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A Vaisnava Speaks the Truth without Criticizing Others
by Srila dasa

Who is a Vaisnava? A Vaisnava is, first and foremost, a spiritual seeker. As a spiritual aspirant approaches the final stages of his/her evolution in this material realm, by the divine grace of Guru and Krsna, he then becomes a Vaisnava: which is to say, he transforms into a pilgrim and displays refinement of character and self-discipline. Such a sincere soul subsequently finds and accepts direction from a bona fide spiritual guide, who is a realized Vaisnava. One becomes self-realized in turn by serving the lotus feet of superior and qualified Vaisnavas. This training and service must ultimately become internalized and assimilated as self-discipline, tolerance, wisdom, compassion, etc.

While a devotee apparently traverses a specific path, as a true spiritualist he carefully avoids the tendency to get stuck in any mundane 'groove' of limitation, sectarianism, and misidentification, as someone following a traditional religious course generally does. We have often heard the New Age expression, "I am spiritual but not religious." A Vaisnava similarly strives to become free from all material designations and not get caught up in the superfluous. He always seeks the essence (saragrahi). A Vaisnava is therefore a freethinker, not a group-thinker.

While a devotee thinks for himself, he is not a loner. Success in any field is a team sport. All good qualities can be quickly achieved by proper association with elevated souls (sadhus). Without such inspiring association or direction, one tends to stagnate or remain on the same level. An aspiring Vaisnava therefore avails himself of any high-minded spiritual association wherever he can find it — regardless of caste, club, or creed.

Avoiding Criticism

One of the first duties of a Vaisnava is to respect every living entity as part and parcel of God, knowing them to be like oneself. Conversely, a Vaisnava refrains from giving pain or harming any living creature with one's body, mind, or words. In terms of speaking, this means to avoid criticizing anyone. Specifically, a spiritual seeker should not scorn anyone because of their religion.

In Srimad Bhagavatam (4.22.24), Sanat Kumara instructs King Prthu, "A candidate for spiritual advancement must be nonviolent, and should not blaspheme others." In the purport Srila Prabhupada explains, " [An] important point mentioned in this connection is that we should not criticize others' methods of religion (anindaya). A devotee, instead of criticizing such systems, will encourage the followers to stick to their principles so that gradually they can come to the platform of religion in goodness. Simply by criticizing them, a devotee's mind will be agitated. Thus a devotee should tolerate and learn to stop agitation."

A devotee is cautious about not offending anyone. He does not wish to find fault. Only out of genuine concern and for the sake of the truth does a devotee speak out. He seeks to educate or correct for the benefit of all. While as a general principle truth should be presented palatably, it is sometimes necessary to simply speak the truth. "'Simply speaking the truth" is easier said than done, however. The same knife the surgeon employs to repair and heal can also be abused by the dacoit to maim and kill. Speaking the truth in a pleasant way and for the welfare of all takes skill and practice.

Better to err on the side of caution. Therefore, in the scriptures, it is recommended a devotee or spiritual aspirant practice restraint, maunam, silence.

A devotee consequently has no business expounding at length on mundane affairs that he has little or no actual knowledge about and where he can offer no transcendental wisdom or practical truth. Otherwise, we may be perpetrating ignorance and doing violence upon our listeners.

I write to elucidate my own thoughts with the aspiration that I can at least benefit myself and perhaps offer a ray of light to share with others.

Respectfully,

Srila dasa

Om Tat Sat.

© CHAKRA 6 December 2001

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