One of the problems with joining organized, large bhakti sects is that they can substitute for everything that society has to offer. One’s friends become so-called ‘devotees’, one’s children go to bhakti-oriented schools, one’s weekends are blocked for bhakti activities, and one’s outlook on everything becomes slowly colored by all things related to one’s organization.
Now normally one would think that this is a good thing- it protects one from ‘falling away from the path’ and helps one avoid the big, bad people in society who do not do bhakti. The problem though is that this brings total isolation from society. And this, in my view, is a very bad thing. Because it clips the wings of people- they stop thinking for themselves and become vulnerable to exploitation and the uncritical acceptance of beliefs because they are afraid of being kicked out. When the rare, courageous person tries to leave, it becomes very had for them to deprogram themselves becuase unlearning is much more difficult than learning . They have to slowly regain their capacity to think, to make their own decisions bit-by-bit, and learn to become whole again. It is like an adult struck by paralysis, who has to learn to walk again. Or a freed convict who has to learn to readjust to society after a long time in jail.
I was recently approached by an old friend who is leaving a sect, but is having a very difficult time ‘re-entering’ society. She shunned others sub-consciously when she entered the sect. Her facebook profile announced her new avatara to the world. She preached to everyone she knew, which resulted in strained relations with many. She lost a good many friends both internally and externally – friends she had made over a lifetime.
Over time, she began to hear lectures from a venerable scholar from her family’s Vaisnava tradition and she realized the wide gulf between the scholar’s grasp of Sanskrit and the scriptures, his character and the content of his teachings, and the leaders of the fanatical sect she had become trapped in. Recognizing an inauthentic path requires that one have the good fortune of stumbling upon an authentic one first! Internally, she left the sect but was now faced with a wider problem – who did she count among her friends? How would she re-integrate into society? What would become of her kids who would now become isolated?
These problems are very real. People of all ages and from all walks of life can get trapped by fanatical sects, shun their friends and families, and get sucked up into grandiose preaching missions. The freedom and the ‘high’ that such acts bring can be quite intoxicating. But there is a price to pay. Check out the following list:
- The biggest price is time. Years that are lost cannot be rolled back.
- The damage one causes by preaching inauthentic knowledge and paths to others. This cannot be undone.
- One can go along with abusive activities in one’s sect because one is terrified of being kicked out.
- The perverse worldview one can develop when one joins the herd.
- The loss of the capacity for critical thinking.
- Loss of close relations and hurt caused to others.
- Isolation of one’s own dependents.
- A life of fear. Fear of others in one’s own organization, fear of others in society, and in general, a stunted life.
Authentic, traditional bhakti paths have never required isolation from others or the shunning of others or ‘preaching’ to others. Bhakti is an internal, deeply private affair between each person and Bhagavān. This has always been the case in the Caitanya tradition- just examine the lives of the great Goswamis. There is no call to reject others but rather to organically and slowly develop one’s knowledge of bhakti from a qualified teacher, and to realize those teachings by developing affection for Bhagavān.
Till one has achieved success or siddhi on the bhakti path, one has no right to preach it to others. Preaching to others is actually a profoundly immoral activity!