In Devotees We Trust
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
There is a lot of emphasis nowadays on the need for love and trust among devotees. We can cite the six loving exchanges between us. We can also use the strength of the often quoted, “your love for me will be shown by how you cooperate.” In spite of our efforts to promote this ideal, can we ever expect a situation where love and trust dominates in all of our devotee interactions?
Are we too big as an organisation to assume that this will happen? Can each of us get by simply by being polite to each other, and at least like one another? Does our respectful observance of behaviour in relation to senior and junior devotees inhibit such love? When many of us remain distant from one another, does it make it harder to earn such trust?
We know it can take years to develop trust in devotees, and just a few seconds to shatter it. Within Iskcon, our trust is not always earned after years of observation, but through word of mouth. If a “reliable” devotee says that such and such Prabhu or Mataji is fit to be loved and trusted, then our faithful hearing will accept this quite quickly. How many times has such reliable testimony been severely tested, or shattered altogether?
Over the years, many Iskcon members have had their faith or trust in trustworthy devotees shattered at one time or another. Unfortunately, this has led to different kinds of responses. Some of these responses were extreme or none bona-fide and others were to give up spiritual life completely, or to keep a hostile stance of total mistrust for Iskcon. Can such shattered trust ever be repaired for these types of “hurt” individuals? Alternatively, will they never be convinced again of any restoration of trust?
The build-up of trust is sometimes compared to an ornate vase. Once it has broken, it can be put back together, but it will never be the same again. Will whatever Iskcon does, ever be the same again for those of broken trust? Then perhaps the frequently used saying of Srila Prabhupada, “Trust no future however pleasant,” has some validity both on material and spiritual organisational levels. The fact is, there can be no indiscriminate or total blanket earning of trust. It is not practical, even within a burgeoning spiritual organisation like Iskcon.
Just imagine if we have an idealistic devotee who says that he loves and trusts every other devotee around him, when suddenly he is asked to hand over his life savings for “good” causes to some unknown devotee, could we expect a non-conditional handover? This is especially pertinent if a wise person says, “Where large sums of money is concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.” Is this also true for our devotees?
Then we have to see how trust works in different ways. Srila Prabhupada cited BG 18.66 as Lord Krishna’s request to trust Him by fully surrendering unto to Him. How many of us have implicit trust in the Lord, that in our surrender, there are going to be severe challenges to our own faith and trust, even in fellow devotees? Furthermore, shouldn’t we, as aspiring vaisnavas, at least be grateful, when each time trust-shattering events “hurt” us, that they are measures of trust given to us by the Lord Himself? Aren’t these all merciful type of education?
Isn’t it true that if Lord Krishna trusts us, He’ll give us “hurts” and “unpleasant” reminders of our rebellion away from Him? Didn’t Queen Kunti pray to be trusted in this way because it enhanced her remembrance of Lord Krishna? Will Krishna give us too much to handle? It is a sad fact that we want to be trusted by Krishna, and when He does trust us, we react against His trust by blaming everybody else but ourselves, and Iskcon often withstands the worst of this. It is a peculiar quirk of philosophy to assume we should expect trust on our own terms, as far as Krishna is concerned. It is true to say that whenever we receive great mercy from Krishna or His pure devotees, that they trust us that much.
Mother Teresa used to say, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle, I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” If we do not want to be trusted by the Lord, then our spiritual progress will slacken. It takes faith and trust to relate all of this to whatever happens to us individually as we spend our days mixing with different types of devotees. After all, the devotees steer and shape Iskcon.
There is no denying that we put ourselves into a vulnerable position by absolutely trusting in certain devotees to take us home, back to Godhead. Again, this vulnerability is a symptom of surrender, for when we feel humble this way, it allows the blessings to come our way. It is a safe position to be. When our mistrust prevents such a mood, there is another reason why spiritual progress retreats. For this vulnerable dependence to develop properly, our ability to trust needs to be more thorough. Simply accepting devotees’ opinions about other trusted vaisnavas may or may not be true.
We usually find that where groups of likeminded devotees mix together, and perform services for our mission together, often successfully, that their trust in each other is greater than for those outside of it. This is natural. When devotees feel trusted they also feel empowered to do well in service. That is why it is useful to encourage groupings like this, so long as fidelity and due protocols are followed. This is a way of harnessing an otherwise impractical attempt for total blanket trust in every devotee.
Those who retain a strong mistrust in general cannot be happy. Here is a dilemma for them: “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” With this choice open to us, we can at least trust in those who share our common Iskcon goals and outlook. If we mistrust Iskcon and every devotee within, then how can we ourselves ever be trusted? In addition, anyone who is not trusted cannot be educated either.
To an untrustworthy person Krishna is hesitant to educate through “hurts” and other apparent setbacks, and the blessings and wisdom of the vaisnavas will mean little. Their words will just sound like plastic chimes. Within this world of hard-earned trust, it is not so easy to earn it, except through reputation and the suspect words of others.
When atheism is in vogue and impersonalism drags humanity into a mechanised industrial existence, it is much harder still to find trustworthy representatives of bona-fide spirituality. Could it be that sometimes we as devotees strive to be loved by everyone rather than to be trusted when we preach? With spiritual trust in short supply, it will be a far greater compliment for Srila Prabhupada and us if we were more trusted than loved right now.
Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS