they are very advanced vaisnavas while they are displaying qualities of the lower modes is not only uncompassionate, it is impersonal and callous. It means one only cares for one's own advancement and to hell with the society. On the other hand, if a person falls and is aware of it, nothing should be said. He is aware, so why should anything be said? He sees the truth, and so there is no illusion to separate.
This is not so for subtle anathas. They are very hard to locate within one's
psyche and often one needs the help of friends, real friends, who are "always
straightforward in their dealings". And if one is humble, one will never see
this as criticism or offensive, but the sweetest thing of all.