Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Making a "Case" for the Reconstitution of Srila Prabhupada's "Mission"
Rasing Our Spiritual Standards

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Chapter 2
Responsibility

Part 2

There is Another Aspect to Sidestepping Responsibility

There is another aspect to this sidestepping responsibility. It is not unusual to find that our philosophy, with its stress on authority, surrender, and so on, is used to justify the practice of shifting the burden of the solution to those below. One may favor no solution, or a flimsy one, by shifting the responsibility “down below” and “then blaming one’s subordinates” for “not surrendering fully,” when the problem is not adequately solved. And the ones down below, being confused about the philosophy, will often accept this misplaced blame out of fear of authority. This dynamic is discussed in Chapter Seven.

Ultimately this tendency to grin and bear with the injustice of misplaced blame, is motivated by our animal need to remain part of the herd. We dread isolation from the group. Conformity is thus more desirable than truth, than a solution, than growth. This is the very reason that authoritarian leaders can succeed in bending others to their will;  because some people want to escape from freedom. They want to escape from the responsibility of facing their problems. Thus, they are only too happy to confer that burden to someone else. Hence a neophyte devotee utters with relief,

“I am so lucky to have a bona fide guru, now I do not have to think.”

Such persons become eligible to be exploited by authoritarian types who are happy to assume responsibility to think for them. This escape from freedom is the very reason the citizens of Germany fell prey to the Nazi ideology. It is the reason there are blind followers in the world.

Willingness to take responsibility for one’s problem-solving is central to the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Unless one is fully aware of this, however, it can appear that the philosophy teaches the opposite lesson; that you are not the doer and accepting responsibility is a manifestation of false egoism. It can be an elusive point for those who are convinced that our philosophy teaches that as minute jivas, our only business is to depend on Krishna. If I am striving to depend on Krishna, how can I be taking responsibility for solving my problems? Am I not going against the principle of utter dependence on the Lord’s mercy? It does seem to cast me back in the role of being the doer.  In Bhagavad-gita the Lord flatly states that anyone who thinks himself the doer is a fool; he is overcome by ahankara, false ego.

Bhagavad-gita 3.27,

“The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.”

So, the living entity is not the doer. But in the very next chapter, Bhagavad-gita 4.13,

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.”

 The Lord says that He is not the doer either. He is not responsible, therefore, for the punishment and reward of the living entities. So, who is responsible? 

Going back to 3.27, we find that the Lord says that the activities of the non-doing living entities are actually carried out by the three gunas. Prakrit kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah. But the gunas are not conscious persons; they are qualities. So how can they be the doer?

These very questions were raised by Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana in his commentary on Bhagavad-gita. The answer is that the living entity is not the doer, but he is desiring; and according to his desires the Lord accommodates him. Man proposes and God disposes. So, the doer is, in one sense, the living being, because his desire is the basis of action. But the living entity is not the only doer. When he thinks himself the only doer then he is vimudha, foolish, bewildered. But if the living entity is not the doer at all, then, as Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana points out, the sastric injunctions become useless; because how can the non-doing jiva be responsible to follow them? Therefore, in Bhagavad-gita (18.14), which describes the five factors of action, the living entity is called karta, the doer.

Bhagavad-gita 18.14,

“The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul—these re the five factors of action.”

But the ultimate factor is Supersoul, because He executes the will of the living being: eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman.

Thus the living entity is responsible. The acaryas explain that Krishna wants the living entity to accept squarely the responsibility for his progress or regress in life. This alone will maximize his problem-solving skills and his resolve to become vyavasayatmika buddhi, a person of focused intelligence. The sadhaka is responsible for achieving this stage of one-pointed intelligence.

By contrast, a soft understanding of the philosophy will deflect responsibility away from oneself by invoking total dependence on Krishna, to the preclusion of sharpening one’s intelligence and problem-solving skills. But if the living entity is not responsible, is not the doer, then why must we suffer or enjoy the results of our actions? Why are there karmic rewards and punishments? As Baladeva Vidyabhusana points out, why would the Vedas enjoin various courses of sacrifices and activities for getting specific results?

The living entity has free will and is the doer, but not the only doer. But since without his desires there would be no action at all, he is the initiator-doer, and therefore responsible for all his deeds, and for solving his problems.

Taking responsibility means making a firm resolve to understand the process of devotional service, and apply it with determination. Responsibility also means that if I somehow get off the path, my commitment will cause me to come back. That is the meaning of the vyavasayatmika buddhi verse. This verse does not mean that one will never have a setback in spiritual life; it means that no matter how many problems I may have, I am determined. I have taken responsibility to see this thing through. My mind is made up. My resolve is fixed. Nothing can deter me. My knees may bend, but not my will

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