“Offending or blaspheming a Vaishnava has been described as the greatest offense, and it has been compared to a mad elephant. When a mad elephant enters a garden, it ruins all the creepers, flowers and trees. Similarly, if a devotee properly executing his devotional service becomes an offender at the lotus feet of his spiritual master or a Vaishnava, his devotional service is spoiled.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 3.213 Purport)
Friend1: This is one of those rules that seems rooted in duality to me. It is not absolute in the least, for I can quickly find cases where following it will cause harm.
Friend2: It would help if I knew what you were talking about.
Friend1: In observing some recent initiation ceremonies of the bhakti tradition, sometimes the guru will ask the person being initiated to also take a vow to not criticize others.
Friend2: Just anyone in general or specifically other Vaishnavas?
Friend1: Sorry, that’s what I meant. I know fault-finding in general is not good, but here there is special attention to not offending other devotees. Vaishnava means “devotee of Vishnu,” which is one name for the personal God.
Friend2: Just as you and I are striving for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord through dedicated service, so are others. If we unnecessarily criticize them, we are making it more difficult for them to succeed. We also run the risk of distracting our attention to temporary things.
Friend1: I get all that. Trust me. But including it in the vows seems a little ridiculous to me. The guru makes the warning along the lines of not visiting websites which are critical of certain Vaishnavas.
Friend2: Oh, interesting. I would think it is better to not mention that. What if the initiated person doesn’t know that those sites exist?
Friend1: Exactly. Now they are curious.
“Maybe I should see what my guru maharaja is talking about.”
Anyway, my point is that there is too much emphasis on this not criticizing thing.
Friend2: I mean it’s all relative. Depends on your situation. It is very easy to find fault with someone else. Seriously. Just look at someone walking down the street. You could make fun of their clothing. Maybe the way they walk. If you hear them talk, then the accent and speech patterns are easy targets for ridicule.
Friend1: But I am not referring to unnecessary criticism. You know that.
Friend2: What exactly are you referring to, then?
Friend1: Let’s put it this way. If the cheaters take charge of an establishment, make themselves into leaders, become gurus, what have you – what is the easiest way for them to remain in power?
Friend2: I don’t know.
Friend1: Make sure that no one criticizes them. If the people on the inside witness some serious wrongdoing, if they talk about it they will be ushered out; maybe violently so. That is pretty easy to do. Ostracize. Use numbers in your favor.
Friend2: We’re talking about the cheating leader here?
Friend1: Yes. But a way to help others to avoid the deception is to publish information. Expose the cheaters through documented evidence. This is where those “bad” websites come into play.
Friend2: I see.
Friend1: Then the cheater has no choice but to warn people against visiting those sites. Do you see what I am saying now?
Friend2: That it is easier to maintain a corrupt organization when you keep people in the dark. I get it. You might be going a little too extreme here.
Friend1: Am I, though? Anytime the guru gets caught doing something wrong, throw out the “Vaishnava aparadha” card to save them. It’s pathetic.
Friend2: Are you saying you would like to not see this as part of the vows?
Friend1: Yes. Who out there actually likes to be criticized? But it is a great check on bad behavior. There is no doubt about it. I should be thankful for these people. They help to keep me on the right path.
Friend2: There is some validity to that. The people closest to you might be afraid to say anything.
Friend1: They don’t want to get banned from the institution. They love meeting with others to worship the deity and chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. They don’t want to risk losing that amazing life, which is full of bliss.
Friend2: It’s a tough situation, for sure. It is better to remain careful when it comes to criticism. The more you advance in bhakti-yoga, the more you appreciate the service of others. If someone is cheating, there is nothing wrong with giving a warning. This is a way to offer help, so that new people don’t get led astray.
Friend1: That is exactly what I am trying to say. I do respect the leaders. I have so much appreciation for everything people do in service to Shri Krishna. It just breaks my heart when an innocent person’s faith gets shattered later on, by someone I knew to be a charlatan the entire time.
Vaishnava-aparada card to place,
When exposed in scandal’s face.
Others then in the dark to hold,
So that damage under control.
But actually the critic help giving to me,
Sometimes light not easy to see.
In humble mood offering respect,
Nothing from others to expect.