New York City People Profile

August 23rd, 2001

New York City

People Profile 2
Pradyumna called to confirm a ride with me to Upstate New York where he was to attend a lecture on social organics. I offered to pick him up as hisapartment in
Washington Heights on the way.

His apartment was in an old stately building. It was spacious, with six large rooms, and he shared it with two roommates. I was surprised at the cost of rent.
“Only $600 a month for the whole thing until last year when we decided to give the landlord more,” he volunteered when he greeted me at the door. Pradyumna’s room was fashioned just like the room he was living in when I first met him in 1976, when he was staying at Srila Prabhupada’s rooms at Radha-Damodar. No furniture, but piles and piles of books stacked ten rows back all around the room with a small mattress as his sitting place buried inside. When I first visited him at Radha-Damodar I thought no one was in until he popped his head up from behind the fortress of books and greeted me. Pradyumna was Srila Prabhupada’s Sanskrit editor and was affectionately called by him “Panditji.” He has a wealth of knowledge and is very respectful, especially to sadhus, but he is eclectic. I thus can never tell exactly where he now stands in his convictions, but it really doesn’t matter, since he’s always willing to discuss with me exclusively the conclusions of Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

Pradyumna showed me a rare Bengali book by a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta who compiled an encyclopedia on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. It has hundreds of categories of Vaishnava truths with excerpts from Srila Bhaktivinoda’s explaining what he said on each subject. Some of the references, according to Pradyumna, are even from rare articles by Srila Bhaktivinoda. My hope is to get Pradyumna to translate it and then help him get it published.

Of all the people I know, there is no one who can so expertly conceptualize and express philosophy like Pradyumna. We were completely absorbed in discussion
for the whole two-hour drive.

We first talked about the nature of faith. Pradyumna was studying a book about Loa Tzu and I peeked at the title of an intriguing chapter entitled something like, “Partial Faith is Not Faith at All.” It lead to a very interesting discussion. I am working on a more extensive paper on the subject, but the conclusion of our discussion went something as follows:

Faith is a precursor to knowledge. In other words, certain knowledge, especially that which is numinous, requires a certain implicit acceptance of that knowledge before one can fully understand it. The crux of the guru/disciple relationship in any tradition is therefore faith in the teacher’s authority. This does not by any means promote blind acceptance.

The teacher must encourage inquiry, elicit doubts, and clear those doubts, but if the student becomes selective in his acceptance of his preceptor’s teachings?”I accept this, but not this”?he is doubting not just his own understanding, but his
teacher’s authority itself. His process of learning has thus become empiric and limited. In all mystical traditions, therefore, faith or belief is a prerequisite to understanding.

In this regard, “partial faith is not faith at all” because when one is selective in their acceptance of their teacher’s authority?even if only a small percentage of the time?it really means that one is accepting the authority of their teacher only when their teacher agrees with them. Thus one’s partial faith means that their faith is in their own authority, not their teacher’s, even if one agrees with their teacher 99 percent of the time.

Pradyumna gave a nice example of how partial, or selective, faith is not faith at all. “It’s like saying one has faith in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, but accepting Yasoda and not Nanda, or Krishna, but not Radha. You can’t be faithful to only select tenets of the tradition and then claim to be a faithful adherent of the tradition. You’re not. You’re faithful to a new tradition?your own, not Gaudiya Vaisnavism.”

Pradyumna also gave a nice example describing faith as the foundation of knowledge. He said that just like a building cannot rest if the foundation is not solid, but has cracks or spaces in it, when one’s faith is partial, the edifice of one’s knowledge cannot be built.

In his final analysis Pradyumna described faith as a condition of the mind that is a necessary component of learning and not just a mental conception.

When I mentioned my discussion with Pradyumna to Mahamuni, he offered an example he had just read from William James illustrating this same point?although the example is a bit unusual. William James said that when a boy wants to understand whether a girl loves him, he has to start with the faith that she does, otherwise he could never act in a way to elicit her love and find out.

The role of faith in understanding is a very complex subject and prone to misunderstanding. I feared that in relating our discussion some would certainly misread it. To test if my points were clear, I let Akincana Krishna dasa, who is here at the ashram, read it. He is a critical thinker,and would raise questions and doubts if something wasn’t to his understanding. His response was encouraging. “I’ve always understood this as our philosophy and a basic point in philosophy in general, although it may be a difficult concept for one to accept personally,” he said. “It’s ultimately a question of humility. One needs to be humble enough to accept that there are standard bodies of knowledge and that there are representatives of these teachings that are far more knowledgeable than we are.”

I just read a wonderful explanation about faith by C.S. Lewis:

Training the Habit of Faith

“Faith, in the sense in which I am using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever your reasons takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a ChristianI do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off’, you can never be a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

“The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time everyday. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of teh Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost theiir faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

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