BBC, Life of Pi, and change. . .
A friend sent me a link to an intriguing article, “How Religions Change Their Mind,” (click here for the full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22250412). On reading it, I mulled over the concept of remaining true to the essence of a teaching, while making it relevant for the current audience. The original inaugurator of the Hare Krishna movement was Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who upset the caste brahmanas of His time by going straight to the essence of the Vedic teachings and giving love of God as the prime goal of life. He also bypassed the priestly order by propagating the widespread chanting of the names of God, a method that even common people could easily practice.
Did you happen to see the movie, “Life of Pi?” I had also read the book, and, as so often happens, felt that some of the best parts of the book never made it into the film version. One of my favorite scenes was where Pi, as a youth, had met and been inspired by first a Hindu priest, then a Christian pastor, and finally a Muslim practitioner. Each thought that the lad was becoming a follower of his own tradition. At one point, as the boy was out with his parents for a stroll in a public market to get some ice cream, all three of the preachers approached him at once. The scene was comical: as each tried to lay claim to the young Pi, they grew more possessive, and nearly threatened one another. As his parents, somewhat chagrined, asked him his intentions, he blurted out, “I just want to love God!”
And this is really the point. Every religious tradition may have its scholars, its mystics, its materialists—but in the end, they all point to love of God as the ultimate goal. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.6) describes that “That religion is best which causes its followers to become ecstatic in love of God that is unmotivated and free from material impediments, for this alone can completely satisfy the self.” (paraphrased in Cc Adi 7.91)
In bringing this topmost type of devotion, the essence of the Vedic teachings, to the Western world, Srila Prabhupada encountered circumstances which never could have been imagined by the sages of ancient India. So he kept the essence of the teachings intact: we are all spiritual beings, tiny sparks of the Supreme. The Supreme has both impersonal and personal aspects, but the personal aspect reigns supreme. And we tiny spirit souls are meant to serve the great, in loving surrender.
But how, exactly, to present the esoteric teachings of the Bhagavatam, Upanishads, and Caitanya-caritamrta to a ragtag band of followers picked up from the frustrated youth of North and South America, Europe, and other countries where the culture of Krishna consciousness was unknown? He made adjustments for time and circumstance.
Srila Prabhupada himself writes about one of the changes he made, in his commentary on Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila ch 7 text 32. The text: Seeing that the Mayavadis (impersonalists) and others were fleeing, Lord Caitanya thought, “I wanted everyone to be immersed in this inundation of love of Godhead, but some of them have escaped. Therefore I shall devise a trick to drown them also.”
And Prabhupada’s commentary (in part):
Here is an important point. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to invent a way to capture the Mayavadis and others who did not take interest in the Krishna consciousness movement. This is the symptom of an acarya (one who teaches by example). An acarya who comes for the service of the Lord cannot be expected to conform to a stereotype, for he must find the ways and means by which Krishna consciousness may be spread. Sometimes jealous persons criticize the Krishna consciousness movement because it engages equally both boys and girls in distributing love of Godhead. Not knowing that boys and girls in countries like Europe and America mix very freely, these fools and rascals criticize the boys and girls in Krishna consciousness for intermingling. But these rascals should consider that one cannot suddenly change a community’s social customs. However, since both the boys and the girls are being trained to become preachers, those girls are not ordinary girls but are as good as their brothers who are preaching Krishna consciousness. Therefore, to engage both boys and girls in fully transcendental activities is a policy intended to spread the Krishna consciousness movement.
He goes on, but you get the point. One cannot just randomly change things, but to get the very most vital point across, you sometimes have to adjust things according to the current culture. Krishna consciousness, Prabhupada emphasized, is not sectarian, nor is it a ‘faith’ in the ordinary sense, that we change from one faith to another. It is a scientific process and may be practiced by anyone. Chant the names of God as you have been given, live a pure life, and we’ll meet when we get back home, back to Godhead, in our original, pure, spiritual bodies. I don’t expect we’ll change our minds about that being the desired goal.