Take a precursory look at the news and it is obvious that we live in a world of discord. War, religious strife, terrorism, racism, social upheaval and discrimination are everyday events and have been since time immemorial. Whenever any of the above scenarios rear their ugly heads, it is not long before a chorus of voices cries out for peace and harmony.
Even in the Vaisnava world today we hear calls for harmony. Due to various reasons, the devotee community is divided into many, many missions – some small, some large, some popular, some not so well known, some with one acarya, some with many. Amongst these various groups there are some devotees who desire to bring all these institutions together under one umbrella in order to work harmoniously to spread Krsna consciousness. At first glance such an idea seems very noble and laudable – but what is their concept of harmony?
WHAT IS HARMONY?
Etymologically, the English word ‘harmony’ is derived from the Greek word harmonia, meaning ‘to join’. Similarly, in Sanskrit the word for harmony, samanvaya, also means ‘to join’. Samanvaya can be broken down into two words – sam +anvaya. Sam means ‘to join together’ and anvayah means ‘to put things in an order.’ Another Sanskrit word that is frequently used to denote harmony is samarasa, Samarasa literally means, ‘to have the same taste’. Although samanvaya and samarasa may seem to be the same, they are not. Samanvaya means to join together in order to methodically engage in a common pursuit. Samarasa implies something of a non-discriminatory nature and carries with it the connotation of accepting all points of view without discrimination.
Harmony/samanvaya does not infer that one must abandon all discrimination. Yet some advocates of harmonious Vaisnava dealings are prepared to throw discrimination to the four winds and ignore all philosophical divergences, only emphasizing the external aspects of Krsna consciousness that are common to all. That is not samanvaya – that is samarasa.
Real harmony does not lie in homogenizing everything based upon the common traits shared by all denominations of Vaisnavas. Real harmony does not mean picnicking together or having a few bhajanas in the name of inter-Vaisnava relations. To engage solely in these activities is not real harmony. Real harmony lies in cultivating the correct understanding of Vaisnava siddhanta. This was the reason why Sri Jiva Gosvami originally established the Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha at the Radha-Damodara temple in Vrndavana.
Sri Jiva attracted the most advanced souls of that time through the teachings of Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada. Radha-Damodara Temple was not a playground for misconceptions and superficial pleasantries amongst divided dysfunctional groups of devotees. The Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha was an assembly of exemplary devotees who taught according to the Sat-Sandarbhas of Sri Jiva and the bhakti-sastras of Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana.
In 1936, on the disappearance day of Thakura Bhaktivinoda, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada explained that the purpose of the Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha was to spread the message of the bhaktivinoda-dhara (the philosophical line of Bhaktivinoda):
"The only way is through the bhaktivinoda-dhara. The bhaktivinoda-dhara must be kept alive by the kirtana of srauta-vani (the instructions of the scriptures and acaryas). If kirtana of the truth is stopped, then we will be severed from the bhaktivinoda-dhara."
When Sarasvati Thakura reestablished the Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha in 1919, he did not extend an open invitation to all groups of Vaisnavas. The Sabha did not include Vaisnavas of different sampradayas, nor did it include those who were opposed to the teachings of Sri Caitanya, Mayavadis, Sahajiyas and other such aparadhis. The Sabha only consisted of his own disciples and followers. This was because the various Vaisnava societies at that time were permeated with apa-siddhanta and did not represent the pure ideals of Bhaktivinoda and the Visva Vaisnava Raja Sabha.
However, today the situation is very different and much more complex. Many philosophical misconceptions have become deep-rooted and widespread within some of the branches of our very own parampara. Therefore the need of the hour is not to see how many Vaisnava groups we can get together under one roof – the real necessity is to try to propagate the concepts of Bhaktivinoda and Sarasvati Thakura within our very own line.
Such words may not be palatable to hear, but we are not advocates of satyam bruyat priyam bruyat (speak the truth, but only speak it when it is palatable). This maxim is for those that are worldly, not for those that speak the absolute truth.
"According to social conventions, if you want to speak truth, you must limit yourself to truths that are palatable and flattering. Don't speak unpalatable truths. But we are not meant to merely follow social conventions. We are preachers and servants of God." (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada, Bombay, January 3rd 1977)
Rather, we should speak plainly. As Canakya Pandita says, spasta-vakta na vanchakah (one who speaks plainly is not a deceiver). Srila Sarasvati Thakura has clearly explained that a loyal servant of the truth must speak plainly, even if his words create controversy:
"The truth (satya) is propagated in a twofold way – positively or by the method of direct support and negatively by the method of opposition. The truth cannot be made sufficiently known by the positive method alone. The positive method by itself is not the most effective mode of propaganda in a controversial age like the present. The negative method which seeks to differentiate the truth from non-truth in all its forms, is even better calculated to convey the directly inconceivable significance of the Absolute. It is a necessity which cannot be conscientiously avoided by the dedicated preacher of the truth if he wants to be a loyal servant of Godhead. The method is sure to create an atmosphere of controversy in which it is quite easy to lose one’s balance of judgment. But the ways of the deluding energy are so intricate that unless their mischievous nature is fully exposed it is not possible for the soul in the conditioned state to avoid the snares spread by the enchantress for encompassing the ruin of her only too willing victims. It is a duty which shall be sacred to all who have been enabled to obtain even a distant glimpse of the Absolute." (The Harmonist, Vol. 29)
THE NECESSITY FOR DIVERSITY
Some years ago, our Guru Maharaja was asked the question, “How can we unite all the Vaisnavas?” His reply was thus:
"I am not for the Unitarian Krsna Conscious Church – I am for the church of variagatedness and difference. Based on that, I choose my association. I think that variagatedness breeds a very strong and healthy spiritual environment. We are not followers of the ‘Rodney King philosophy’ – there was a man in America called Rodney King who was beaten up and then there was a riot in Los Angeles. So he went on TV and said, “Can’t we all just get along?” Well the answer is, “No Rodney, we can’t!” We can’t because there are differences. Everyone is not the same; therefore we can’t all live the same. Why isn’t everyone wearing sannyasa-vesa? Because everyone can’t do it. Or why is it that everyone isn’t a brahmacari? Why doesn’t everybody become a householder? Because it is not ‘one thing for everybody’. There doesn’t have to be hatred in diversity. There should be harmony and appreciation – but there is diversity and we can’t erase that. There’s life in diversity. "(Hungary, August 2nd 2006)
Diversity is at the very heart of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and that diversity is called rasa. Within the spiritual realm there is unity and diversity – all the denizens there are united in pleasing the transcendental senses of Govinda, but in order to fulfill that, diversity is a prerequisite. There are diverse rasas and within each rasa there are divisions, sub-divisions and sub-sub-divisions. By nature, each division is diverse, but all divisions share the common goal of serving Sri Sri Radha-Krsna. In this regard Srila Sridhara Maharaja says:
"Yasoda is always afraid of Devaki and Vasudeva: “What? They’ll come and claim our child as their own? How can that be?” And Radharani’s camp thinks that Candravali’s group are anti-parties. So in all rasas there is harmony in discord. It is the necessity of the nature of lila. Bifurcation. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Synthesis means there are many antitheses. Harmony means many. Plurality must be there. In the Upanisads it is said that, neha nanasti kincana – “There is no plurality.” But this means no nana – not many, in the sense that all are harmonized into one common interest. ‘Not many’ means not many different independent interests, but rather that are all meeting for a common cause."
FIGHTING IS LIFE!
In order to achieve real harmony, fighting against misconception is necessary. Yet some devotees will shun any type of philosophical discussion in the name of retaining harmony. The kanistha-adhikari will shun any type of controversy, thinking that such talks will create obstacles to their spiritual advancement. This mentality goes against the advice of Srila Kaviraja Gosvami:
siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa
iha haite krsne lage sudrdha manasa
Do not be lazy in your mind when it comes to discussing siddhanta. Through such discussions, your mind becomes firmly fixed upon Krsna. (Cc. Adi 2.117)
Srila Sridhara Maharaja was once approached by a despondent devotee who lamented that he could not understand why there were so many differences between different Vaisnava groups. Why couldn’t “they all just get along?” Srila Sridhara Maharaja responded:
"So many things are to be understood. Krsna is the cause of Kuruksetra fighting, do you know that? In His presence the whole Yadu-vamsa was finished and He was a sightseer. What is that? Can you understand this? How can you adjust? What is the difference between Krsna and Balarama? Why does Balarama side with Duryodhana and Krsna sides with the Pandavas? Why? They are almost one and the same! What is your answer? All is bogus?
Fighting is life! Fighting is life! I must turn and preach this. Until and unless I can change my understanding, Physical oneness is not one. To maintain physical peace is lack of vitality. We must be true to our own understanding. You want to crush everything – jumble everything together into one mass. But that is all stone, fossilized. Do you want to see a fossilized unity? What is the conception of harmony? Harmony means independent thinking.
There are different rasas – Krsna is not representing only one feature. He is of infinite features to accommodate infinite possibilities. That is Akhila-rasamrta-murti – there are different groups and in the same group there are so many different arrangements. Radharani and Candravali are fighting – two camps fighting to satisfy Him. We have to understand how it is possible. With humility we have to try to follow how it is possible. The opposition party is there in the parliament to enhance the work of the main party. In this way direct and indirect makes everything complete. And if that is distributed everywhere, then there will be no difficulty to understand the differences there.
Sankara and Buddha preferred that the ultimate goal is undifferentiated, unknown and unknowable. All harmonized into death. That is brahma-nirvana or prakrti-nirvana. Their brain went so far, but the final piece – no differentiation, no trouble – all bathed in eternal slumber. If you prefer, you can follow that school. (Navadvipa, 28th May 1983)
We are not opposed to harmony, but harmony must be understood in the right context and not as an external show of saccharine smiles, hugs and honeyed words. Let the Vaisnavas be diverse in their approaches to preaching and let them be united in siddhanta. If devotees truly desire real unity and harmony, this can only be achieved through following bhaktisiddhanta-vani.
"Variety meets unity in different planes of movement. That is harmony. This applies everywhere, including the plane of color and the plane of sound. Many branches meet together in the trunk of a tree, the trunk harmonizes the many leaves, this is the movement of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. We must see a common master, and work around the will of that master or conductor." (Srila Sridhara Maharaja)
As members of the sarasvata-parampara, the ‘common master’ that we all share is Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada and it is our duty to follow his will and his precepts attentively. Any other process we concoct to unify the fragmented Vaisnava world will simply be temporary, superficial and futile. If we neglect or adulterate bhaktisiddhanta-vani in the name of harmony, we will “stop the kirtana of truth.” Then, in the words of Sarasvati Thakura, “We will be severed from the line of Bhaktivinoda.”