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Or Making Sheep?
by Chota Hari Das
Niscala Dasi has raised an important point for discussion. So many mistakes have been tolerated and repeated in ISKCON under the smokescreen of the rope and snake example, effectively to make us turn a blind eye to inadequacies in our leadership. It is interesting that it is mostly the leaders who have responded with harsh criticism of her analysis. Other devotees, such as myself, find her arguments sound and reasonable.
The point of the rope/snake example is to underline the need for the disciple to have faith in the guru. Sraddha. That's the simple point. The point is not to make a case for literalism. In fact Bhaktivinode Thakur described literalists as "stupid" and "shallow," and as doing "far greater harm" to the Bhagavatam tradition than its outspoken critics.
Unfortunately, for most people, "faith" means blind faith. Literalism. This is their misunderstanding. The parampara understanding of faith means rational faith, or "open-eyed" faith. Krsna said to Arjuna, "Now you have heard me, now you think. You think and you decide." And that is the spirit that should permeate ISKCON.
But concept is too taxing for most people. "What, I have to think and figure things out? No way. Oh, gurudeva, please be merciful and think for me!" That's their orientation. And this is encouraged by gurus who have an agenda to possess people, rather than to serve them by opening their eyes. So, the guru and disciple fulfill a reciprocal need to possess and be treated as a possession, respectively, but none of this has anything to do with the actual Krsna conscious dynamic between the guru and disciple, which is to enlighten and empower the disciple.
Thus, a guru who stresses obedience over clear understanding, is actually stunting the growth of the disciple, rather than promoting it. It is never advantageous to have an attitude of blind following; it is always unhealthy. Even in the beginning, it is condemned, or how is one to know that the guru is genuine? Therefore, all the way through the relationship, one must question. Not arrogantly, but in order to "get a clear understanding" as recommended in the purport to Bg 4.31.
Submissive enquiry is not the same thing as blind following. People have to understand that it is possible to be a critical thinker without being arrogant; rather, critical thinking and submissiveness can and must coexist. We act as if this is a mysterious contradiction in terms but in reality it is shown all over the Vedic literature in the form of questions and answers, questions and answers, questions and answers. Arjuna to Krsna. Narada to Brahma, the sages to Suta, Pariksit to Sukadeva, Vidura to Maitreya, and on and on. It is not a mystery at all.
Submissive enquiry side by side with critical thinking is the correct combination for a fruitful guru-disciple relationship. However, in ISKCON we try to shirk this responsibility to think, with the rope and snake example given as the prime rationalization for this intellectual laziness. And this passes as a virtue, as a symptom of faith in the guru.
Generally, ISKCON authorities don't like questions and critical thinking, and consider a good disciple to be one who flatters and pays them well. A disciple who analyzes, questions, and so on, is generally criticized as being "over-intelligent." The conclusion is that we are training sheep, rather than independently thoughtful men and women, which Srila Prabhupada said was "the purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement."
© CHAKRA 12 October 2001
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