“Dedication to Reality Naturally Leads to Constant Self-Examination”
The topic of this chapter is another vital principle to growth of both the dynamic individual, and the dynamic institution. On this point, the author of The Road Less Traveled has written lucidly. Who can argue with the wisdom of what he says, when he points out that dedication to reality naturally leads to constant self-examination:
“What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination. We know the world only through our relationship with it. Therefore, to know the world, we must not only examine it but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.”
He is talking about what the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, referred to as sharpening the saw, or what Srila Prabhupada referred to as boiling the milk. This dynamic should happen on both the individual and group level.
One of the things Bhakti Caru Swami stressed in his VIHE course on Vaisnava etiquette, was that a Vaisnava is very strict with himself. He is always watching himself very scrutinizingly, detecting all the defects he has in himself. Subsequently, a Vaisnava does not defend himself from criticism, even if it is ill-intended. This echoes to some degree what Mr. Peck is saying.
Preachers are especially obligated to examine the world, to discriminate; but they must also examine the examiner. And the preaching institution must examine itself. Rigorous, critical self-scrutiny is vital for the institution to develop in a strong, healthy manner.
It is a cultural phenomenon that such practice on the individual level is not “held in high regard, as Peck explains:
“There are many, psychiatrists among them, who stringently examine the world but, not so stringently examine themselves. They may be competent individuals as the world judges’ competence, but they are never wise. The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action. In the past, in American culture, contemplation has not been held in high regard.”
The contemplative individual is labeled a navel-gazer. And the same applies for ISKCON, if one wants to be contemplative he may be labeled “armchair philosopher” or “self-indulgent.” There is a reason for this aversion for the contemplative life:
“Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within, and it is certainly because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the majority steer away from it. Yet when one is dedicated to the truth this pain seems relatively unimportant–and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful) the further one proceeds on the path of self-examination.”
Peck is talking about happiness in sattva guna. He is saying that the life of self-examination, whether we take it individually or organizationally, is poison in the beginning, but it becomes nectar in the end. As another element to the process of problem-solving, dedication to the truth and self-eamination entail a willingness to be challenged:
“A life of total dedication to the truth, also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way we can be certain that our map of reality is valid, is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise, we live in a closed system–within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy, rebreathing only our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusion. Yet, because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality, we mostly seek to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity. To our children we say, ‘Do not talk back to me, I’m your parent’. To our spouse we give the message, ‘Let’s live and let live. If you criticize me, I’ll be a bitch to live with.’”
Hey, hey, hey, we do the same thing in ISKCON:
“I am a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, do not question me.”
“I’m a GBC, if you criticize me, I’ll make sure you never get sannyasa or guru.” (Another negative symptom: emotional blackmail.)
“I’m a guru (or ‘I had a lot of association with Srila Prabhupada’), and even though you are my godbrother, my understanding of Krishna consciousness takes precedence over yours. No discussion is necessary.”
“We may discuss, but in the end you’d better agree with me or you are offensive.”
And of course, there is always the big favorite,
“What have you done for Prabhupada?”
There are many examples but Mr. Peck sums it up conclusively:
“The tendency to avoid challenge is so omnipresent in human beings that it can properly be considered a characteristic of human nature. But calling it natural does not mean it is essential or beneficial or unchangeable behavior. It is also natural to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth. Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until the unnatural become itself second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural.”