By Kesava Krsna Dasa
One of the most fragile aspects of devotee interaction is the subject of obedience. Obedience to authority and obedience to devotee consensus is not always easy. Cooperation need not be blind. Lord Chaitanya showed us how.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was most obedient, towards His Mother, His seniors and the wise counsel of all others, young and old. With this obedience, the Lord did not have it all His way.
If He desired something and His superiors decided against it – with kind pleading of course – He would abide by that. Lord Chaitanya would seek permission and blessings before doing many things. How does this type of obedience feature within our lives and ISKCON?
One thing was certain for Lord Chaitanya; all those He sought permission and blessings from, were pure, perfected Vaishnavas. He had comfort in that. His desire to go to Vrndavana for instance, could be put off or delayed, because He knew it was done out of love and affection of His devotees. The Lord’s faith and trust in them ensured happy Vaishnava dealings. Cooperation was a natural way of life. This is easy when surrounded by loving devotees. How can we transfer this into ISKCON?
For us, to cooperate for the sake of Srila Prabhupada, and to make him happy, can mean cooperating, whether we like it or not. To cooperate even if we do not like it, is very testing. Can we remain happy? Is our happiness important? Are we willing to forgo our happiness to ensure Srila Prabhupada’s happiness?
To be obedient in such circumstances will test our patience, particularly if we know that those we are obedient to, are still work-in-progress towards spiritual perfection. Srila Prabhupada sometimes said that if those in authority are not able to inspire obedience, and that authority causes devotees to go elsewhere or leave, then it is the nonsense of authorities, who should take the blame for this.
There are choices for devotees. They can exercise them for being placed in service situations with favoured authority. This is how Lord Chaitanya placed Himself. He purposely surrounded Himself with devotees He trusted. This is how the Lord served in great happiness.
If devotees want to be productive and happily situated, they can also do like Lord Chaitanya did. We cannot simply say that Lord Chaitanya was obedient, and so we must be blindly obedient, even if we do not like it. Lord Chaitanya created favourable conditions for Himself to be obedient, happily. We have to consider both sides of this subject.
Lord Chaitanya however, was not unreasonably independent. Still, authority should be able to inspire independently-minded individuals as well. Inspiring leadership has the ability to make devotees want to cooperate.
If devotees exercise their choices in service with reasonable authorities, it is a right. Management has to give due consideration to keeping devotees happy in service. By following Lord Chaitanya’s example of choosing who we want to serve Krishna with, our sense of cooperation will be enhanced. This enhancement will be more pleasing all around, and for Srila Prabhupada, especially.