Should we use the words “fools and rascals” just as Srila Prabhupada did?
Srila Prabhupada often made blunt moral judgments calling atheists and Mayavadis as “fools and labels.” As his followers, should we also use those words in our outreach?
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Transcribed by: Shalini Ahluwalia
Question: Srila Prabhupada often referred to those who were opposed to Krishna consciousness, such as atheistic scientists or Mayavadis, as fools and rascals. So when referring to or talking with these people should we also call them as fools and rascals?
- We should not use the words “fools and rascals” because Srila Prabhupada did not want us to do that.
- Srila Prabhupada was spiritually very advanced, he had no malice, no hatred for others. Hence people did not take offence of his using words like fools and rascals. Our position is not same as Srila Prabhupada.
- Our use of words like “fools and rascals”, often comes from an egoistic platform, and that will alienate people when preaching, especially in current post-modern times when people are extremely sensitive to value-judgment or moral-judgment.
- We should understand that the purpose of our preaching is not to label people as “fools and rascals” but to attract their heart towards Krishna’s lotus feet.
Answer (long): No. Because Srila Prabhupada did not want us to do that. When Bhaktiswarupa Damodar Maharaja asked Srila Prabhupada how should he deal with scientists when he is representing the BhaktiVedanta institute, Prabhupada clearly told him I may call them fools and rascals but you cannot, you should deal with them as gentlemen. Giriraja Maharaja asked the same question to Srila Prabhupada. He mentions this in his upcoming book – Many, Many Moons – that Prabhupada told him – “No, deal with them as gentlemen”. And there are several occasions where Srila Prabhupada himself when he was dealing with Mayavadis, Prabhupada was very gentlemanly. For example, when Swami Nikihilananda came to meet him in America when Prabhupada was sick, he offered him a chair, discussed and talked very politely and nicely with him.
We have to understand the purpose of the parampara and we have to see how according to our spiritual advancement we can fulfil that purpose. Preaching or sharing Krishna consciousness is not just about labelling people or doing value judgements like calling people as fools and rascals. Preaching is essentially about attracting people’s hearts to Krishna and that attraction of people’s hearts to Krishna can be done by all of us according to our level of advancement, according to what in Sanskrit is called as our ‘adhikaar’.
Because Srila Prabhupada was so spiritually advanced and deeply compassionate, he could call people fools and rascals and because of his age, because of his self-evident compassion and because of his spiritual advancement people did not take offence. Because of Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual advancement it was evident to people that he had no malice, he had no hatred. He was their well-wisher. Just as Krishna is the well-wisher of all living beings – suhridam sarva bhutanam (BG 5.29)- similarly, pure devotee of the Lord, as is told by Lord Kapila in his teachings to Devahuti in 3rd Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, he is suhrida sarva dehinaam – he is the well-wisher of all living beings.
So to the extent we are tuned to Krishna in our heart by our advanced devotion to that extent we become a well-wisher of all living beings. Not only do we become a well-wisher but people also sense that we are their well-wishers based on the subtle input that the super soul dwelling in their heart gives to them.
It is said that words that come from the heart touch the heart, words that come from the ego agitate the ego. In our case if we use the word ‘fools and rascals’ often it comes from the egoistic platform where we think that we are superior to others and that is why when we use those words, that alienates people. When people feel that we are speaking from the platform of the ego then that agitates their ego. When two egos collide then there is no possibility of a rational intellectual exchange that can lead to genuine transmission of wisdom.
Srila Prabhupada was able to, by calling people fools and rascals, attract people to Krishna consciousness. In fact, in my article on the extremism in the Gita, I have quoted Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada says, “the only concern of the devotee is that so many rascals are suffering in the concocted civilisation of illusory sense enjoyment. How can they be saved? Our Krishna consciousness movement is made for that – saving the rascals”. Here Srila Prabhupada is clearly using the word rascals, not in a condemnatory sense with which the word is normally associated but in a compassionate sense. If we use the word that Srila Prabhupada used, not only will we often be going against the express instructions that we should not use such words but also more importantly we may be defeating the purpose that he promoted – to attract people to Krishna’s lotus feet. We may be speaking on an egoistic platform and aggravating people’s egoistic platform, may alienate those people. So the purpose is more important than the method.
If we look back before Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura or even earlier Srila Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakura or Baldeva Vidya Bhushan – all of them opposed impersonalism but they did that without using blunt, value-judgmental words like what Srila Prabhupada used. When we have to follow an acharya that doesn’t mean that we have to literally verbatim repeat every single word that he has spoken. One should understand that the acharya as he himself has taught us is not God. He is a representative of God and he is coming in the tradition that has the representatives of God in each of its generations. They are all carrying the message of God. Srila Prabhupada never claimed to be God and explicitly rejected those devotees who tried to suggest that he was God.
We have to understand that Srila Prabhupada’s statements are originating from a cultural context in which many previous exalted and realised souls have spoken. So it is not mandatory that every single time we meet a Mayavadi or refer to a Mayavadi we have to have a pejorative (critical, value- judgmental, expletive) address. No. Rather we should try to establish how philosophically and logically, Mayavada is incorrect understanding of the Absolute Truth and how it can potentially mislead and therefore we need to protect ourselves and those who are seeking our help. So following the sampradaya and acharya means fulfilling their purpose, not literally following the method.
When Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakura sent his leading disciples to America to preach, he did not make Sri Krishna the focus of his preaching, rather he made Sri Krishna Chaitnaya as the focus. He did so because the Christians had done so much anti-propaganda about Sri Krishna being an immoral God. He used the book – Sri Krishna Chaitanya – a book by one of his intellectual disciples Nisikant Sanyal as the main thrust of his preaching. However, Srila Prabhupada did not followed that method. Srila Prabhupada did not make Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as the focus of his preaching, Srila Prabhupada did not make that same book by Nisikant Sanyal as the focus of his preaching. Srila Prabhupada focussed on Bhagavad Gita and he used his own Bhagavad Gita for his preaching. Does that mean Srila Prabhupada is deviating from Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakura? No, not at all.
Srila Prabhupada chose to preach in America. In America the negative influence of the missionaries especially on the hippie culture was not there at all. In fact, they were more open to what seemed to them as exotic understandings of God and exotic understandings of worshipping God. Prabhupada could gel with them very nicely. Srila Prabhupada himself used the words – stay high forever – or he at least appreciated and approved the use of that word by his disciples. Here this usage indicates that the happiness of being in Krishna consciousness is in some way being compared to the happiness that comes from hallucinogenic drugs which make one go high. Many traditional smarth brahmins may find such a comparison obnoxious. They may consider the comparison sacrilegious and blasphemous. How can the sublime happiness of bhakti be compared to the actively mundane and even profane (or unholy) happiness of drugs!
Srila Prabhupada was not concerned with sticking to dogmatic understandings of what is puritanically correct. But he was concerned with reaching out to the people. He presented Krishna consciousness in a way that people could relate to. If their understanding was in terms of ‘going high’ then Srila Prabhupada said yes, you can not only ‘go high’ rather you can ‘stay high forever’. This is also an example of how Srila Prabhupada presented Krishna consciousness according to time, place, and circumstance. We also have to do that.
Currently the ethos, the thought that is rapidly enveloping the western world and the westernised parts of India is called as post-modernism. In modern times people had a lot of faith in science, in pre-modern times people had a lot of faith in scriptures. In post-modern times people have no faith in anything. Neither in science nor in scripture. People basically go by their feelings, by their experiences to decide what is good and what should be done. One of the things that is absolute anathema (i.e. which is absolutely abhorrent, appalling) for these post-modernists is strong value-judgement, strong moral judgement. Because they don’t consider that any values are absolute so therefore they don’t consider any value-judgements are absolute. If anybody makes a value-judgement they just reject that person out of hand and if any organisation or path makes any absolute judgement they tend to reject that path also. So in a post-modern setup we have to re-orient our presentation in a way that we don’t get rejected even before we are given a fair hearing. Therefore, when we make value judgements in these particular ethos we will get rejected by people. People feel that no way is absolute, anybody who claims that their way is absolute is absolutely wrong, and we don’t even want to consider such a person or such a path.
When we present ourselves as absolute and we make absolute value-judgements we simply lose people. How are we serving the purpose of Krishna if we are taking people away from Krishna without even people getting an opportunity to hear Krishna’s message? If we present to people Krishna consciousness as a way that we have experienced, the way that we have realised (as is done by some autobiographical books by some of our leaders) then people who are experience-driven appreciate the logic. Such presentation makes sense to them, they feel good about it, and get motivated to try it out. And when they try it out then the potency of Krishna consciousness is so great that they realise that this gives me greater fulfilment, this brings greater transformation than any other path that I have practiced earlier.
It behoves our glorious tradition that we present in a way that it attracts people. But if you present it in such an absolutist way that it alienates people that we are doing a great disservice to our tradition. Rather than just referring to Srila Prabhupada’s specific quotes that he said this and he said that, what we have to see is that he represented a glorious tradition and gave that tradition the presentation that was dignified according to time, place, circumstance. We need to look at our time, place, circumstance and give our tradition the presentation that is accordingly dignified and appealing.
Basically every spiritual practitioner stands at the intersection of two circles. One circle is the circle that goes to the past, goes to the tradition and the second circle encompasses the current contemporary culture. First circle is vertical the second circle is horizontal. The spiritual teacher, the spiritual practitioner has to extend the traditional circle, the circle of the tradition, into the contemporary circle. The way he will be able to do it is by presenting the tradition according to contemporary intellectual trends. We don’t change the substance of the tradition but we sure need to change the presentation of that tradition. The substance of the tradition is not to call Mayavadis or atheists as fools and rascals. The substance of the tradition is to love Krishna and help others develop love for Krishna and that has to be presented according to the way that it will appeal to people. Therefore, as most of us don’t have the depth of compassion like Srila Prabhupada, our value-judgements will stimulate others’ false egos.
Calling people fools and rascals is not the essence of our tradition and that was not what was done by many previous acharyas. Absolute value judgements like calling people fools and rascals is likely to alienate people in a big way in the post-modern times unlike the hippie times when the hippies already believed that everybody was a cheater in society. The common slogan among the hippies was that anybody above 30 cannot be trusted. They distrusted and disliked all authorities whether it be the church or whether it was the government, whether it was school and college, whether it was the job authority. Because of their rebellious nature a presentation that gave them intellectual reasons to detest those people whom they detested anyway gave them sort of ammunition for their own ideas. They considered everybody to be a cheater, fool and rascal and Prabhupada told them why they are fools and rascals. That presentation of Srila Prabhupada at that time gelled with the psyche and the ethos of the hippie culture. Srila Prabhupada presented according to time, place, circumstance and that same presentation which attracted at that time is likely to alienate in this time. Therefore, we need to be very carefully and cautiously present ourselves in a way that attracts people to Krishna’s lotus feet.
This doesn’t mean that we compromise our philosophy but at the same time it also means that we don’t compromise Krishna’s purpose in presenting the philosophy. Krishna’s purpose in presenting the philosophy is not just to hammer the truth down to some people’s throats irrespective of whether they are attracted by it or not. Krishna’s purpose is to present the truth in a way that inspires them to offer their hearts to Him and that’s why our presentation has to be made in an intellectually and emotionally appealing way without compromising the essence and purpose of that essence.