How to see spiritual organizations that are largely Vaishnava except for considering their founder as an incarantion?
Transcribed by: Ashwini Kamath Mataji
Question: How do we see spiritual organizations which are largely Vaishnava in their practices and beliefs, except that often they consider their founder to be an incarnation of GodHead?
Answer: Krishna describes in the Bhagavad Gita that knowledge in the mood of goodness focuses on seeing similarities
BG – 18:20
and knowledge in the mood of passion focuses on seeing differences.
BG – 18:21
So now when there are differences between different spiritual groups and different organizations then it will largely depend on the practitioners’ level of consciousness whether they will focus on differences or they will focus on similarities. Now in some cases, for the purpose of establishing Siddhanta sometimes some Acharyas may highlight certain differences and sometimes for e.g. the Acharayas might highlight some very minute differences within different expressions of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. But that is to make sure that the followers understand what is to be followed. It is one thing but we see that Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakura narrowly differentiates between expressions of Gaudiya faith, but then he also worked to establish some sort of relationship with the 4 Sampradayas, and in the Gaudiya Math there will be symbols of the 4 sampradayas, and he wrote books about the Sampradaya Acharayas of all the 4 Sampradayas. So you don’t have to unnecessarily highlight differences. So, Srila Prabhupada, back then when devotees were running the Back to GodHead magazine, they described in Back to Godhead how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu defeated Vallabha Bhatta and Vallabha Bhatta is considered to be Vallabhacharya, so it’s like the founder of Pushti-Marga was defeated. So, Sumati Morarji who was a patron and who helped Prabhupada go to America and she was a follower of Pushti-Marga, she was quite upset and she complained to Prabhupada about this. And Prabhupada told his disciples that there is so much for us to do in this world, so in ignorance why you are alienating friends like this, so he disapproved bringing up those confrontation causing points in public. So same way somehow in India there is the tendency to try to gain prestige and veneration for one’s organization and for one’s founder by making that person into something like a God. So now although sometimes devotees use the word Mayavad as a generic reference for anyone with an impersonal orientation we don’t need to have a very Mayavadi understanding of Mayavada. That means to consider all forms of oneness to be one, there is a wide variety of that. So it is one thing that somebody says that we are all God and we will all become God and there is no person God and ultimately that is an illusion and you all have to merge into that and that is something that is directly offensive to Krishna and that is something which our Acharyas strongly condemn. But if there are Vaishnava organizations or Vaishnava groups whose overall teachings are devotional and they also talk about the importance of a high moral standard of living and they encourage people to rise to a higher level of consciousness and towards Sattva Guna and towards Bhakti and they also accept and focus on Rama or Krishna as the Supreme Lords and their scriptures are also Bhakti scriptures but they have elevated their founder to the level of God and they worship that founder, then in such a situation we don’t have to become hyper-critical of this because ultimately we are living in KaliYuga where religion itself is under attack. And at certain times we may have to join forces and certain times we may have to go alone, it varies. So, if it is a devotee or a prospective devotee having a doubt, is this right or is that right then we can focus on explaining clearly based on scripture who is an incarnation, and then we can talk about how. Now some people may say those organizations say that their founder is God and you say that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is God and so what essentially is the difference? So the difference largely is based on scriptural authentication. So although Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Channa Avatara, still there are significant number of references in the scripture to His appearance and in contrast if you look at most of the other people who are considered incarnations there are no references at all and most of them are based on either that person’s own declaration or sometimes even that person might have not said like that but there are others who have imputed that the founder has said that and they interpret the person’s ___ness to make it said that. Either way, if you look at the particular saint’s teachings, often those teachings are not centered on worship of himself or on his own divinity, they are focused on devotion to Krishna. So we can talk about how there is this significant difference and one should focus on worship of Krishna, and although we in ISKCON worship Chaitanya Mahaprabhu but we worship Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as a devotee of Krishna. He is God, but as God what He is doing, He is doing devotion of Krishna. So the Centre is very clearly Krishna. So that is why it is Krishna consciousness and not Chaitanya consciousness. So that way there is significant difference, if somebody is having the confusion we can help to resolve that confusion by clarification but in general if we are talking, there is no need to make a campaign about how somebody who is overall doing Vaishnava practice but he is doing one particular thing wrong or considering the founder to be God, we don’t have to go on a campaign for debunking that. Our focus should always be on the positive. We present Krishna and present the path to Krishna which we have got from Acharyas and if you present it properly people will become attracted and where this matter of misconceptions may come up, we can deal with those misconceptions as and when they come up, but we shouldn’t make a virtue of alienating people and consider that to be the necessity of preaching. No, the necessity of preaching is to help people come closer to Krishna and do whatever it takes because sensitivity is very important. And we can have three different kinds of people, one person who is entirely new and we unnecessarily criticize somebody whom the person has thought of as a saintly person, that person may get alienated. Somebody who is on the verge of becoming a devotee and is to decide should I do this or should I do that then we can try to explain the difference clearly but not in a judgmental sense but in a scripturally authenticated and reasonably argued or represented sense and we can help the person come to right path. But what about that somebody who is directly following that path? And that person is actually considering that particular founder to be God. So in general if somebody is already into some belief system, criticizing that belief system simply alienates the person. So it will depend largely on the specific nature of the relationship we have and the specific goal that we want to achieve. It is not that as devotees when we are interacting with anyone our goal is necessarily to convert them to Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Our first goal is to elevate their consciousness and we need to do whatever we can to help elevate their consciousness. So if overall they are practicing some level of Dharma and they are living a moral life then that itself is good as compared to rest of the population in KaliYuga and we can focus more on developing our relationship with them rather than on trying to correct their misconceptions and if at all if we want to attract them to Krishna we can focus more on how Krishna consciousness can help one in the contemporary age to practice Dharma in a more congenial atmosphere. For e.g. we have training program for youth or we have mentoring or counsellor system, we have centers in cities, we have a multicultural approach because there are people from all over the world. There are different things we can talk about depending on the person, on what principle and Dharma that person is attracted to, how they are also practiced in ISKCON and how that person might be able to practice it better in ISKCON. So, rather than focusing on trying to correct that person we should focus on trying to connect the person to us, and Krishna in a positive way and gradually or eventually that person may arrive at that understanding. Well, I have to face a question what is that I consider to be right? And depending on one’s own choice and depending on Krishna’s mercy, the person may make choice. But what we should focus on is to present the truth sensitively and in a way which will elevate people’s consciousness. So just accepting somebody as God who does not necessarily claim to be God and who has not taught Mayavada, who had basically taught Vaishnava principles, that is far far less, if at all we want to use the word damaging, it is far far less damaging than the overall materialistic lifestyle that is there, and also far far less damaging than many of the other spiritual belief systems that are there, or go on the name of spirituality. So we focus on trying to find the best way in which we can help elevate the person with sensitivity and maturity.