Rights and Wrongs
In any confrontation of principle or of opinion, it is natural to ask, Who was right, and who, wrong? Who was the hero? who, the villain? Whom shall we applaud, and whom shall we hiss?
Human nature likes to be offered winners and losers. It also wants the winners to be on the side of right.
Life, however, is not always so simple. In my disagreements with SRF I think both sides were right-each of us for different reasons.
My predicament, however, as junior to those I was working with, was that I found myself repeatedly cast as being out of step with their wishes and their reality. As their subordinate, moreover, it wasn’t my place to stand up boldly and declare, “This is what Master told me to do, and this at least, therefore, is what I must do.” To have done so would have demonstrated a culpable arrogance on my part (in which case Master would never have given me such a charge) or such high spiritual advancement that I could stand before the whole world in my wisdom, like a modern-day Buddha, undaunted and undauntable in the work God had given me to do.
I was neither a male Ayn Rand nor a Self-realized saint. I knew what Master had told me, but-how could I help asking myself repeatedly?-was I perhaps mistaken as to his true meaning? My superiors must surely be wiser than I. As for me, I was forever unsure of myself. My lack of self-assurance, indeed, which sometimes amounted to gripping self-doubt, was a curse, but also a blessing-a strength as well as a weakness. It was a strength because it forced me to test my motives to make sure they were sincere. And it was a weakness not only for its paralyzing effect on my will, but also because it encouraged others in any doubts they entertained about me.
Daya Mata was the president. I believed and also taught others that we should follow her faithfully. “If by any chance she should happen to err on any issue,” I told the monks, “God will help her to correct her mistake. Meanwhile, we will gain more, spiritually, if we obey her than we ever would by rebelling.”
Thus, inevitably, I responded to any conflict between her wishes for me and what Master had said to me by turning my predicament inward upon myself. What, I asked myself, was wrong with my attitude? Why couldn’t I simply do as she asked and leave it at that? My problem was threefold: first, she seemed to be asking less and less of me; second, I felt as though I were perched on an erupting volcano in my own enthusiasm to build the work; third, everything Master had said to me, in no matter how many ways I might have misunderstood it, held at least this much clear counsel: Do your best, and do it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I found my very enthusiasm to be coming ever increasingly under scrutiny.
And then, occasionally, my heart would rebel. “No, I can’t possibly have misunderstood him. I know what he told me. I know what he wants of me. It is they who have misunderstood his wishes regarding me.” Master, after all, was my guru. Whose counsel could be acceptable if it contradicted what he himself told me?
I wonder what I would have done had Master not told me so often, and so definitely, what he wanted of me. I wonder what any monastic ought to do in similar circumstances. For I had my own nature to contend with, and I found it difficult to adapt that nature to demands that sought to take it in a completely incompatible direction.
This question has no doubt been asked for centuries by renunciates who lived under a vow of obedience: What should a person do if that obedience entails suppression of his own nature? The yogic way is quite different: not through suppression, even of evil tendencies, but through striving to redirect every trait toward its highest, positive potential. Selfishness, for example, cannot be overcome by suppressing it. One of the best ways of overcoming it is by expanding one’s sense of self to include the welfare of others in one’s own.
Master worked with our natures as we were, and never against our natures. To work against the disciple’s nature, he implied, would have a weakening effect on the will.
What should a monastic do, then, if he is told by a superior to do something that conflicts with his own nature? What should he do when what is asked of him even defies common sense? Novices in monasteries have sometimes been told to plant flowers upside down in the ground in order to teach them “perfect” obedience. Can this be good for anyone? Can blind obedience really be termed “perfect”?
A certain amount of suppressive discipline may be good-as an inspiration, for instance, to renounce a rebellious ego. And if nothing else, it may help the novice to develop a detached sense of humor about things. Sister Shraddha, one of the SRF directors, occasionally made what I thought were unreasonable demands of me, and I found that the best response was to take them good-naturedly. As it turned out, by responding cheerfully I found we got along very well. In this regard I succeeded better, certainly, than others to whom she always appeared oppressively stern.
Too much of this sort of insensitivity on the part of the superior, however, and too much unquestioning obedience on the part of the subordinate, can only have a weakening effect on the subordinate’s will power, and a corresponding hardening effect on the superior’s ego.
To survive in an oppressive setting, the subordinate can only find spiritual peace by withdrawing within, mentally, while viewing the scene around him as a dream of God’s. Thus, even suppression may prove a helpful goad to drive one deeper into prayer and meditation. It may thus actually be turned to good account.
For one whose energy and enthusiasm impel him outward, however, the problem becomes difficult. I’m not really sure what to suggest in such a predicament, though the obvious solution might be to ask for a transfer to some other field of service. In my case, such a transfer seemed out of the question.
For I looked on SRF as my pathway to God. I could not have imagined serving another work. If Master hadn’t taken me out as forcibly as he did, I don’t doubt for a moment that I would be there still-unless, indeed, I had died by this time, from ulcers.
Master praised me for my obedience. I tried always, however, to be intelligently obedient. Tara once, after my falling out with her, instructed me to do something-I think it had to do with the magazine in India. Feeling that she wasn’t familiar with certain aspects of the matter, I asked her by letter to consider a further point. I assured her, however, that I would do what she wanted if she continued to be of the same mind. Her reply came by cablegram: “Your nature is disobedient beyond human comprehension. Do as I said immediately.”
Those were confusing years for me.
Was Daya-was Tara-were any of them wrong? I’ve decided it simply isn’t my business to judge. I present the problem as it appeared to me. To me, it appeared insoluble.