Srila Prabhupada

Ask your questions in a submissive mood; not a challenging mood.

“tad viddhi praṇipātena / paripraśnena sevayā

upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”  Bg 4.34 verse

“Paripraśnena”  means by submissive inquiries

As mentioned in principles 10 and 11 we must bring up our doubts, confusions and misgivings, but if we want to advance in spiritual life, we cannot do so in a challenging mood:

“No, inquiring submissively. Not that challenging. If one challenges to inquire, he’ll never be benefited.”   Morning Walk — March 23, 1974, Bombay

“Without questions you cannot make progress. So blind faith is never required, neither questions should be in a mood of challenge. That should not. Questions or answers should be just to understand. And that should be accompanied with service.”  Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 4.39-5.3 — New York, August 24, 1966

“You have to receive this word little submissively. Namanta eva. Don’t think yourself, that you are very man of knowledge. Because our knowledge is very limited, so we should not be puffed up with false thinking that I am very learned man. No. Just become a little gentle and submissive, and hear these messages from Krsna. Sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhih. Tanu. Tanu means your body, and vak means your words, and mana means mind. Just try to adjust your mind, your body, your words, and hear the Srimad-Bhagavad-gita which is spoken by the Supreme Lord, and put your arguments, put your reason, whatever you have got. Don’t accept it blindly. And think over it, and then you’ll see what is the result.”   Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 9.11-14 — New York, November 27, 1966

From the above quotes we get some insights about the meaning of submissive.  It means not to challenge, not to be proud of our own learning. It means not to question with the intent of proving the sastra or Srila Prabhupada to be wrong.  We should be gentle and humble and put questions only to improve our understanding of the truths being taught.  There is no point in discussing Srila Prabhupada’s books if we fundamentally don’t accept him as capable of giving us knowledge:

“And how to learn from the spiritual master?  “Inquire from him submissively.” You don’t approach a spiritual master whom you can challenge. Then your selection of spiritual master is wrong. If you keep one spiritual master as showbottle, then your selection is not right. It is wrong. The spiritual master… You must select a spiritual master where you can bow down your head, “Yes,” submissive. Therefore you have to see.”  Lecture on  Bhagavad-gita 4.34-39 — Los Angeles, January 12, 1969

In Second Chance, Srila Prabhupada gives another very interesting and unique insight into what it means to make submissive inquiry:

“The Yamadutas said, “We wish to learn from you what are the actual facts regarding this incident. If you think that we shall be able to understand, please enlighten us.” This is the way of inquiring submissively from superiors. Not challenging. We shall always find that Maharaja Pariksit, Arjuna, and anyone else executing this process of spiritual enlightenment inquires with humble submission and a mood of service. Merely because we put a question to our superior does not mean that he is obliged to answer us. Sometimes he may refuse if we are not able to comprehend the answer. We cannot demand. Inquiry, submission, and service are the way to knowledge. Whenever Maharaja Pariksit questioned Sukadeva Gosvami, he said very submissively, “If you think that I shall be able to understand, please answer this question.”    Second Chance; chp 19: Erasing All Doubts

From the above excerpt I also understand that to be submissive means that we have to accept that our questions may not always be answered.  That is not a fault of Srila Prabhupada.  It may simply be that we don’t have the eligibility to understand the answer.

In our discussions at home and with our friends, we will always bring up our questions.  We do our best to research answers and use our intelligence and logic to answer the questions.  Sometimes we get a light and are able find one or more satisfactory answers, and sometimes we are unable to find any answer.  In such cases, we write down the question in our book of questions and move on.  We accept that it is the Lord in the heart who guides our intelligence and from whom knowledge and forgetfulness come.  Sometimes the Lord will give us knowledge, and sometimes not.  Submission means being okay with that.