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Intellectual Simplicity

By: for on Jan. 28, 2011
Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura - Painting by Syamarani Dasi. (
It can sometimes be tough being an intellectual in ISKCON. The tendency to keep one foot in the empirical camp and the other in the devotional arena can cause incompatibilities of faith, especially when continuing to grapple with “oddities” like elephant sized mangoes, airborne mountains, talking hyenas and bodily exuded cosmic bubbles.

Almost everything is interesting for an intellectual. How things work, or don’t. Statistics and comparisons, complex and more complicated, beyond comprehension and ridiculously out of bounds, all can pose challenges when faced with the “simplicity” of Krishna consciousness. And more so when fantastic and marvellous Vedic accounts remains fabulously beyond belief.

Does “simple living” dull down our inquiring spirit to the point of unquestioning obedient acceptance of everything taught to us? Will “high thinking” allow us free reign to explore that which confounds the greatest material thinkers?

“Prove that God exists,” Srila Prabhupada would say. This seems the most certain way of engaging a lively intellect. How many sprightly and bouncy intellectual devotees are convinced of this, especially when having to explain in terms of elephants and swans that do inter-planetary travel, and other faith shaking concepts?

The problem is, that one’s intellect can get bogged down worrying about the veracity of such Vedic descriptions so as to cripple the preaching tendency. One’s foot remains cemented in the empirical lure of ignorant wonderment. Faith appears to be an ever more precious commodity. Then one ends up intellectualising and justifying one’s doubts to cover for the lack of Krishna conscious resolve.

One can also speak and write in an intellectual way simply for the sake of being intelligent. This motive is better suited for preaching to scholarly people. If one is systematically teaching academic subjects within our devotee colleges, which should be an intellectual exercise, there is little or no real intellectual development if one parrots everything. If all our students earn their sastric degrees and think alike, then that is a misuse of “high thinking” potential.

Thinking oneself as a learned intellectual and acting improperly with the use of intelligence specifies bodily attachment. Conversely, some of us earn some sastric recognition, and then fail to use it for preaching purposes, or for furthering our mission spread.

Devotees often do not know how to properly engage in Krishna katha, because if we all more or less think alike there is little scope for analysing subjects differently from various angles of vision. This requires authentic and original “high thinking” use of the intellect. Then Krishna katha becomes a joyful devotional experience.

Mature devotees prefer and often express themselves in simple ways. They are not overly impressed by intellectualisation, but are willing to simplify intellectual matters. This behavioural pattern may seem simplistic to some. We have naturally simple devotees and intellectually simple devotees. There is a convenience and beauty in being genuinely simple, without losing one’s intellectual edge.

For instance, Srila Prabhupada often cited the example of the Gopis of Vrndavana as being, “simple village girls.” But he meant it in the sense of using that simplicity for Krishna’s pleasure. Otherwise each and every one of those beautiful Gopis and Manjaris has the intellectual and spiritual capacity to infuse a sincere devotee with the highest possible knowledge and grace attainable.

Were intellectual giants like Srila Jiva Goswami, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and others, not Manjaris themselves? The very simple verse and prose of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakur are renowned not just for their simplicity, but the profundity of siddhantic awareness. Real simplicity then is a natural way of expressing oneself in simple terms, but with profound wisdom behind it. In this way, the “simple living” ethic becomes a very profound concept.

Even Srila Sanatana Goswami’s initial enquiry to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of, “Why am I suffering, and who am I?” is a rarely profound question, for how many
people in this world ask the same thing with sincerity?

For our intellectuals who baulk at the simplicity of living and faith, and suspect our range of “high thinking,” it is worthwhile remembering how the simple act of daily chanting Hare Krishna correctly, and purely, is itself an intellectual challenge.

While we are chanting, all that we have been taught, all philosophical concepts, all allowances and prohibitions, all that is required to focus upon the source of our own eternal relationship with Krishna, have to be honed in harmony. This can be a mean intellectual task. But Krishna’s Bhagavad-Gita request for us to surrender our all, including our intellect, will hopefully earn us ease of passage into the “simple living, high thinking” ocean of Bhakti. Of course, mercy is the key.

A wavering intellectual might think, “If you believe that Lord Brahma has four heads, and was born asexually from a lotus flower… then good luck to you.” Being
obsessed with the thought that such convictions are forms of naive blind faith, this is itself a display of little trust in the process set by our intellectually simple acaryas.

It requires a leap of faith and trust to acknowledge that the vaisnava quality of simplicity is one that surpasses all bodily intellectual concerns. Such simplicity has the power to penetrate an impure heart and transform one into a lover of God. This fruitful effect is far more relishable than hovering about on the mental platform with a leg stuck in limited empiricism and wild conjecture.

“Please be reasonable,” one may protest. If reason is called for then it is the height of reason to associate with faithful devotees. By mixing with and utilising one’s intellect to properly discuss topics relating to our real devotional welfare, a taste can develop. By doing this one does not compromise intellectual integrity, but rather purifies it in Krishna’s service. This is sublime simplicity.
Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS
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