We recently had a discussion from Jayanatha (James) 5:1-11. As usual, after wandering around on various topics, we finally settled on one main point: can we apply muktivedic principles uniformly everywhere? For example, we should be humble and try to help others grow.
In my opinion, although we won’t compromise with our values and principles, we cannot apply them uniformly everywhere. There are three levels of application for me: family, mandali and others.
The first limitation that we need to understand is that others may not understand and uphold the same values we do, or at least not give them the same importance. We never chose our family members, and we often have to go to the third or fourth mile. They may try to exploit us, abuse us, or take advantage of us. Since we cannot throw them away, and not compromise with our principle, we need to keep a different level when it comes to applying the principle.
The main purpose of the mandali is to help one another grow individually as a person and a bhakta of the Lord. Our main interest is the personal growth of each bhakta. We need to help her/him learn how to best serve each other. If this demands a separation, we should let him/her go. We do not function like a corporation that has growth as its only agenda. If the separation can help the person grow more in the Lord, then we should do it happily without feeling hurt.
For those outside the family and mandali, we should be very careful not to let others take advantage of our principles. Let’s continue with the example of helping others in humility. In a corporation, individuals are engaged for the common growth of the company, but not the individual. The company may help individuals as a part of their agenda, but ultimately the individual is not its interest. The same cannot be true of a mandali or a home.
So without compromising with our principles, we should be wise and have a discerning spirit about how to apply our principles as we live in all these three areas. This is not like ‘situational ethics’. In a family we won’t fight for our right as a bhakta, and we are ready to be abused. This may not help other members of the family to grow, but our personal humility and sacrifice may bring its own result one day. This is the cost each bhakta has to pay for living in a family — particularly when other members do not share our bhakti and values. As I often say, ‘We should try to bend but if my bending breaks, it will hurt you more than me.” How to live this out is an art itself.
In a mandali our interest is mutual learning and growth. All the members of the mandali should have this understanding (a common minimum program?). Outside the family and mandali, while upholding our values, we should be “as innocent as a dove and as shrewd as a snake.”
Here is a famous story that fits well. A poisonous snake, after receiving deeksha from a sannyasi became very humble and never threatened when others came to attack. Knowing its ‘new’ nature (or value), children and others began to beat it and it got severely wounded. Later when its guru passed that way, he noticed the pathetic condition of the snake. When questioned about it, it said that it is upholding its value (humility) to the letter and spirit. But rebuking it, the guru said, “I never told you not to show your hood to warn others when they come to attack you. You need not bite them, but you should be wise enough as a snake.” And the snake learnt its lesson.