When devotees debate fiercely over different aspects of bhakti, how should we respond?
Time- 7 mins
Transcribed by- Nayanasundari Devi Dasi
Question: Sometimes there are debates, conflicts between devotees, what can we do in such a situation?
1. We need not be disturbed by the presence of conflicts because we are individuals having individual inspirations about how to serve Krishna. So, conflicts will be there.
2. Usually the conflicts are not about principles, they are about preferences, and that’s why it is not a major issue.
3. If we feel strongly about a particular issue, then we may get involved otherwise we should focus on our Krishna bhakti and we don’t let ourselves get distracted or consumed by debates.
Even as devotees, all of us are individuals with our individual intelligence. We will have different inspiration about how we can serve Krishna. In bhakti, there are principles and there are preferences and we need to differentiate between the two. For example, chanting holy names is a principle in bhakti, but how to chant is a preference and can vary from person to person. Few devotees may sit and chant, some may walk and chant, while few others may stand and chant. Similarly, studying shastra is another principle but preferences can vary. Few devotees may study with a hard copy book, some may study with soft copy, while some others may hear classes.
Generally, the difference between principle and preferences is easy to understand. Whenever there are strong debates between devotees, usually it is because the preferences are made into principles. Devotees would not differ on whether god is personal or impersonal, neither would they preach mayavada. However, there can be differences on preferences.
If we see the history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, even when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was present, the Gaudiya Vaishnavism developed differently in different parts of India. Mahaprabhu sent Rupa and Sanatana Goswami to Vrindavan write shastra and uncover/reveal the holy places. Mahaprabhu also told them to build temples. They were not preaching in Vrindavan. However, when Mahaprabhu was in Puri, due to presence of the king there, all activities were already going on there in full scale. There was already a big temple of Jagannath in Puri. Hence Mahaprabhu did not tell his disciples to build another temple in Puri. In Bengal, there were tyrannical rulers like Nawab Hussain Shah. Although, there were great empowered incarnations of Lord and exalted devotees like Advaita Acharya and Nityananda Prabhu present in Bengal, but Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did not tell them to construct temples in Bengal because it would have been socio-politically very difficult. We can see that even in Mahaprabhu’s time bhakti was practiced in different ways in different places.
In general, if devotees are inspired to practice bhakti in different ways, there has to be that accommodation. If somebody has been serving Krishna for many number of years and feel inspired to serve Krishna in a particular way, even if that doesn’t make sense to us, we have to understand that they have felt inspired by their practice of bhakti, and it is not right for us to judge them. In general, unless it is a clear issue of principles, we don’t have to become very disturbed by conflicts arising out of individual preferences. If we feel strongly about an issue, we may get involved in the discussion, otherwise we focus on our bhakti. If we are in a position of authority or if we have to take a decision, then we can use our god given intelligence, consult senior devotees, and then take a position.
Everybody needs their room for practicing bhakti. ISKCON is not a legislative or a policing body that controls the lives of devotees. ISKCON is an inspirational organization where people inspired to practice bhakti come and participate. When different devotees come and practice in different ways, sooner or later they need to be given room to practice bhakti accordingly. Of course, this is very general and specific issues will have specific nuances, which will have to be addressed.