Throughout my life i have heard and read this phrase countless times. Whether it is on a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, in a book, shouted by someone with a raised fist, uttered in jest, or just brought up in normal conversation, it is mostly used by anarchists who “don’t want the man (or system) keepin’ ‘em down”. Contrary to what some may think, this phrase was not spawned from the punk-rock revolutionaries of the 1980’s. Many consider one of America’s forefathers, Benjamin Franklin, to be the originator of the term as he is often quoted in saying, “it is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”. Although Mr. Franklin was fairly punk in more ways than one, i’m not sure that his intent behind this message was to encourage people to categorically reject authority like the punk counterculture seems to profess. After all, there is quite a big difference between questioning something and completely rejecting it.
But i am in no position to interpret the intent of this historical figure as, having never met the gentleman, my thoughts on the matter would be mere conjecture. Fortunately, though, there is no need for speculation in this regard because the actual person who coined the phrase under discussion was Sri Krsna Himself and He is quite clear about what He means by it.
While Lord Krsna was conversing with His dear friend Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, He told him: “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)
So as it turns out, it is quite beneficial to question authority. Since genuine authorities actually know what they are talking about, they can certainly teach others to advance in their field of expertise providing that the potential student is worthy, qualified and possesses the proper attitude. Without assimilating these characteristics, the student may find it difficult to advance in knowledge.
Not many educators are eager to cooperate with a student who breaks down their door, demands immediate attention, and questions their teaching methods or qualification. Some etiquette must be there if one sincerely wishes to learn something, and so our questions should be put forth in a submissive and respectful manner.
We should not, of course, accept every yahoo who claims to be an authority and blindly follow their ramblings and drivel as gospel truth and our life’s mission, but it is certainly necessary for us to accept some authority if we want to effectively increase our understanding.
It is in our best interest to employ good judgment and fair discrimination in choosing our authority. Our mentor should be noticeably successful in the field in which we desire to achieve success. If our goal is to become a plumber, we should not approach a surgeon for training (and visa versa). Although there are no doubt some similarities in these two fields, the techniques are completely different and therefore we can easily understand that choosing our authority requires a bit of intelligence and some initial research on our own part. Of course the first step is to know what it is that we want to achieve; then we can select a suitable advisor.
We humans have material needs and spiritual needs, so naturally we can have both material teachers and spiritual ones. We may learn how to fix a car from an expert mechanic, but for our spiritual needs we should approach an expert in spiritual matters. So if one is looking for the Absolute Truth, beyond this temporary and illusory world, one must approach a guru who is expert in dealing with transcendental subjects. Although becoming an auto-mechanic may help one provide for one’s material needs (food, clothing and entertainment for oneself and one’s family), there is still a spiritual need that goes unfulfilled if it is not addressed.
It can easily be understood that spirit is different from matter and that, while the body is composed of material elements, the conscious spark that animates it is eternal and transcendental to the temporary body. The body requires food and water to function properly, but no amount of material care can satisfy the soul. An eternal being cannot find true comfort in a temporary place. So beyond these bodily necessities are spiritual necessities that require attention.
We need answers to questions such as, “Who are we? Why are we here? Why are different people born into various favorable and unfavorable situations? What is the meaning of life? What happens after the death of the body?”
These questions pertain to the soul and as such are eternal. Similarly, the answers to these questions generate eternal results. As we progress in our spiritual understanding, we are placed into more spiritually favorable situations (both in this life and the next). The more we value these priorities and actively pursue the cultivation of this spiritual knowledge, the quicker we will satisfy our spiritual needs and attain peaceful perfection.
So don’t let the material modes keep ya down! By all means, be punk… question authority… just don’t be a jerk about it unless you want to remain a fool.
After all, there is nothing more punk than overthrowing the authority of material nature, which impels us to thoughtlessly consume its mind controlling products while chasing around the illusion of freedom.