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Doubts? A Neophyte Responds
By Bhakta Wallace (Bhakta Vaikuntha)
I read with interest Niscala Devi dasi’s extremely disturbing yet complex reply to Danavir Maharaja’s response to her original article entitled, "Can the Guru Make Mistakes?" I also read her article being responded too and thought about it for a long time.
At first, such a question leads one to immediately think, which guru? Certainly a devotee of Krsna initiated by the spiritual master, in this case HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada could not be directing such a question at him.
Indeed, we live in very perilous times in this Kali-yuga when a devotee of Krsna, or one who purports to be, begins having doubts about Srila Prabhupada or even seemingly innocent misconceptions and maybe this too is the last snare of the illusory energy as well. The other thinking oneself to be as good as God, or Krsna. Thus, the seeds of falldown begin to take place, if not outwardly, than inwardly.
Therefore, although I have been a devotee of Krsna for the past 22 years and not formally initiated, I consider myself a neophyte in that respect and an unlikely candidate to address such issues, especially to one who may be more advanced than myself and done much more service. Still, I would like to take this opportunity to objectively and candidly address some of Niscala Devi dasi’s statements for several reasons. While in household life these past 22 years I have had the good fortune of not only imbibing the Vedic literatures as well as other important works on the lives of the previous acaryas and the works of the six Goswamis of Vrndavana, but more importantly, the Sat-Sandarbas of Srila Jiva Goswami and the works of Srila Rupa Goswami, our great, great, great grand arcaryas and giants within the Vaisnava canon.
In addition, I was also blessed with having keen association and much service for the 13 years that I lived near the Los Angeles temple from 1980-1994. Therefore, while there are numerous sastric verses I could quote from, I’m writing off the top of my head spontaneously.
I never met Srila Prabhupada in person unfortunately except through his glorious books and the several dreams I have had of him in that time. In that sense, he is never far from me or from any of his true disciples. His incredible purports to the Vedic texts were undoubtedly illuminating and the major attraction and influence in bringing many people, young and old to Krsna consciousness and in fact, creating a virtual revolution in consciousness with the institution now known as ISKCON. Not only in 1966 but for generations to come in the future and for 10,000 years. These are facts. Therefore, I place myself humbly before those reading this article and am proud to say that I am one of the many individuals who received "one of the books." In my case, The Teachings of Lord Kapila, that ironically, was given to another individual at an airport back in the 1970’s.
So I guess one could say I’m living proof of a former agnostic turned lover of Krsna and Srila Prabhupada or any of the devotees of Krsna for that matter. I really love this movement, as idealistic and naive as that may sound. For the record, I’m 55 years old and I’ve seen many devotees come and go over the years.
I cannot express in words how Srila Prabhupada’s books had an impact on my life and changed my spiritual worldview forever. How? By showing us, all of us who were attracted to his words, the practical nature of the science of God, Krsna, and the importance of chanting the holy names of God.
There is another reason why I am taking the liberty of addressing Niscala dasi’s article and that is, without sounding like the teacher’s pet, I have a very high regard for Danavir Goswami Maharaja who, as inaugurator of the Rupanuga Vedic College in Kansas City, Missouri, is working tirelessly to bring Krsna consciousness to others as a sincere disciple of Srila Prabhupada. For Danavir Goswami, there are no "doubts" about his guru, Srila Prabhupada. I therefore, do not disagree with his response to Niscala dasi’s article but this is not favoritism and it is in this light that I myself would like to address some of Niscala dasi’s issues that she raises in "Dealing with Doubts—Niscala replies to Danavir Goswami." Let’s start from the beginning:
Niscala dasi starts by saying, "My purpose in writing what I did (her original article), was based on my conviction that for devotional service to be effective, it must increase in faith and in enthusiasm over the passage of years. Not decrease."
While this statement has merit, the fact of the matter is, for some souls Krsna conscious faith can be had in a moment while for others it may indeed take many years depending upon the realization and conviction of the individual jiva. Sraddha, or faith comes finally from the Supersoul or Paramatma through the via medium of the spiritual master who has realized these exact same truths, as well as the previous acaryas in the line since time immemorial. In other words, all these great souls, mahatmas, had the same realizations: that Krsna is none other than God almighty Himself and the origin of all that be. All other realizations sprung from that very Absolute Truth. Therefore, bhakti yoga is the process for acquiring that faith, and from faith Krsna gives the knowledge by which one can come to Him. Again, if there is a decrease in enthusiasm in devotional service, then the defect must lie within the realm of the individual’s perceptions in regard to the Vedic conclusions without projecting them onto the guru, and of course, there are ways of studying the qualifications of the guru and the different levels of devotees such as kanistha-adhikari (neophyte), madhyama-adhikari (intermediate), and uttama-adhikari (first-class devotee), but I’m sure Niscala dasi knows these things. I’m trying to keep this simple.
Niscala dasi then goes on in the next paragraph and says basically, if one joins ISKCON at age 25 and lives to age 70 one has 45 years to "encounter doubts: from within, from our associates, from what we hear and from what we read."
If one really thinks about this statement a moment it is rather contradictory and doesn’t really carry water. It may even be deemed as absurd from a Krsna conscious point of view. For example, what if a devotee lives to be 110 years old? I guess he or she has more time to remain doubtful until cruel death comes. And there’s the rub. Krsna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita that He will slay the demons of doubt. I would think that if one’s doubt is not eradicated within a certain amount of time, then perhaps it is the nature of the mind to not come to grips with the spotless Vedic conclusions, which, in my opinion, is the underlying doubts in Niscala dasi’s mind. How can a true devotee accept one portion of the Vedas and reject another portion if it does not conform to his or her own conclusions on what exactly constitutes, in this case, racism and sexism?
And to me, this is the real crux of her article, albeit with a tinge of anger and a preposterous assumption that somehow Srila Prabhupada was not cognizant of time and place or that what he said would be deemed as racist or sexist without seeing the root of such statements from the transcendental view of the Vedas, which by the way, are non-different than Krsna’s transcendental body. But then, Niscala dasi knows this. Right? (See Bhagavad-gita.) Everything is there. It is only by the spiritual master and Krsna’s mercy that one’s doubts can be eradicated since in the final analysis, Krsna knows everyone’s heart.
Niscala dasi goes on to say that, "If we [I assume us] take the attitude that doubts are a threat to the devotees’ faith, and that the doubting personalities have something wrong with them, are offensive, of a hellish mentality and so forth, then we disable ourselves from connecting to a wellspring of true faith within ourselves that can nurture and develop the same in others."
Here I can’t help but have this psychic feeling Niscala has been hurt or terribly maligned in the course of her devotional service over the years. I could be wrong, and I hope this won’t be taken in the wrong light. In debate, no one really wins, as the opposing side always holds fast to their supposed convictions on what is true and what is false. That is the nature of the human condition, and I believe Srila Jiva Goswami alluded to the same sentiment.
Yes, indeed. Doubts are definitely a serious threat to a devotee’s faith. If there is doubt…what is that doubt? That Krsna is God? That the Vedas must be somehow erroneous? That the guru can make mistakes? While it may be true that due to personality and the level of purity of an individual devotee he/she may say that one who has doubts is of "hellish" mentality or is offensive, but this may have more to do with the level of maturity of the devotee than the final Vedic conclusion and it is a fact that those who have doubts stunt their sadhana or are not realizing the actual import of the Vedic truths.
It is therefore incumbent upon the acarya or guru to enlighten the disciple as best as he can according to sastric conclusion so that these very doubts Niscala speaks of can be dissipated. Actually, it is the guru’s faith that is transmitted to the disciple who in turn will hopefully transmit the same to the next generation. This is parampara in action. And not an ancient notion. Sadhu means to cut…like a knife. But what? One’s false attachment with this material world. It’s dirty work, but someone’s gotta do it. The acarya then has the thankless task of being a menial servant on behalf of God, Krsna, in bringing forgotten souls back to Godhead instead of gliding down to hell. At least, that has been my understanding after reading sastra these many years. Actually, the Vedas are there to jog our memory of our constitutional position, which we have forgotten, service to guru, sastra, and Krsna. Once that has been achieved, faith follows without any doubts.
Niscala goes on to say that we need an atmosphere "which allows questions and doubts," but hasn’t that been the mainstay of ISKCON for 35 years in America? That may be one reason for having a morning Srimad-Bhagavatam class and an evening Bhagavad-gita class. To give others an opportunity to ask questions and get perfect answers. Sound familiar? Any doubts that arise, and they do in the beginning, are thoroughly erased by the power of Vedic knowledge. Otherwise, why would Srila Prabhupada so tirelessly translate so many Vedic texts prior to coming to America? Because he knew this was the secret ingredient or golden keys. He knew these books would create a revolution in consciousness that is still to be heard and Srila Prabhupada was the perfect emissary to deliver this message. This had been ordained and prophesied many millenniums ago by Lord Sri Krsna Himself.
Niscala then says, "Some devotees consider Srila Prabhupada’s statements about women and Negroes (a term I haven’t heard since the 1950’s deep south), to be sexist and racist by today’s standards." But today’s standards are transitory at best. After all, we are only living in a newsreel and when death comes where are those same standards? According to Srila Prabhupada, "We are only here to prepare for our next birth." Looking at it from that statement, everything we seem to hold near and dear is suddenly smashed to dust. According to academic, social, and scientific standards unless we immerse ourselves in the progression of gross materialism we are not really utilizing our human potential. But that is not progress. According to the Vedas, real human potential is to utilize one’s body in the service of God, Krsna. But because the materialists are essentially atheistic, they view the devotee’s spiritual proclivities and aspirations as somehow negative or a waste of time. But we as devotee’s…devotees without any doubts, know better. And deep down so doesn’t Niscala dasi.
Niscala goes on to say something about the validity of the Krsna conscious process in regard, I assume, to Srila Prabhupada’s statements about "Negroes" and women. But for a devotee who is truly self-realized and understands cent percent the REAL meaning behind the Vedic texts then any statement Srila Prabhupada may have made is never looked at as racist even though our perceptions may cloud our own judgment about what the guru’s intent really was. One has to understand the root of such statements and the context to which they are delivered and to whom before one can pass judgment. Of course, Jesus Christ once said, "Judge not, that you too will be judged." And Srila Prabhupada said "Everything will be tested at the moment of death." But then, Niscala dasi knows this. Right?
In reference to the above, Niscala dasi states something about, "continues to elude us," but who is the "us" she is referring to? Is it Satsvarupa Goswami? Danavir Goswami? Jayapataka Swami? Locanatha Swami? Mukunda Goswami? Devotees who made a conviction to serve Krsna and Srila Prabhupada…without any doubts that the guru can make mistakes? Does "us" refer to ISKCON devotees as a whole? Or some of us? There are those who are very expert in twisting the conclusions of the Vedas for their own self-aggrandizement or in other words, using word jugglery to mix truth with untruth as a way of propagating their distorted image of the transcendental view which in fact, is diametrically opposed to the materialistic view at this time, which is highly hedonistic.
As far as Niscala’s statements about "blind imitation" and "responsible following," If she is referring to Srila Prabhupada’s statements regarding the Negro and women connection, I would think in keeping with social etiquette, particularly Vaisnava etiquette, a devotee would use good sense to deliver the message from the perspective of the pure devotee according to time, place, and audience, while realizing within the guru can never make mistakes in the traditional sense. For example, if a mother’s 10 year-old child had been hit by a car and killed, it is highly doubtful a devotee would run over and say it was her karma etc. knowing deep down that it is. However, there may be a time that this same mother is enlightened by a devotee of Krsna in the temple or after a discourse and will learn of the nature of karma and ask those perfect questions and receive perfect answers if she is fortunate enough. Or maybe, this same mother at some point down the road will receive one of Srila Prabhupada’s books. Thus, the importance of book distribution. But then, Niscala dasi knows this.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty, as it were, in regard to Niscala’s response to Danavir Maharaja’s feedback:
Niscala states that "surrender is based on freedom." But maybe not surrendering is based on ignorance. After all, we are in the material world because we must have somewhere along the line, misused our freedom. One would have to take the Vedic view of what constitutes real freedom in that sense. The whole world is ensnared in this idea of freedom…fighting for freedom…but what they are really fighting for is the perpetuation of materialism under the illusion of freedom. Real freedom I would think is to sport with Krsna in one of the five rasas and thereby experience true bliss. I would imagine that constitutes real freedom, from what I’ve read and heard over these many years. Then again, Niscala dasi has the freedom to ask if the guru can make mistakes, even though it may not be well founded in the light of sastric conclusion. We also have the freedom of going to hell also.
Niscala goes on to say that she does not question Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, "but only his (Srila Prabhupada’s) attitude in certain situations." I find this statement extremely volatile and dangerous. I don’t know how to address this. It stands on the border of guru-aparadha from where I sit. I mean, there is no clarification as such as to the "attitude" and the "certain situations." In all my years of scrutinizing Srila Prabhupada’s books, the only attitude I detected was one of selfless service and his only situation was to save us at the moment of death. While I understand the thrust of Niscala dasi’s statement, it smacks of mutiny. Perhaps a more senior disciple can address this very delicate statement.
In fact, the statements that Niscala dasi makes from this point on enter a bizarre nether world of distrust and doubt that for a neophyte can be very dangerous and lead one into impersonalism. There are many instances of this throughout the Vedic literature. For those of us who love Srila Prabhupada and what his mission was really all about, the entire article is a very painful one and must be properly addressed.
Niscala then says, "Srila Prabhupada’s attitudes and opinions on various issues were in constant flux. Therefore to choose his attitude at a particular time and circumstance and use it as an example to be followed for all time is extremely foolish."
At this time, I would like to know Niscala dasi’s background in Krsna consciousness. What is her devotional history? Was she married? Is she black? It’s almost as if she were planted within the movement to create dissension, but then, it must be my imagination. Or has she succumbed to Maya’s greatest illusion? That of losing faith in the acarya?
Her statement to me makes no sense and I was rather hoping she would elaborate. Otherwise, I’m dumbfounded.
It’s as if Niscala dasi is saying that the followers of Srila Prabhupada are blind followers. Could she explain this to us in simple terms?
When Niscala refers to "guru" she seems to waver between loyalty to Srila Prabhupada and at the same time, disloyalty to his sannyasi disciples or initiating gurus While this may be a result of the turmoil and falldowns that have taken place within ISKCON these past years, one should judge a persons qualifications by one’s behavior and character.
From where I sit, I would imagine the "perfection of the guru" is that devotee who can bring others to Krsna and can deliver the pure message of Krsna and the Vedic conclusions without an ulterior material motive and has assimilated the Vedic conclusion and has applied it in his or her own life. Didn’t Lord Caitanya Mahaprabu declare, "Now you become guru?" Mistakes notwithstanding.
Niscala mentions the Arjuna-Krsna connection and how Krsna treated Arjuna’s doubts. But Niscala has to take into consideration Arjuna’s position before this great battle was about to begin. Also, Krsna temporarily put Arjuna into doubt and so-called illusion to educate us, everyone, in Vedic knowledge; otherwise, how would we know? But Niscala must remember, Arjuna had no doubts and full conviction that Krsna, acting as his guru, could make no mistakes. Therefore, as a pure representative of Krsna, Srila Prabhupada was as good as Krsna and therefore free from illusion and the propensity of making mistakes despite our conceptions of what he said that may be deemed as negative or does not sit well with an individual devotee. That’s a fact. The Hare Krishna movement will endure and be a major force throughout the world even though many of us may not be here to see this. But what will be our next birth?
Niscala dasi goes on to say much more in the same vein refuting this and trying to add credibility to that, but the bottom line seems to be her nagging doubts about Srila Prabhupada’s actual position as the guru of the age and one has to wonder how many years Niscala has been harboring these doubts or where they sprung from and why?
I anticipate clarification from her about how I may be off base in my perceptions of her "mood" in regard to this whole issue of the guru making mistakes. It sets a bad precedent and no, Niscala will not be punished or condemned unless she herself does this either consciously or unconsciously. But the fact is this. As one begins to question or interpret the motives of the pure devotee, one enters the murky waters of impersonalism, which is a death knell for the aspiring Vaisnava. It’s a trick to test our faith. Or a weed coming as a flower.
Finally, Niscala dasi goes on to quote Srila Prabhupada’s statements regarding women’s brains weighing less than a man’s and how Negroes were referred to as "ugly" etc. But I think Niscala has misconstrued Srila Prabhupada’s stance on these issues and just decided to label him with, in her words, a "racial attitude." Then, in a double-entendre she begins to laud Srila Prabhupada’s efforts in spreading Krsna consciousness and in my opinion, this may be a way of quelling her own deep sense of anger and resentment or possibly feeling guilty about her current mindset in regard to Srila Prabhupada in general. I’m not a psychologist, and it may be presumptuous of me.
In conclusion, while I understand the spirit in which Niscala Devi dasi has attempted to address an issue which may have been latent within ISKCON for many years regarding sexist or racist feelings as misinterpreted by devotees who may themselves be trying to purify themselves from these material contaminations, perhaps it would be better for our whole society to focus on the positive rather than using it’s founder-acarya as a scapegoat for our own doubts due to lack of realization. After all, it is Krsna consciousness in the end that will save the whole world as has been predicted by the great acaryas themselves. There is so much preaching yet to do for all those suffering souls yet to come. Are we going to quench their thirst for knowledge or continue to quarrel? The choice is ours. We have that freedom.
Bhakta Wallace, also known as Bhakta Vaikuntha,
can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
© CHAKRA 2 October 2001
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