Recently some friends and I started a Caitanya Caritamrta reading group. The participants, thus far, have all been moms with kids and, this being the summer, the kids come too. So, us being moms and all, our progress is steady but very, very slow. We are still on chapter one of the Adi-lila, entitle The Spiritual Masters.
I have to admit, being an aspiring devotee who has definitely had some “guru issues” over the years, it is–at times–a tough chapter to swallow. But still, I am enjoying it. I am forced to really contemplate things, to put my faith *somewhere* and to try and “go deeper” as the cliche goes.
In general, I am not a fan of gurus. The worship of a human being is a serious thing…what to speak of worshipping him because he is as good as God. In our fledgling religious organizational tradition, guru-ship has become a business. It is how a certain segment of the ISKCON population makes their living and, for them to admit their ordinariness…their flaws and imperfections, would really cut into their lifestyle.
But, I’m not ritvik. I believe that it is possible for pure souls to exist. I believe in the potency of the parampara. I just don’t believe such souls are available a dime a dozen. Also, I believe that we get what we are ready for and that it is possible for someone who is not a pure devotee to inspire, guide and encourage another along their path of spiritual life.
I’m just not into people misrepresenting themselves.
My understanding of the current GBC position on approving Gurus is not that deep. However, what I have gleaned from my personal experience within ISKCON is that no matter what happens with the relationship between a disciple and their initiating spiritual master, we will always have Srila Prabhupada.
What a relief.
Back in my religious fervor days, this was welcomed news. My relationship with my god-siblings and my guru were strained–to the point that my guru even took away my name, thus un-initiating me. Prabhupada was my only spiritual shelter. He loved me no matter what. He wanted me to be a devotee no matter what. He would not un-intiate me.
I read his books. Memorized quotes from him out of their original context. I listened attentively to his disciples telling stories about him–how he looked at them, how he smiled at them, how he said this or that or moved his head in such a way. I prayed to Prabhupada. I sang along with his chanting.
I began to wonder about what Prabhupada would actually say to *me*. How would Prabhupada actually look at *me*? One devotee would tell me Prabhupada wouldn’t like my dancing in the temple room and another devotee would tell me that was nonsense and that Prabhupada would love that I was dancing ecstatically in the temple room. It kind of made me wonder how much of Prabhupada is real and how much is our own concoction.
Many devotees claim to know what Prabhupada wanted/wants. It gets very confusing. On top of that, within ISKCON culture, there is a dominant prescribed sentiment one should carry for Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada is the ISKCON Founder-Acarya. True. I am very grateful to Srila Prabhupada for bringing Krishna conscious philosophy to the west. For taking the time, at such an advanced age, to teach the details of cultured living to his disciples.
But I wonder, honestly, how I am expected to emulate the same love and emotion for Srila Prabhupada as his disciples who either met him directly or were around during Prabhupada’s time. Sometimes it seems like ISKCON is a bit of a cult of personality, with Prabhupada at the center. When all the Prabhupada disciples are dead and all the fixed up children of Prabhupada disciples are dead (how many are there even?), then what will the expected sentiment towards Prabhupada be?
I can’t imagine how Prabhupada’s position will ever be diminished; he did such incredible work for Krishna. But I can imagine that future generations of devotees will not have the same raw feeling, despite all the books and DVDs that get produced documenting his extraordinary spiritual position.
Personally, I need to find a way to connect with Srila Prabhupada, to appreciate him, without being false. And I feel I need to also deepen my appreciation for the other members of our parampara, who’s importance is equal if not greater to Srila Prabhupada’s, for without them the knowledge could not have descended. All this while feeling totally blah in my spiritual life. What a challenge.
I’ve had these realizations about the limits of how deep I am able to go with my relationship with Prabhupada because, although I really respect, admire and believe in the purity of my husband’s guru, Srila Gour Govinda Swami, I just don’t experience Maharaja the way my husband does. I never met him. I don’t know him. My husband had meaningful experiences, which solidified his faith in his guru. But for me…I just haven’t had those experiences. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.
And then there is my whole family situation. Kids. Kids! I used to be a real religious nut job. I like to say that had I become a Muslim, I would have blown myself up by now. I was the perfect cult member, enthusiastic to a fault. Back in my pure devotee heyday, I surely would have lay my life on the line for Prabhupada or Krishna or whatever freak manager asked me to. These days, I have to say, the only person I would give my life for are my kids. Kids! I love them so. Is it maya? I could care less. I love my kids. Totally. With all my heart. Although sometimes I do ask them to leave me alone. “Leave me alone!”
How many times have we heard that a mother’s love for her kids is the closest feeling we can come to in the material world for that loving feeling for Krishna. And when you are a mother, you totally understand. You understand how it is more pleasurable to love than to be loved. You understand how a tiny pair of underpants or flip-flops or a favorite Matchbox car left lying in the middle of the floor that you almost break your neck on as you wake up to get your whining kid a glass of water in the middle of the night…how it all gives you pleasure.
And with that unit of measure…my love for my kids…I can really see my lack of progress in spiritual life. Because I really feel…to hell with all this! I’m taking care of my kids. I see where my love is directed…kids! I would put my kids before Srila Prabhupada any day. And I’m sure there is someone out there who will tell me that that is actually loving Srila Prabhupada (with a quote about child worship or whatever to back it up). But it’s kind of like this: I don’t even care about justifying it. I need to do what’s natural. Life can’t be lived based on pulled quotes.