An answer to a question on a recent post about contemporary issues.
Most will agree that victims should be helped, that the movement needs a deep and contemporary reformation, and that it’s in the best interest of the majority of those taking part in these discussions to remain on the path of devotional service.
This raises the question of whether it is possible to serve all of these purposes at the same time and on the same platform.
Helping victims of any type of abuse requires at the very least an empathic approach and language. In case of traumatic experiences it requires a therapeutic approach and experience. In both cases it is imperative that there is someone who personally relates to and cares for the victims.
Talking about victims, writing about empathy on social media or in any public discourse does very little to help actual victims. In many cases it leads to revictimization and emotional re-engagement with unresolved issues. Talking about empathy and sending emoticons does not mean being empathic.
Even worse, in some cases, tragic events and stories of other people can be instrumentalized under the pretext of empathy, justice and truth, to settle scores with others, to add value to one’s own points of view or agendas, or even as strategies to overcome one’s own traumas and psychological issues.
The call for punishment and punishing the culprits may satisfy the need for justice for some victims and bystanders, but it will not necessarily help all victims. Also, compensation payments are not a real source of help for every affected individual.
Suffering exists, victims exist and there must be real people ready and capable – far beyond good intentions – to help those victims. Discussions between unrelated people simply won’t help.
Talking about the proper adjustments and reformation of our movement is just as complicated and delicate as the first topic. In addition, it is very unsuitable to be discussed on social media and in front of a large audience.
According to various psychological analyses, social networks are the ideal medium for narcissistic and opinionated people to present themselves and to relate to others. This does not mean that everyone using social media is narcissistic or opinionated, but it means that the nature of these media platforms attract and amplify such tendencies. It takes great sincerity, mental strength and self control not to fall into this conditioned form of dialogue.
Putting on sunglasses may not hamper our ability to recognise forms, but it will surely hamper the ability to recognize real colors of objects. In the same way, social media doesn’t make us unable to speak, but it makes it very difficult to listen, understand and have a dialogue.
Besides these aggravating technical conditions for dialogue, there is a question of intentions and qualifications of participants, especially in large audiences. Some might just be looking to find a platform to blow off steam, to share their feelings, disappointments and bad experiences. It’s good and important for them to have such a platform, although it would be better to have real friends to accompany them through these stages of life.
Those who talk to blow off steam, to be heard or to find people to side with them, to help them feel good, or even worse, who talk out of hatred, revenge and who very often have little or no desire to continue with their devotional practice, have very little to contribute on a platform meant for serious dialogue about reformation and adjustments of the Krishna Conscious movement.
Some of their voices and experiences are respectable. They should be heard and taken in consideration for our exercise of self-criticism, but we cannot expect a constructive dialogue to manifest in this way. Furthermore, some of their discourse is simply toxic and does not help anyone.
Moreover, it requires sincerity, social skills, personal commitment and spiritual realization, to enter into such types of important dialogue. It is not enough to be a philosopher to reform the movement, just as it is not enough to be an engineer to design good products or a graduate from medical school to heal people. There must be practical experience, and I would say above all some type of divine empowerment.
There is a very dangerous tendency in the west. We very easily confuse learning with experience, and sometimes worse, madness or other forms of psychological disorders with spiritual advancement.
The only way to avoid such type of mistakes is to live and relate to vaishnavas in real life. This process starts and continues forever in the association of devotees on a very practical level.
An unrealistic philosopher is ready to give an hour long talk about atithi devo bhava to a guest, but he will forget to offer them a glass of water. Similarly, we may be speaking about devotion, personalist vedanta and even some esoteric topics, but if we are not able to recognize the needs of those whom we are talking to, then all this remains theoretical and instead of helping someone or the movement, it can become an obstacle.
For example, let us examine the photo on this post. I would guess most of the people do not recognize more than one or two Vaishnavas in the photo. What to speak of knowing them or even appreciating them, or knowing them through an affectionate relationship. For most of the observers, it’s a photo with some saffron dressed figures. But who is who, what’s their life story, what is their devotional trajectory and motives for being there in this meeting. This is so far from the awareness and even from the concern of most readers. Still. we hear judgments like: all aparadhis, all pathetic, all accomplices and so on. It’s obvious that this post and the accompanying photo encourages impersonalism, generalization and condemnation of Vaisnavas whom we do not know at all, and this finally leads to aparadha. Putting it mildly, it shows a Vaishnava meeting in a negative light. What if there was, at least one pure devotee present? Is it impossible, just because he did not react the way I would expect him to? What would you have expected of Bhisma when Draupadi was about to be uncovered, or the Pandavas or other seniors in the assembly.
Vaisnavas may or may not act according to our expectations, but it is definitely very difficult to know their motives and to judge their behavior. This doesn’t mean that everything a vaishnava (or a person dressed as a vaishnava) does or says is favorable for me to accept, but it does mean that I should know who is who, what is what, what is favorable, unfavorable and how to relate to whom.
Talking about real transcendentalists Srila Sukadeva Gosvami explains it in the Bhagavatam (10.33.31), when he says that great personalities may sometimes instruct others in one way, but may act in another way, or even oppose it. One has to be intelligent to know how to follow instructions and how to follow behavior. Their instructions may be for those acting on a beginner level, while their actions may be beyond the criteria applicable to this level. Through this understanding, their acts or omissions do not make them transgressors to the principles of dharma. This may not satisfy the sense of justice of some, but it’s what the Bhagavatam and our acharyas have explained.
Generally we are more concerned with those who are far away than with those surrounding us. We want to reform the movement from global to local, but we end up being overwhelmed with the wider picture which we are not able to classify and digest, the same way as Arjuna was overwhelmed by observing the universal form.
It’s better to start with small steps, beginning with self-criticism, then opening to my immediate surroundings, and talking in confidence with devotees who share the same space and service as me. We should try to create a favorable environment and an effective communication method. That is the only reasonable way to act. Feeling oneself responsible for the mistakes of others, can either be born from a sincere feeling of affection for an individual, or it can represent a harmless psychological issue. However, it can also end in megalomania or a boundary shift between individual and collective responsibility.
In this case it would be very much beneficial to first realize the wisdom behind the popular saying “physicians heal thyself“.
Therefore, it is not at all a small thing to start a reform of the sampradaya. It was a task which was delegated at certain times to some of our great acaryas. At times they had to go against all currents of their time to help their followers establish themselves in proper understanding and favorable practice – the appreciation of other practitioners being most essential.
The need for reform is there, the desire to do it is also there, but I think we are still missing the proper setting and dialogue for that. The generalized rejection or judgment on vaishnava assemblies is the wrong direction, or at least the direction I am not willing to go in.
Besides dealing with atrocities, victims, and the whole topic of social and communitarian reform, there is still the most fundamental part of our practice, and this is the need to have spiritual shelter. This means to have a teacher, friend or well-wisher on the spiritual path whom I can trust wholeheartedly. Someone who takes my hand or pulls my ears and lifts me out of illusion. This is the most delicate realm of sacred faith. It belongs to eternity, a realm far beyond all disappointments and despicable things that may be experienced in this world. The language of faith has its own orthography, its own grammar, its own rhythm and melody.
Doesn’t Lord Krishna say in the Bhagavad Gita (2.52) that one shall become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard, after their intelligence has passed through the dense forest of delusion?
Obviously this is not a topic to discuss with victims, nor is it a topic to discuss with anyone afflicted by the misbehavior of aspiring practitioners on the path of bhakti-yoga, but it is and will always be the most essential topic to approach. We have to know what to discuss, when and with whom. Throwing thoughts out there on discussions is irresponsible and it can easily end up in populism. So it is my humble pledge that we become more personal, more emphatic and more compassionate in our dealings with others.
The question may come up as to how we can achieve that? The answer I have found for myself to that question is sadhu-sanga.
If we lose faith in the sadhus or see them as ordinary people unworthy of our admiration, then we will be the losers. Generalized rejection prevents one from following fake teachers, but it also deprives us of the possibility to honor the real sadhus.
Social topics require sharp intelligence, but devotional topics require a soft heart.