Obedience vs. Cooperative Obedience



What is the difference between obedience and cooperative obedience? These have never been very clear to me.

Thank you!

—Jen, USA


Dear Jen,

Swami Kriyananda tried very hard, for many years, to explain the subtle difference between the principles of obedience and cooperative obedience. The difference is subtle, but very important to understand, so thanks for asking!

He said: “Cooperative obedience means evoking intelligent, creative participation in whatever people are being asked to do, as opposed to that kind of obedience which asks people for their cooperation, but never allows them to ask questions.”

As an example, Swamiji often told a story about how, long ago, novices in a monastery were told to unquestioningly transplant small plants with the roots pointing upwards — a very foolish thing to do, because the plant simply can’t grow that way. This was done to test the novices’ obedience leaving no room for questions or use of common sense.

Swamiji felt (rightly so!) that this sort of leadership would crush a person’s enthusiasm for a project and produce only non-creative robot-types, rather than joyful, intelligent people, working together for the good of all.

He also said: “A good leader will invite cooperation from others, rather than demanding their obedience. A leader can try to enforce obedience. But he or she will do so at the cost of losing people’s willingness and loyal support. Without these—indeed, without true enthusiasm on his or her part—a leader will never draw forth their best efforts.”

Finally he suggests: “Make harmony your priority. A rebellious spirit may win one some points now and then, but in the end, too much of it will destroy one’s peace of mind and inner attunement, and will, in addition, disturb others—all to no avail. Peace and harmony are the foundations of the spiritual life.”