Bad Breth(ren)?

Taken from Google Images

Taken from Google Images

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.

Om Shanti


Manu Smrti, Bhagavad Gita, & How I Learned to Love Mayo

A couple posts ago I was lamenting how I often feel misunderstood by those I assume should understand me the best. I kind of want to dive a little deeper into this.

I do think that those who have known you the longest or the most intimately should understand you the best. And I stand by my thoughts that deviance from this may well, but not always, indicate a lack of personal development on the part of those who should understand more/better than they do. However, in the scheme of things, and especially in the context of my own life, none of this is truly relevant.

I recently had a sunday brunch with a dear Buddhist friend of mine who helped me gain further perspective on things like this. This pal, also a member of SGI although far more active than I, is definitely someone who might qualify as a local Buddha. I’m immensely grateful for his saintly association, his friendship, and his insight. He said many “dark and wond’rous” things to me while advising, and one of them stands out. His kind of Buddhism has many aspects, and one of them is creating “good causes” and otherwise planting karmic seeds.

Some of the other advice I received, also from a good pal, was to “let it go.” I’m certain he didn’t mean this as a nonchalant dismissal of anything, rather a kind of peaceful release in knowing that I’ve perhaps done what I could to help as much as I could and anything else is essentially out of my hands and not worth the worry. I find that this can tie directly into what my Buddhist saint said about sowing karmic seeds: You make a good effort, one that’s as selfless as you’re able to make, and then move on while you wait for the seeds to blossom karmically sometime in the future, maybe during this life or maybe not. I think all of this can be connected directly to what Sri Krsna advises Arjuna. The lesson applies to the process of perfecting karma yoga as well as vairagya and requires a certain level of jnana also.

You are meant to work. The way your personal work (swadharma) manifests can almost be viewed as irrelevant, so long as you recognize it and fulfill it to the best of your ability. Attachment to the fruits of your personal labors (karma phala) is where things get messy, and in my case frustrating. I hope to see that my good advice has a good effect. This is selfish, actually, and quite ego-filled. I’m guessing that’s why it’s advised against in the Gita. Instead, I should simply want to make sure that I walk my talk, and that the proof of my swadharma is in my life’s pudding for others to taste. What happens often enough, is that the proof is, indeed, in my life’s pudding, but I also try giving them a verbal taste test. Not necessary.

This brings me to something from the Manu Smrti that I carry with me most places, but forget far too often. An excerpt from the Manu Smrti goes something like,

“Unless one be asked, one must not explain anything to anybody, nor must one answer a person who asks improperly; let a wise man, though he knows the answer, behave among men like an idiot.”

I struggled with this briefly when I first encountered it, because on the surface a superficial interpretation can totally apply. Let’s look at the bigger picture though, and try breaking this thing into chewable bits.

“Unless one be asked, one must not explain anything to anybody…” My understanding of this is not a “spoke only when spoken to” kind of deal. I see this as meaning that unless folks come to you wanting answers, you don’t owe them to anyone. You may have the answers, and it may be fine enough to offer the answer unsolicited, but it’s not expected. It’s always best to share knowledge whenever another may benefit from it, but you don’t have to.

“…nor must one answer a person who asks improperly; …” I remain unconvinced that there’s a specifically right or wrong way to ask for help, and I think something else is meant here. To acquire my advice, you need not approach me, touch my feet, offering a pranam/namaste before asking what you seek. Those are all cultural fancies, and mostly useless. They have their place, sure, but what’s more important is that the seeker possesses humility and sincerity. If someone doesn’t ask for help while displaying those two qualities, perhaps help is not their’s to receive. Afterall, the Law of Karma mandates that we receive in direct proportion to what we give -not the other way around.

“…let a wise man, though he knows the answer, behave among men like an idiot.” I think this is my favorite part of the excerpt. Of all the parts this has been broken into for analysis, this is the meatiest. On the surface, it rather paints a picture of some snide sage sitting back watching in amusement while those still learning run, perhaps repeatedly, head-first into the wall. But this isn’t what’s happening here. Without getting too deep into it, and while still pretty superficial, when you allow others to think you don’t know the answer, when you really do, you create the potential to offer space for experiential revelation. They can, and hopefully do, find the space to work out the answer on their own. In the Hindu context, this has immense and incredible value. Simultaneously, the one behaving “among men like an idiot” experiences a greater feeling of liberation in that moment. That person with the answer, rests in knowing that he doesn’t need to say a word for things to happen as they will; as they should. This person has the opportunity to step out of the karmic cycles of the other person and let everything fulfill itself. This differs from a notion I’ve entertained more than once, which is to withdrawal: to stop tossing pearls to swine, to let the punks fight over their trinkets and make them solve it all through the ridiculously long process of experiencing pain and adjusting when that pain becomes too much.

It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. I’m pretty much about as raised as my parents can hope for, but I’m still working on things. And between Manu Smrti, Bhagavad Gita, a dear local Buddhist, and another wise pal I’ve never even met in person, I’d say it’s close enough to a village to call it even.

By the way, loving mayo has nothing to do with anything.

Om Shanti