There are different opinions regarding social issues or philosophy among devotees. Any perspective, side of an issue, or point of the Krishna conscious philosophy can be carried to an extreme in relation to others.
By Karnamrita dasa
I tend to be on the middle of most issues, much to the chagrin of those who strongly advocate different perspective or causes. I do have strong opinions on certain issues, yet I am usually not on the front lines of confrontation. Ideally, even when I disagree I try to see the other perspective, and understand why the person holds the conviction they do.
In the traditional way of establishing siddhanta (conclusion of the scripture), one of the processes is to argue in favor of the opposing argument, and then to “defeat” it (although the term “defeat” is not very useful for happy married life). I take this part of siddhanta as really trying to understand the “other” side.
Seeing and appreciating both sides is very useful in couples counseling, where we often have two very different interpretations of past activities, or even current communication. Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.
In any case, whether one person is “right” and another person “wrong”, my wife and I try to impress upon the couple the conception of “subjective reality”. Sometimes we have to say to a couple, “Do you want to be right, or in love (or stay married)?” Each spouse has to respect the other, and their different views on issues or perspectives on the KC philosophy.
Subjective reality means that each one of us understands things according to our particular psychological “filters” (our past conditioning and experience).
This is the meaning of the “new age” saying that “perception is reality” (not ultimate reality, but personal reality). Some people—including devotees—have a very hard time with this. This can be especially the case when their subjective reality has become dressed in the “clothes” of spiritual philosophy, and therefore must be right.
An example of our subjective reality “being dressed in spiritual clothes” might be when we come to Krishna conscious with strong views about—lets say certain social considerations—and then find some statements supporting them (or that COULD support them). Then we might be unwilling to accept another view even if supported by scripture and/or practical experience or considerations.
As scientists have a “knowledge filter” by beginning with the idea that life comes from chemicals, or that evolutions is true, and then only accept “evidence” that supports this view, devotees also can have knowledge filters regarding their cherished view of the application of the philosophy.
Social positions in general are in the plane of relativity and can be adjusted—and must be if KC is to remain dynamic and relevant—according to time, place, and circumstances. Varnasrama (the occupational divisions and spiritual orders of society) and/or social considerations in general are not part of the limbs of bhakti or listed in the 64 items of devotional service given by Rupa Goswami. They become important by giving support to our spiritual life, not otherwise.
Whatever side a person has regarding social issues if their spouse or potential spouse has a different view, then those differences have to be discussed and at least harmonized and respected. In premarital counseling, we often see how different each devotees views can be on many different issues: from roles of men and women, household duties, earning money, education, child raising philosophy etc.
Some devotees fanatically stress the traditional roles, while others stress that devotees couples should do whatever works for them considering the unique natures of both persons and their type of conditioning and education, etc.(and some devotees fall somewhere in the middle).
These differences can usually be worked out if each person has flexibility, sufficient compatibility, and desire for Krishna consciousness as the ultimate goal. However, these perspectives are best worked out before marriage. Otherwise they are sure to become problems for the couples during their marriage. Couples also have to explore and share their expectations for their marriage, and genuinely and continually appreciate their life partner’s unique perspective and nature.
It is interesting that often a person just before marriage, or newly married, expects their spouse to be a mind reader and know them without discussion, or they just assume their spouse thinks like they do. That type of thinking is a recipe for disaster.
To conclude, we all need to understand the nature of subjective reality in all our relationships, whether as spouse, parent, leader, business partner, guru, brahmachari, disciple, student, employee or whatever our position is. Then we can have meaningful and more respectful communication in all our dealings with others, despite differences.
To borrow from Steven Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.