Pep Sands used to say that the jump ball at the start of every basketball match is the most important play of the entire game. Pep was our high school basketball coach. His reasoning was that whichever team hustled enough to win the tip showed that they wanted the game more than the other team. Not a bad philosophy for anyone facing challenges or jumping on opportunities, even Vaishnavas.
So, Vaishnavas, are you game? Here’s the challenge, there’s a huge new opportunity opening up with the potential to change the very direction of civilization and to forever perpetuate the mission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. What’s up for grabs is the intellectual history of mankind! Are you ready to jump?
On April 7, 2009 the New York Times published an op-ed piece by David Brooks in which Mr. Brooks declared, “The End of Philosophy.” According to Brooks, the philosophical underpinnings of ethics, morality, and even religion are rapidly losing intellectual favor. Gone is the idea that “moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation”¦” This idea has been replaced with the notion that “moral thinking is more like aesthetics.”
Here is an example Brooks gives, “Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know. Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain.”
Finally, and most importantly with respect to the challenge/opportunity this intellectual shift presents the Vaishnavas, Brooks concludes, “The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.”
To give you some idea of how turns in intellectual history can have lasting impact on civilization consider the eighteenth century Enlightenment, during which reason became the primary source and legitimacy for authority. The Enlightenment was the origin of the very ideas about morality which are being challenged today, but only after having a stronghold for some three hundred years.
This intellectual shift provides some important advantages for the Vaishnavas, both personally and on the larger playing field. Personally, it frees us to give more credence to our own intuitive and emotional approach to loving God. We don’t have to first rationalize why we love God and then love Him. During a lecture given in New Vrindaban on June 28, 1976 Srila Prabhupada describes this intuitive and emotional approach, “We are teaching how to love God. That’s all. There is no question of proselytization. It is the natural. We are, by nature we are lover of God. Just like father and son. The love is already there. It cannot be extinguished. The father and son may be separated for many, many years, but when they come together the affection immediately revives. So we are teaching that, that we have got eternal relationship with God and revive it.”
On the larger playing field of interaction with society at large, academics, and religionist, this intellectual shift means that neither we, nor those to whom we give Krishna Consciousness, need to seek legitimacy for our ideas, beliefs, or religious practices according the ground rules fixed by who would oppose love of God.
Factually, Krishna Consciousness or Bhakti-yoga by its very nature is ideally positioned to blossom as the major force in intellectual history in an intuitive and emotion based intellectual atmosphere. As explained by Srila Prabhupada above, Bhakti-yoga means to regain our original relationship with God through devotional practices. The only requirement for bhakti yoga is an open, loving heart. Because the practice is so simple, anyone can practice Bhakti-yoga. Indeed, everyone has an intuitive sense and emotions, thus everyone, not just a priestly class or intellectuals, can take up the process of Bhakti-yoga.
Now, just in case some of you are worried that Bhakti-yoga seems too simple or is somehow incomplete or incapable of providing the broad-based underpinnings necessary to guide the course of human civilization, consider these words of Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-gita, “A person who accepts the path of devotional service is not bereft of the results derived from studying the Vedas, performing austere sacrifices, giving charity or pursuing philosophical and fruitive activities. Simply by performing devotional service, he attains all these, and at the end he reaches the supreme eternal abode.” BG 8:28. You lose nothing in the process of Bhakti-yoga and its easy!
So, Vaishnavas, need more encouragement? During a January 22, 1997 room conversation with his sannyasa disciples Srila Prabhupada actually predicted this turn in intellectual history:
Ramesvara: Prabhupada said this past week that in the future, historians will study this period of world history, how this movement has changed the world. He said in the future they will just note this period, how the world is being changed.
Prabhupada: Yes, a new Renaissance. What is called? Renaissance?
Prabhupada: Historical Renaissance.
Game on Vaishnavas!