People have an unnatural enthusiasm for gossip. It seems to make the material world go round.
So it's always unfortunate when gossip, and that material mentality, trickles into our spiritual lives.
There are three sides to the rumor/gossip/criticism issue : the person spreading it or doing the criticising, the person listening to it, and the person who is the target. Usually the recipient of juicy gossip becomes the giver of juicy gossip (it's the way of the gossip parampara :)
If we are the ones responsible for spreading rumors or sharing gossip, we should keep a few things in mind :
- everytime we spread rumors or gossip about other devotees, we actively take away from our time with Krsna and the potency of our Krsna consciousness. There's a reason that the offense 'To blaspheme devotees who have dedicated their lives to propogating Krsna Consciousness' is top of the list and known as the 'mad elephant offense' - It destoys the creeper of bhakti within our hearts.
- everytime we spread rumors or gossip about, or criticise, other devotees, we make a conscious decision to hurt someone else, someone who is a vaisnava and, despite our own feelings about them, very dear to Krsna.
- everytime we spread rumors or gossip, our own reputations are ruined. Our intention may be to malign someone else, and chip away at their reputation, but being known as a gossip does nothing for our own.
- everytime we spread rumors or gossip, we should know that we could be potentially responsible for someone turning away from ISKCON and Krsna consciousness.
Our need to gossip stems from envy, dislike and our own shortcomings as devotees. But sometimes we feel that our criticisms are justifiable, after all "He did this, this and that 3 years ago." But it is stated that:
One should never criticize a devotee for his:
1) Social background;
2) Past sins or faults;
3) Unintentional sin or accidental falldown.
Srila Gaura Govinda Swami gave a brilliant description of the first offense:
"Bhakti-devi completely disappears by committing Vaisnava aparddha. Vaisnava aparddha means to blaspheme, find fault, criticize or speak ill of devotees. Generally, this is done out of fear and enviousness. Vaisnava aparddha takes place where there are fear and enviousness." When Vaisnava aparddha is committed the offender will become very angry with that Vaisnava. He's afraid of that Vaisnava because he is a very powerful Vaisnava. Therefore, he thinks, 'He's making rapid advancement and I'm not making such advancement.' He becomes afraid and envious of that Vaisnava." Fear comes and therefore he criticizes, finds fault, and speaks ill of that Vaisnava. He commits Vaisnava aparddha and becomes angry with that Vaisnava. It is only because of enviousness of that Vaisnava that this hatred and criticism arises. And therefore, he speaks ill of that Vaisnava and concocts stories. The sieve is full of a thousand holes and he's criticizing the needle, 'Hey needle, there is a hole in your back.'"Are you perfect yourself? If you have some defects yourself, then why do you find fault with others? Sages say don't see bad in others, but see the bad in yourself. If you have that nature or tendency to see bad, then see what bad is there in yourself. But see the good in others. "If you find something good in some person, then just accept that. Think, 'Yes, that is good in him. Let me accept that.' Close your eyes on the bad things, and open your eyes to the good things. Paramahamsas never see anything bad. In their vision everything is related to Krsna. Speaking ill of others is a great anartha for the sadhaka who has come to the path of bhajana.
There is a wonderful quote by Srila Prabhupada that applies to this and so many other situations:
"We must know that Krsna is present, and as such we must be careful in our dealings, talking and behaviouir, as we are present before Krsna directly." May 6, 1968
So we should practice - whatever I am about to say, I should be able to say if Krsna were standing right beside me, listening.
And if we're listening to, or entertaining any gossip or criticism, then we're pretty much in the same boat as the person we're listening to. As devotees we have to:
- try our utmost not to listen to any gossip - for the sake of our own spiritual lives.
- even if we hear something about some other devotee, we have to be intelligent enough to know that there are always three sides to a story: what A said, what B said and what REALLY happened! And even still;
-we have to be even more intelligent and remain impartial and uninvolved. It is not our job to judge others, especially based on something that we have no actual knowledge or experience of.
-and again, when we listen to or engage in gossip, we can potentially play a part in giving someone a bad experience of the temple or ISKCON. It is our duty to be representatives of Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON, and to always act as such.
So what do we do?
The Srimad Bhagavatm states: "Anyone who fails to immediately leave the place where he hears criticism of the Supreme Lord or His faithful devotee will certainly fall down, bereft of his pious credit."SB 10.74.40
***And finally there is the person who is the subject matter of criticism or gossip. A person in that position (and I think that we've all been there at some point in time or another) has several options:
- Retaliate with your own criticms and gossip, and become a part of that vicious, bhakti-destoying cycle.
- Defend yourself. My personal thoughts are that, again, you're taking time away from your own spiritual life because of another persons petty issues, and secondly, if people are so small-minded and unintelligent that they choose to engage in gossip and pass judgement, than does it REALLY matter what they think anyway? If anything, it should be lesson that you should choose your association wisely, and associate with those devotees who will further you in your spiritual life.
I remember reading an article some time ago. The devotees approached a gentleman who had been coming to the temple for many, many years and was chanting 16 rounds and following all the regulative principles. They asked him why he hasn't made more of a commitment and taken initiation. He replied, "I see how you treat guests and I see how you treat each other. I would rather remain a guest."
We are all trying to achieve the same thing, serve the same God, reach the same destination. We should try to to help each other out, not bring each other down, so that we all serve Krsna better.
I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord. They are just like desire trees whocan fulfill the desires of everyone, and they are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.