Recently, someone came back into my life who had disappeared. This person is surely sweet and kind, and while I haven’t been able to spend much time with him, as another non-Indian Hindu I felt an almost-instant connection to him. We first met at my local temple. He’s a servant of Krishna through the ISKCON organization. Our time together was brief, to say the least. I’d no sooner learned a little about him, hoping to learn much more, when he disappeared. After he vanished, we reconnected on Facebook although soon enough he’d vanished from there too. Then he reappeared by means of a friend request. I naturally obliged, glad to see that he seemed happy and well. The last I knew he was somewhere in Appalachia, but he’s resurfaced in sunny Florida.
Just yesterday, only a week or so after reconnecting, he messaged me on Facebook. We’d had prior “comment discussions” wherein I’d persisted with the indication that I’m devoted to The Mother/Amma and Her Son, Ganesha. Our comments to each other felt a little awkward because he seemed convinced that I’d not given Krishna a chance, but generally these comments were innocent and superficial – then came the Facebook message.
“I wish you would study Srila Prabhupada. Pravin is such a bad influence. He is a very bad man.” Short & sweet.
The Gita tells us that one’s individual path (swadharma), even with all its potential flaws, is better than another’s. Krishna was telling Arjuna that he should always follow the advice of the Guru in his own heart. I’ve read through more than a few versions of the Gita more than a few times and I’ve yet to notice a single shloka, with purport or commentary (or nothing), that instructs a devotee to “share the good news of Krishna with everyone possessing two ears. Encourage all to follow Krishna.” (In fact, I’d point out that the opposite is the implication of Krishna’s words.) And yet, many times the case is one of proselytizing – which I find to be unHindu. In my response message I mentioned that this “typical” characteristic of the bhakti marg (bhakti is a part of all paths, but seems to prevail primarily among Vaishnavs) makes it something that’s not suited for me -although I do find both bhakti and Vaishnavism beautiful and worthy of my respect. I generally hate to generalize, but if a generalization happens to be generally true, from time to time I’ll generalize. I realize this means an unfair and sweeping application to some Vaishnav bhaktas, but for ease of communicating my thoughts – which are already tedious enough – I will sometimes generalize. I will also point out that no other sect of Hinduism has ever approached me or otherwise interacted with me in the manner specifically typical of vaishnav bhaktas. In all other experiences of mine – literally ALL other experiences – with various Hindu sects and denominations, I’ve never been badgered at all about my path like I have with vaishnav bhaktas. If you find this bothersome, do forgive me.
Superficially speaking, the message sent by my friend is innocent enough. It’s also a common occurance and typical. We all encourage others to go after what we see is the best – in any situation, right? Even better is when we KNOW something is “working” for us and we want others to experience the same. I think this is potentially noble and compassionate and is something virtually everyone does to some degree or another. However, herein lies an ugly trap. It’s one thing to broadcast one’s inclinations, in fact Hare Krishnas are pros at it. I do it frequently on my own Facebook page, and have even received remarks that for a Hindu I’m awfully evangelical. Still, I find distinction between broadcasting one’s inclinations and directly trying to persuade others to buy into them, too. If it’s not clear to you, this distinction I’m making, imagine the difference between having tattoos & choosing to wear clothing that shows them, and actively trying to convince others to get tattoos, too.
In subsequent messages, this friend has pointed out that “worship of all gods and demigods factually goes to Sri Krsna.” (There are other parts of this conversation that also bothered me, but I don’t feel they’d add much more to what I’m trying to communicate here, so I choose to leave them off.) As I’ve already pointed out, I’m familiar with the Gita and Krishna’s words. I know exactly what’s being referenced, and while I’m recognizing where this friend is coming from and the influences he’s under that are causing him to point this out, I’m struggling to not be offended – partially because I think his interpretation of this passage is skewed and partially because even before now I’ve made clear that I plan to stick to my own swadharma and not someone else’s.
Ultimately, this is inconsequential. I know where I stand and I’ve invested huge efforts into knowing exactly why I stand where I do – which is more than most people can say about their own journey. If that ever changes it’ll be because of my own personal growth, not because someone quotes the scripture of another sect to me. I understand wanting to share with others what you perceive to be valuable and beneficial knowledge, but I feel like a Muslim who’s listening to a Christian thump him with Bible verses. For one, it’s not pleasant. For another, Muslims have their own scripture, and even if a Muslim affords respect to the Christian Bible, it’s still not authoritative to that Muslim’s swadharma, even if it’s applicable. Like telling an Atheist they’re going to Hell – it’s pointless because “Hell” has virtually zero value to the Athiest.
So where to go from here? The part of my genetic makeup coming from my mother’s side (German, Native American, Catholic, Alcoholic) provides ample impulse to tell this “bhai” to go get fucked and how to do it. Some, however, would see that as mean. The rest of me, and thankfully the larger portion of my current self, is more inclined toward patience and a progressive insistence – simple reiteration – that I’m neither Vaishnav or bhakta. My patience, like my father’s, is typically miles long – but I’m not into repeating myself like this. Am I wrong in perceiving this pal’s messages the way I have? Is this just a matter of the best intentions gone awray? And if we say that, aren’t we just making excuses?
Dear reader, advise if you feel so inclined.