The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, Part 5 of 5

The point of view of the “Grand Inquisitor” within Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” and of its author, Ivan, are fascinating and insightful on many levels. It is truly worth reading and re-reading over and over again because of its complexity and power. I would like to make a few additional points that are just the tip of the iceberg, I believe.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Ivan hinted within the chapter entitled, “Rebellion,” that he was someone who “suffered for an idea.” That idea turned out to be his assessment of God as unfair (due to the suffering of innocent children) and his suffering comes from his voluntary self-exclusion from the happiness that God offers the “saved.” In other words, Ivan chooses to suffer out of protest. He connects his protest to the love for humanity that he feels in his heart. He is connecting the mind (an idea) and the heart (love feelings) in an interesting way here.

Which comes first, the idea or the feelings? Did he develop the idea that life was unfair and then form his love of humanity after in order to justify a very egoistic type of freedom that followed (which he calls “everything is lawful”)? Or did he recognize that a universal, non-judgmental love existed in his heart and then judged the God that his religion offered him as falling short of that love? Or could both be true at the same time?

Ivan certainly admits at the end of the chapter that his “ideas” about God and religion have led to a style of life he calls “everything is lawful.” In other words, Ivan’s rejection of happiness in faith in God frees him of any self-judgment of any possible action. When “everything is lawful” Ivan can do anything he wants to, without a concern for its ethics or morality, without feeling a sting of conscience about it. That is because he has willfully rejected the existence that God has created (as inherently unfair and therefore, flawed). In an incredible expression of self-centeredness Ivan tells his brother that he will take advantage of his youth, doing whatever he wants until age 30 or so, and then will kill himself. This is his act of “Rebellion” against a creator God who feels less love than he does (so he believes).

The grand inquisitor expresses something similarly self-centered in his chapter as well, stating that he rejected Jesus and the salvation (happiness) that He offered because he saw that salvation wasn’t for everyone. Out of love for those who could not follow Jesus’s instructions and become worthy of salvation the grand inquisitor rejected Jesus in his heart and began a religious campaign of lies and oppression in order to give something of value to those of nonredeemable character. He also then says that he willingly suffers for having done so. He has chosen to leave God’s side and His happiness for the sake of others (he says that only a repressive Church can give the nonredeemable some happiness because they fear freedom more than anything and the Church can take away that freedom and make them happy at least part of the time). Ironically, in his rebellion, the grand inquisitor mimics Jesus in his claim that he suffers for the sake of others’ happiness. The difference is that Jesus suffered in order that people might be free while the grand inquisitor suffers that people might be somewhat happy (because they are incapable of achieving Jesus’s freedom and in fact, they would prefer their “daily bread” to the freedom that Jesus offers).

There is another interesting connection to observe concerning the “idea.” At the end of the grand inquisitor’s story he talks about freedom in terms of free thinking. He connects having his own ideas (instead of just taking the ideas that the church offers) to developing the sciences. He then connects the sciences with greater unhappiness and war. And he says the only possible chance for happiness for most people is a return to submission to the church’s doctrine. But ironically, Ivan admits that it is his free thought that has led to his suffering and to his rebellion from the idea of God and so, from the grand inquisitor’s point of view, Ivan cannot possibly be happy.

Ivan chooses to think for himself and that leads him to judge God and suffer for it. That free thinking then prevents him from believing in religion which he claims (through the words of the grand inquisitor) is the only way he could be happy (we assume that he doesn’t consider himself capable of following Jesus’s teachings in order to reach true freedom). That circle of suffering that free thought creates (which he claims Jesus encouraged) can therefore only be overcome through the forced, violent, repression of the church. And of course, the church represses by jailing or killing the free thinkers (like Ivan). That repression then causes more suffering in innocent people further justifying rebellion against God. That rebellion against God, of course, requires free thinking!

So the circle goes round and round with no clear way out. Again the important result of this is not to come up with a solution at this point but rather, simply to recognize if we are caught in this circle or not. A few questions to ask ourselves might include:

–Are we a free-thinker about the question of God or do we simply trust what our religion says about Him (or Her)?

–If we are a free-thinker then do we have any deeply held feelings about the suffering of those we consider innocent and undeserving of suffering (our spouse, children, parents, friends, etc.)?

{In asking that question we should observe our emotional responses in the moments when we encounter first-hand the suffering of those we consider innocent.}

–If we have strong and negative (depressive, or anger) emotional responses in those moments do we harbor the idea that God might be unfair?

–Could that deeply held thought that God might be unfair (at times) cause us to feel vulnerable, scared and even depressed occasionally (especially when directly confronted with others’ suffering (or our own))?

–Due to these deeply held doubts about God, do we feel that it is right for us or for anyone to be happy all the time?

–Do we turn to scientific explanations in our lives because we feel a deep vulnerability in front of a possibly unfair (or nonexistent) God?

–Do we feel critical of religions and those of blind faith in religions because we suspect those religions are based on repression of free thought?

–Do we secretly feel jealous of those who can feel happiness from their religious faith and then do we feel frustrated (or depressed) because we feel we already know too much scientific facts to allow us to ever return blindly to our religion?


About Kilaya

Kilaya is a yogi who is also well-versed in the sciences. He studied physics and mathematics at college, biology and molecular biology on his own, fluid dynamics while working as a professional plumber and has always had a passion for in-depth psychology. Now he adds what he has learned from his spiritual master, Amma, and from his life as a professional astrologer to his writings in order to make discoveries that may inspire others.

Posted on August 15, 2015, in Spirituality & Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am glad you have found some insight into the eastern orthodox treasure. Eastern yogis have more in common with us priests because you see knowing God and his divine energy is the goal of meditation. To become one in spirit with the Lord of love. Grace to you as you seek to draw people toward the bliss of God.


    • Interesting! I confess that I know very little about your tradition. I will start reading from your EasternFathers blog in order to learn more. There do seem a few parallels with Eastern (Asian) traditions from what Dostoevsky depicts. The system of “elders” is one, which sounds a lot like the veneration of gurus (both alive and dead) that happens here in India (and is common to Hinduism, Buddhism and even some sects of Islam (Sufism)).

      The system of “elders” seems to give an individual a special spiritual authority that is beyond his or her hierarchical position once that individual is recognized as such an “elder.” Dostoevsky describes how that system of “elders” was under attack by my many other orthodox church leaders who were uncomfortable with such special status given. Perhaps such a system even existed in Western Christianity prior to the consolidation of power in the Vatican. I am thinking about within monasteries of the middle ages, perhaps.


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