How can we stay open to new ideas without weakening our convictions?
From Vaishakh R
Very often it happens that discussions invariably bring in topics of spirituality and what follows is each one defending his views. Usually such discussions end without any conclusion but nevertheless brings to the table a pool of new ideas.
Sometimes these new ideas affect one’s conviction, especially when it’s not possible to reconcile with them satisfactorily. So how does one remain steady, at the same time not considering oneself closed out to new ideas?
Transcription by – Sesa Vishnu Das
Edited by – Sesa Vishnu Das
Question : when we are having spiritual discussions with others at that time many new ideas come up which sometimes affect our convictions? So how can we be steady amidst such discussions which often not lead to any conclusions but affect our convictions whithout becoming very close minded to new ideas.
Answer: there are two different issues over here. One is the authenticity of the ideas and the second is our ability to deal with ideas that are variant from our and from scriptural understanding of the nature of truth, the nature of world and the reality. That means when we are having discussions with people if a person is an expert in a particular field, say if a person is a die-hard atheist, an aggressive atheist may be if we discuss with somebody like that, logic and argumentation is ultimately a game. And in a game it is not necessary that the person who is right will win. It is the person who is more skilled in the game will win. The scripture gives the correct understanding and we may have the correct understanding but if the person who is having an opposite view is more logically skilled than us then that person may affect us. and it may appear as if we are wrong and foolish. Just like if there is a battle between dharma and adharma, if the sword fighter on the side of adharma is better skilled that the sword fighter on the side of dharma then is it guaranteed that the sword fighter on the side of dharma will be victorious? No, along with the correctness of one’s understanding also what is required is the competence in argumentation. If that is not there then one may become baffled even when one is on the side of truth. Therefore we should be careful whom we discuss with. If some people are having too much jealousness almost like fanaticism about their belief better not have discussions with them because they are not open for understanding things. Even while discussing things, their goal is to try to convert us to their view. So let us understand their view properly even if we have the desire to understand what they believe and what they believe? Actually their goal is just to convert us and such types of discussions are useless. So if we find a particular person is very aggressive then it is more important to be safe than to seem to be open minded. So we can avoid discussion with such people. We can just say that you have your ideas I don’t want to quarrel with you. Just leave it at that point. If that person is open to us then we can definitely explain to him the Krishna conscious philosophy. So first we have to look at our own capacity. That is why it is said that one of the characteristics of uttam adhikari is not only having knowledge of scripture but being able to convey the import of scripture effectively to others. If that import is not there the person can get misled by false argumentation. Because logic itself is not necessarily having any foundation on reality. Although logic can take us to the reality, it can also take us away from reality if it is expertly wielded by somebody who is having an incorrect philosophy.
Now moving onwards to the other point it is not that we say as devotees we have monopoly over the truth. No, we say that we can learn from others. We can learn not just material knowledge from others, devotees can go to universities, colleges, schools and training centres for our profession and we can learn material knowledge from others but even spiritual knowledge also, it is not that we can’t learn from others. Bhaktivinod Thakur says that when you go to the holy place of some other religion, we should be respectful and same applies to other scriptures also. Now it is not that we have to go out of our way to read other scriptures to find out what is in them. But if somehow in course of some discussion that sort of topic comes up we can be open. Being open doesn’t mean being gullible. If some ideas are authentic and if we have not heard it in our scripture that doesn’t mean that that is wrong.
So the first thing is that we should have the capability to identify if the person making the argument is right or wrong, and if the person is more skilled we may think the wrong to be right. So better keep away from that person. If we are secure enough with our convictions and we are having a discussion with a non-threatening person and you come across something new then we have to see it in the light of our philosophy. There are three possibilities- it agrees with our philosophy and is mentioned in our scriptures, it opposes our philosophy and the third is it agrees but not necessarily mentioned in our scriptures. For example there are many self-help books today which are just some cheap stunts, tricks for creating some persona by which we can dazzle and swindle people or something like that. But there are some books which may talk about some satwik principles. Those books/ principles may not specifically be mentioned in the vedic scriptures but if they help us to move towards satwa guna then learning from those principles and learning how to better serve Krishna is not wrong. It is just that we are acquiring some more skills for serving Krishna. That way as devotees we always want to learn more for serving Krishna. The important thing is that while we are taking up new ideas, it should reinforce our core idea. It is not just the idea, but the core idea actually is the truth that we are souls and we are parts of Krishna and real happiness can be found in serving Krishna. When we get new ideas which don’t contradict or weaken our conviction with the core idea, but they help us strengthen the core idea better. Then why not? We can do that. As devotees we may practice yoga. Yoga is not directly bhakti, but if helps us to have better health then we can practice yoga. Similarly if we find some good stuff for example many devotees especially in introductory classes quote some striking quotes by some materially respectable people say something that Abraham Lincoln said or something that john F Kennedy said or martin luther king said or something like that. If that is more or less a part of the generic wisdom that humanity has got and some intelligent people are uncovering now, accepting that and enriching ourselves is like equipping ourselves better for practice of Krishna consciousness. It is desirable and is not wrong. We are open minded in the sense that we are open to new ideas of understanding better how to serve Krishna. Another way we can understand is also we should not think that this is sastra and how it is that other people are so intelligent? If such an intelligent person is not a devotee am I doing a wrong thing by becoming a devotee? No we should not think like that. We should understand that those who become devotees are very rare and fortunate and if there are intelligent people elsewhere who are not devotees, we should understand that Krishna says that budhir Buddha mata .. I am the intelligence of the intelligent. Whatever abilities they have it is Krishna who has given them the ability. And they are manifesting a spark of krishna’s splendour. Mama tejoansa sambhavat as Krishna says in BG. 10.41. So that way even while taking new ideas as chanakya pandit says that we can take even gold from filth and prabhupada would quote that what to speak of some good ideas from some intelligent people, some satwik people or whatever. Devotees can definitely be open to learn more so that we can serve Krishna better. But our learning more should supplement our core learning. Don’t let it supplant our core learning. Our core learning is what we have learnt from scripture and supplement means- it adds to it. Supplant means to replace it. our new learning should supplement not supplant our core learning. Thank you.