concepts

Q/A: do I need to be advanced for getting answers to questions about bhakti?

This Q/A is based on my discussion with a friend about his experience.

Q: I approached a learned scholar for an answer to a question about free will. He replied that such questions are not discussed by even advanced devotees. Is it true that one needs to be advanced to get answers to some questions?

A: There is no such requirement for advancement. This answer seems like evasive action on the part of the speaker, while simultaneously putting down the questioner as ‘not advanced’. How did the speaker know how advanced you were?

Q: I was told to do service, and in time, the answers would come.

A: I do not think it works like that. You can clean the floors of the temple all your life, but still you are not going to magically learn Sanskrit, for example, or magically know the theology of Sri Jiva Goswami. My counter question would be: did the scholar know the answer? If yes, did it magically come to him? If no, why not? Sowing doubt in the mind of the questioner about their very right to ask a question might just be a strategy to hide the scholar’s own lack of conclusive knowledge.

Q: So do we have free will?

A: No, we don’t.

Q: I don’t need to be advanced to have the right to know this! Then why did the speaker answer like that?

A: Well, it may be that the speaker does not want to be drawn into a controversy. Speakers who are also preachers tend to be politically correct. They are less concerned about truthfully answering a question, and more concerned with strategy and keeping up appearances. One strategy I have seen is to answer a question in such a way, that the questioner and the audience, both feel good about the answer. Only later might one realize that the speaker never answered the question in the first place. Such deflections are standard strategies for expert speakers.

Q: How can the topic of free will be controversial?

A: It can be controversial because it goes against our everyday experience and notions about ourselves. People worry that such a teaching might promote lawlessness and reckless behavior. However, the fact is that despite knowing the truth, you will still go about your business as if you have free will. Practitioners of bhakti, karma and jnana yoga have different notions about free will. An answer that honestly explains this would have resolved any doubts. (I have an article about this elsewhere on the site)

Q: Are there questions that one could imagine should not be answered because they are too confidential?

A: I cannot imagine them. Some questions will only occur to people after they reach a certain level in their knowledge of bhakti. But other than that, I cannot think of a question which is off-limits for a teacher. Of course, it helps to ask serious questions which are relevant to the practice of bhakti, and not with an intent to waste the teacher’s time. A sincere question comes from a lack of understanding, and it is the duty of the teacher to answer it.

Insulting the questioner is no way to answer a question.

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