Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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COMING OF AGE #17 – Reflections on Spiritual Arrogance
By Yudhisthira Dasa   |  Jul 07, 2024
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It has been said many times that ISKCON is among the most sectarian-appearing faith or religious paths in this world. The paradox is that faithful followers believe that ISKCON is based in disciplic succession upon the principles of Sanatan Dharma, or the science of the soul, as compared to any single religious path, such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. 

As an “all-inclusive” path called Sanatan Dharma (the eternal position of the soul), members should be fixed in confidence that the teachings upon which ISKCON was founded are, for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas faithful, the most ancient scriptures on the planet, having arguably more “details” about God and His devotees, alongside systematic guidelines for practice and progress on the path.

There are challenges with having this type of spiritual self-confidence. For example, we have seen that spiritual arrogance has entered and manifested within our worldwide movement. This arrogance has repeatedly crept into the impressions we give others, leading to ISKCON being perceived as a sect like all other sects who argue that they have exclusivity to the “best” faith path in the world, whether we consider it the “best” or not. 

I remember going on weekly Harinama in Waikiki, Hawaii, in the mid-1970s. Tourists everywhere. Tropical breezes. Chanting. Who could ask for anything more? But there was. It sounds ironic to me now, but although our group of enthusiastic ISKCON chanters were sometimes overly excited about sharing our faith path, we would shake our heads in disbelief about the equally aggressive Christian groups that were also “doing their thing” in Waikiki, trying to convince bystanders to praise Lord Jesus. We felt they were closed-minded and arrogant with their spiritual beliefs. And no doubt they felt the same about us. Here are some of the internal and external problems that spiritual arrogance can create. (PLEASE NOTE: I am not condemning Harinama (public chanting) or book distribution at all, but identifying some problems that may manifest from spiritual arrogance.)

EXTERNAL PROBLEMS

  1. NEGATIVE PUBLIC REACTIONS—The Hare Krishna Movement has had its share of negative publicity, not simply because we were/are different-looking but because of our frequent attitudes of arrogance and superiority. It’s one thing to believe we are on a wonderful path, but it is quite different to insinuate/express condemnation of others as opposed to being patient and compassionate, seeing the Lord’s hand guiding ALL souls.
  2. BOOK DISTRIBUTION – Aggressive book distribution, including misleading the public, is another external problem that arises from spiritual arrogance. Fanaticism stemming from thinking we are God’s chosen ones allows for and rationalizes behavior that we would abhor in any other group. 
  3. THE RESULT – After decades of missteps, ISKCON is coming of age more and more. However, once a person or an organization digs a hole and slips into it, it takes much more energy to get out of the hole than to avoid falling in at the start!

INTERNAL PROBLEMS 

  1. ARROGANCE AND HARD HEARTS – The spiritual consequence of arrogance is like an infection that no doctor can cure. We know the “what,” which is spiritual arrogance. The “how” we have partially shared above. The “why” is at the heart of this discussion. Simply put, falling into the spiritual arrogance trap is easy for beginners. The question is whether there continues to be an increase in spiritual arrogance in ISKCON or whether maturity, compassion, and progress on the path are helping this arrogance dissipate. The goal of bhakti yoga is to develop more and more loving relationships with all souls. Arrogance is more than a speed bump that slows us down; it can be a roadblock where we can sit for hours (or lifetimes) waiting for our seeds of devotion to take root and flourish.
  2. FAITH AND PATIENCE—It is a fact that individuals and groups who look and act different from the general public are often criticized at first, then laughed at when no real threat is perceived, and then maybe, just maybe, the public will accept the Hare Krishnas more and more. This requires good leadership, consistently mature messaging, and training of new members.  

FINAL WORDS

While strong conviction and faith are required to progress in all faith paths, it is also true that being critically judgmental of others simultaneously hinders our progress. This concerning paradox is definitely worthy of contemplation. 

Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of ISKCON or ISKCON News.

 

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