The topic of respect is always a thought-provoking discussion. We tend to understand respect in a rather superficial way, thinking we can only be respectful to a person of perfect and ideal behavior. We sometimes hear the statement: “This person has shortcomings — how can I respect him?”
However, this shows a rather shallow understanding of respect. The third verse of Siksastakam instructs us: Amanina mana-dena — a Vaishnava is meant to be respectful to every living entity, not only human beings. Our spiritual vision enables us to remember the presence of the soul and Paramatma, the Supersoul, in every living entity’s heart. Every living being — even animals and plants — are very dear to Krishna, so who am I to be
disrespectful? Not to speak of human beings and devotees! They might not be of perfect and ideal behavior, but this does not give us a right to be disrespectful.
The fact that we tend to disrespect a person who has shortcomings is a sign of envy in our heart. As soon as we discover his shortcomings, we use this fact to evaluate who is superior and inferior. And thus we try to establish our superiority by showing disrespect and putting him down.
Interestingly, the very foundation of spiritual culture is respect, whereas a culture of sense gratification always brings along a culture of disrespect. Sense gratification means we use others and also Krishna’s energy for our gross or subtle sense gratification. This can only take place if we disrespect others and Krishna’s creation — Mother Earth with all living beings such as animals and plants, and all her resources which Krishna has given her. If we have true respect for others and Krishna’s creation, we would never want to use and exploit them for our own satisfaction. Thus sense gratification goes hand-in-hand with disrespect. The two are inseparable.
We can observe how disrespect is correlated to the standard of life: the higher the standard of life, the more sense gratification becomes the goal in life, and the more a culture of disrespect develops.
On the other hand, in countries where life is simpler and poor, people are generally more respectful to each other. I have clearly observed this in countries such as Ukraine and Bangladesh.
In the Russian language, we find two ways of addressing others — a respectful way and a familiar way. And it is the general custom that grown- ups use the respectful words to address each other. Only within family relationships do people use the familiar address. Also, among devotees, this is strictly observed, especially towards the other gender, and in this way they express respect towards each other. I know married couples in Ukraine who use the respectful way even within their marriage relationship — to guard against the destructive danger of over-familiarity.
The German language also has these two forms of address, (Du and Sie), and fifty years ago, in my childhood in Germany, there was the same culture
of respect. Any person of sixteen years of age or above was addressed with the respectful Sie. Nowadays, the respectful way of addressing each other has almost disappeared from the modern language, and people hardly ever use it any longer. When two people unknown to each other meet, they may use the respectful way for the first two minutes of their conversation, and then switch to the familiar one. The required humility — the foundation to respect — is getting more and more lost, and thus people don’t even understand the deeper meaning of respect.
Thus, in Kali-yuga the level of respect is decreasing rapidly, with every decade. In general society, we can notice how disrespect is becoming more and more prominent, especially among the young generation. We can commonly hear foul language and observe gross and rough behavior, especially also towards elderly persons.
Fifty years ago, the atmosphere in a country such as Germany was rather a different one, and people behaved in a more cultured way, with higher values and morals. It is closely connected to the level of God consciousness within a society: as religion declines, people lose respect for God’s creation. Thus we have to admit the fact that Kali-yuga is progressing at a fast pace.
On the 2nd of October the devotees drove me to Bhaktivedanta Manor.....
Your servant, Devaki dd