By Kesava Krsna Dasa
Sometimes our fixation on who’s “junior” and who is “senior” within our ranks, can inhibit proper devotee relationships. And introducing corporate ideas for managing our devotees can hinder, rather than promote healthy interactions between ourselves.
The basis of our learning, spiritual progress, and successful vaisnava relationships is humility. Most, if not all of our junior devotees today will take up leadership positions in the future. They too will become senior devotees. How our present leaders and senior devotees behave and act today will indicate how our juniors will follow into the future.
The need for “organisation and intelligence,” has to be based upon humility. It has been documented that when humility is abused or exploited even slightly, the repercussions are felt widely. There is a natural hierarchy of junior and senior devotees, but if again, this is moulded by systems that are intended for the workplace, in order to maximise financial profit, then we risk weakening what should be, strong and healthy vaisnava interactions, as opposed to simply, people or worker relationships.
Many of our initiated devotees and congregation members are familiar with the mechanisms of the workplace, and how progressive management seeks to harmonise worker and manager relations, simply to increase the chances of financial gain. There is definitely some ”rajasic” or passionate motivation involved. To try to do likewise within a vaisnava setting could impact on the natural flow of humility.
In the spirit of looking at things from different angles of vision, the seniority or leadership of Sri Ramachandra Puri can be cited. Being a Godbrother of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s spiritual master, Sri Ramachandra Puri knew that his position was considered sacred for Lord Chaitanya. He also knew that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was exalted and humble.
In normal circumstances, anything that Sri Ramachandra Puri could have done, within the confines of normal vaisnava dealings, would not be questioned by those junior to him. Knowing this, Sri Ramachandra Puri sought to correct Lord Chaitanya, and accuse Him of over-eating and other such fault finding antics.
Being impure of heart due to offending his own spiritual master, Sri Ramachandra Puri abused and exploited the humility of Lord Chaitanya, to enhance his own position. Because Lord Chaitanya did not protest, and reduced His eating, the repercussions were felt by the entire community of vaisnavas.
Behind the cloak of seniority and leadership were exposed the pride and insecurities of Sri Ramachandra Puri. Although highly unpopular amongst those close to Lord Chaitanya, he was nonetheless tolerated until he moved away to go elsewhere. The lesson here is that being a senior or a having a leadership role cannot be used to exploit the humility of juniors.
This is similar to how the workplace is structured. One can hide behind the mangers’ position and purposely be obnoxious and intimidating to general workers, or even especially to exploit and abuse those who are disliked. These sorts of profit based formalities usually cause gaps between the workers and managers.
The “People’s” Man
Here is another example of a senior-most personality who was the “Man of the people,” as it is said sometimes. Srila Sanatana Goswami knew he was senior in position to most of the vaisnavas in Vrndavana, according to vaisnava relations. He also knew that, should he act and behave like one, in a typically workplace manner, the flow of humility would abate, and the atmosphere for learning and progress in Krishna consciousness be impeded.
As Srila Giriraja Maharaja has written in his article, “Friendly and Sympathetic,” we observe some popular leadership conduct in Srila Sanatana Goswami. Underlying all his dealings with the public and devotees was his humility and approachability. He was not aloof. This came from his naturally affectionate behaviour. A senior or leading devotee shows affection for juniors, nay for everyone.
Junior and Senior Harmony
When a junior devotee exhibits a willingness to learn and to progress in Krishna consciousness, this naturally encourages an affectionate response from seniors. If in the presence of such willingness borne of humility, a senior fails to show affection, is this an abuse of some sort?
The answer is yes if the senior or leader has a “rajasic” motive other than a purely Krishna conscious one. And no, if the senior or leader wishes to, for example, emphasise something profound from a Krishna conscious perspective. Sometimes indifference is displayed due to sheer formality, lack of time and attention, and the “workplace-like” intimidation that arises now and again.
It happens sometimes that junior devotees are unsure of what to say to seniors, or what to talk about. Their acquired abilities to help Srila Prabhupada’s mission can be temporarily curtailed without affectionate encouragement. Then we have a situation where, at temple functions, the juniors talk among themselves and the seniors do likewise. This accentuates the junior and senior distance even more.
If this distance exists, and does not help to integrate both juniors and seniors in service for our mission, then the seniors must lead the way by encouraging conduct. The essential harmony is created when by and large, the juniors inquire from the seniors, and the seniors give affectionate guidance to the juniors. Any breach of this universal code is not an act of humility. Peaceful coexistence will not thrive.
For instance, junior or uninitiated devotees may wish to associate with a senior. They are aware that to inquire is to progress. Yet some natural shyness or humility inhibits their approach. This behaviour alone should allow the senior to affectionately put the junior at ease, and to open up with questions. This action makes the junior break down certain barriers. Next time the junior meets the same senior, there is a friendly encounter.
Imagine this happening on a large scale, with as many of our juniors developing friendship with the seniors? The “Sanatana Goswami factor” can make up where the institutional barriers do not. This is to say that friendship can exist on all levels without conceding natural junior and senior requirements.
Many of our very senior members of Iskcon remember how intimate and “free-flowing” Iskcon was in the early years, before it grew in size, so as to warrant large scale management. This “before and after” comparison need not be so pronounced.
Some or all of the corporate ideas of management may or may not work for us. So long as they do not create divisions. If it be remembered too, that these ideas are primarily people or workplace based – that do not acknowledge the power of humility – what matters is for devotees and seniors in particular, to bridge the divides or distances. Vaisnava dealings are different from corporate ones.
We are familiar with Srila Prabhupada’s peace formula based on the BG 5.29 verse. Yet there is another happiness formula, a very practical one, which if followed and encouraged on all levels of Iskcon involvement, will ensure real peaceful coexistence based on humility.
“Every man should act like this: when he meets a person more qualified than himself, he should be very pleased; when he meets someone less qualified than himself, he should be compassionate toward him; and when he meets someone equal to himself, he should make friendship with him. In this way one is never affected by the threefold miseries of this material world.” (Narada Muni to Dhruva, SB 4.8.34)
In any normal workplace little value is placed on humility, which is seen as grovelling feebleness. When the same is used within vaisnava circles, these become supports of spiritual strength and learning. Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to this verse: “These important functions will make one happy within this material world.” (SB 4.8.34) Can there be any happiness without peace?
Your servant, Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS