Spiritual growth depends on disposition, not position
Our normal material tendency is to go by externals. We form impressions about people based on how they look, where they stay, what they drive in and what their designation is.
When we carry this tendency into spiritual life, we judge devotees based on their positions within ecclesiastical hierarchies. What is worse than such judgment of others is that we judge even our own spiritual growth by our stature in that hierarchy. If we are rising within that hierarchy, we feel happy, thinking that we are growing spiritually. Otherwise, we feel sorry for ourselves, thinking that we are stagnating spiritually.
However, spiritual growth depends on disposition, not position. When our internal disposition becomes more devotional and less sensual, when our inner attraction towards Krishna increases and our attraction towards worldly things decreases, this change is the sure test of spiritual advancement.
Of course, this change doesn’t happen automatically in a vacuum. It requires conscious inner cultivation that is greatly helped by a conducive cultural environment. Providing such an environment and thereby facilitating inner transformation is the primary purpose of spiritual institutions.
Like all institutions, spiritual institutions need to be staffed. Ideally positions in such institutional correlate with dispositions – those with higher positions are up there because their devotional disposition is greater. But as these institutions have to function in the material world, worldly considerations sometimes intrude into the idealism; some people may rise due to factors other than the spiritual.
That’s why judging anyone’s spiritual growth based on external positions, even ecclesiastical positions, can be misleading. The Bhagavad-gita urges us to go beyond such superficiality when it proclaims (09.32) that even social groups conventionally considered inferior in the prevailing cultural hierarchy – females, merchants and laborers – can attain the supreme destination if they cultivate the right devotional disposition.
“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth women, vaishyas [merchants] and shūdras [workers] can attain the supreme destination.”