Student: In the quest for spiritual truth one may join a religious mission to advance towards the ultimate goal of life. After some time, however, sectarian policies may appear to bar the path of progress. He may see that within the society, pragmatic concerns take precedence over spiritual ideals. If one feels the necessity to look elsewhere, his authorities may tell him that there are no higher truths to be found. One may also be warned that if he leaves the society, he will suffer serious repercussions. He may become an outcaste, branded as a heretic for pursuing what he sincerely feels to be the ideal upon which the society was founded. Should he risk leaving the society, ignoring the advice of his immediate authorities, or should he try to remain within the society?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Progress means elimination and new acceptance. So, when there is a clash between the relative and the absolute standpoint, the relative must be left aside, and the absolute should be accepted. Suppose you are American, but at heart you are a socialist. In your general practices, you will live harmoniously as an American, but when there is a conflict between the capitalists and the socialists, which side will you accept: socialist or capitalist?
Your creed is that of a socialist. You live in a country where the majority are capitalists. When there is no difference between the two parties, there is no conflict, but when there is a clash, which side will you side with? Internally you may identify yourself as a socialist, but for the sake of peace, and for the good of the country, you may not express it externally. But suppose you are an out-and-out socialist. You will try to keep your creed, the purity of your faith for the socialists. You will try to leave the country and join the socialists.
So, the absolute and the relative are two different classes of interest. And we find more importance in the absolute interest. We must be sincere to our own creed. Sometimes we have to leave our paraphernalia if it does not suit us. So also, even in the conception of purity of the Krishna consciousness movement, in the Vaisnava creed there is purity and form. The form is necessary to help me in a general way to maintain my present position. At the same time, my conception of the higher ideal will always goad me to advance, to go forward, and wherever I go, I must follow the greater model, the greater ideal. Spiritual life is progressive, not stagnant. Do you follow?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: It is progressive. We are in the stage of sadhana, spiritual practice, and we want a progressive life. We want to go ahead, not backwards. The formal position will help me to maintain my present status, and my extraordinary affinity for the ideal will goad me towards the front. Just as there are so many progressive parties in so many missions: Progressive Communist, Progressive Christianity. First there were Catholics, then Protestants, again Puritans, in this way Christianity progressed. So, there is development in the right way, and also in the wrong way. The search for Sri Krishna is dynamic and living, so adjustment and readjustment is always going on. And we should also change our present position accordingly, so that we may not have to sacrifice the high ideal for which we have come.
One is born in a particular land by the arrangement of nature, but his high ideal may sometimes ask him to leave the country. Einstein had to leave Germany and go to America for his high ideal of life. And so many similar instances may be found in the world. The ideal is all-in-all. The highest ideal in a man is his highest jewel. Our most precious gem is our ideal.
Many things are recommended in the scriptures, but they are meant to promote us towards the truth in an indirect way, sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah. It is recommended at a certain stage that for the sake of our close friends, we should give up our ideal. But in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna’s final instruction is, «Sarva-dharman parityajya Mam ekam saranam vraja: if it is necessary to maintain the highest ideal, you must give up your friends. Surrender to Me. I am the real purport of the scriptures.» The highest kind of idealists give up their country, their family, their friends, and everything else, but they can’t give up their ideal.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says, «It is better to die while performing one’s own duty than to try to do another’s duty.» That is one stage of understanding: the relative consideration. The absolute consideration is also given in the Bhagavad-gita: sarva-dharman parityajya Mam ekam saranam vraja. Krishna says, «Give up everything. Come to Me directly.» This is the revolutionary way. This is absolute. And this is relative: «Stick to your own clan. Don’t leave them.» That is the national conception. There is nation consciousness and God consciousness, society consciousness and God consciousness. God consciousness is absolute. If society consciousness hinders the development of God consciousness, it should be left behind. This is confirmed in the Srimad Bhagavatam (5.5.18):
gurur na sa syat sva-jano na sa syat
pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat
daivam na tat syan na patis cha sa syan
na mochayed yah samupeta-mrtyum
«Even a spiritual master, relative, parent, husband, or demigod who cannot save us from repeated birth and death should be abandoned at once.» What to speak of ordinary things, even the guru may have to be abandoned. One may even have to give up one’s own spiritual guide, as in the case of Bali Maharaj, or one’s relatives, as in the case of Vibhisan. In the case of Prahlad, his father had to be given up, and in the case of Bharat Maharaj, it was his mother. In the case of Khatvanga Maharaj, he left the demigods, and in the case of the yajna-patnis (the wives of the brahmans), they left their husbands in the endeavour to reach the Absolute Personality.
We need society only to help us. If our affinity to the society keeps us down, then that should be given up, and we must march on. There is the absolute consideration and the relative consideration. When they come into clash the relative must be given up, and the absolute should be accepted. If my inner voice, my spiritual conscience, decides that this sort of company cannot really help me, then I will be under painful necessity to give them up and to run towards my destination, wherever my spiritual conscience guides me. Any other course will be hypocrisy, and it will check my real progress. If we are sincere in our attempt, then no one in the world can check us or deceive us; we can only deceive ourselves (na hi kalyana-krt kaschid durgatim tata gachchhati). We must be true to our own selves, and true to the Supreme Lord. We must be sincere.
Student: After the disappearance of the Spiritual Master, how should the disciples continue his Mission?
Srila Sridhar Maharaj: You must not neglect your conscience. You may go to fight as a soldier, to save your country, or your people, or your honour. Your environment does not depend on your whim. It may appear extremely perplexing, but you will have to face that. However complex the battlefield may be, as a soldier, you will have to fight. Otherwise you have no faith in your own cause.
There may be disturbances. Rather we say there should be, there may even be fighting amongst devotees, but we should not leave the preaching of Mahaprabhu, despite all differences. Disturbance must come, because our most beloved Guru has withdrawn from amongst us. Such a great curse has been thrown on our heads; should we like to live peacefully? In its wake disturbances must come, and we must undergo them. Still, we must remain sincere; we must face the difficulty in a proper way. It has come to train us to go in the right direction.
What we received from our Spiritual Master we understood only in a rough estimation. Now, things have come in such a way that we have to scrutinise ourselves in every position. We have to analyse ourselves. Atma-niksepa, self-analysis, has begun. We are under trial. What we received from our Spiritual Master, in what way have we received it? Properly, or only showingly? The time has come to purify us, to test whether we are real students, real disciples, or his disciples only in face and confession. What is the position of a real disciple? If we live in the society, what is the depth of our creed? In what attitude have we accepted his teachings? How deep-rooted is it within us? The fire has come to test whether we can stand. Is our acceptance real? Or is it a sham, an imitation? This fire will prove that.
So, we must not be afraid of any adverse circumstances. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, «A happy ksatriya hankers for the battle you are facing» (sukhinah ksatriyah Partha labhante yuddham idrsam). Our karma has come to face us, to surround us, and we can’t avoid it. These disturbances are a result of our own karma; they came from within us. So, we must not quarrel. We must act properly in dealing with that.
We have to scrutinise more accurately what we thought we understood. Everyone must ask himself, «Where am I? What is my real need? And how much am I hankering for the real thing?» All these things will be expressed and made public. So, this is the real field of sadhana, or practice. Our practice, our advancement, needs all these difficulties. Otherwise we may not know what is progress. We will become hypocrites and give the same adulterated thing to others. So, to purify ourselves it is necessary that so many disturbances come.
And God has no error. He commands the environment. It is not our responsibility. The responsibility of the environment does not rest upon us. Our responsibility is within ourselves alone. The environment is in the hands of the Lord. He has not done any wrong to me. If I am sincere, then I have to adjust myself with this environment and put my faith before Him. By our stand in any circumstances in the battle, our patriotism will be put to the test. We will be tested to see whether we are real soldiers or not.
Anything may come, but we will have to face that. I must not forget my Lord, my Guru, my Gauranga, my Radha-Govinda, under any circumstances. Under all unfavourable circumstances, I must stand with my head erect and say, «Yes! I am a servant of that clan, that sampradaya. Everyone may leave me, but I shall stand alone!» With this attitude we must march on, whatever the circumstances may be. Then the recognition may come in my favour, that «Yes, under such trying circumstances he is still there.» Our superiors will be pleased with us.
We must analyse ourselves. How much are we selfish? To what percent are our unwanted bad habits, anarthas, still present within our hearts? How much are the impurities of karma, jnan, mental desires, and other filthy things mixed with the real faith — that must come out, and that must be eliminated in different ways. If we want real good, no one can hinder us. With this spirit we must move, and then we will be able to understand what is what.
Even Christ told his followers, «One of you will betray me.» Judas was amongst the twelve. So, Jesus said, «Amongst the twelve of you, there is one who will hand me over to the enemy this very night.» Even this may be possible. He said, «Even Peter, you will also deny me thrice before the cock crows.» «Oh, no, no, no. I can’t deny you.» But no pride of a devotee does the Lord tolerate. He wants surrender, complete surrender. «No, no», Peter said, «I am your faithful servant.» That kind of ego also must not stand. Peter, who was the leader, was also exposed. So, no pride is tolerated by the Lord.
Devotees are only tools in the hands of the Lord. One Muslim king advertised for a sycophant, a ‘yes-man’. Previously in the court of the kings, they had a sycophant. Whatever the king will say, he would give ditto to that. He advertised that he wanted a flatterer, and many men came and applied for the job. He began interviewing them: «Do you think you’ll be able to do your duty properly?»
«Yes, I will be able to do.»
«I think you won’t be able to do it properly.»
«No sir, I shall be able to do it.»
They were all dismissed but one. When the king told him: «I think you will not be able to discharge the duty of a flatterer», the remaining one said, «I also think like that.»
«No, no, no, you will be able, you are the fittest.»
«Yes, I am the fittest.»
«No, no, I doubt.»
«Yes, I also doubt.»
The king said, «This is the man for the job.»
Those that continuously claimed they were fit were all dispersed and rejected. So, our soul must have such flexibility in the service of the Lord. We must have no ego whatsoever. Of course, that is in the external sense for we have our permanent ego within, when the soul enters into that higher domain. The position of that is a separate thing. But this material ego, that must be dissolved cent per cent. When put into the fire, it will be burned into ashes.
And we must be one-pointed in our aim towards the truth. Dronacharya was the weapon-master, the astra-guru of the Pandavas. One day while testing the progress of his disciples, he put an artificial bird in the top of a tree. One by one he asked the brothers to come forward and take aim. Yudhisthir came forward. Dronacharya told him, «Prepare yourself to hit that bird. Are you ready?»
«What do you see?»
«I see the bird.»
«Yes. I see all of you.»
«Go away.» Then another one of the brothers approached. Dronacharya told him, «Hit the eye of the bird. That must be marked by your arrow. Take your aim. What do you see?»
«Yes. The tree also.»
«Oh, go away.»
Then Arjuna was taken in. Dronacharya told him,
«Yes, my lord, I have done so.»
«Do you see the bird?»
«Yes, I see.»
«The whole of the bird?»
«What do you see?»
«Only the head.»
«The whole of the head?»
«What do you see?»
«Only the eye.»
«You can see nothing else?»
«I can see nothing else.»
«Yes, my boy! Shoot the arrow!»
We should have that sort of aim in our life — do or die. Whatever circumstances may come to frighten me, I won’t be frightened. If my own men seem to be my enemy, that does not matter. My own is only He. And He cannot tolerate that anyone else will be a partner of Him. He is Absolute. He is the Absolute owner of me. He does not tolerate any partnership there. In this way, I must go where my spiritual conscience takes me. By God’s will, friends may be converted into foes. Foes may be converted into friends, but I must stick to my ideal. If I am of a progressive nature, then there must be elimination, and there must be new beginnings. It can’t be avoided in the course of our realisation.
When we are in school, all do not pass; some fail, and then we have to meet new classmates. Again we advance, and again we have new classmates, and old classmates may fall behind. It is quite natural. That does not mean that we are envious of them. We are sympathetic. We shall try our best to help them. But still it may happen. We cannot help it, but this is the nature of spiritual life. So, the absolute and relative principles are always clashing. They will seem to fight with one another, but the absolute should be accepted, and the relative should be sacrificed.
Still, the relative is necessary. A boy must put his whole faith in his primary school teacher, otherwise his progress will be hindered. He should not think that what his teacher teaches him is all false, or of a lower type. When he grows up, he will accept another teacher for higher education, but that does not mean that the primary teacher is neglected or insulted. For our own interest, whatever we find which is akin to what was given to us by our Guru Maharaj, whatever we find that will enlighten us further, and whatever will help us to understand more clearly what we heard from our Guru Maharaj, must be accepted.
Otherwise, what have I taken in the prison house of my mind through my scholarship? God is not a finite thing. He is infinite. And as much as in the cell of my brain I have imprisoned Him, shall I stick only to that? What is this? Is my realisation a living thing, or is it dead? Is there any growth? What I have received from my Spiritual Master — can it grow? Or is it finished? Have I reached the infinite standard where I can progress no further?
If someone says that he has reached that standard, and that there is nothing further to be realised, then we offer our obeisances to him from far away. We are not worshippers of that. If one thinks that he is finished, that he has attained perfection — we hate it! Even an Acharya should consider that he is a student, and not a finished professor who has everything. One should always think of himself as a bona fide student. We have come to realise the infinite, not a finite thing. So, this fight between finite and infinite knowledge will continue always.
Should we think, «What I have understood is absolute»? No! We have not finished with knowledge. Still, we must know. Brahma himself says, «I am fully deceived by Your power, Master. I am nowhere.» Anyone who has come in connection with the infinite cannot but say this: «I am nothing.» That should be the salient point. The propounder of the greatest scripture in Gaudiya–Vaisnavism, Srila Krishna Das Kaviraj Goswami says: «Purisera kita haite muni se laghistha: I am lower than a worm in stool.» This is his statement, and he is saying so sincerely. Should we be ashamed to express our negative character, our negative development, which is the real wealth for a disciple? So, because such a negative character is shown by him, we fall at his feet. And if someone says, «I have finished all knowledge. God, Chaitanya, is my disciple», he should be shot down as the greatest enemy ever found in the world!