Respectful dealings with other human beings are not a detail but the essence of spiritual life.
We often respect those who have power, or those who may help us materially, but ignore those who are dear to God. To respect others for the simple fact that they exist, to acknowledge their human dignity is the foundation of human life. Albert Einstien, unarguably the greatest scientist of the twentieth century was not only humble, but he had one special quality; he spoke the same way to a garbage man as well as the president of a university. It doesn’t require you to be vastly learned to be able to respect others. Often respecting others’ feelings might mean nothing to me, but it could mean everything to them!
Recognizing aspiration or seeing faults
A friend confessed to me that after five years of intense schedules and services in a vibrant spiritual community, he’s felt uninspired to continue. He claims during his initial days he respected everyone, but now he knows the faults of almost all members as he has seen and worked with them closely.
I asked him if he wasn’t being utopian if he expected the devotees to be perfect. He admitted that he too has lot of faults but his heart is no longer inspired to associate with other members of the community. I asked him if he really wished to continue to serve within the group, and he said yes, but only if he could once again feel the same joy that he experienced during his initial days.
I reasoned if like those initial days he could once again internally respect devotees he’d surely rediscover that magical happiness. “But how can I respect them now?” he wanted to know. I said, “Just see their aspiration to serve, not their faults; appreciate their struggles, and don’t condemn them for their not measuring to the high spiritual standards”. This small shift in our attitude opens the door of happiness to all Hare Krishna practitioners.
We have many services to do; project and deadlines even within a spiritual community. At such times the details of our services could absorb us so much that we forget the critical element of respect for the people we are working with. We start taking them for granted and sometimes even treat them the same way that we’d treat a stranger or worse a competitor.
That’s the moment our spiritual life becomes a veiled material life. Our life could have the externals of spiritual culture including our dress, food habits and association of other devotees of God. But if the attitude is of ‘disrespect’, we haven’t really taken up to spiritual life. We may be part of a spiritual community but that doesn’t mean we are spiritual. On the other hand a person may not be living in an energetic spiritual community but if he has respectful dealings with other devotees and values the little association he gets as sacred, then he’s actually spiritual. The fundamental factor that determines our being spiritually strong or weak is the culture of respect that we inculcate in our individual lives.
Lessons from history
Indra was the king of heaven and all gods worshipped him. The great controllers of wind, fire, sun etc obeyed Indra’s order. His power and position is unequalled in the material world. But the principle of respect applies to all, including Indra. And whoever you are, if you violate this principle, you pay dearly.
Indra failed to offer respects to his teacher Brahaspati who entered the royal assembly. Indra was absorbed in watching a heavenly dance and he refused to acknowledge the presence of his revered teacher. Brahaspati felt sad to see his student’s pride and quietly left, saying nothing. However that very moment Indra lost his powers because the blessing of his teacher was withdrawn. He got weaker and the demoniac forces from the lower planets attacked and usurped his kingdom.
Indra is a classic case of a person becoming a victim of pride and familiarity. He had become too familiar with his teacher, seeing him visit the palace daily. Slowly but surely his beauty, wealth, and position caused a disadvantage; those very qualities that the world hankers for and which Indra had in abundance dragged him down. In a moment of weakness, he let these opulences intoxicate him and distance him from the noble virtues of respecting others.
We may imagine that Indra became a victim of pride because he was on a high risk position of being a controller and he actually had lot of power. But false pride can attack even those who are simple teachers. Romaharshana was a teacher of the scriptures but he also became a victim of false pride. He refused to acknowledge the presence of the Supreme Lord Balarama. The Lord taught him a lesson by destroying him with a mere blade of grass. Now you may accuse the Lord of being proud. No! The Lord did this to simply teach a lesson and his own mood of service is evident from the fact that immediately after this act he accepted the will of all other assembled saints and went on a pilgrimage as per their dictations. He didn’t get angry with them or hurl blades of grass at them.
Often we have a tendency to consider precious things in life as ordinary and vice versa. We take others’ minor faults or behavioral trifles seriously and ignore the grave faults in our own selves. A person of substance would rather focus on his own faults and appreciate and respect others.
The Supreme Lord Rama humbly served his teacher Vishwamitra. Although the Lord is the source of all knowledge he taught us by his example that respect is crucial, and not a mere detail. Lord Krishna served a poor friend Sudama and offered him all respects, including his own royal bed for resting. When the Lord incarnated as Shri Chaitanya he not only served his teachers and friends but also his critics like Ramachandra Puri were treated respectfully by the Lord.
The Lord said that the etiquette of respect is an ornament that if we decorate ourselves with, makes us beautiful in the eyes of God. We show how we treat God by how we treat others.