Leadership discussion with Sita-pati Prabhu

I have a friend called Sita-pati Prabhu. He is a devotee who lives in Brisbane, Australia, about an hour and a half from me. Here is a link to his blog. He is engaging in some dialogue with me on the subject of leadership. In his last post on the subject he wrote:

" I welcome the opportunity to engage in dialog on this subject, because, as Kaviraja Goswami tells us in his Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, one should not avoid controversial topics, for they strengthen the mind. They also allow robust discussion of a subject to reveal additional insights, or hidden flaws."

 That's why I'm interested. Let's take it apart and look at its components. I've already learned a great deal on the subject.

" Plus, Ekendra is a Texan, and he's into smackdown philosophy (I've got my white flag ready in case I need it). 🙂 "

This isn't entirely true. I do like to leave a discussion with something productive to show for it. But rather than present myself as a 'smacker' and relegating someone else as the 'smackee' I just like to present alternate ways of looking at the subject. This is why, until now, I've just tried to write stand-alone articles that make general points with sparse incriminating specifics. Sita-pati presents his angle of vision, and I throw up mine. To me its like watching a fireworks display. Not that one idea completely gobbles up the other and renders its subtle merits invalid.  

Sita-pati Prabhu writes: 

" I think it's a fallacy to equate "not chanting Hare Krishna" with impersonalism. …. I'd love to see some specific examples that illustrate your point, and make it more concrete and applicable. Really, who are you talking about here? "
I could just as well be talking about myself here as I understand this as a tenet of Mahaprabhu's teachings. Here is the main pramanas upon which I base this outlook:
 
 Bhagavad-gita 18.61
īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ
hṛd-deśe 'rjuna tiṣṭhati
bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni
yantrārūḍhāni māyayā

 

TRANSLATION

The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.

So here is given the idea that this material energy is mechanistic. "As on a machine made of the material energy" implies impersonalism. The personalism in this verse is regarding the Supersoul where in the next verse Krishna advises Arjuna to "surrender unto Him utterly". This is all leading up the summum bonum "sarva-dharman parityajya".
 
This same concept is evidenced by 7.14:
 
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāṁ taranti te

TRANSLATION

This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.
 The entire purport to this verse is, I feel, very relevant to this discussion.
" Another meaning of guṇa is rope; it is to be understood that the conditioned soul is tightly tied by the ropes of illusion. A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself — he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated. "
My basic point being that unless there is yoga between the jiva and the Supreme Lord then the jiva's activites and theories on life, leadership or anything else are directed by mechanistic material energy. They are not personal in the ultimate transcendent sense although certainly there are countless variations of material personality based on combination of the modes of nature. But such self-centered manifestations of 'personalism' are temporary expressions of a underlying false identity – "I am this temporary body".
 
This is the impersonalism I refer  to when I make the claim that not chanting Hare Krishna is tantamount to impersonalism. I think the argument holds on a theoretical level. Practically speaking and according to varnasrama – its important that we understand and engage our conditioned nature in such a way that we will be gradually elevated by our activities. No argument there. 
 
 Is the sankirtana movement a material organization? 
 
 
 

Disagreement: "We have all the answers, and don't need any input from others"

A second paragraph from the post:

The question then arises whether or not such theories on leadership and social organization are of much value to devotees when we have an abundance of not only effective but spiritually empowered leadership examples within our own tradition.

Again, no supporting or illustrative examples.

The reason I ended up stumbling across all this nectar of leadership material outside ISKCON is precisely because we don't have it. Not for ourselves, and certainly not to establish leadership in this arena in the outside world. Apart from H.H. Bhakti Tirtha Swami's book, the only other thing I could find was a temple manager's manual written by Harikesa Swami, where he advised sending sick devotees home because they were "a drain on temple resources". Needless to say that one didn't stay on my shelf. He may be chanting Hare Krishna, and I offer all respect to him, but I'm sorry – you don't use people up and then just throw them away when they become a burden. (Although, yes, unfortunately we have an abundance of examples of this within our own tradition).

Again, I'd be interested in specific examples of what you're talking about here. I think that books should be written to show the value of what we have (maybe something that synthesizes modern leadership insights and elements of our tradition, like Bhagavad-gita), but I think a lot of work needs to be done in this area; and we have to be able to recognize the value of others' contributions.

Some Examples of Valuable Input

Without doubt many of the principles that underpin leadership have been explained by theistic personalists outside the Vaisnava tradition, such as Dr John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Bill Hybels. Additionally, Ira Chaleff has explained principles that echo the explanations of Sri Narahari Sarkar's Sri Krishna Bhajanamrita, using modern language, in his book "The Courageous Follower". I personally feel that this book, along with Srila B.R. Sridhar Swami's "Sri Guru and His Grace", is a good antidote to Guru-tattva misconception.

Srila B.R. Sridhar Swami chants Hare Krishna, too.

Obligatory Dalai Lama Mashup de jour

I haven't read anything by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Leadership, so I don't know what his take is. One thing that we both appreciate is that the Dalai Lama is straight up, and does not try to present himself in as an authority in areas where he doesn't know what he's talking about, such as the soul and God in his case.

However, Canakya Pandit advises that we take wise instruction even from a fool, so again, we'd need actual examples of specific teachings that we can compare with our other sources of pramana. We are not fanatics. We recognize truth wherever it appears, and we'll take assistance from wherever we can get it. With careful discrimination, obviously. So we have to keep it real, and keep it personal. As you say, everything should be weighed on its particular merits. So let's stay with concrete examples, as we pray to the Deities.

Conclusion: The Perfection of Renunciation

Ultimately, "leadership" in a general abstract sense is not our special contribution to society. We do not have a special monopoly on it. A specific type or direction of leadership, on the other hand, we can offer: the Krishna conception is our unique property. Others have access to the same level of organizational leadership knowledge and realization that we do. Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis did not write on this topic, they wrote on the topic of Krishna, and of individual sadhana-bhakti. This gives us information on ultimately where to lead people, but not how, in an organizational sense.

So we can get leadership information from elsewhere, just like we can get information on car mechanics, and other sub-transcendental topics. It should be cross-referenced with available Vedic material, guidance, and personal experience. And then we use it, just like we use microphones and computers, to broadcast Krishna's glories.


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