Sunday, April 19, 2015

Talking About Quoting Authority

[Krishna speaking to Arjuna]“Seeing things through the authorized books or authorized teachers is the correct way to see. So, although Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and can see all that is past, present and future, to teach the people in general He used to always refer to the scriptures.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 20)

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Friend-One: I’ve noticed something about lectures and discourses on bhakti-yoga.

Friend-Two: Did you? This means you’ve been paying attention.

F1: Hey, I’m not like those guys in the back of the room sleeping.

F2: They are funny. A few times I have heard people snoring.

F1: I’m a little envious, I must say. They probably have no trouble sleeping on an airplane. I can’t do that.

F2: So what did you notice?

F1: There’s a whole lot of quoting going on. Interspersed in the discourse are references to scripture. The speaker also tells stories of past acharyas.

F2: Yeah, that only makes sense. That is the whole point to accepting a spiritual master.

F1: To have an authority source from whom to cite evidence?

F2: That’s part of it, but the more important thing is that we can’t understand God on our own. No amount of mental speculation will do the trick. We can watch every movie ever made, read every book ever published, and try to process all the information we take in. Still, we won’t come close to understanding the origin of everything, the supreme person, the one entity who is without a beginning and who is forever flawless.

F1: That is something unique about bhakti-yoga, for sure. I rarely hear the words “I think” or “I suppose.” The attitude is assertive, and there seems to be an explanation for everything.

F2: Right. The words “I think” imply that you either have no authority or that you’re not convinced of what you’ve heard.

[Shrila Prabhupada]F1: Here is a question for you, then. There’s so many authorities cited. Parashara Muni, Vyasadeva, Rupa Gosvami, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada - they are all great. But what if someone listening decides they don’t want to accept these authority figures? Doesn’t that undercut everything?

F2: If by “everything” you mean that person’s potential for understanding the Supreme Absolute Truth, then you’re correct.

F1: The whole point to writing books and having discourses is to teach, though. You’re trying to help others understand. By constantly citing authority figures that no one’s ever heard of, aren’t you running the risk of alienating people? Doesn’t that make you vulnerable in a debate?

F2: For starters, there’s always authority cited. Go to any college commencement ceremony and you’ll hear lots of quotes in the speeches. Scientists use past authorities as the basis for their research. Even the skeptic, who completely rejects all authority, is trying to establish themselves as an authority figure. They want others to accept their judgment of skepticism.

F1: That’s true.

F2: So if you’ve got authority figures either way, how do you reconcile?

F1: Why are you asking me? I don’t know. I guess you try to look at the authority figures themselves.

F2: What do you look for?

F1: I don’t know.  I guess you assess their qualities, their character.

F2: Exactly. So taking in the history of Vedic culture we get authority figures that stand highest in stature. In an objective analysis there is no denying this.

F1: Based on the quality of the people?

[Shri Hanuman]F2: Yeah. Can you find any flaw in Shri Hanuman? Is he selfish? Is he cowardly? Does he turn his back on his friends?

F1: No. Hanuman is wonderful. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in history with his qualifications.

F2: And he says that Rama is God. Though in ignorance so many worship Hanuman as the supreme authority, Hanuman says that Rama, who is an incarnation of Vishnu, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is enough of an authority right there.

F1: Okay, but what if someone says that Hanuman is a mythical character, that a monkey can’t really do all those things?

F2: You don’t have to go that far back in history. Take any saint of the Vaishnava tradition. They don’t eat meat. They don’t gamble. They also don’t take intoxicants or engage in illicit sex. From these basic principles alone they rise above the rest. Then they have all the good qualities of the brahmana as well. They are clean, truthful, and pure.

F1: So your basic point is that these authority figures are great people and that taking their word is enough to meet the objective in life?

F2: It is the proper etiquette to cite authority. Shri Krishna is the number one person, the original form of the Supreme Lord. Even He cites authority when delivering the famous Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. He references Vedanta and also past sages. Arjuna does that too when praising Krishna.

F1: So the book that is quoted the most itself quotes others. That is pretty interesting.

[Bhagavad-gita As It Is]F2: The point is you’re going to accept an authority either way. Why not make it Krishna? Why not listen to what Shrila Prabhupada has to say? Why not at least give it a try and see what happens?

F1: Yeah. Their recommendation of chanting the holy names immediately pays dividends: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Instead of speculations of mind floating,

Acharyas of past authorities quoting.


From Shri Krishna this behavior came,

In Bhagavad-gita following the same.


Even when encountering skeptic’s face,

Claiming authority, present in any case.


The qualities of the person just see,

Better than Hanuman can there be?