“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)
Friend1: Pious in both this life and previous ones.
Friend2: The latter is key. It explains why some people fall into the bhakti culture, almost by chance, while others remain far away.
Friend1: They received sukriti, or meritorious credits, from something they did in the past.
Friend2: Exactly. It could be something as simple as holding the door open for a saint to pass. It could be hearing and smiling at the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend1: Alright, now that we have established the eradication of sin part, I’m pretty sure I see a contradiction.
Friend2: Where? In the sky? In your mind?
Friend1: Very funny. In societies dedicated to bhakti-yoga practice. Krishna consciousness. Places where people congregate to celebrate, worship, and discuss the glories of God the person.
Friend2: Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I think I know where you are going with this.
Friend1: Do you? You’re not going to be happy. You hate it when I bring this stuff up.
Friend2: I don’t hate it. Just relax.
Friend1: No, you definitely do. It’s because you are much more lenient than me. I’m sorry, but I can’t turn a blind eye, if that’s even the right expression.
Friend2: You have a problem because you see people practicing bhakti who obviously still have some sinful behavior in them. Like drinking, gambling, smoking, illicit sex. These people certainly aren’t perfect, and yet they are chanting the holy names and dedicating significant time to improving themselves.
Friend1: Oh, don’t try to get away with distorting what I was going to say. We’re not talking about acknowledged neophytes. There are plenty of flaws in them. I know that and I’m forgiving in that area. I’m referring to the leaders. The people that sit on the seat of Vyasadeva, the leading spiritual master, the literary incarnation of Krishna. I’m talking about the qualities that they have. In many cases, these flawed individuals are initiating others into Krishna consciousness. They are posing as guru, when they are anything but liberated.
Friend2: Yeah, I think you were right.
Friend1: About what?
Friend2: Me not being happy with you bringing this up.
Friend1: See! I know you too well. But you have to answer the question. How do you resolve the contradiction?
Friend2: I thought we discussed this before. Not everyone is perfect. At least these people are trying. I don’t condone their sinful behavior. I don’t think they should be posing as guru if they are not qualified. But what do you want me to say? Should I condemn the entire group? Close up the societies. Let everyone go back to living material life, which is miserable. Is that what you want?
Friend1: You’re taking this too far. I’m interested more in the tendencies. Why do these types of people become attracted to bhakti-yoga?
Friend2: What exactly is the generalization you’re trying to make?
Friend1: You really want to hear?
Friend2: Yes. This should be interesting.
Friend1: Alright, you asked for it. Based on my experience, which is extensive, I’ve playfully made three qualifications for people who take up bhakti-yoga in earnest.
Friend1: First, you have to hate your parents. Second, you have to hate Indian people. Third, you have to be completely lacking in common sense.
Friend2: Wow. You never cease to amaze me.
Friend1: Am I wrong? Come on. I always hear them bashing their parents for eating meat and not being more open to devotional service. And you know for a fact that they can’t stand Indian people.
Friend2: You realize that thousands of Indian people are joining these societies. You realize that the bhakti culture comes from the Vedas, which is the origin of the more broad culture known as Hinduism.
Friend1: I am well aware. I am not excluding Indian devotees from this conversation. They hate Indian people just as much.
Friend2: So they hate themselves?
Friend1: It stems from the fact that the Hindu people who attend these functions tend to be more like teachers than listeners. They think they know it all. They don’t listen with an open mind. They come from a different philosophical background. Either they are impersonalists or they worship a demigod, someone who is not Shri Krishna or one of His direct expansions.
Friend2: You are full of generalizations today, aren’t you?
Friend1: I’m only being honest with you. So even the Indian devotees tend to dislike Indian people in general.
Friend2: Okay, what about the common sense thing?
Friend1: That you’ll see everywhere. For starters, the people running these places never begin their programs on time. They always end late. They start fights with guests for no reason. They find a way to alienate people who are sincerely interested in helping. It’s like they have this arrogant, superior attitude. They look down at anyone who isn’t like them. “Oh, look at this poor, pathetic karmi. Thank God I am here to help them out of maya [illusion].”
Friend2: And you think they should be more humble?
Friend1: Of course.
Friend2: Alright, for argument’s sake let’s say I grant you these generalizations. For the record, I don’t. I’m not agreeing with you, but let’s just move the discussion forward.
Friend1: Okay. How do you explain these types of people becoming attracted and rewarded in bhakti societies? Shouldn’t the humble, gentle, and kind people be more prominent? Why is it that I, and many others, think that the leaders are all arrogant, spiteful, and anything but spiritually realized?
Friend2: Listen, man, they are trying. They are not perfect. What would you rather them do? You don’t see people successful in material life joining. They are too busy with the daily burdens. From cradle to grave there are responsibilities. You can think of each responsibility as a way to continue to forget God. That forgetfulness is the reason for birth in the material world. It is the reason rebirth takes place going forward.
Friend1: So these leaders will be liberated, even if they are not perfect?
Friend2: They are already liberated. They are at least making an attempt. Sure some of them are arrogant. Sure some of them lack common sense. Some of them have done unspeakable things, for which they will suffer at some point in the future. But when there is a sincere attempt, eventually everything will turn out alright.
Friend1: It’s the arrogance that really bothers me.
Friend2: I understand. You need some of that in order to become a leader. You have to have some kind of ego in order to sit in front of a gathered assembly and offer instructions on life. It is rare to find the combination of humility and confidence in a spiritual teacher. That’s why the genuine acharyas, the saintly characters who lead by example, are so much appreciated. My advice to you is to not worry so much about the characteristics of these people. Take the good. At least they are chanting Hare Krishna. At least they are glorifying God to some extent.
Friend1: You know, they are very nosy too. They ask you so many questions about your personal life, even if you don’t want to divulge. And recently, they were almost in tears about the election results. I thought that was pathetic. You’re supposed to be above duality, tolerant to the comings and goings of happiness and sadness.
Friend2: “O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
Friend1: See. Exactly.
Friend2: Well, that’s a good sign you picked up on it. From their behavior you were reminded of a beautiful and important verse from the Bhagavad-gita. If you listen to a political speech or some comedian on television you won’t necessarily get the same stimulus for remembrance. I would say just be thankful that there are at least some people joining and trying to spread the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. There is no harm in maintaining a distance, by limiting the involvement to congregational meetings on a periodic basis; if that’s what you are comfortable with.
Friend1: And just focus on my own Krishna consciousness at home or wherever I live?
Friend2: Yeah, exactly. Don’t force it. Be confident that the Supreme Lord will take care of everything, that He will give everyone exactly what they deserve.
On Vyasa’s seat with arrogance talking,
Fake on the virtuous path walking.
Why so many cheaters found,
In bhakti societies abound?
In Kali’s age faults countless to see,
Even devotees of sins not free.
Better on path with determination to stay,
Krishna’s helping to finally find the way.