“We Should Discriminate More”
Does Srila Prabhupada expect us to apply critical thinking in such matters? He does. In a letter to Hamsaduta (1969), Srila Prabhupada wrote:
“Regarding your question about faith in devotees, faith must be there. But we should always take instruction from devotees who are considered to be elevated. A preacher’s position is like this: He should have firm faith and love for Krishna. He should make friendship with devotees. He should be very much charitable and kind to the neophytes and he should avoid the company of nondevotees. This program suggests, of course, that a devotee who is not in the neophyte stage can discriminate what is Krishna, what is devotee, what is neophyte and what is non-devotee. Unless one is able to discriminate, he is to be considered to be in the neophyte stage. In the neophyte stage the position is that the neophyte devotee worships the Deity in the temple with great awe and reverence, but he cannot discriminate who is devotee, who is non-devotee and who is neophyte. I think you must be in the second stage and should try to discriminate as above. Any devotee wanting to see you should be welcome, but your treatment should be according to his position.”
According to these guidelines, one who avoids discriminating is a neophyte. The neophyte cannot discriminate who is a devotee and who is a nondevotee. However, a devotee in the second stage, or aspiring to reach the second stage, “should try to discriminate as above.”
“. . .we should always take instructions from devotees who are considered to be elevated.”
However, this entails being able to tell who is an elevated devotee. It is not that we blindly accept as an article of faith, or by popular vote, that so and so is an elevated devotee. We are each supposed to develop our power of discrimination. Therefore, Prabhupada writes:
“This program suggests, of course, that a devotee who is not in the neophyte stage can discriminate what is Krishna, what is devotee, what is neophyte and what is non-devotee. Unless one is able to discriminate, he is to be considered to be in the neophyte stage.”
We should not remain neophytes. We should rise to the platform of discriminating.
However, we often hear that the advanced devotee “does not discriminate.”
Fact. However, this does not mean we become advanced by giving up our discrimination, although some of us assume that to be the case. Sometimes neophyte devotees, having heard that the advanced devotee does not discriminate, think that by discarding their discrimination, they will be automatically advanced. Srila Prabhupada did not teach this. He taught that until one develops the capacity to see everything as spiritual in relation with the Lord, one must discriminate.
Bhagavad-gita 1.8.27 Purport:
“The touchstone of Sanatana Gosvami, which was thrown in the rubbish, was not the property of the Gosvami, otherwise it would not have been kept in such a place. This specific example is given for the neophyte devotees just to convince them that material hankerings and spiritual advancement go ill together.
Unless one is able to see everything as spiritual in relation with the Supreme Lord, one must always distinguish between spirit and matter. A spiritual master like Srila Sanatana Gosvami, although personally able to see everything as spiritual, set this example for us only because we have no such spiritual vision.”
Here Srila Prabhupada put the point succinctly:
“Unless one is able to see everything as spiritual in relation with the Supreme Lord, one must always distinguish between spirit and matter.”
Even so it may still be argued that the preacher gives up this higher plane to remain in the preaching field. He therefore continues to discriminate to show example for those who have no spiritual vision, as shown by Srila Sanatana Gosvami in the above story.
Still on the topic of the discriminating prowess of the intermediate devotee.
In the Caitanya-caritamåta Madhya lila 16.72 Purport, Srila Prabhupada writes:
“An intermediate devotee can identify the nondevotee or motivated devotee. The motivated devotee or the nondevotee are on the material platform, and they are called prakrita. The intermediate devotee does not mix with such materialistic people.”
As preachers, we are supposed to function on the intermediate platform. According to the above quote, that confers on us the responsibility to identify the motivated devotee. One may say that “motivated devotee” refers only to the neophyte devotee, However, according to the earlier statement about jealous men in the dress of a Vaisnava, that is also a neophyte, strictly speaking. The fact that he may have wheedled himself up the administrative structure should not blind us to his true spiritual status. That is discrimination.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.19 Srila Prabhupada writes:
“A devotee is always in the mode of unalloyed goodness: therefore he harms no one. But the nondevotee, however educated he may be, is always harmful. A devotee is neither foolish or passionate. The harmful, foolish and passionate cannot be devotees of the Lord, however they may advertise themselves as devotees by outward dress.”
Statements praising the transcendental status of the devotee are throughout Prabhupada’s books. The way these sorts of statements are normally read is that one who is a member of ISKCON is “a devotee”, hence he or she must be in unalloyed goodness.
The correct understanding, however, is that a devotee is one who has the symptoms of being in unalloyed goodness.
The conclusion is that we must take responsibility for discriminating so we can benefit from the warnings that Prabhupada has given us. This responsibility falls on all devotees’ shoulders because we are all responsible for the legacy of Srila Prabhupada. However, it is a fact that the greater burden of this responsibility is on the shoulders of those who have positions of leadership. They have to heed these warnings ,and fully understand them and discriminate accordingly, so they can preserve the integrity of Srila Prabhupada’s mission. The question we have to consider is whether this is being done.
FOOT & NOTES:
 Sanatana Gosvami—one of the Six Gosvamis s of Vrindavana who was authorized by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to establish and distribute the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. He was the older brother of Rupa Gosvami and was accepted by Rupa Gosvami as his spiritual master. He and Rüpa Gosvämé were both ministers in the Mohammedan court in Gauòa, but renounced everything for the service of Lord Caitanya. The two brothers were ordered by Çré Caitanya to write books establishing the philosophy of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and to excavate the holy places in Vrindavana.