BY: ROCANA DASA
Dec 18, CANADA (SUN) A weekly response to Dandavats editorials.
This week's Obeisances is in response to the recent editorial from Praghosa dasa (Ireland) entitled, "Cross Wires and Razor Edges".
Before venturing into commenting on the contents of Praghosa's article, I'd like to point out to the reader a number of important points. First, in commenting on Praghosa dasa's previous articles, I have not predictably not gotten any direct response from him. But in reading this article, I can only conclude that he's been reading what I'm saying, and is giving us here his personal reason for not coming back to me with his own arguments. His excuse is that Vaisnavas aren't argumentative. In my mind, this is a complete cop-out. We'll get into that aspect as we again challenge what he has to say.
The second point is that we all have to keep in mind that Praghosa dasa, although he does his best to appear to be one of the grassroots "good guys", is in reality a senior institutional authority in ISKCON. As such, he has responsibilities on the administrative and the spiritual level, and he's obliged to speak from that position. He must maintain an outlook which helps him to accomplish what he feels he has to in terms of keeping those who see him as an authority engaged and happy, and so on. This is understandable. So keeping that in mind, let's take a look at what Praghosa dasa has to say on the subject of resolving disputes in a Vaisnava context or atmosphere, or in what he calls the devotee community.
In his opening paragraph, he states that "previous acaryas had varying opinions on certain subject matters". To verify this statement, he's chosen to give us a quote from Srimad Bhagavatam wherein Srila Prabhupada points out that Sridhar Swami and Visvanatha Cakravarti came to different conclusions on who the grandfather referred to in the verse is, either Lord Brahma or Maharaja Yudhisthira. Of course, there's no dispute here because Srila Prabhupada resolved the dispute. We have a Spiritual Master of Srila Prabhupada's status, so he gives us an absolute conclusion. Mainly, he says don't worry about it, it doesn't make any difference. Consequently, there's nothing to dispute, even though Praghosa dasa says the issue could have turned into "a right old ding dong".
In Srila Prabhupada's eloquent, expert way, he glorifies these other Acaryas, which is wonderful. That's what someone on his level or status can do when it comes to a seeming disagreement with other maha-Acaryas. But of course, this is not the level that most of the disagreement today is taking place on. We all exist on a different level.
To substantiate his position, Praghosa prabhu again quotes from Srimad Bhagavatam 7:13:7 Purport:
“Of course, those who preach sometimes need to argue with the contentions of opponents, but as much as possible one should avoid an argumentative attitude.”
But in the same purport, we find these statements by Srila Prabhupada:
"There is no need to take shelter of unnecessary literature or concern oneself with many so-called philosophers and thinkers who are useless for spiritual advancement. Nor should one accept a disciple for the sake of fashion or popularity. One should be callous to these so-called sastras, neither opposing nor favoring them, and one should not earn one’s livelihood by taking money for explaining sastra. A sannyasi must always be neutral and seek the means to advance in spiritual life, taking full shelter under the lotus feet of the Lord.”
So within the context of this same purport, there are many other poignant messages that directly or indirectly deal with this whole issue of authority, and how one resolves contentious issues. Let's take for example the issue of re-initiating devotees, which of course Srila Prabhupada never spoke of at all. Neither can one get any commentary on this issue from the previous Sampradaya Acarya, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. For those who are exponents of re-initiation, which of course ISKCON and the GBC are, they have to go to sastras not directly commented upon by the Sampradaya Acaryas, and particularly the most recent ones. So for our most recent Sampradaya Acaryas, even though this issue is inevitably going to come up, they chose not to comment on the sastra ISKCON relies on, which allows us to come to various conclusions.
We also note that in the same regard, one could easily claim that this re-initiation authorization has a lot to do with sannyasis earning their livelihood by accumulating or gaining disciples. Many of the ISKCON gurus have in their roster of disciples many ex-disciples of their fallen Godbrothers.
So unlike the issue that Praghosa dasa chose to bring up about who's the grandfather, this is a real issue that directly affects devotees lives, here and now. And it is an issue that is open for discussion, at least amongst people outside the institution. If you try to discuss it inside the institution, you can be sure you won't get a discussion -- you'll be chastised as a trouble maker or aparadhi, or something like that. And I'm just using this as one example, what to speak of the other big issues such as the changes to Srila Prabhupada's books, or the genuine qualifications for a bona fide spiritual master, or whether Srila Prabhupada is a nitya-siddha and what that really mean in terms of literature such as the Lilamrta and ISKCON's general presentation of him. These are not some mundane controversial or contentious issues - this is about debate the philosophy. That is what we're supposed to expertly engage in doing as part of our spiritual science.
So how one can resolve these real, important issues using Praghosa dasa's formula, as he's presenting it in his article? Once one enters into the institutional paradigm, especially if it's being surcharged with titles such as 'guru', 'sannyasi' or 'GBC', discussing important topics of philosophy becomes quite difficult. It is even more problematic when the personalities involved are the older, 'advanced devotees', and the discussion happens to involve one of these personalities directly. In this scenario, the dynamics of the discussion are greatly altered because it's the 'big devotee' who determines whether or not the discussion is in the 'right mood'. And for the most part, 'in the right mood' means that the neophyte or the student just sits and listens to the answer to their question, and that's the end of the discussion. The authority is always right, and from the very beginning of the discussion there's the assumption that the small timer has to surrender to the big timer's conclusions. That's what it means to be "cooperative" or "in the right mood" in ISKCON today.
This is really the dynamics taking places in Praghosa dasa's world, and he prefers this atmosphere because he's an authority. Every authority approves of people being submissive, obedient and reverent. In fact, devotees such as these are held up as ideal, and every newcomer naturally wants to be thought of in this way by the authorities and by other members of the community. They don't want to be labeled or looked upon as a troublemaker, or someone who is too argumentative or challenging to the authorities, asking too many tough questions.
Praghosa dasa goes on to say that sastra give us license to be argumentative in certain circumstances, but the only circumstance he can come up with is when you're arguing with impersonalist Mayavadis. But in all honesty, how often do even the leaders themselves come across a genuine scholarly Mayavadi philosopher who they can challenge? We may have to challenge Christians or western atheists who are attached to Darwinism, but more likely we're put in a circumstance where we have to challenge temple authorities, or even the GBC. They're the ones that really affect our lives, not some Mayavadi, atheist or Christian that we meet on the streets.
Of course, someone in Praghosa dasa's position would obviously prefer not to be challenged, not to have to deal with devotees under their jurisdiction who are having a disagreement about some practical matter that impacts their daily life. In these kinds of matters, according to Praghosa dasa's arguments, one should just suck it up and take the comments of their authorities as being a direct order rather than a discussion. That in itself is the institution's proffered solution, no matter what the problem. Praghosa makes the point that it has to be in the 'right mood', and the right mood is that those parties involved in the discussion cannot be "dictated to by pride and false ego."
Our philosophy tells us that it's much more likely that the authority, especially the institutional authority, will be impacted by pride and false ego than a submissive newcomer. So in terms of the right mood, I would venture to say that it's more likely that the institutional authority is not in the right mood in comparison to someone in a lesser position.
In ISKCON for instance, I can say with near certainty that most of ISKCON's leaders are at best, mid-level kanisthas, and really don't have much spiritual authority. Their biggest weapon is the fact that they belong to an institution, and within the institution they have surrounded themselves with persons of a submissive mentality. The right mood is to operate from the principle of "yes sir, yes sir, three bags full". If you do that, then you're considered submissive, humble, and qualified to be initiated. If not, you're shunned, ostracized and not recommended.
Praghosa dasa qualifies the fact that within the Dandavats commentator community, (which is screened on the basis that they're loyal ISKCON-ites who don't cross the institutional line), whatever disagreements they have have, which they share in the Blog attached to the articles, these mis-understandings are easily resolved. But of course, they don't allow real contentious issues to be discussed on Dandavats, and the really contentious responses are screened out before they ever hit the screen, along with anyone who asks the wrong questions or is too challenging. We know, because they often submit these rejected articles to the Sun for publication. If Praghosa thinks I'm wrong, let him post my articles on Dandavats. Of course, there's a snowball's chance of that happening.
Praghosa dasa included in his article the relatively long purport/excerpt from Srimad Bhagavatam 6-2-11, wherein a Sampradaya Acarya, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur, is commenting on the chanting of the Holy Name. This really doesn't have any relevance to the position he's taking about how to resolve disputes, other than the fact that it defines devotees, who he says have spent many hours chanting the Holy Names of the Lord. Of course, within the institution one is put in an authoritative position primarily based on how long they've been chanting chronologically, in other words, how long have they been a devotee in the movement. And on the basis of that, they get a relative amount of authority when it comes to discussing or debating issues. This insinuates that those who have been holding institutional positions the longest are the ones who have the final say or veto power, and who always come up winning, by default, in any debate or discussion
The examples that Praghosa dasa chooses to give of the college student believing he could take advantage of Srila Prabhupada's movement by using it as a B&B, or his sponge cake remembrances as a boy, are really insignificant circumstances in comparison to what are the real issues that concern most devotees at this particular point in time within our Vaisnava community. As such, these anecdotal bits don't mean or say much of anything. Praghosa dasa chooses to use a mundane example of how ghastly things are going on in the material world and that somehow as devotees we get to avoid all those things. But this is not necessarily true. Most devotees today are well tuned into the U.S. or BBC news or other global news feeds, so it's incorrect to say that we live in an insulated world and nothing outside impacts us, therefore we don't have to discuss things the way the karmis do.
Of course, within our own institution, in terms of understanding the transcendental qualities and nature of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, anything that goes on in the material world is relatively unimportant and insignificant, even major wars or global warning. So if we want to discuss how Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement is being properly spread around the world under the guidance of the Sampradaya Acarya, then those kinds of discussions are the highest priority and authority. These are the issues we should be discussing, yet they are the very areas that ISKCON authorities such as Praghosa prabhu refuse to discuss because in order to do so, one must address the practical, contentious problems within ISKCON.
When it comes to philosophical disputes within the institution, even the highest authorities on the GBC don't take responsibility for discussing and determining the right philosophical position. They hand the tough issues over to the SAC. And even though the SAC committee gives some sort of response to these requests, the GBC seldom follow their advice. This arrangement is supposed to be provide some sort of brahminical input to those who are supposedly the kshatriyas, who are actually sannyasis and gurus. So if we can't see the hypocrisy here, what can be done?
Obeisances to Dandavats and to HG Praghosa dasa.