Beggar or Bragger?
The western mind is attracted to those who exude confidence. The ego-effacing traditions of the east value those who feel themselves highly unqualified, despite their actual merit. What to do?
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu taught and exemplified the mood of a Vaiṣṇava as one who petitions Kṛṣṇa for mercy upon themselves and others. He pleaded with Rāmānanda Rāya and Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī:
“My dear friends, please hear of Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness. Because of a great desire for that sweetness, My mind has given up all social and Vedic religious principles and taken to the profession of begging, exactly like a mystic yogī."
There are so many songs and works of literature written by our predecessors, and in none of them do they place themselves in a position of authority over anyone else; it seems quite the opposite. For instance, my spiritual grandfather, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda would sometimes end his journal entries with:
The most unfortunate, insignificant beggar,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Gaura Kiśora Dāsa Bābājī gives us this in his Kothāya Go Premamayi Rādhe Rādhe:
dekhā diye prāṇa rākha, rādhe rādhe
tomāra kāńgāla tomāya ḍāke, rādhe rādhe
O Rādha, please give me your darśana and save my life. Your wretched beggar calls out to You, "Rādhe! Rādhe!"
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings:
ohe! vaiṣṇava ṭhākura, doyāra sāgara, e dāse koruṇā kori'
diyā pada-chāyā, śodho he āmāya, tomāra caraṇa dhori
O venerable Vaiṣṇava, devotee of Kṛṣṇa! O ocean of mercy, be merciful unto your servant. Give me the shade of your lotus feet and purify me. I hold on to your lotus feet.
Yet in a society that extols the position of “beggar” as the most conducive to spiritual growth, there is such a hunger in some to take on a position of ecclesiastical and managerial authority over others. Of all the things I find difficult to deal with in contemporary Gauḍīya circles, this has to be foremost.
Maybe this is just the unavoidable consequence of an attempt at organised society? Political and religious history seem to indicate that there are certain types of people who clamour for power and are drawn towards social systems that lean toward totalitarianism. However, if the goal is pure love for Kṛṣṇa, such “paper-tiger” authorities are irrelevant and serve only as an example of what not to do. The more they assert themselves as a spiritual authority, the further they distance themselves from the sweetness, humility, and vulnerability exemplified by those with substantial divinity. Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura cries out:
narottama dāsa koy, dekhi śuni lāge bhoy, tarāiyā loho nija pāśa
Now that I am able to see, hear, and touch the Vaiṣṇavas, I have become free from all fear.
The refined educational culture that supports sanātana-dharma involves, as do most eastern ideologies, surrender to a guru or enlightened master who then takes personal responsibility for the training and education of such a voluntary student. One must be very careful in this regard and be well acquainted with the descriptions in the sacred texts of those who possess qualities worthy of such a service. Someone cannot give us something they themselves do not have. We should not enter into such a sacred relationship blindly, lest we end up with only something that resembles a spiritual experience on an external level.
My great-grandfather in spiritual lineage, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura once lectured:
"Every Vaiṣṇava regards everyone of the Vaiṣṇavas as the object of his veneration. When Ṭhākura Haridāsa exhibits the attitude of humility, Mahāprabhu says, “You are the greatest of the world, the crest-jewel of the world. Be agreeable, let us have our meal together.” He carried in His arms the body of Ṭhākura Haridāsa which is eternally existent, self-conscious, and full of spiritual bliss. In the community that follows Śrī Rūpa, the qualities of desiring no honour for oneself and of readiness to duly honour others are fully present. Those who detect any disparity are, like the owl, blind while the sun shines. They commit an offence by such conduct."
A real Vaiṣṇava will not seek power over others and will be focused on serving others. The sacrifice should be obvious, like when Śrīla Bhaktivedanta Prabhupāda left an ideal situation in Vṛndāvana at an elderly age and came to the western world with an umbrella, a few rupees and trunk of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatams. Such a mood of service becomes overwhelmingly and effulgently attractive. People want to follow for all the right reasons, as they are being shown by example how to love.
I pray to have more of this kind of association in my life.
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These words were not generated with or augmented by artificial intelligence; just “flawsome” human thoughts here … with, of course, due homage to The Algorithm that abides over us all.
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