Thanks to all those who responded to this brainstorm on bhakti. Although I completed the topic, the supplement that I attached ‘Critiquing the Critic’ received a few comments that were shared with me through personal emails.
So this is my response to all those comments, which I have amalgamated into my response in another discussion related to it. Before proceeding, I insist that I don’t have anyone particular in mind in this response. I am sharing a general thought that I had when I reflected on those responses that were sent to me personally.
Someone well said that, “When discipline degenerates, it becomes legalism.” Similarly when critiquing degenerates it becomes criticism, and it will end up in fault-finding.
But as a normal human being I too ‘reacted’ strongly in the early days in my walk with the Lord when I was criticized too much in the name of critiquing. This resulted in me becoming a fault finder. Living Water and Indian Bowl is a good example. But as I began to understand the will of God in my life, I gradually realized that even those who ‘criticize’ are the ‘unpaid guardians of my soul’. Initially I too struggled a lot to handle it properly. But the Lord taught me one good thing, “Accept those who are genuine and ignore those who are irritating you.”
When I began to learn to respond with a sober mind, I stopped reacting. This also helped me to ignore abuses and fault-finding. I am not sure if when I began to ignore, it brought any change in my critic or not, but at least it helped me overcome my unhealthy anger that affected me.
But unlike Buddha (see the notes), as shared by one bhakta in a personal mail to me, I didn’t reject any criticism or fault-finding. Buddha, in responding to the person who continuously abused him, said that the unaccepted gift remains with the person who wants to give the gift, since he refused to accept the abuses. Whereas our Lord set the example by ‘accepting the abuses when he was accused.’ The one question I ask the Lord in every adverse situation in my life is: WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO LEARN? And when I began to learn that lesson, the Lord showed how sometimes God has to sacrifice my critic (misunderstood by many) in order to correct some mistake in me. In other words, in order to correct my faults, God used another person to become the victim by criticizing me. As I don’t have the inner strength to learn through my own life, God arranged a critic to criticize me, for which he is blamed. What I mean here is this: God in order to mold me as per His will, makes a mature person a victim by making him my critic.
Then I treat that person as the unpaid guardian of my soul. Here I would like to share what I think about the diverse views among us and how we should learn to make progress in our bhakti by allowing ‘iron to sharpen iron’, when we are not mature enough to accept even healthy criticism.
Thankfully this movement of Hindu bhaktas is neither an organization nor is there organic unity. Each bhakta is an entity in her own capacity. Each bhakta has to live out her life within the context of her organic unity with her birth family. In this sense we even accept caste identity, though it has several evil connotations. Not upholding the evils or promoting them, but accepting the social context of our life, we continue to remain as a part of our birth family and community.
And when a bhakta tries to live in that organic unity with her own family/community we cannot create any uniformity in our acts, though we can evolve some common minimum principles to guide her to take decisions in a given situation. But sometimes circumstances force her to violate the proposed principle, which she many not be in a position to explain to all. Then others might think that there is a contradiction in her action from her thinking. In such a scenario how should we respond?
In this movement of Hindu bhaktas of the Lord, there are various circles. Some are at the centre with clear thinking and doing on the same lines. God bless them. And around that individual there will be some keeping touch with that mature person for their need and strength in intellectual and emotional areas in life.
In the second ring there are others who keep in touch with the centre to learn more through the first circle. The next one might be some standing a bit away with much empathy to understand and support by all means. The next one could be the ones who have sympathy but are not in a position to be involved with us in any way. And next to that ring a few will stand to watch, thinking that what we are doing is another evangelical experiment and not really life as Hindu bhaktas. And in the final round some will be there watching with some interest to know all our mistakes and failures to warn others not to attempt “this kind of experiment.” One way or another, we all keep in touch with each other.
For some reason, sometimes the person who is in the first ring touching the centre might move to another ring and the person who is in the outer ring might come much closer. For me, each bhakta is that centre in her own right and others will be around her according to their rapport with her.
As a digression I would like to share one more (favourable) thought. We all keep ourselves at the centre of our life and view others in relationship with us. For example I will think ‘this is my mother’, ‘my brother’, etc. and naturally I expect them to understand and adjust with me in their relationship with me. And those who do not have maturity will expect others to dance according to their own tune. But the reality of life is that others keep themselves at the centre of their life and view us in the same way. Once we understand this reality, though we all know and accept it, the statement, “Nobody understands me” will never come.
So each bhakta of the Lord is the centre in her life where her thinking and action go with minimum contradiction. But for an outsider the contradiction will be visible. So in this movement we all have unity in Spirit but not uniformity or organic unity. But we keep in touch with each other as we all strive to live our life with mutual learning and teaching based on some common minimum principle. That centre could be anyone who is sought by others to learn and give an opportunity to serve them. That is why we don’t have any permanent leader or head to look unto for all our need.
So each bhakta is an entity in this movement—thank God we are not organized as a denomination or even with any organic identity. Remaining as separate entities, I am not sure whether we can claim any organic unity among ourselves. All do not have the same calibre to understand and reflect on their personal bhakti and Muktivedic principles. But each one is unique to think and act.
As a second digression, let me share about the so-called “You are part of the family.” I tell all my shishyas that I can never be a part of your family. This does not mean that there is no example to prove this. Yes there are some individuals who become part of a family and live with them till the end of their life. But my point is about the so-called “family unity” like ‘Sangh Parivar’ or Karunanidi calling ‘Kazhagam oru kudumbam’ (கழகம் ஒரு குடும்பம் his party is a family), whereas everybody knows that only his family is his party (குடும்பமே ஒரு கழகம்) and others have no place in it. Several staunch members of the Sangh Parivar for various reasons changed their camp—Sri Shankar Singh Vagela of Gujarat (now in Congress) is the best example.
And my principle in this is this: I will never change my conviction and position in the Lord as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord—accepting the fact that I remain a contradiction when it comes to my relationship with others as per the principle: agreement in the essence, concession on the peripheral and charity in all. And the level of others’ involvement with me, choosing the ring which they feel comfortable with is left to them. Sometimes they will be in the first ring and then will shift to the outermost one. And severing anyone’s relationship with me then, according to this illustration, cannot be decided by me (as I am surrounded, I have no choice and I voluntarily allow others to surround me, not floating as an isolated bubble on the water). It is left to them; each one does it due to various reasons—understanding, compulsion in life, social pressure, personal conviction, etc.
Due to human weakness it will never remain static. I can produce a long list of people who were once very close to me and served and protected me. But they all disappeared into thin air. Many left not agreeing with me and a few for various compulsions. But I never cut them away from my life. This is part of life as Mahabharata asserts:
–all collections end in dissolution, all tall things end in falling down, unions end in separation; life ends in death—P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, Shanti parva, 57.7, also in Shanti 140.48, Udyogparva 178.48, Vol. I, part I, Ch. 32. The Two Epics. Fn. 404. P. 372
So though clear thinking and doing is essential in life, this principle is possible for me to uphold only in my life and I cannot impose it on others. All the seeming contradictions between thinking and acting are a process towards maturity which each one attains according to their own ‘pravruti’ (nature, aptitude etc. Gita 3:33). And if they seek my seva in this journey towards maturity I will do my best. But in the name of doing this seva I cannot step in their life as I know that there is a Lakshman rekha for everyone not to cross. Above all considering my own limitations I won’t dare to do it, because as Muktiveda clearly warns, “Let one who thinks that she is standing, be careful not to stumble.”
“Agreement in the essence, concession on the peripheral and charity is all” – what constitutes essence and peripherals?
Every human movement has one essence (or a few core essences) in which they come together. When they evolve there will be some changes and amendments, but the core issues will remain the same. For example for the Sangh parivar: Nationalism is the core principle, for communist, socialism (hijacked by many parties). In our movement as Hindu bhaktas, the essence is that Muktinath is the Lord and Savior, Muktiveda is the Word of God, Mandali is the one through which God carries out His will and purpose for the world.
Even in this there are concessions. If you don’t like to use the name ‘Muktinath’ then use any other name with which you feel comfortable. Muktiveda is the Word of God, but if you think that even a full stop and comma are the inspired Word of God, no problem, you can hold that view. Agreeing to disagree is charity for me.
In the name of doing this seva if one cannot step into the life of another bhakta as there is a Lakshman rekha for everyone, then we cannot even advise her/him on crucial events in her/his life (like marriage, funeral etc.). So there cannot be any lakshmana rekhas for us in this movement. And we have to cross to help her/him as she/he won’t be in a position to think properly. It is up to people to take it or leave it. But our position should be stated clearly.
Regarding the Lakshman rekha, I believe we all have this. Even between a husband and wife there is a Lakshman rekha, though I cannot endorse it from my personal life. But I have heard this from several couples and also heard in several T.V. debates. Having moral authority, that too only given by another person to me, I can exercise it to express caution about doing or not doing certain things as a Hindu bhakta, particularly in our responsibility to fulfill social obligations towards our parents. Or when a bhakta voluntarily sought my opinion on a particular crucial issue, then with much concern both for her bhakti and her relationship with her birth family, I can give my opinion. This we have to do on principle, considering not only her identity as Hindu bhakta to her community, but also as part of the mandali also our Hindu identity is at stake.
Of course with those with whom we are involved totally (like parents in children) sometime we have to cross the Lakshman rekha. But because of our total involvement with them we will communicate that even this crossing is done only for their good. Sometimes I cross this Lakshman rekha with Vijay, but he knows that I am not only involved with his entire life, but I also do everything only keeping his welfare in mind and not with any selfish motive. Sometimes this is possible between close friends. But I am not sure whether we can do this all in the name of ‘stating our position clearly’.
If each one can go his/her way, what is the use of conducting meetings or arranging gatherings to learn and teach?
Gathering and conducting meetings is not going help or force anyone to follow our way. Every gathering is to cater to the human need of physical fellowship. No matter how much you talk over phone or Skype, a personal meeting seeing each other in flesh and blood is a basic human need. The touch of human flesh is a basic psychological human requirement. The gatherings are not only for teaching but to see each other face to face.
Above all several issues that cannot be resolved in writing or over the phone can be easily resolved when face-to-face. Body language communicates more than words alone. That is why I often say the real purpose of every gathering is not in the session but in tea/coffee breaks, lunch/dinner breaks, and late night personal meetings. In my life I have learned so many things not listening in sessions but in my talk outside. Above all, most of the people won’t remember everything they listened to and what all we taught. But the personal human touch will remain permanently evergreen in their life. In gatherings our actions, body language, and service will teach more than in a class. Gathering is ‘sat-sangh’ and not for teaching or learning. One can learn through all other means about a subject, but to learn about a person, s/he should meet her/him in person.
Let me give one example. We had a gathering at the ashram this summer. One bhakta said he needed to go back in the evening because of some previous commitment, so he took an early lunch and was ready to go. Two hours later after lunch, I came back to the dining hall and found him in deep discussion and sharing with another bhakta. I almost reminded the bhakta about his evening commitment, but another bhakta motioned to me to not disturb them.
This is the result of this brainstorm, which I have pieced together from several emails and discussions. In summary I want to share that:
- All critics are the unpaid guardians of our soul.
- In this movement, where we keep in touch with each other based on some common minimum principles, there should be no fault-finder — however we may disagree with each other.
- Lakshman rekha is there for everyone not to cross. Even if it is not there, then create one to safeguard the interests of others as well as your own.
- Agreement on essence, concession on peripheral and charity in all will help all of us to grow towards maturity.
- When feeling irritated, better ignore than react. ‘Don’t respond when you are in not good mood (or in carnal mind)’ is the golden rule.
- There is place for ‘righteous indignation’, but one should be make sure that her ‘indignation’ is purely ‘righteous’. Because, our anger will never demonstrate God’s righteousness.
- Try to understand the fact that our unity is only in Spirit and not organic and never organizational.
Once, we were asked to give a statement of our principle at a conference. We wrote: Muktinath-centered families within every community (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist even among the Christians).
Added to this, I shared these as my principles:
- We will remain as Hindu bhaktas of the Lord—never severing our relationship with our family, particularly in the name of our bhakti.
- We have no official membership in any denominational church—but we will have friendship and fellowship with them or with any other people in this world.
- No full-time workers—each bhakta should stand on her own feet and be a witness to others. We are not against this practice among the Christians supported by their church or mission.
The following thoughts were sent to me personally: Though I don’t agree with all the points, yet I thought this is worth sharing with others–as I am also over critical and sarcastic.
Buddha was well known for his ability to respond to evil with good. There was a man who knew about his reputation and he traveled miles and miles and miles to test Buddha. When he arrived and stood before Buddha, he verbally abused him constantly; he insulted him; he challenged him; he did everything he could to offend Buddha.Buddha was unmoved, he simply turned to the man and said, “May I ask you a question?”
The man responded with, “Well, what?”
Buddha said, “If someone offers you a gift and you decline to accept it, to whom then does it belong?”
The man said, “Then it belongs to the person who offered it.”
Buddha smiled, “That is correct. So if I decline to accept your abuse, does it not then still belong to you?”
The man was speechless and walked away.
Why Are Some People So Critical and Sarcastic?
A normal human being should have a balanced behavior. It not uncommon for someone to criticize someone else or to be sarcastic every once in a while but when the critical comments start to flood everyone surrounding the person and when his sarcastic behavior starts to hurt the close ones around him then he is in need of help.
Here is why overly critical and sarcastic people need help:
- Criticism and Anger: Have you ever noticed the negative thoughts that pass in your mind while you are angry? If you did then most probably you already noticed that you were so critical to everyone at that time. When we become angry we tend to become overly critical and sarcastic. Some people are haunted by anger as a result of the past experiences they have been through. People with unmet goals, some people who were emotionally abused and people who are angry at life because of the bad things that happened to them may end up living with anger. They live a miserable life and curse everyone they find in their way as if others carry part of the blame for what happened to them.
- Being overly critical and Your Inner Child: Some people are overly critical because this is just how they were treated as children. If a child was always criticized then he might develop a negative unconscious pattern of thinking that lets him criticize everyone around him. The negative messages that this child constantly received turned into a way of thinking that lead him to become an overly critical and sarcastic adult.
- Criticism and lack of self confidence: The difference between a confident person and a person who feels inferior is their way of thinking. While the first tends to praise him the second keeps putting himself down. The mind of the person who lacks is usually full of negative messages and that’s why the excess negative ones reach the other people around him in the form of criticism. The conclusion is, the overly critical person usually lacks self confidence.
To most accusations Jesus remained silent because he knew the heart of a man and their spirit.