Are all of Srila Prabhupada’s relative quotes and observations absolute? If perhaps, some of these opinions do not match up precisely to observable reality, would that compromise his status as a perfect pure devotee? Or are our expectations of this perfection distorted to suit our dogma?
The fast pace of access to information on the web and Vedabase has enabled us to proliferate Srila Prabhupada quotes so much, that devotees have to be circumspect when applying absoluteness to any point of view, backed by Srila Prabhupada – there are often variations and disputations to them. Yet each Prabhupada attributed quote or instruction has validity for time and circumstance.

Mature experienced devotees can understand and expect such mutables to occur. These usually happen in areas of Srila Prabhupada’s specific or detailed instructions being taken as general, or with his relative observations that vary with “endlessly mutable” circumstances. Dogmatic immaturity can summon the heresy objection when confronted with such variables, especially if one rested one’s reputation upon them in the form of dissertate premises.

For instance, some Prabhupada disciples do not necessarily agree that a woman’s brain is half the size as a man’s brain. They may reason that Victorian-era college professors at Scottish Church College might have taught such observations. They also say that modern anatomical evidence disputes such brain size disparities. (Scientists generally say the female brain is slightly smaller, not half-size, and brain sections vary to suit male/female proclivity)

In spite of not accepting Srila Prabhupada’s relative observations on brain size, such disciples consider themselves as exclusively dedicated to their perfect spiritual master. Will others dispute this? Is this an example of heresy? Is this apparently trivial difference a display of mega-loss of faith?

Does perfection in a spiritual master mean he has to be literally perfect (savior-faire) when passing comment or judgement on each mutable situation? For us followers of Srila Prabhupada, do such observations on grey matter, and our all-out acceptance or understanding rejection of it mean the difference between going Back To Godhead or not? Does it signify our fallen or not-fallen status as followers?

What if we study Srila Prabhupada’s conversations and recordings where he interacted with his disciples and observe how practical he was? How many times did His Divine Grace change his plans and rested his judgements based om information or feedback given from his disciples? Was he not agreeably pliable in these situations? Does he come across as being inflexible and fanatically immovable on every stance? No, he was not.

Being an intelligent and practical disciple of his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur who made practical merciful changes to make Krishna consciousness easier for us, he demonstrated how we should not fanatically misrepresent himself. Being practical meant he was amenable to change where needed.

These practicalities are different from his and our application of truth as revealed to those who have implicit faith in the spiritual master. This is an area where truth remains as it is, yet applied according to receptivity, and which causes usual contention. Nonetheless, such eternal truths are the real substance.

For example, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says this is a Vaisnava: “One who chants the name of Krsna even once is Vaisnava (possessed of vaisnava qualities). Therefore, you should show all respect to him.” (CC Madhya-lila 15.111)

We may take this to mean that anyone who chants the holy name just once is a Vaisnava, even though such fortunate individuals immediately go back to their sinful ways. Then, are they still considered Vaisnavas? Because Vaisnavas do not commit sinful activities, at least not intentionally.

So what is Lord Chaitanya referring to? Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur will say that the Lord is referring to those who chant the holy name in pure, offence-less suddha-nama – they are actually Vaisnavas. In other ways, this may lead us to think that most devotees are aspiring Vaisnavas and so can be subjected to criticism and fault-finding without reaction. But this is another topic.

The principle here is that an absolute truth in identifying a Vaisnava is revealed. This may be subjected to further discussion and analysis. In a similar way, our implicit faith in Guru and Sastra can reveal the essence or import of truth. How we develop this implicit faith, in this case in Srila Prabhupada, is cause for confusion when relative issues are raised.

The question can be raised again as to whether our acceptance of the half-brain conviction, even though anatomical evidence shows otherwise, must count as implicit faith in guru in order to progress spiritually. Can one not share this half-brain observation but still have implicit faith in guru and Sastra?

Does having implicit faith in one’s spiritual master mean believing in every relative observation made by him? Is this half-brain reference to be taken as the truth he has seen (BG 4.34)? Or is it a by-product of Victorian social acceptance?

Now we are approaching “seen” truth, and this has to be transmitted by word. Is it not of maximum importance that our implicit faith be focused on – divya-jnana – emanating from the lotus lips of a perfect spiritual master? Does not Srila Prabhupada remain perfect in spite of relative ‘inconsistencies’ forever bound to happen within “endlessly mutable” material nature? Of course he does.

His perfection is in following the previous perfect acaryas. His perfection lay in transmitting transcendental truths by word and deed. His perfection is self-evident by dint of his very being. But realistically speaking we do not expect any spiritual master to know everything about human physiology, deep sea vents and the latest in IT.

If we choose to use information that stands to be corrected and tout it as absolute none-negotiable truth, it may feel as if it is our defence against Maya and ignorant ‘fools,’ but we could be doing Srila Prabhupada injustice and bring ill-repute for him – yes even quoting his own quotes to unreceptive audiences and so on.

When implicit faith is not firmly established (kanistha), a tendency to show-off one’s depth of faith (lack of it) is energetically espoused. It is natural self-defence. Any opposition to this is vehemently decried as heresy and more. The ability to reason is limited due to fanaticism.

On occasion Srila Prabhupada would say he was blindly following his Guru Maharaja. Here is an immense difference in application of this sentiment, for we have a perfect disciple following a perfect master. Where self-evident perfection exists we can happily follow “blindly.” But one has to have the seeing eyes of truth first.

Our imposition of “blind” following will likely be accompanied by motivations and impure conceptions of Krishna consciousness. This is especially true because the Vani of Srila Prabhupada means so many things to so many people. Now we can understand how anybody can use such Vani to suit their own desires and ends.

It might seem to be a paradox, but when one’s faith has deepened and one is preaching to various levels of receptivity, and is conscious of presenting Srila Prabhupada’s relative and absolute teachings with care, it is a sign of seeing through the spiritual master as it were – Krishna conscious truth-telling is adaptable and practical, just as Srila Prabhupada was.

By correctly associating with devotees who possess – vijnana – and who can properly discriminate false-blind from blind, and fanaticism from implicit faith, we can develop our proper sense of position and balance. From this base we can fully appreciate perfection as seen and spoken by perfectly pure Vaisnavas.

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  • Ramesvara dasa

    Dear Prabhus,
    Hare Krsna. Pamho. AGTSP!
    Perhaps the author thinks that Krsna only spoke to Srila Prabhupada when he was speaking or writing his “absolute teachings” and that Krsna was suddenly silent or that Stila Prabhupada was not fully in touch with Krsna when he spoke or wrote his “relative teachings”. Sorry, but that type of dualism doesn’t apply to Srila Prabhupada, and to think it does can easily lead down a path where you inevitably think that Srila Prabhupada made “mistakes”. I have heard devotees speak who, especially due to contamination from the teachings of materialistic scholars, historians and scientists, have fallen into this grave offense. No thank you.
    Your aspiring servant,
    Ramesvara dasa

  • https://www.facebook.com/priyavrata.das.1 Priyavrata Das

    Please also remember that “observable reality”, if you are talking about what you observe with your physical senses, is NOT reality. And 90% of Prabhupadas teachings are about exactly that: Do not be bewildered by the world of maya but rather focus on Krishna and the actual reality. “Absolute truth” does not mean to give correct, perfect information about every phenomenon in this world of maya (how could you? – everything here is changeable, impermanent and illusory). “Absolute truth” refers to Krishna, as the truth whom all other truths are relative to.

    Neophytes on the spiritual path may still be accustomed to think that this world of the senses is real and anything beyond it is something that maybe exists or maybe not. For them transcendental knowledge is a matter of faith in the words of their teacher, scriptures etc. Thus they still feel a need to use the material realm as a reference for what is real or not, true and not. If the guru gives some information about the physical world that appears empirically incorrect, such a neophyte loses faith. But Prabhupada was not terribly concerned with getting physical facts correct. He focused on the real world, the real thing. His knowledge is about the absolute reality, and therefore it is absolute knowledge.