BY: NRSIMHANANDA DAS
Sep 18, 2011 LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, USA (SUN) I like and respect Mahavishnu Swami a lot. I never doubt his sincerity or his attachment to the Holy Names. He's a very nice person. So criticizing his appearance and demeanor seems mean-spirited. But in the context of Rocana's analysis, I think that the article does him and all of us a great favor.
The essential question is: would Srila Prabhupada approve; in other words, am I satisfying my guru? I've been meditating on this simple principle of devotional service a lot this summer. Festivals and Rathayatras have been veritable noise factories of western style kirtans complete with electric guitar riffs, drum and saxophone solos, high-profile Mayavadi's leading kirtans, ear-shattering decibel levels, and music that often drowns out any chance of hearing the Hare Krishna mahamantra. I asked myself on many occasions: would Srila Prabhupada permit this kind of presentation? Maybe you will say, "yes," but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an example. I remember that he dissed on the "Road Show" in 1970 and discouraged that kind of showmanship.
"Dove-tailing" is certainly recommended, but there are limits. Even the most liberal legal systems don't allow someone to yell "fire" in a theater. Societies put limits on their citizens' freedom of expression. The more responsibility taken by someone, the more "limits" are put on them whether they be politicians, administrators, educators, religionists, etc. They are held to a higher standard. Such dynamics are merely a reflection of the system of varnashrama wherein the brahmanas and the sannyasis are respected as the heads of society and the examples of spiritual purity. The sannyasis especially are meant to show how the senses are controlled by an equipoised mind which is surrendered to guru and Gauranga.
From what little I understand (which generally gets exposed once I post anything on the Sun), the sannyasi is suppose to withdraw his senses like the tortoise pulls his limbs into his shell. In other words, past conditioning must not dictate the actions and activities of a person in the renounced order of life. That's why when various sannyasis express their individual "tastes" in behavior, the crowd goes wild; they like it because there is an immediate realization that the sannyasi and everyone else are not so different after all. If a sanyassi can play the harmonica in a non-devotional blues solo or develop his classical piano skills (whether it's for the purpose of finding commonality so that the preaching is easier or not), then I can revive my banjo playing at the local line-dancing saloon and can have a good time, make friends, and maybe, get a few words of philosophy into the mix.
I've seen that disciples like the "I am like you and you are like me and we are all together" inclusiveness; there is an implicit license for sense gratification. If the swami does it, then I can do it. Yet, everything about being a sannyasi is just the opposite: controlling the tongue, genitals, etc. I've always understood it as a renounced order. That was before some sanyassis became inspired painters instead of preachers (what to speak of other unmentionable behavior); before sanyassis owned their own houses in Vrndaban and elsewhere; before sanyassis risked donations in business investments; before sanyassis... I don't want to belabor the point. We all know that sannyasis have not always lived up to the standard that Srila Prabhupada taught.
At the same time, I also want to acknowledge that, despite deficiencies, a lot of great work has been done to spread Krishna consciousness. I applaud my sanyassi godbrothers and godnephews for that. But without exemplary behavior - squeezing the toxins of material sense gratification, old habits, conditioned tendencies, etc. out of the mix - then I'm afraid all the good that is done becomes diluted and eventually loses its purity and taste. The real nectar - as many of us have experienced - is in the austerities.
We may say that you can just do what you are doing and put it in Krishna's account, but, in reality, if a butcher were sincerely chanting, he would quickly become purified to the point of giving up his profession, even though he knows that he may have to suffer materially. There always seems to be so much suffering in the lives of saintly people until they attain the stage of liberation. I've known many devotees who have endured terrible tests and tribulations only to come through the experience with more sraddha. The various yajnas are what Krishna seems to like the most, in my experience and through reading Srila Prabhupada's books.
Even old age seems to be designed to increasingly restrict sense gratification. Sannyas is the most exalted ashram because it asks for voluntary austerities. Sannyas life is that stage of human development to which every man may eventually aspire, so how ISKCON represents itself in that regard should fall rigidly in line with the previous acaryas - Srila Prabhupada in particular. A sannyasi should be asking himself every day: am I satisfying Prabhupada - or my conditioned self?
In the beginning of this response to Rocana's thoughtful "hat" article, I said that I liked and respected Mahavishnu Swami. Actually, I love him because he is so very dedicated to Prabhupada's simple formula of chanting, dancing, feasting, deity worship, and preaching. I can't do that so consistently myself, but I look at someone like him and say, "Someday, in some lifetime, I aspire to be so simple, renounced, and pure." At the same time, I wince when I see him clowning around. This is serious business, I tell myself; what's he thinking? What will others think?
My wife tells me that I'm too much of a clown as a householder; she hates it when I make a fool of myself in public. I've had to look at what drives me to do that - to draw the attention to myself. "What didn't you get in your childhood," she says as she distances herself from me in the grocery line. So I've become more conscious of my behavior. I edit "my personality" more, and I've noticed that my sense of confidence has increased the more that I am "sober." Not that I'm don't joke around, but there's a difference between that and being a clown.
I think Srila Prabhupada would agree with my wife that disciples should practice to be more dhira. Sannyasis shave their heads in renunciation of the "hair hat." Those "hippy seeds" are just another material cap that keeps us in the material conception of life. Of course, sannyasis wear hats to protect the skin from the sun; no harm there. But Srila Prabhupada wore simple wool saffron hats without ambient decoration by which to make a statement. His presence was enough, and I believe we should follow strictly his example.
In closing, I do apologize to Mahavishnu Swami if I have made any offense. In fact, I will say, my hat is off to you, swamiji.
YS, Nrsimhananda das