Avoiding Useless Debate and Misleading Association
by Narasimha das —
Sadhus have no interest in hearing doubts and debate among various camps of proponents and counter-proponents, even when such debate is among devotees. As Srimad-Bhagavatam aptly notes, such debaters, although interested in establishing the truth, are forgetting their eternal souls. This is because they have neglected to hear carefully from the genuine acarya and have thus misunderstood the narrow path of the mahajanas. Only Srila Prabhupada’s chaste followers are able to speak and write properly by quoting relevant evidence from sastras, particularly the purports of great acaryas, which are called amnaya. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that it is nearly impossible for conditioned souls to understand the truth in the holy scriptures without amnaya, or the bhasyas of great acaryas.
We can confidently proclaim that only those who accept Srila Prabhupada as ultimate authority can understand the conclusions of the scriptures today. Almost everyone else speculates inconclusively based on sentiment and personal bias. Sometimes they quote out-of-context statements from sastra that seem to support their particular bias, but they show no interest in serious, sastric discussions for establishing truth. Their understanding of siddhanta is polluted and incomplete. In this regard, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura comments, “In the conclusions of those who are ignorant of the truth, only a portion of the Vedas are accepted. In the conclusions of the knowers of truth, the purport of all the Vedas is accepted.”
In His book Sri Bhaktyaloka, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura mentions that it is detrimental to the development of bhakti to pry into the faults in others, particularly when one’s motive is self aggrandizement or envy. In the chapter on prajalpa, He describes all kinds of useless talk. To be sure, the most dangerous useless talk is blaspheming sadhus. He gives an example of such blaspheming from Srimad-Bhagavatam, citing the story of Prajapati Daksa and Lord Shiva. He also describes the types of useless argument and debate to be avoided. He particularly mentions how harmful it is to investigate or pass judgments on the moral character of others. Regarding blaspheming sadhus, or the hati-mata offense, the examples used in sastra are of deliberate offenses against pure devotees, such as Lord Shiva, Maharaja Ambarisa, or other great devotees.
Although pointing out blatant, severe deviations in neophyte devotees is not palatable, it may be necessary sometimes and is not an offense. Such analysis following guru and sastra is not detrimental fault-finding, unless one becomes absorbed in dualities as a consequence. Toward the end of the chapter on prajalpa, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that fault-finding done by our acaryas, the sastras, or Lord Chaitanya is beneficial for devotional service. He gives some examples of this kind of beneficial fault-finding. I heard that Srila Prabhupada said, “To call a thief a ‘thief’ is not fault-finding.” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura confirms this idea: “Therefore when the previous acaryas have personally set examples and taught others, how will we be benefited by acting contrary to their instruction? And if one discusses in this way the improper behavior current in a religious sect or amongst the general public, then such talk is not averse to devotional service.”
Two days ago I was reading some poems Srila Prabhupada wrote. In one stanza He mentions “the jackal Ananta Vasudeva” and in several other stanzas He broadly condemns the behavior of His God-brothers, describing how so many sincere souls were driven away from the Gaudiya Math due to false pretense and personal ambition among leading preachers. Srila Prabhupada levels severe charges against Gaudiya Math leaders in many places, most notably of which are His book purports. Although I have heard His criticism of deviant leaders many times before, I was surprised that He mentioned this man by name, calling him a “jackal”.
The very next day, by His causeless mercy, Bhaktivinoda Thakura answered my doubt, “Even if one sometimes talks about a particular person, there is no fault.” He cites the example of Maitreya Rishi from Srimad-Bhagavatam, who condemned the behavior of King Vena. He also cites the example of Lord Chaitanya condemning the behavior of sannyasis who speak with women intimately or privately. Such talk of exemplary deviants is not detrimental but rather serves to illuminate the proper path of devotional service. At the same time, Bhaktivinoda Thakura warns, “But those who talk about others while influenced by devotional impediments like envy, hatred, pride, or distinction are offenders at the feet of Bhaktidevi.”
Based on this last statement I believe our editorial policy in Srila Prabhupada Siddhanta was correct, since it was done carefully and slowly with input and oversight from a group of sober Prabhupada followers, none of whom even wished to be personally acknowledged or thanked in its pages. The book never mentions any person or institution, and carefully avoids argument, debate and condemnations of devotees. Only in one place we list various severe deviations from siddhanta propagated by misguided preachers. The purpose of this publication was to avoid useless argument and debate by providing the essential conclusions of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions in an easy-to-follow format. Quoting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Srila Prabhupada predicted: “When our men will become sahajiyas, they will be the most dangerous.” The example is given of a snake with a valuable gem on its head. Both “Prabhupadas” made the same prediction, seeing the eagerness of many leading preachers to sit on the seat of the Spiritual Master. Bhaktivinoda Thakura elaborates on this point, as I have cited below.
Regarding toxic talk about the moral character of others, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says it is very antagonistic to pure devotional service. On a practical level, there is no proper way to examine or expose moral deviants unless they are gross, constant offenders living close at hand, in which case they expose themselves. Such persons should be carefully avoided with mind, body and words. Recently on an istaghosti site I tried to suggest that it was useless to talk of a specific sannyasi, a sahajiya who is accused by several devotees of serious criminal conduct long ago. I wrote in and suggested they discuss, instead, not accusations and rumors but clear deviations from siddhanta supported by this man and his maya-gbc cohorts. Many devotees writing on this site could not appreciate this advice.
Regarding one’s level of philosophical and scriptural understanding, a learned man, half-educated man, ignorant man and a pretender are each recognized as soon as they speak or write something. This is why materialistic religious leaders stonewall serious inquiries and discussions. The Vedic tradition of establishing proper siddhanta and sadhana through logical, scriptural discussions is always carefully avoided by pseudo-religious leaders, who often condemn sincere devotees, accusing them of being heretics, severe offenders or demons.
The internet provides increased facilities for sadhu-sanga but also assists in the rapid spread of poison and poison mixed with milk. Today it quite possible, using the expediting facilities offered by the internet, for intelligent students of Krishna consciousness to quickly appreciate who is who in the movement. If they are fortunate enough to find favorable sadhu-sanga with chaste disciples who have carefully studied and understood the philosophical conclusions in all of Srila Prabhupada’s books, they can easily avoid the misleading association of false preachers and their followers.
In my case, I came to the right conclusions about Srila Prabhupada and the path of devotional service long before I read all the books. How? I was fortunate to find and accept the association or sincere sadhus, such as Vishnujana Swami, Jayananda Prabhu, Srinatha Prabhu and others. This easy path is possible for everyone who is not poisoned by dharmadvajis or kali-cela. Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes the symptoms of false sadhus, as cited below.
“Sadhu” means one who cuts the hard knots of our false attachments. Real sadhus are pure devotees or chaste followers of the pure devotee. Srila Prabhupada specifically warns that there are many malicious persons posing as Vaisnavas in the Krishna consciousness movement. New devotees need training in separating wheat from chaff. And we all need to train our deviant minds to remain fixed at all times on Prabhupada’s path only. Otherwise, if we insist that everyone always discuss only the purest nectar, no one will understand when poison is mixed with nectar. We see this danger in the sahajiya camps of today. They avoid a careful study of Srila Prabhupada’s books because they have been misled into believing they are qualified to relish advanced Krishna Lila without humbly learning to relish Prabhupada’s purports. Some of these devotees reject even the transcendental names Srila Prabhupada kindly gave them by His causeless mercy. Such deluded persons are on a dangerous path.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura advises that one “not give up the process of deliberation as being useless on the path of devotional service.” Until we are fully self-realized, we must carefully discriminate between matter and spirit. In this regard, Srila Bhaktivinoda quotes Caitanya-caritamrta: “A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussion strengthens the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Sri Krishna.” (Cc. Adi. 2.117.) Similarly, Sri Isopanisad advises, “Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death, and enjoy the full blessings of immortality.” (Sri Isopanisad, Mantra Eleven)
In the chapter titled “Jana-sanga,” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura especially warns of the association of dharmadvajis, or those who make a show of devotional service for ulterior motives. “One should give up the association of dharmadvaja, the hypocritically devout, with special care. Those who accept the external signs of dharma but do not follow actual dharma are called dharmadvajis. There are two types of dharmadvajis : the hypocrites and the fools– or the cheaters and the cheated. In devotional service this hypocrisy ruins everything. Better to associate with sense enjoyers, for in this world there is nothing worse than the association of dharmadvajis. Some of them become ‘gurus’ and some of them become ‘disciples’, and by trickery they accumulate wealth, women, false prestige and material assets. If one gives up the association of crooked hypocrites, then he can honestly engage in devotional service. Honest worship is the only way to obtain Sri Krishna’s mercy.”
The term dharmadvaji is a polite way of referring to pretenders who dress like sannyasis but use the post of guru for collecting money and followers. Their “trickery” is to use the prestige and glory of the pure devotee, the holy dhama, the acarya’s institution, the acarya’s books, the acarya’s disciples and even the Deity and nama-sankiritana to promote their own prestige and power. Srila Prabhupada describes such trickery as “increasing disciples in the manner of businessmen, using transcendental devices.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura points out that such cheating “gurus” provide facility for the false enjoyments of their followers. We see this today in the various sahajiya camps. Their festivals are aimed at bringing together men and women for collecting money, dating, swapping partners, swapping “gurus,” and remarrying. These camps offer nice facilities for jana-sanga but not for genuine sadhu-sanga. In other words, they avoid serious discussions of siddhanta based on Srila Prabhupada’s books, and they try instead to assume a false status in devotional service or even a status like that of Srila Prabhupada or the Gopis. Thus they reveal their real motives by rejecting and arguing against Srila Prabhupada’s order and instructions, no matter what the cost to the worldwide mission of Krishna consciousness. Bhaktivinoda Thakura cites the example of Ramadas Vipra from Caitanya-caritamrita. This man fooled many devotees into believing that he was highly advanced in Krishna consciousness. It is said that he chanted the names of Lord Rama 24 hours a day, was highly learned and a puca brahmin. But Lord Chaitanya, understanding his inner motive and his pride, ignored him completely.
In this same chapter, Bhaktivinoda Thakura defends the association of unpretentious sadhus who still act sinfully sometimes due to their former bad habits. How are such sadhus recognized? First qualification is they accept the conclusions of a Vaisnava, a pure devotee. They are disgusted with all material activities, and they worship Krishna with faith and conviction, even though they may still sometimes act against the regulative principles due to past bad habits. The Thakura confirms that such devotees, who are properly situated, are sadhus, and He quotes Bhagavad-gita 9.30-31 in this regard. He assures us that sincere devotees who follow the path of pure devotion are ashamed of their sinful habits, which they realize cause only suffering, and will soon become completely pure by sticking to the process of sadhana-bhakti. He then quotes Bhagavatam 11.20.27-29 to confirm this point. At the end of the chapter on jana-sanga, He comments, “The conclusion is that the association of pious persons (or sinful persons) who are bereft of Krishna consciousness is undesirable. On the other hand, association with persons who are sinful, yet devoted to the Lord, is desirable.”
Unfortunately many devotees are ruining their hopes for devotional service in this lifetime and the next due to their negligence in distinguishing paramahamsas from pretenders. In spite of all of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and arrangements to help them, they remain precariously situated. They have not properly accepted Srila Prabhupada as their diksa-guru, or sad-guru. We may say that this is all due to their sinful reactions and past offenses only, but according to Bhaktivinoda Thakura it is all due to a “poor fund of knowledge.” It is certainly unkind if learned devotees avoid sticky discussions of guru-tattva for fear of offending phony “gurus” and their ignorant followers. At the same time, who can blame respectable devotees nowadays if they avoid such discussions altogether? Bhaktivinoda Thakura mentions at least twice in this compact but astonishingly complete book that it is better to live alone at a secluded location to practice devotional service if one is unable to find the association of real sadhus. He says the most fortunate path, however, is to live at a secluded holy place in the association of practicing sadhus, or sadhakas. He devotes the last chapter to describing proper sadhu behavior, or sadhu-vritti.
The Thakura specifically points out that sannyasis who talk intimately with women or about women are the worst type of offenders who should be utterly rejected by all sincere devotees. For instance, one of maya-iskcon’s the leading “iskurus” is so foolishly arrogant that he wrote an entire book glorifying one of his own young, female followers, complete with her color photos. Similarly, another senior maya-iskcon sannyasi was seen talking intimately and alone with a woman in Golden Gate Park for nearly two hours. This is what we are up against nowadays — the cheaters and the cheated. Interestingly, Bhaktivinoda Thakura puts them both in the same category. The cheated are not always so innocent. Rather, they want something cheap. As it is said, “It takes two to tango.”
Sri Bhaktyaloka is an amazingly concise, condensed, clear, book — full of pure siddhanta on many fine points and most major topics of devotional service. Every page is astonishing. In this book, Srila Bhaktivinoda mostly quotes from Caitanya-caritamrita. Based on the quality of this edition, I believe the devotees who translated and edited this book have carefully studied Srila Prabhupada’s books. Unless one has already studied all of Prabhupada’s books carefully, he likely won’t be able to deeply appreciate this short book, which is condensed nectar. It is only by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy that we can begin to appreciate this book.
All glories to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura – Lord Chaitanya’s Transcendental Energy!
All glories to Srila Prabhupada and the Guru Parampara!