What We Need is a Culture of Trust
Thinking about austerities in general and austerity of speech, I found this helpful:
satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ ca yat
vāṅ-mayaṁ tapa ucyate
Vākyam means speech, which is anudvega-karam. Vega means pushing, and udvega has a sense of upsetting. So, speech that is upsetting, devotees try to avoid. Satyaṁ means truthfulness. It is an austerity to be truthful, because it is just easier a lot of times to not be truthful. Or it seems easier. And then the question always comes up, what about “white” lies? Do you know what are white lies? It’s harmless. It’s not hurting anyone. It’s for social, smooth interactions. It’s when someone asks you, how are you, and you feel horrible, but you say, “I am fine”. This is a kind of white lie because you don't want to get into a whole discussion about it.
Priya means dear, pleasing, nice, favourable, and good, and hitam means beneficial. So, having the intention of being beneficial, or speaking to actually benefit someone, is austerity. Why is it austerity? Because our tendency generally is to see no good in others, but faults in them. It is so easy to see faults in others, especially because of our own mountains of faults, as it feels so good to not feel so bad about ourselves. Right? Such tendency.
Priya-hitam is turning this upside down and saying, “let's see what good we can find in others. And let’s speak it, let's compliment these persons, let me praise them”. There is a verse from the 11th Canto:
na praśaṁsen na garhayet
viśvam ekātmakaṁ paśyan
prakṛtyā puruṣeṇa ca
When one sees that the world is a unity by the combination of prakriti and purusa, it is in order. In fact, the world is the way it is supposed to be, and because of that one should neither praise nor criticise others for their activities… Now we hear it and think, “Hold on, I get it that one shouldn't criticise, but ‘one should not praise others’? And that is in the Bhagavatam? How to understand that?”
Here we need to apply the principle of Vedic, Vaisnava hermeneutics. Hermeneutics means interpretation. And interpretation is what you do when something is not clear as it seems superficially. Prabhupada said (paraphrasing), “Don’t interpret, if it is clear and straightforward, leave it as it is!” But when it is not clear, then what do you do? Then you have to interpret. How? You follow certain rules that help. And one of the rules, in this case, applies when there are two apparently contradictory injunctions: first we have a purva-vidhi, na praśaṁset, which is not to praise, and then we have an uttara-vidhi, which is na garhayet. When there are two like these and you are wondering how to deal with it, then the second, the latter one takes precedence. Uttara-vidhi takes precedence over purva-vidhi. So, it is okay to praise. It is okay to praise devotees. Even though it is said in the Bhagavatam, na praśaṁset.
Back to white lies. Once one keeps on speaking such so-called harmless lies, it gets more and more difficult to find out the truth, because when it happens in social circumstances it becomes difficult to share what is really in the heart. And when we don't share what’s in our heart, we remain in the same confused understanding of everything, and one can feel that what is inside needs to be revealed more often. It’s not so easy to be truthful and not say things that may hurt, so it is a really difficult process. One might find oneself sometimes walking on a razor’s edge because it is also so important…
A related principle is: if we want to build trust then there needs to be honesty. If there is no honesty, you cannot expect trust. And honesty always involves allowing oneself to be vulnerable. But when we open ourselves, it can be painful if we are rejected. It is a challenge. And that is why always saying white lies sometimes becomes habitual, so much so that we start believing our own lies. And then we cannot even trust ourselves.
I think the starting point for truthfulness is to be truthful to ourselves about ourselves, isn’t it so? That means admitting that “I am still the rascal number one”. I am either rascal number one or fool number one. How many times did Prabhupada say about fools and rascals? One time he again mentioned them and then he paused and said, “Fool means rascal!”
What we should be concerned about is developing trust. What we can do is to facilitate as much as possible a culture of trust. It is very challenging in this age. But if we don't have it then developing real community will be very difficult.
Going on about the austerity of speech, we can also recall “non-violent communication”, which is mostly about listening. Listening means listening to what is a person’s need. People may be expressing so many things but what is it that they need? Somebody needs some attention. Somebody needs some security. Somebody needs some approval. Some need to feel they are in control. Pretty simple kinds of needs we all have, and then finding the best time, place, and circumstances for communicating is important. That means also valuing the person we are communicating with. If we don't value the person, if we don't care whether they exist or not, then it is also very difficult to develop a positive relationship.
Another good practical point when you have some difficulty with another devotee, “Let’s sit down and first chant a little together, it can be kirtan, it can be japa, and only after that, let’s discuss.” That is a possibility.
Another thing that can be done, is what devotees do in the Hong Kong temple. Once a year they have an event whereby they gather together, not in the temple, but at somebody’s home, and have a session, where everyone gets praised by all others. They have a very specific procedure for how they do it: everyone is invited to come and bring some small gift. It should not cost more than two euros, but there should be a gift to give to another devotee. So, they come all together, have some kirtan for some time, and then they go around the room one after another and everyone has, I think, two minutes to praise one devotee, whichever one they wish to praise. Those who for some reason could not come get also praised. And when it is the turn for someone to praise another devotee, the devotee being praised must not have already been praised by any of the previous devotees in the program. It can get quite emotional but in a very positive way. They always bring a box of tissues because some devotees always start crying. And there is a lot of laughter as well. And after having had everyone in the program speak, they again have a little kirtan and then prasadam and then they give these little gifts to each other. At the end of the program, you see devotees embracing each other, and everyone feels uplifted. It is quite amazing, how it works. I don't know if it works only in Hong Kong. You might try something like that.
Vaisnava culture says in general: we all make mistakes and it is possible for us to correct our mistakes. And when we have corrected our mistakes, we can be re-situated and again situated as before, and go on with our devotional service and association with devotees.
—From a lecture by Krishna Kshetra Swami on SB 4.2.27, on May 14, 2023 in Simhachalam, Germany
At Pathmeda I asked Swami Shri Datta Sharanananda Maharaja, the founder of this massive goshala complex in southwest Rajasthan, and long-time, India-wide, itinerant cow care activist, how he might explain the benefits of lifelong care for cows, especially to persons unfamiliar with the ethos of Hindu cow care. Datta’s extensive reply showed a deep conviction in the value of cows which render three sorts of benefits for human beings, namely, benefits to health, prosperity, and education. A summary of his explanation is useful to appreciate how a Hindu valuation of cows comprehends several aspects of human well-being.
According to Datta, the general benefit of bovines resides in their power to favourably affect, to purify, natural elements, where “elements” are understood in terms of a classical Hindu analysis of nature. According to the Bhagavad Gita (7.4), there are eight components (“elements”) of gross and subtle matter, referred to as ashtada-prakriti. These eight components of matter, or temporal nature, are earth, water, fire, air, ether (kham), mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi), and ego (ahamkara). Considering that cows are known to favourably affect all these components of nature, Datta elaborates on how each of the three aspects of human well-being comes about through human interaction with such favourably affected elements. Thus, human health maintenance and recovery are based particularly on bovine power to purify earth, water, and air. Earth, purified by the fertilising dung of the cow, yields organically fertilised earth’s nutrient-vegetation that we consume, contributing to the body’s vigour. Water, purified by cow urine (as a disinfectant), contributes to the well-being of human bodily liquids, and air in the proximity of cows, purified by the cows’ breath, ensures a healthy pulmonary system.
Swami Datta next identifies the properties of cows that help create and sustain prosperity. The main idea is that the presence of bovines among humans, fosters balance and moderation in human endeavour, specifically by their essential contribution to ritual procedures (yajna) for maintenance of cosmic order. As we discussed earlier, ghee produced from cows’ milk, which is offered as oblation in the yajna fires, is understood to purify fire (one of the eight constituents of temporal nature). Moreover, even the lowing sound of cows purifies what is understood to be the basic medium of sound, namely “ether,” or sky (kham; akasha).
A lack of regard for cows is directly related to the predominance of greed and avarice, which characterise present-day economic enterprise epitomised by fossil fuel extraction, with the consequent environmental imbalances arising from its barely restricted use, including chemical fertiliser that poisons the earth. In terms of traditional Hindu analysis of cosmic dynamics called Samkhya (discussed in the Bhagavad Gita), the predominating present-day economic culture is permeated with nature’s quality of passion (rajo-guna), the modality characterised by short-sighted and self-centred pursuit of ambition. In contrast, an economy rooted in due regard for cows, such that they are cared for throughout their natural lives, is sustainable and hence stable, thus upholding the sort of human order of prosperity characterised by the quality of illumination (sattva-guna). In this latter case, greed and avarice can be subdued by cows’ purifying—or stabilising—effect on the mind, such that the human being’s tendency to exercise oppressive control and exploitation of other beings and the environment is restrained. This effect complements cows’ sobering effect on the subtlest of the eight components of nature, the “ego” (ahamkara) which is understood to be the sense of individuality that, in its negative aspect, is experienced as alienation, the locus of all human destructive impulses.
The third practical benefit of cows, according to Swami Datta, is their role in fostering the best conditions for human education. This aspect of human benefit arises from a dual function of giving and receiving in relation to cows. There are direct and indirect gifts of the cow that humans are able to receive. Milk and its derivatives, as well as dung and urine, are cows’ direct gifts, as we have already discussed; and indirect gifts are the produce from agricultural processes in which cows are involved. That is to say, cows benefit education by building a character and value system of people and community engaged in their care, as integral to agricultural life.
All of these benefits foster illuminated intelligence (sattvika-buddhi) when received gratefully. But such benefits can only come when the cows that bestow these gifts are given proper and affectionate care in return. Such care includes providing all the necessities of maintaining them in a healthy and peaceful condition, free from anxiety. Moreover, Swami Datta emphasises, to properly reciprocate with cows for their gifts that benefit the world, they are to be shown special regard through formal practices of veneration (upasana), the appropriate spirit of which is to be nourished by regular cultivation of faith (shraddha) that comes from hearing sacred texts—including those that extol cows—as well as hearing from and assisting persons dedicated to these texts, the sadhus and learned brahmins.
—From the book Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics by Kenneth R. Valpey, Palgrave Macmillan