Despite your conservative training how did you become so accommodating?
Transcription by: Suresh Gupta
Question: Despite your conservative training how did you become so accommodating?
Answer: I would not really use the word liberal or conservative or orthodox because each word comes with a certain connotation. The word becomes charged with certain meanings that later resides in the minds of people. Most liberals use the word progressive for themselves but that also implies that those who are not progressive are regressive. Hence, there is a kind of negative labelling there. I would prefer to use two words – sensible and effective. When I got my training, it was a very rigid practice of Krishna bhakti and I felt nourished by it for some time, but then I had intellectual needs which were not addressed by the kind of philosophical classes I was hearing. After being introduced to the world of intellectuals, I realised that scriptures and the broad bhakti tradition was much bigger. In general, by interacting with devotee scholars who were aware of the bigger picture of the world, I started becoming aware of the realities.
When we live in a monastery as monks, there is tendency to demonise the outer world as an abode of maya. However, a part of maturation is to recognise and appreciate that there are shades of grey. For me, it started by first intellectually appreciating that there are shades of grey and that there are many scholars who may not be devotees but have lot of sensible things to say, not just about the world but even about religion and ISKCON.
Hence, I think it was an intellectual study of the broader world, that broadened my horizons. As I started travelling, not just in India but across the world, and started interacting with people, I realised that the situation and dispositions from where each people came is so widely different from where I was coming. Thus, I realised that they will naturally practice Krishna consciousness according to their situation and dispositions. At first, I went through a phase of being judgemental but over a period, I realised that by being judgemental I was ending up failing to see Krishna, where he was undeniably present. Being sensible and being effective means that while interacting with the world, we can see how Krishna is present somewhere or not. We could see the absence of Krishna consciousness is the problem or we could see the potential for Krishna consciousness as an opportunity.
If we look at the first vision, then the world can appear very dreary and dark place with very little prospects for Krishna consciousness. We might give ourselves a self-congratulatory pat that how demoniac the world is, and how insightful we are in exposing the demoniac nature of the world but such analysis can only be convincing to the convinced or be appealing only to those who are already totally fried out with the world. If we want to appeal and present Krishna consciousness to people who are the movers and shakers of the world or who are going to become the movers and shakers of the world then we need to recognise that we also have to work with the existing system and structures and permeate Krishna consciousness within them; the way, Bhakti Vinod Thakur did when he was in the British administration.
Hence, I would say two things. Firstly, it was study of the world through the eyes of intellectuals and intellectual devotees and secondly, the interaction with people from different dispositions that made me sensible in terms of looking for the potential for Krishna consciousness or how I could make a constructive contribution in such a situation.
The cutting-condemning attitude done by most religions does not work in today’s post-modern ethos where people do not accept any authority. A more experiential soft attitude is what works. I feel that if a doctor is treating a patient, then doctor has certain protocols to follow. However, the doctor has to keep the purpose in mind i.e. healing the patients. Sometimes in some exceptional situations, instead of following past standard protocol that do not work, the doctors may have to create new protocols. They may need to do something new and over a period, create new protocols to serve the old purpose of treating and healing patients.
Hence, intellectual training and intellectual cultural exposure in that order has broaden my perceptions and hopefully by Krishna’s and Vaishnava’s grace made me little more sensible and effective.
End of transcription.