Follow by Email

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Criticism or offence - where to draw the line?

I received some pretty heated comments recently, and today this comment came in so it is perhaps a good opportunity to set the record straight. Dr.Phil wrote this:

An off-topic question... On the one hand I consider you senior, on the other hand I sometimes see contradiction in you. I never intend to offend anyone or hurt anyone. When does asking questions in an unorthodox way become offensive ? When becomes critique offensive ? Where to draw the line ? I for example use bold language in speech which can easily be misinterpreted as an attack. I try to be more subtle and polite but it is not easy. Your criticisms are also by many (mis)understood as being offensive. Where do you draw your line ? How tough can we be in speech ? How hard can our line be in defending the truth, while we our liable to make mistakes. Maybe in the future you can devote a post on this topic. I am also interested in the viewpoints and experiences from the respected visitors on this blog. We all had our clashes and had to find a balance.... between shutting up, standing up, admitting mistakes and maybe even forgiving an offense or asking for forgiveness for offenses committed by ourselves. Forgive me any offense at your feet. And maybe you can shed some light or share experience, in your own time when you feel like it. (you can, but don't have to post this comment)

My response, here in public:
Dear Phil, I have the same problem indeed. My criticism or just plain comparisons between recent teachers and the foundational acaryas (the Six Gosvamis in particular) are often seen as offensive. I have also needed time to learn where to draw the line, and I have withdrawn, on the recent advise of Satyanarayan Prabhu, from off the internet into the private realm with this type of comparitive criticisms. Still I am reaping the fruits of previously made comments on the internet, as I experienced recently with a spate of unpleasant comments by readers. I have also learned to show some respect to teachers that I really dont agree with or that I even really dont appreciate personally, because some of them have a huge flock of followers, some of whom do not know the border between devotional indignation and dangerous fanaticism. The internet is a world wide web and there is no telling as to how many (sometimes dangerous fanatic) people actually surf to one's weblog. My opinion is that one should speak out frankly but without mentioning people by name and without insulting people, and as much as possible in the private realm. Otherwise one may disturb devotees' tender faith in their devotional leaders prematurely and thus do more harm than good. I may have caused such disturbance in the past, for which I offer my apologies once more. And yes, indeed, I can at least speak for myself that I am still in the process of learning, so some of my past criticisms have been misplaced, and I may well realise that for other points in the future as well.


  1. "Satyanarayan Prabhu" - Curious over the change in etiquette in addressing others, please elaborate?

  2. Ha ha ha - speaking of 'where to draw the line'! As you know, in Vilap Kusumanjali, Raghunatha Das Gosvami called both his Guru Yadunandanacarya and Sanatan Gosvami 'Prabhu', so it is not that only Nityananda and Advaita (and his qualified, non-different descendants) are addressed with Prabhu. The shift is made to the extent that I believe, on the Vilapa basis, that Prabhu is a title senior devotees deserve. In some circles meat-eating Life Members or other totally fallen devotees are named Prabhu and that waters down the value of the title.

  3. Thanks for sheding some light on this issue. It seems reasonable and mature to me.

  4. Radhe Radhe

    I don’t think a healthy debate should be stifled. However, we should all be mindful ( a term Buddhists commonly use) of how we present and say things. A careful presentation of how we/our guru see things as compared to others’ understanding is healthy – we will benefit from that kind of analysis. But a relentless, heavily worded , condescending presentation would definitely show the motivations/intentions behind them. And specifically mentioning other group’s name might be considered as an “attack”.

    Negative personal anecdotes about Gurus which we will not be able to verify should be avoided. A living Guru may sue for slander if we mention his/her name in relation to a comment on his person which he might deem to besmirch his reputation as Guru. But to advanced Vaishnavas or any Vaishnava for that matter, who are not with us anymore in this world , it’s most unfair, and offensive, because they won’t be able to defend themselves.

    Ok, we can discuss devotees in relation to breaches of Vaishnava etiquette or common morality without naming her/him and can comment based on information already in the public domain without attracting legal problem. Though this type of discussion is more suitable in private. But on the whole, we should honestly ask ourselves if this type of discussion will advance our devotional creepers.

    It has been 40 years since GV was introduced in the West, but we are still talking about , this camp says this and that and our camp says this. We do not see this attitude anymore in the Christian churches or even Buddhist groups, ok, they are much older than us, but at least we should be heading in that direction.

  5. Dear Malati, the blog was actually about expressing philosophical differences rather than about personal faultfinding, which should be completely banned from both the public and the private sphere, that goes without saying!

  6. We are not only younger, but much smaller in number compared to Christians and Buddhists. Our basic philosophy is appreciated in the West, but our four regulated principles are considered archaic and unrealistic.
    From whatever branch you are, almost all of us have a history with Iskcon. Although I have strong differences of opinion with some in Iskcon, I still visit their programs because on my own I will......'bloop'. I will start breaking principles. So I am in need of association and Iskcon provides this need. Also when I travel for work almost every big city has a center that welcomes me. I have, and many of us, friends there as well. Yet, some of the differences remain.
    Similarly some of the traditional intellectualists depend for a great deal on the nice archives that others created.
    Because of our smallness we are still somewhat depending on eachother. If some traditionalist says something about SBSST it hurts. If a Buddhist does it, it would not bring about any reaction in me. They are too different. The people closest to you can hurt you the most.
    So although we have many camps, they are not comparable with camps like protestants and catholics. More comparable with camps like jezuïts, augustins and opus dei; all christian and also catholic. Friends, but sometimes very different, they think.

  7. I do understand what Malati means though. We are all human, so most of us are still easily angered. Sometimes oil is put on the fire and the whole thing grows out of proportion. We make it a personal issue. We get directly confronted with eachothers pride and sense of identity. We mix up philosophy, The Philosphy of Love, with other things.

  8. Most of this is just a matter of common sense. But in most religious organizations just thàt seems to be lacking.
    Since we feel that now we are the defenders of the absolute, we are energized with fanatacism. We fight maya, sahaja, mayavada or whatever and completely flush our common sense down the drain.
    We are fighting 'enemies' outside ourselves and let the enemy grow within.

  9. Advaita: the blog was actually about expressing philosophical differences rather than about personal faultfinding,

    Well, that is what I was talking about in the first paragraph of my previous post. And I will give an example about what I said there, and this is what draws the line: But a relentless, heavily worded , condescending presentation would definitely show the motivations/intentions behind them.

    In Audarya-fellowship site (which I blacklisted), in April a topic about a certain GM guru giving gayatri mantra initiation to SP disciples dragged on for 12 pages, maybe more. That is called relentless, isn’ it? It was very clear that the sole intention of the anti GM guru posters was to show that the Guru “did not know anything” and that they were the KC intellectual heavyweights. Take note that the guru was of impeccable character all throughout his life and has been a Vaishnava for more than 70 years.

    A healthy debate on the siddhanta is nice and important. I’m fond of reading them. But to analyze every bit of what the GM guru said and did in many separate threads in the same site would mean only one thing. And that is definitely not to engage in a healthy debate.

    Radhe Radhe