Caring For Devotees: The Spiritual Counselor System
From a series of lectures by HH Radhanath Swami, introducing the Spiritual Counselor System that has been successfully deployed at Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Temple in Mumbai, Chowpatti.
Inroducing the Counselor System
Service To The Vaishnavas – The Highest Religious Principle
Vaisnavism has been manifested in its purest and most wonderful form through the love and teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates. The most beautiful aspect of Lord Caitanya’s pastimes is the loving interaction between Him and His devotees, and among the devotees themselves. Although He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya played the role of the devotee just to teach us how to conduct our lives as devotees. In Navadvipa sometimes Lord Caitanya would bow down to His devotees and take the dust from their lotus feet. Sometimes He would wash their clothes with His own hands. Sometimes, on the bank of the Ganges, He would fold their clothes. Sometimes He would bring them clay from the Ganges to use as tilaka. Sometimes He would see devotees carrying loads and He would take the load upon Himself and would carry it. In these and many other ways, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught by His own example that the highest of all religious principles is the service to the Vaisnavas.
After taking sannyasa Lord Caitanya made His home in Jagannatha Puri. Every year the devotees of Bengal would come to meet Him during Caturmasya, and Lord Caitanya would personally meet them on the outskirts of Puri. Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, would put a fragrant garland on each devotee. The master of all creation would personally decorate the limbs of each devotee with sandal pulp. He would embrace the Vaisnavas and would praise them, filling their heart with love. When He saw their wives bowing down to Him at a distance, He would praise them also by saying: “Whatever knowledge, whatever devotion, whatever saintliness these devotees have, their wives possess the same”. Thus He would completely satisfy all devotees by His personal embrace and by glorifying their good qualities. He would also make sure that the devotees had proper accommodations—clean rooms with water and servants—and prasadam. In this way Lord Caitanya personally served His devotees, and this increased the devotees’ desire to serve Him and serve each other. If the Lord sees that His devotees are so exalted that He desired to serve them, how should we then see the devotees and desire to serve them?
The Essence of Varnasrama
This is the essence of our culture: to learn how to be the servant of the servant of the Vaisnavas. This is the basic spirit of the scientific process of daivi-varnasrama-dharma. The conclusion of varnasrama is Lord Caitanya’s sloka, “I am not a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, or sudra. Nor am I a brahmacari, grihastha, vanaprastha, or sannyasi—these are all temporary designations—my only true identity is to be the servant of the servant of the servant of the Lord of the gopis, Lord Krishna.” This is the conclusion. This is the spirit. Still, when Lord Caitanya was a brahmacari, He acted as a perfect brahmacari. When He married, He behaved as a perfect grihastha. And when He took sannyasa He strictly followed all the regulative principles of the sannyasi. So He taught us the importance of following the principles of varnasrama, but understanding that the goal is to utilize these different positions to express our devotion to Krishna. Daivi-varnasrama-dharma in essence is to educate people—according to their nature and propensity—to utilize their talents in the service of God to develop pure love of God. In the society of devotees all the different segments should respect one another, should harmonize with one another, understanding that we need to help each other to purify the heart and to become Krishna conscious.
Caring for Every Devotee
How to apply these principles today, in our society of devotees, is a great challenge. But it is essential, because without it so many problems will play havoc in our society. For a society to be strong, all members must know their duties, and everyone should care for each other. Care means personal attention in serving each devotee. This is the one of the greatest needs of our society. We are preaching the most personal theology in the world: Krishna is a person and every living being is also a person. Everyone has an eternal relationship with God; every one has an eternal relationship with His part and parcels. As Krishna says: “You cannot show love for Me unless you show love for My devotees, and even show love to those who forgot that they are My devotees.” Sometimes in our society we become so highly philosophical that we forget that we are people.
Devotees need encouragement and basic facilities to be happy and serve Krishna throughout their life.
A devotee has given his whole life to serve this mission, and then he becomes very sick. He needs help. He lays sick on the floor “I can’t do my service.” And we say, “You are in maya. You are not the body.” “Thank you. Philosophically it’s true: I am not this body and I am in maya, but I need your help to get out of maya and transcend this body. I need the love, support and care of a Vaisnava to take me through this.”
Srila Prabhupada was so caring to his devotees. On the first Gaura Purnima festival the only existing building was not yet finished. The first night that the devotees were there Srila Prabhupada got up in the middle of the night to look in each room to see if each devotee was properly taken care of, to see if everyone had a mosquito net. He would also ensure that there was prasadam for all of them and when they were getting sick he was very concerned about their health.
In Vrindavana, during his last months on the planet, Srila Prabhupada was so sick that he couldn’t even walk. When he had to go upstairs two British devotees would pick him up and would carry him in his chair. One of these devotees had a boil in his foot, and once, while he was carrying Srila Prabhupada, something hit the boil. The devotee said “Oh!” and tried to hide it, but Srila Prabhupada understood. Srila Prabhupada could not eat for months and had lost so much weight. His body was only bones. In these state most people would think about themselves. What was a little boil for a big, strong, young devotee, in comparison with Srila Prabhupada’s condition? Still, Srila Prabhupada asked: “What is your problem?” “No problem, Srila Prabhupada, no problem” said the disciple. But Srila Prabhupada insisted: “No, no, please, tell me”, and then he saw the boil and told him exactly what medicine to put. He told him to take the leaf of a certain tree, put it in mustard oil, boil it, and apply this at least three times a day. The next day, when that devotee was carrying Srila Prabhupada upstairs, Srila Prabhupada asked: “How is your foot? Let me see.” And for the next several days, until the boil was completely cured, Srila Prabhupada would inquire with attention and concern. How much do you think this increased the love of that devotee for Srila Prabhupada? He felt: “Srila Prabhupada is so concerned with such an insignificant disciple like myself. I am not a big preacher or anything like that.” This is bhakti. When devotees have physical or mental difficulties it’s an opportunity for us to express our love for them. It’s an opportunity to express our love for Krishna through serving a Vaisnava.
In the history of the Hare Krishna Movement it is very, very rare that someone leaves the society because he finds a higher philosophy: there is no higher philosophy. Srila Prabhupada gave us the topmost, most complete philosophy and the most perfect and pure process to follow. Why then people leave this movement? Mostly because they feel not cared for by the Vaisnava society. They feel treated impersonally. They feel that their material and emotional needs are not being fulfilled and they discontinue the spiritual practices. When devotees become dissatisfied, some of them leave the society to go into the world just to try to get a lot of money. Others go for some New Age so-called religious ideas, where people said: “You are very nice. You are very nice.” And the devotee thinks, “At least they say that I am nice.” Others go to some other branch of Vaisnavism because they feel: “At least these people will care about me.” But if the devotees were properly cared for in the Hare Krishna Movement, practically no one would ever want to leave. And that is why Srila Prabhupada said that the second half of his mission was to establish the varnasrama-dharma society, to care for devotees throughout their entire lives, so that they can be happy in Krishna consciousness, serving according to their propensity.
Srila Prabhupada established big, big, book distribution. He opened over one hundred temples and started massive preaching around the world. But at one point Srila Prabhupada said: “Now it is time to boil the milk”. We must continue to expand the preaching, but we must also put maximum energy in properly training the devotees how to be Vaisnavas, how to practice sadhana, how to understand the duties of the grihastha, the brahmacari, the vanaprastha, the sannyasi. We must especially train devotees in the principles of Vaisnava etiquette. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “Observance of Vaisnava etiquette is what makes a devotee beautiful in the eyes of God.” And what is Vaisnava etiquette? It is how to properly respect, honor and care for each other, on every level. And this is the emergency. Our society has become quite big, and many people are leaving, because they don’t feel properly cared for. Couples are divorcing because they don’t know how to be a grihastha. Brahmacaries are doing a lot of crazy things because they don’t know what means to be brahmacari. And when devotees who dedicated their lives are in need—financial, medical, or mental need—they feel all alone, and nobody wants to help them. This is an emergency situation: our society must develop a Krishna conscious social system so that devotees can live harmoniously together, advance and be happy in Krishna consciousness.
The Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandir Experience
n our Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Temple—in the Bombay neighborhood named Chowpatty—we tried to implement this spirit of varnasrama in our social development programs. It may not be the perfect presentation. It may not be as full and comprehensive as described in the scriptures, but it is something practical. And the result is that devotees are very happy, they are getting trained and feel cared for.
When devotees feel that the Vaisnava society is caring for them, the result is that they would do anything to serve the society. When devotees don’t feel cared, it is a great austerity to serve the society. But if we serve the devotees, the devotee spontaneously wants to serve.
One requirement is what has to be done today. We need money today, go out and get money. We need to cook today, go and cook. We need to clean, go and clean. We need to do puja, go and do puja. What has to be done today, has to be done today. But the problem is that if someone just does what has to be done today, after ten years he realizes, “I have no future.” We should think of the future of each devotee. We should engage every devotee with two directions in mind: one, what has to be done today, and two—more important—what is the master plan to keep this devotee happy in devotional service till the day of leaving the body and going back to Godhead? We tried to impress upon the leaders of our temple and congregation that they need to engage people in this way. From the very first day they should think what it takes to keep that particular devotee healthy in Krishna consciousness for the next forty or fifty years. Therefore we have set up different programs, through which Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya’s mercy has been working very wonderfully.
The Essence Of Daivi-Varnashrama-Dharma
We can speak for days and weeks and months and years and lifetimes about daivi-varnasrama-dharma but, in essence, daivi-varnasrama-dharma is to educate people — according to their nature and propensity — to utilize their talents in the service of God, to develop pure love of God. We are not these bodies. We are neither men nor women. We are neither American, nor Russian, nor Indian. We are neither old nor young, neither educated nor uneducated. We are not Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or Jews. These are all temporary, external designations. We are eternal souls, eternal servants of Krishna. Originally we are all Krishna conscious entities; our goal of life is to awaken our natural love for Krishna, and bhakti, devotional service, is the only means to achieve that. Everyone is conditioned by his previous karma and therefore in human society we find so many different tendencies. We have to serve the Lord with our material mind and senses but, due to our different natures, we cannot all serve in the same way. In every social system—capitalistic or communistic, atheistic or theistic—people have different propensities. Some are natural teachers, priests, leaders or administrators. Others are happy doing business, buying and selling. Srila Prabhupada said that you can put a vaishya in any place with nothing and, somehow or other, as if by miracle, he would sell things and make a lot of money. Others are happy doing hard manual work, farming or making bread. There are people who are naturally inclined to renunciation and brahmacari life, and others who are much happier in the grihastha-asrama. And there are also the vanaprastha and sannyasa stages. We need to develop a social organization, within our society, to take care of the devotees so that they can be happy in Krishna consciousness for the rest of their life. Srila Prabhupada expected us to work together to accomplish this. In our temple in Mumbai, India, Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Mandir, we have tried to implement the spirit of varnasrama in our social development. I will try to explain some of the programs we are doing in our sincere attempt to serve the Vaisnava community. Such programs can be applied anywhere. In the beginning we were just watching, analyzing why devotees leave the association of other devotees. We were thinking that is necessary to establish training for the various varnas—brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and sudras. Srila Prabhupada emphasized it but it is so complicated, because in the city environment it’s difficult to identify the real varna of a person. On one level a grihastha may be living outside as part of the congregation, doing excellent sadhana, preaching, cultivating many people and doing pujari service. In this way he is like a brahmana, but as occupation he may be a businessman, that is vaishya, or he may work in a factory, that is sudra. So what is he? He is a Vaisnava.
The Problems of Grihasthas
Devotees may have their home, their family, their occupation, and at the same time be very responsible and exemplary, maintaining a pure sadhana and a tremendous desire to serve the other Vaisnavas and Srila Prabhupada’s mission. Grihasthas need to be trained. In the outside society there is a high divorce rate and because of that influence there is also divorce within the Krishna conscious society. I believe that we could prevent most of these disasters if husbands and wives were trained on how to live together and respect each other in Krishna consciousness. Senior grihasthas can help. They know the philosophy; they have been through many experiences; they can teach how to solve marriage problems and to keep Krishna in the center. They can explain how to balance one’s occupation—where one has to deal with materialists and make money—with one’s keeping a strong sadhana and association of devotees. The can guide on how to raise Krishna conscious children. As a sannyasi, we have a certain insight that grihasthas sometimes don’t have. I’ll tell you what it is. So many grihasthas approach me and tell me of their problems: family problems; economic problems; problems with husband; problems with wife; problems with children; problems with mother, father and everybody else; problems with sadhana; problems with the mind… and everyone thinks that they are unique problems. But my insight is that everyone has the same problem, in slightly different versions.
A senior, trained, Krishna conscious grihastha can help to solve these problems. That was the first idea of the counselor system: many people were coming to me, but actually grihasthas should help grihasthas; they have more realization than the sannyasis, they have practical experience. Not only that, when they help others they make so much spiritual advancement themselves. Why should we keep all the spiritual advancement for us? Let other devotees take the problems and make spiritual advancement. And the more they preach, the more they extend themselves to help, the more they feel completely ecstatic to be devotees. And although they may be living outside, they are cultivating, they are training, they have to be very attentive, and they have to be very good examples. They are preachers! And they are training other grihasthas to do the same thing. In this way the congregation becomes a tremendous spiritual asset for our movement.
Starting the Counselor System
At the beginning of this counselor project, nobody took it seriously. Because everyone was more concerned with what has to be done today. But today doesn’t last forever, that’s the problem. We have to think of the future of our movement. We started with three senior grihasthas. We asked them to take responsibility to guide and train those who would like to learn from them, and we personally tried to give them some training. Then we made this system available to our congregation. Not so many, but some signed up and the counselors started by having meetings every two weeks, while also trying to care for the devotees on a personal level, throughout the week. Then I had to go to America. When I came back to Mumbai I asked, “How is the counselor system working?” and they said, “The counselor system? Oh, we forgot about it.” There wasn’t much interest. I said, “Interest or not interest, there is a need in our society to develop this type of programs. Please, try it.” And they said, “Yes, yes, we’ll try it.” So, they restarted having some meetings. Then I went to America again and came back a few months later: “How is the counselor system?” “Oh… Hare Krishna… we forgot about it…” “I have come to remind you,” I told them, “it’s important, it’s necessary!” and they said, “Oh yes, yes, yes…”
The first need is therefore that the leaders understand the necessity and then make other devotees imbibe the feeling of necessity. After that they started taking it very seriously and it became so wonderful. The arrangement was that each counselor would take responsibility for entire families, based on personal care, not on management. Every two weeks all the families of the counselor group would meet together in a different house. The first thing they would do is discussing the philosophy; they would learn it very systematically. They have reading materials that everyone in the group studies and every week they all take an exam on the material they covered the previous week. Everyone also learns how to lead and sing in kirtan, how to set up an altar at home and how to cook prasadam. The counselors always preach about the great importance of having strict sadhana while living in the congregation as a grihastha. In every meeting they put a lot of attention into teaching proper Vaisnava etiquette, how to deal with Vaisnavas and how to respect and serve them; how women should deal with brahmacaris, how they should deal with other ladies’ husbands and with one another; how husbands should deal with their wives and with other women, with brahmacaris and with other men. Besides discussing Srila Prabhupada’s books, Vaisnava etiquette and proper standards of sadhana, they also discuss the problems they have and they help one another. And then, beyond the meeting, on a daily basis the counselors individually contact their counselees. When they took this system seriously it became so attractive that soon hundreds of people were joining the groups. And the people being trained became first class examples of grihasthas and became fit to train others. It began with three counselors and about fifteen families, and now it is up to forty counselors and about seven hundred families. And among them, without counting the temple devotees, there are four hundred initiated devotees, who are strictly following the four regulative principles and are completely dedicated to serving Srila Prabhupada’s mission. And it’s growing like anything. But more important than growing is the quality of the care for each devotee. This is our great emphasis. If we grow so fast that we can no longer properly take care of even the most insignificant individual, then our growing is a liability, rather than an asset.
The Purposes of the Counselor System
The ultimate aim is to thoroughly care for each devotee. Here are the purposes of applying the counselor system within the congregation of grihasthas:
To educate and train married devotees to live according to the Krishna conscious principles of the grihastha asrama;
To provide systematic training to devotees in matters of philosophy, sadhana and Vaisnava behavior, etiquette, lifestyle and attitudes;
To provide a formal framework within which personal care and attention can be extended to all devotees so as to make them feel loved and wanted and part of a wonderful spiritual family;
To foster warm personal relationships and a spirit of love and trust among devotees, based on Krishna conscious principles;
As a forum through which allocation of service, organization of major events, communication of important decisions, etc., can be facilitated;
The “Report on the Social Development Program at Radha-Gopinatha Temple” includes also descriptions of how the counselor system works, the responsibilities of the counselors, how they are trained and nominated, and how the counselors train the counselees. Counselors take care to train the devotees in household life in the following areas:
How to be ideal grihasthas by keeping Krishna in the center;
How to maintain proper devotional standards at home (regarding kitchen, altar, behavior, sadhana, etc.).
How to be proper wife/husband/parent/child, etc. as per scriptures;
How to balance economic and social responsibilities with spiritual vows;
How women should deal with men, particularly brahmacaries and sannyasis;
How men should deal with women;
How to have proper attitude towards other asramas;
The counselors also resolve conflicts and disagreements within a family, between a devotee and his relatives or between two devotees and thus train them to deal with others in a Krishna conscious way;
A manual of Vaisnava Etiquette and Lifestyle has been prepared for the guidance of devotees and portions of this manual are discussed in every meeting;
Happiness: The Secret Preaching Weapon
The result of applying this system is that devotees are very happy; they are trained and they feel cared for. There is no greater preaching than a happy devotee. The best book distributors in history are those who look very blissful. I watched for years my Godbrother Vaisesika Prabhu. He is a tall devotee with a big smile and eyes full of happiness. He runs to somebody, smiles blissfully, shakes his hand and says: “Nice to meet you!” And the other person thinks, “I never met such an happy man in my whole life!” Then Vaisesika says, “This is a book about love of God. Please, take it.” and the person takes it. Also Sacinandana Maharaja, when he approaches people with books, they just see a happy person and think, “Give me such books. I also want to learn to be happy.” But if then people come to the temple and see that devotees are morose, gossiping and doing their service grudgingly, they will think, “Yes, the book is very nice, but I don’t believe it’s practical.” But if they come to the temple and see that the devotees are working together unitedly, that they are happily chanting, happily taking prasadam, happily serving and happy with one another, the guests will think, “I want to read and understand these books. I want to be part of this movement.” Therefore, if we want to persuade the world to accept Krishna consciousness, the most important investment is to make the devotees happy. If they are happy they will have the strength to continue despite the greatest difficulties in life. If the devotee is happy he will want to make everyone happy. There is nothing that he can’t do; there is nothing that he will not do. The happiness of the devotees enlightens people’s hearts and invites them to take shelter of the holy names of Lord Krishna’s.
Srila Prabhupada said that we are turning hippies into happies. Once a Christian priest told Srila Prabhupada, “Your disciples are so bright-faced. Most young people today are dull and intoxicated, but your disciples are so happy.” Prabhupada quoted that priest on many occasions. Srila Prabhupada told us “Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!” he didn’t say, “Chant Hare Krishna and gossip. Chant Hare Krishna and be miserable.” So it’s the duty of the leaders to teach people how to be happy by chanting Hare Krishna, not just for one day or for one year, but for the rest of their life.
Committees For Caring For Devotees
To facilitate the counselors in giving the most complete service to every family, we developed various committees consisting of counselors and other devotees of the congregation who are interested in helping and are capable of helping. The spirit behind these committees is to use our God-given intelligence to think of all the problems grihasthas may have-on any level-and have a group of devotees who will help to solve these problems. The purpose is to create such a feeling of love, trust and care that people will be inspired to chant Hare Krishna and to serve this great mission of Srila Prabhupada.
The first committee is the children’s committee. Grihasthas in the congregation face a great challenge in trying to infuse their children with Krishna consciousness. But children who are enthusiastic to be Krishna conscious make their parents so happy to be Krishna conscious. In fact, if the children are Krishna conscious, the parents are very afraid to fall into maya, because the children always watch and drag them: “Let’s go to the temple. Why are you oversleeping? Why are you not chanting your rounds?” In helping the children to desire to be Krishna conscious one of the most important factors is to make them feel that they have an important responsibility within our mission. Therefore we selected four very sincere teenage girls and asked them to take charge of this department, and no adult would be allowed to interfere. The girls were very happy. They started to organize one program a month, where the children do everything and the parents are only allowed to watch and do what the children tell them to do. The children were very happy. This is one of the most popular programs of our temple: one Saturday night every month, in the temple, we invite everyone to come and we usually get seven to eight hundred people, serious people. First the children sing bhajans (and they play all the karatalas, mridangas and harmoniums) and then there is arati, and the children lead the arati and again play all the instruments. They also act as Master of Ceremonies, making all the announcements and introducing the next child. And then there is the class. Little children-five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven years old-give class, sitting on the seat and speaking in the microphone. Usually they tell pastimes of Krishna or of Lord Caitanya. Each time six children give class-each speaking for about ten minutes-and all their classes are perfectly sastric and parampara. A five-year-old girl is giving the lecture and eight hundred people are listening with great attention. And some people are crying, weeping through the whole program, because they are so proud to see that these little children are such wonderful Vaisnavas. At the end of the class all the adults cheer: “Haribol! Haribol!” Then we have drama. The children write the script, the children produce the drama and direct it, the children make all the costumes, and all the actors are children. They perform two dramas, each about twenty minutes long. After the drama all the children together chant slokas from Bhagavad-gita and then we also have a puppet show. The children make the puppets, the children write the scripts, the children do the puppetry, and the adults just watch. And at the end there is a big, big kirtan.
As a result of this program, all month long the children are practicing; they meet together many times a week to rehearse their dramas and practice their kirtans and their stories. The parents have never seen their children so Krishna conscious before. Three or four times a day the children practice on their parents the class they are going to give in public. For the whole month, all day long, they are just practicing singing the bhajans, playing the mridanga or reciting the lines for their drama, neglecting everything else. And the children feel that they are leaders of our movement; they feel that they have the responsibility to preach to the masses, and they are so excited. They love this program. They feel: “This is the time when the parents listen to us. We can preach to them.” and in this way the children really feel a place within Prabhupada’s preaching movement, not just sitting and watching and listening, but actually taking the lead. And the parents are more ecstatic than their children seeing them taking so much responsibility and becoming so enthusiastic. And their relatives-who would never come to the temple-when their nieces, their nephews or their grandchildren are giving the lecture or are starring in the drama, they come to watch them. They won’t come to see us, but they come to see the children. People who would never come to the temple come to the temple, and they all make the same mistake: they bring their children. And when their children see all the other children leading kirtans, telling stories, speaking philosophy and doing dramas, they say: “Mummy, next month I want to be in this!” And then they have to bring their children to the temple for the rehearsals, and they have to associate with the other mothers, and then they become devotees. Hare Krishna.
So, this is a wonderful program, and it is a way to help the grihasthas to serve their children and making them Krishna conscious. There is also a Sunday school every Sunday, where some of our senior ladies teach the children so many nice stories, slokas, and basic Vaisnava etiquette. We have such an overwhelming response from these children’s programs, and I believe that any temple could do it. Srila Prabhupada explained that the young generations are the future leaders of our society; we have to enthuse them.
The second committee is the women’s committee. We have four very senior ladies who conduct these meetings every two weeks, each time at a different lady’s house. Attendance is completely voluntary and any woman from the congregation can come. Usually fifty or sixty ladies attend, and it’s growing. The first thing they do is that one of the senior ladies give a lecture on a great Vaisnavi in our history, like Jahnava Devi, Sita Devi, Kunti Devi, Gandhari or Visnupriya. They discuss the qualities and the surrender of these great ladies and then discuss various issues such as how to be a better mother, how to be a better daughter, and how to deal with problems in their house and in their lives. In this way these women sincerely try to help and serve one another. All the time women come to me and tell me: “I had never felt such close friendship and love with the other women of our movement as I am feeling since I am coming to these meetings. Due to the nature of my life, my family and my service, I did not know most of these ladies, but now I am actually learning to know them and we are caring for each other. We have become such dear friends and we’re helping each other to become better women in Krishna consciousness.” This is one of the greatest results of this program.
Business Enterprise Committee
“The next is the business enterprise committee, where grihasthas set up various businesses specifically to fund the temple. Right now the entire Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha temple is funded by the donations of grihasthas in the congregation. We have no life-membership program. We have no brahmacaris collecting. When brahmacaries distribute books, whatever money they collect goes to the BBT. The grihasthas who work outside support all the temple projects, and this business committee is to increase and improve the quality of how the grihasthas contribute. I will give you an example of the kind of businesses the grihasthas are setting up. Within the congregation there are about seven hundred families in the counselor system, but there are well over a thousand families closely connected with the temple. Everyone has to go shopping-for grains, vegetables, fruits, soap, oil, and everything else for the household-and materialistic people get the profit. So two of our grihastha devotees buy all the produce wholesale, all the soap, the grains, the vegetables, everything, and every family in the congregation is invited to buy from them instead than from the shops around their house. The devotees have delivery service, bringing everything right to their house. The price is the same as in the market but all the profits go to the Hare Krishna temple, so it’s sure to be a success.
The fourth committee is the employment committee, to give employment to grihasthas. Sometimes, for instance, after ten years of service a brahmacari gets married. What is he supposed to do? Now he has a wife and expenses. After this so many people leave the association of devotees, because they have no means of supporting their family. So-for devotees who so desire-the employment committee arranges jobs in the association of devotees. One of the projects we established to accomplish this is the Bhaktivedanta Hospital. Srila Prabhupada said that Mayavadis fall from the brahmajyoti and then open hospitals, and he condemned their equating philanthropy-serving the body of men-with service to God. But that is not our goal; it is something completely different. By Krishna’s arrangement we have about twenty five initiated devotees who are cancer surgeons, general surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, gynecologists, pediatricians, anesthesiologists, radiologists, general practitioners, ayurvedic doctors, dentists and dental surgeons, ear-nose-throat specialists, pathologists, skin specialists and venereal disease specialists. They are all serious devotees, attentively chanting sixteen rounds, strictly following the four regulative principles, enthusiastic to preach and completely dedicated to Prabhupada’s movement. Most of them are counselors too. And their patients are also becoming devotees. For example, Madhavananda Prabhu is a pediatrician, a child specialist. This mother and father have a five-year-old daughter; the daughter becomes sick and their family doctor is out of town on vacation. So they take the child to Madhavananda and he gives some medicine to the child. Then he gives prasada to the parents and starts telling them a little about Krishna to see if they are interested (if people are not interested, he stops, if they are interested, he continues). They were interested and he brought them to a program. Then he brought them to a Sunday Feast and now the five-year-old daughter, the mother, the father, the sister of the mother, the husband of the sister of the mother, the brother and the brother’s wife they are all chanting sixteen rounds, following the regulative principles and are completely committed devotees. And this is only one out of dozens of examples of how the patients of these doctors are becoming Krishna conscious. So the doctors decided: “Instead of all having our private practices, why don’t we just start a hospital together? We have enough doctors to run a whole hospital.” Therefore the congregation came together and built the hospital. One of its purposes is to employ devotees in the association of other devotees. To run a hospital you need electricians, carpenters, plumbers, managers, business managers, finance managers, personnel managers, accountants, people for cleaning, cooks, drivers, nurses, lawyers and publicity people. Within a hospital you can practically employ any occupation. Therefore about one hundred seventy five devotees of all these different occupations, who were just working for karmis or privately, gave up their jobs and started working together in the Bhaktivedanta Hospital, where they can finance their families and never leave the association of devotees. Two wings of the hospital are dedicated to alternative medicine: ayurvedic, panca-karma, homeopathy, acupressure, acupuncture and various other natural methods. There is a Radha-Krishna temple right across the street and everything served to the patients and the staff is maha-prasadam. And in every room there is a speaker with two channels, one with Prabhupada giving lecture and one with Prabhhupada singing kirtan. And you cannot turn the speaker off, you can either turn it soft or loud. There is also Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita next to every bed. Many people can become devotees.
Another purpose of this hospital is that the Vaisnavas really want to serve the devotees worldwide. In America, for instance, it usually costs ten, twenty or thirty thousand US dollars just to be in a hospital for a week to get an operation, and it’s a depressing, materialistic atmosphere. The Bhaktivedanta Hospital is five-story high and it has a hundred and thirty beds. Thirty beds have been reserved for charity, and probably those thirty beds will be mostly filled with Hare Krishna devotees who have given their life to this movement and need some major work. They can be treated, in the association of devotees, for free or almost free.
“The spirit behind these committees is to use our God-given intelligence to think of all the problems grihasthas may have-on any level-and have a group of devotees who will help to solve these problems. The purpose is to create such a feeling of love, trust and care that people will be inspired to chant Hare Krishna and to serve this great mission of Srila Prabhupada.
This is actually the best board, because marriage is a big, big problem in our society. Both brahmacaris and grihasthas will agree on this. This board facilitates young people to get married without polluting the atmosphere. What happens if a lady-living in the temple or coming to the temple-decides: “I need to be married”? Or if a man, who is either living in the temple or coming to the temple, decides: “I really should marry”? Or if a brahmacari, who has been serving for some years, decides: “Really, I should get married”? If there is no senior devotee to help, the temple becomes like a hunting ground; like a forest were people cast glances at each other. Young girls look at the brahmacaris like bz-z-z-z, and the brahmacari either goes: “Ah, save me, Krishna!” or he also goes bz-z-z-z. It becomes very disturbing and it’s a problem. At one point respectable young girls who are visiting become afraid to come, they feel uncomfortable in the temple, because men approach: “Mataji, will you marry me?” These poor young ladies are trying to give up material life and come to learn about Krishna, and some man comes up: “Mataji, I love you, please marry me.” Very disturbing.
I will not ask if these things happen here, because they happen everywhere. Wherever the two different sexes are, these things happen. So, the idea of the Marriage Board is that there are very senior, experienced, responsible, Krishna conscious grihasthas, who help bringing people together for marriage. Therefore, no one is allowed to go bz-z-z-z, and men and women are not allowed to mix freely. Men and women should respect and honor one another; they should not be disturbing one another. So, if any man or woman wants to get married-or the parents want them to get married-they submit their names to the Marriage Board. The Board’s position is not to arrange marriages, but to help young people decide for themselves, in a respectful way. They match horoscopes, but that’s just one consideration, because in our experience no two astrologers will give you the same advice. But it gives some indication. Then the marriage counselors seriously ponder the person’s position in society, the level of seriousness the person has to be a devotee, the way the person wants to surrender in the future, the nature, the personality, the family background-they thoroughly consider all these things. And when they really feel that it could be a good combination, they suggest to the boy and suggest to the girl. And if both are favorable, they arrange for them to meet each other. They meet at the home of one of the marriage counselors, where they are not alone and not in an unrespectable environment. The counselors actually talk to each of them and tell them what they should discuss meeting each other, otherwise, the man and the woman just come and look at each. Therefore the counselors tell them what are the important things to discuss, and once the discussion starts, the candidates spontaneously start expressing what they expect of the person they marry; they talk about their past and their inclinations. Afterward, if either one is not interested, the counselors try to find someone else. But if they are interested the counselors arrange more meetings, until man and woman decide positively or negatively. If they decide that they want to get married, the marriage counselors go through a big austerity: they try to convince the parents of both sides to give their blessings.
This Marriage Board has already helped in arranging at least fifty very promising, successful marriages. If a brahmacari wants to get married, he goes through the same process, and the whole congregation helps him. Most of our brahmacaris remain brahmacaris, but sometimes they have this inclination, and they are encouraged, not discouraged. For example one of our brahmacaris, Rohini Kumar Prabhu, was living in the ashram for five years, doing excellent service. He was leading the BBT translation team for Marathi (the language of Maharashtra, the state of Mumbai) and he was doing excellent as a brahmacari too. But people saw that his nature was that in the future he might not remain very happy as a brahmacari. So he was asked to consider marriage. He considered it and he decided, “yes.” The Marriage Board arranged that he meet a very nice young lady and the counselors also talked to the parents and got their blessings. Then the Marriage Board arranged all facilities for the marriage ceremony in the temple.
And then they approached the next committee, the Housing Committee, which tries to get the congregation to help devotees who need housing. Once Rohini Kumar and Radha Sakhi, his wife, were married, the congregation raised enough money-more than 15,000 US dollars-to buy them an apartment. The congregation bought the house, put it completely on their name, and then arranged an employment for Rohini Kumar. The idea is that a person who was for many years a renunciant, if he wants to get married, he shouldn’t need to think, “Now what do I do?” all of a sudden. He should be given whatever he requires by the congregation of grihasthas. And the congregation is in ecstasy doing that, because they really feel that they are helping each other. And every brahmacari in the ashram knows: “If I spend ten or twenty years as brahmacari, and in the future, somehow or other, I require marriage, I won’t be completely left in the dark. This congregation of devotees is so loving and caring; they will provide for me, if I just remain Krishna conscious.” In this way the Housing Committee has arranged nice housing for many devotees.
Financial Assistance Committee
Also this group of devotees works with the rest of the congregation. If a devotee is in emergency, the congregation raises the funds to help. For example some time back instance a devotee, a retired, older man, needed heart surgery. Within one or two days the committee made the appeal and the congregation raised the funds for the entire heart operation. He would have died otherwise, because he had no money for the surgery. This experience not only gave great faith to this devotee, but made everyone in the congregation think: “If I am part of this Hare Krishna movement and sincerely serve this society, If anything ever happens to me these people would love and help me.”
The next committee is comprised of our doctors. Basically all the members of our congregation who sincerely follow the principles and endeavor to serve Srila Prabhupada’s mission, get free medical care, free medicine, and free hospitalization for the rest of their lives, for them and for their entire families.
Farm Community Committee
And the next committee is the Farm Community Committee. We purchased fifty acres of very fertile land about five hours from Mumbai. Since we also preach in the villages, we have many devotees who are farmers. They will move to this community and make it an organic, self-sufficient farm community, and all the produce for the temple will be naturally grown there by devotees. They will also sell the produce to the congregation. They will do cow protection and till the land with oxen. There will also be a vanaprastha community, a facility for old, retired devotees, to be cared for and be given nice service for the rest of their lives.
These are some of the committees; there are a few more, but the idea is to try to have devotees serve each other on every level, to generate that feeling of love and trust. The idea is to help the counselors to create an atmosphere where all of the families within our congregation are very, very happy and enlivened to go on with their Krishna consciousness. We have seen that if grihasthas feel secure in the love and help of other Vaisnavas around them, they become extremely enthusiastic and ecstatic to serve Krishna and do wonderful, wonderful service for this mission. In brief, these are some ways we are trying to serve the grihastha community, to create a social form in which the grihasthas can serve each other, take more responsibility, and give each other great happiness.
Harmony Among the Ashrams
Srila Prabhupada explains, on the basis of Vedic knowledge, that the varnasrama system represents the body of society. The body has different parts and each has to serve the whole. Conflict between one part and another creates a diseased body. The head serves the body by giving direction; the arms provide protection; the stomach does the service of nourishing every limb of the body; the legs serve the essential purpose of carrying the rest of the body. Thus all the parts of the body work in perfect harmony. Similarly, Krishna is the complete whole and all segments of society are meant to harmonize with one another, performing their particular functions to serve Krishna. In the varna system the brahmanas are the head, they give direction; the ksatriyas are the arms, they give protection; the vaisyas are the stomach, they nourish and provide for the whole body; the sudras are the legs, they carry and support all other parts. In the asrama system the sannyasi is the head, he is supposed to be the guru of society, and the vanaprasthas are the arms. The grihasthas are the stomach-they are supposed to supply all the necessities-and the brahmacaris are the legs, they are simply meant to be humble servants. The glory of the varnasrama system is that everyone is serving Krishna together in harmony, according to their natural inclinations, according to their previous karma and the qualities they have adopted. Srila Prabhupada said: “You can show your love for me by how you cooperate with one another to spread this mission.” This cooperation is the very basis of being a Vaisnava, but in order to properly cooperate we have to understand what is our role, what are the roles of other devotees, and how we can all focus on the service of guru and Krishna.
Sometimes within our society there is competition, and competition is generally based on false ego. Everyone wants to think, “I am the best.” Actually this pervades the whole materialistic society, between nations, races and religions, between men and women, between young and old people. Because of ego, on every level there is conflict. What is the origin of this ego? The origin of the ego is when the spirit soul enters into this material existence; he wants to be God, he wants to be the enjoyer, he wants to be glorified. In whatever situation we are in, we have this ego and we want to be the best, the greatest, we want to be God. Despite whatever material adjustment we make, there will always be conflict. The only real principle of unity is:
jnatva mam santim rcchati
That everything is the property of Krishna; nothing is mine. We are all servants of Krishna, so let us unite to serve Krishna, who is the proprietor of the whole world and the master of everyone. This is the only way to have real peace, because it is based on truth.
Our duty in life is to please the Lord and what pleases the Lord most is that we work together in a spirit of humility. Therefore Srila Prabhupada said, “You can show your love for me by how you cooperate.” Krishna is most pleased by that spirit, and daivi-varnasrama is the system by which we can learn to cooperate as Vaisnavas and to respect one another, even within the variegatedness that may be among us.
Conflict Among the Asrams
Sometimes in our society brahmacaris are very arrogant. They think: “We are strict and advanced; grihasthas are in maya, they are fallen. Grihasthas have wives and children and houses, and all I have is my loincloth.” And then we have grihasthas who look at the brahmacaris and say: “Look at those useless fools. They are lazy; they are useless; they don’t do anything. If they want to do something practical in this world, they should get married and get a job; they are just eating and sleeping.” Then there are sannyasis who say that both brahmacaris and grihasthas are in maya because they are not carrying the stick of renunciation.
There is a lila of Ramanujacarya in this regard. In Sri Rangam there was a festival, a procession of the Deities through the streets. Ramanujacarya saw this young man who was really looking foolish: he was a big, strong wrestler and was holding an umbrella over a beautiful woman. His eyes were fixed on her. The Deities and the kirtan were passing by and he didn’t notice anything, he only looked at this woman. Ramanujacarya told one of his followers, “Please, tell that person to come here.” So, he went to him, “Sir, sir…” But he didn’t even notice that someone was talking to him; he was fixed in looking at that woman and making sure that the sun would not touch her beautiful body.
“What?” said the man in a distracted voice.
“Ramanujacarya wants to talk to you.”
“Ramanujacarya, the great acarya of the whole Sri Rangam, wants to talk to me?!”
So he went to Ramanujacarya, who said: “Don’t you know that you look like a fool? The procession is going, the Deities are here, and you are just looking at this lady?!” “I cannot help it,” he replied, “she’s so beautiful. Her eyes are as beautiful as lotus flowers. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as this lady’s eyes in the whole creation. I cannot stop looking at her eyes.”
Ramanuja said: “If I show you something more beautiful than her eyes, would you still look at them?”
“Of course,” he said, “if you show me something more beautiful than her eyes, I would detach myself from her eyes. But there’s no such thing.”
“Oh, then you come to my asrama tonight.” Ramanuja said.
So the man went to the asrama and Ramanuja took him to the temple of Sri Ranganatha during the evening arati. The pujari waved the camphor lamp in front of the beautiful lotus eyes of Lord Visnu and the wrestler started crying, “I have now seen the most beautiful thing in the creation, the eyes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead! Now I will detach myself from that lady. I will surrender to Lord Visnu and I will surrender to you, because you brought me to Visnu.”
Ramanuja told him to preach to that lady and bring her also. She also became a great devotee and Ramanuja told them to get married. His name was Dhanur Das and he became a very dear associate of Ramanujacarya.
Who is more Renounced?
Ramanuja would spend so much time with Dhanur Das and let him do so much service. Brahmacaris were very disturbed to see this; they were thinking: “We are so detached, we are so austere and renounced; we have such a good sadhana and Dhanur Das is so attached to this woman. He is a fallen grihastha. Why Ramanujacarya, our Guru Maharaja, is spending so much time with him? He should spend time with us! We have surrendered our lives, what has he done?” In this way they were criticizing their guru. Ramanuja knew this, and one night, while all the brahmacaris were sleeping, he tore some of their kaupin in pieces-brahmacaris don’t have much except their kaupin, their loincloth. Then they woke up, took their bath, and saw that their kaupin were not right. They started accusing each other. One said, “Why you tore my kaupin?” Another said, “You stole my kaupin!” Another would say, “You have my kaupin!” “I don’t have your kaupin, why are you saying I have? You have my kaupin!” There was a big fight in the brahmacari asrama. Everyone was fighting over kaupin. Hare Krishna. These days the fights are always over such stupid little things, that make no difference at all, but we want to fight.
That evening Ramanujacarya called some of the brahmacaris and told them: “This Dhanur Das is too much attached to his material opulence and to the beauty of his wife. I want to prove how attached he is.” The brahmacaris felt very happy. They thought: “Ah, now Guru Maharaja is coming to higher knowledge.” “You should go to Dhanur Das” Ramanuja continued, ” and tell him that I want to see him in the middle of the night. And when his wife is sleeping, I want that you brahmacaris steal all the golden jewelry that is on her. And then, when Dhanur Das goes home, we will see how upset he is, for losing the jewels of his wife.” The brahmacaris said: “Yes, yes, we’ll do it.” They took this order as their life and soul.
That night Dhanur Das went to see Ramanujacarya and the brahmacaris very, very gently started taking the jewelry off the woman. They took everything from one side of her body. Then she started to turn on the other side, so they became afraid and ran away. They brought the jewels to the asrama and Ramanujacarya told Dhanur Das: “Thank you for coming, you can go home now.” Dhanur Das went home, and the brahmacaris were watching from a hidden place, eager to see what his reaction would be. Dhanur Das said to his wife: “Half of your jewelry is gone.” She said: “Well, the brahmacaris from the asrama came in the middle of the night and started taking it off me. I thought that maybe the asrama is in trouble and they need more money. Therefore I pretended to sleep, so that they could take everything. “Why then do you still have half?” Dhanur Das asked, “Why haven’t you given all?” “They took all from this half,” she said, “but I was sleeping on the other side. While pretending to sleep I tried to turn over, so that they could take everything from the other side too, bur they got scared and left.” Dhanur Das started to chastise his wife: “You have made a big mistake! You didn’t turn correctly; you should have made sure that they took everything! Now we are cheated, we have only given half. We should have given everything we have to the brahmacaris!”
The brahmacaris were very surprised and ashamed. They went back to Ramanujacarya, who said, “So, tell me what happened.” “He’s so detached,” they replied, “he was upset that we did not steal everything. He told his wife: ‘Everything belongs to the guru; you belong to our guru!'” Ramanujacarya said: “Aha, do you remember this morning? Some little pieces of your kaupin were gone, and you were ready to fight and beat each other. You are brahmacaris and he is a grihastha; you took his jewels and he was hoping that you would take more. Who is more renounced, you or him?” The brahmacaris were very ashamed. They said: “He’ is a better brahmacari, he is more renounced than us.”
Ramanujacarya wanted to establish respect among the asramas. Grihasthas have according to their duties, prescribed in the scriptures. They have their style of being renounced and brahmacaris have theirs. We must learn to honor and respect each other as Vaisnavas.
The Brahmachari Asram
As a service to all of you, I am offering a brief explanation of how we are attempting to serve the Vaisnavas at the Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Mandir, in Mumbai. I will now speak about the brahmacari asrama. We already discussed in some detail how we have been trying to serve the grihastha community through various committees and through the counselor system, in which the grihasthas are comprehensively trained to live by the principles of their asrama.
When we first came to Mumbai, there was a tiny little temple, not even a temple: it was just a small, old room in an old building, and there were big rats everywhere. And the brahmacaris were worst than the rats, because the rats were coming out at night and crawled around, but the brahmacaris were always fighting. They would become so angry and would beat each other with their hands and legs. And they would not accept any authority. They were so proud that they were brahmacaris and they would just condemn all grihasthas. They would tell each other: “Never look at a grihastha, never touch a grihastha, they are fallen.” And some of the brahmacaris weren’t even following the regulative principles. I will not get into details. They were criticizing grihasthas so badly as being so attached and fallen, and the grihasthas were criticizing them as being lazy and fallen. They were about to have court cases against each other, and I was asked to oversee this temple. So, the first thing we decided was that all these brahmacaris had to go away, because they were not brahmacaris, they were kamacaris. Brahmacari means a student of Brahman and kamacari means a student of lust. They had no asrama.
Being a brahmacari doesn’t mean wearing a color, it means acting in a serving way. We thought: “What is the Vedic tradition?” The Vedic tradition is that the temple is supposed to be a place where the whole society wants to come to be inspired by the purity of the residents and to be educated by them. In India today, in most of the temples people just go to see the Deity, they bow down, they give a donation, they have some puja done, they get some caranamrita, they get some prasadam, and they leave. And they think, “Now I am pious.” But the great acaryas did not establish temples just for this, because unless you are trained in the science of devotion, you can’t even understand what the Deity is. Srila Prabhupada explains that in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness the purpose of opening temples is to give people the opportunity to associate with devotees, to learn the science of Krishna consciousness from them, from their words and example, to see how devotees live and interact with each other. Temples should be places for the most purified sadhus, for people willing to live by the highest standards of devotion. The most important qualities of a sadhu are humility and the desire to serve. The ordinary people should live outside and come to the temple to be inspired by the sadhus.
Therefore we decided that if we really want to make the congregation Krishna conscious, they have to be able to honor and respect the sadhus in the temple, then they will honor and respect Srila Prabhupada and his teachings. Gradually, somehow or other, we got rid of those brahmacaris, except one or two, who were actually sincere and willing to be taught. We started teaching the real principles of brahmacarya. According to the scriptures a brahmacari has no possessions. He just keeps whatever he needs for his service and nothing more, and he doesn’t even claim proprietorship over that; he considers it his guru’s property and just uses it. A brahmacari is satisfied with whatever food he is given and with whatever little floor space he finds to sleep on. A brahmacari can never say ‘no’ to anything except maya. If it is for the service of Krishna and he is asked to do it, he just does it. Brahmacaris should serve very humbly and they should be sadhus, they should be taught to be preachers. In our movement there are two important ways of preaching: one is to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books, and the other is to present the contents of the books in our words and through our example; therefore we must learn Srila Prabhupada’s books very carefully, scientifically and systematically.
Standards for Joining the Temple
Gradually we established certain standards. Before we consider if one can join the brahmacari asrama, that person has to chant sixteen rounds and follow the four regulative principles for one and a half years. And everyone is told beforehand: “If you live in this asrama, if you ever say ‘no’ to anything you are asked to do, that’s the day you must leave the asrama. Until you come to this standard, it’s better you stay in the congregation and just be a nice devotee.”
Each brahmacari has one little box and is allowed to keep only the possessions that fit in the box. And everyone sleeps on the floor; there are no separate rooms; there are no beds. Before joining the asrama, everyone is told: “If you ever criticize, do fault-finding or do politics, on that day you will have to leave.” When you have such standards only the very serious want to come. If you have low standards in the asrama, you will attract people who are not very sincere, who want something with low standards. High standards attract people who want something very high. We decided various principles: the brahmacaris have to wake up every day for mangala-arati; they have to stay in the temple for japa and not leave the temple room until the entire morning program is finished. Then, at 11 a.m., there is a special class, which all brahmacaris must attend, in which they deeply study Srila Prabhupada’s books and they are taught how to preach.
As a result of these standards we now have sixty-four brahmacaris, all highly educated and sincere. Some of them are coming from extremely wealthy backgrounds. For instance one was a lawyer and another was a manager in a big bank, but now they just sleep on the floor, they eat a little rice and they preach and distribute books. The brahmacaris are taught to respect the grihasthas very much and to serve them. As a result the grihasthas now honor, respect and worship the brahmacaris as sadhus. The main reason why hundreds and hundreds of the grihasthas living outside became so attracted to surrender to our temple is that when they came to the temple they got wonderful enlightenment and exemplary association from the brahmacaris.
The brahmacaris are also taught to honor and respect every woman. They don’t associate with them personally-except when it is absolutely needed for some service-but they greatly respect all ladies as Vaisnavis. Both unmarried and married women keep a respectful distance from the brahmacaris and they have so much respect and adoration for the sacrifice and the great service they are rendering. Now people come to the temple not just to see the Deities; they come to receive spiritual enlightenment from the devotees living there.
Just as we have the counselor system for the grihasthas, we also have a counselor system for the brahmacaris. The purpose is to make sure that each brahmacari is completely cared for and looked after in every way. Every brahmacari has a counselor-however many years he may have been in the temple-because everyone needs care and attention. The brahmacaris counselors are counselees of other brahmacaris. Senior brahmacaris have five devotees under them and every day of the week these counselors must speak for some time with each of their counselees to make sure that everything is all right.
College and Other Preaching
We give great emphasis on teaching the brahmacaris how to preach in colleges. We train them on how to give lectures, how to lead kirtana, and how to present Krishna consciousness. For eleven brahmacaris giving lectures in colleges is their full-time service. Because of this emphasis we have weekly programs in twenty-five universities and there are over five-hundred students who are being seriously cultivated. Among them, more than hundred-fifty are chanting sixteen rounds and following the four regulative principles, and the other three-hundred-fifty are completely convinced that they must chant sixteen rounds. Among the forty brahmacaris in the asrama, twenty-five have come through this college preaching. It is our policy in India to keep the students in the college preaching until they graduate; they are just like secret agents over there, making so many other students Krishna conscious.
Because there is a wonderful loving relationship between the congregation-the grihasthas-and the brahmacaris, they work together on almost every project. The congregation loves the brahmacaris and respect them so much as sadhus that they provide complete funding for all the programs. There are twenty neighborhoods that have weekly programs. The grihasthas in that neighborhood arrange the place, arrange all the prasadam, they fund the program, they advertise it, and they invite the brahmacaris to lead kirtanas and give lectures (sometimes the grihasthas themselves do that), just working together in such a way that hundreds of people are becoming Krishna conscious through these Nama-hatta centers. We have twelve full-time book distributors in our brahmacari asrama. One of the nice results of cooperation between brahmacaris and grihasthas is that in the December marathon, working together, in one month they distributed 62,000 hardbound Bhagavad-gitas.
We have twenty little boys from completely destitute, poverty-stricken conditions. Two brahmacaris take care of the orphanage and the whole congregation considers the orphan children like their own children. These little boys are wonderful; they have been trained to be devotees, they all rise for mangala-arati and dance so happily and they are so grateful that someone cares for them. And because they are grateful, they are so happy to accept Krishna consciousness. I find that these children are often much nicer devotees than our own children, because our children sometimes think that Krishna consciousness is something “I have to do,” but these children were suffering through poverty-some were living in the streets and some had widowed mothers who had no money for them-and here people are taking care of them, giving them love, giving them the holy name, giving them prasadam, giving them darsana of the Deities. They are so grateful, they just want to be devotees, and as they grow older they become more and more sincere. Some of them go out into the congregation, get married and get jobs, but they remain fixed as devotees. Others stay in the asrama; in fact the head-pujari of the Radha-Gopinatha temple is a graduate of the orphanage. Also the head-pujari of ISKCON Pune, near Bombay, is a graduate of our orphanage. It’s a very, very special way of preaching, and people in general also like it when devotees take care of orphans.
Deity worship is basically run by the brahmacaris, but the grihasthas perform so much puja also. On a regular basis we have special seminars for all brahmacaris and grihasthas where we deeply go into training in Deity worship and Vaisnava etiquette. We have high standards of Deity worship; before devotees are allowed to touch the Deities or do any seva on the altar they have to go through extensive training and they have to pass both written and practical exams. The idea is that devotees should take Deity worship very, very seriously.
In the temple we also have a special department just for greeting guests. At all times there is some devotee waiting for guests. When there are not many guests, only one devotee is there, otherwise more. Whoever comes in the door-whoever it may be-is greeted with folded hands and welcomed to the temple. Srila Prabhupada said that anyone who comes to the temple is personally sent by Krishna. With that understanding the devotees warmly and cordially say: “Oh, thank you for coming to Radha-Gopinatha temple, welcome!” and they give a brochure that explains the basic principles of our philosophy and who is Srila Prabhupada. The brochure also introduces all the Deities and gives a schedule of the events that take place in the temple. The devotees give the visitor caranamrita and prasadam, and they just become friends of the person and say “If you have any questions, please ask.” Almost all the guests become best friends with a devotee receptionist, and gradually, when they become more interested, they buy books and other things. After coming once people come again, not just to see the Deities, but because there is a friend of theirs in the temple and they want to see him. They tell their relatives and friends: “In that temple there is such a nice sadhu who is my friend, let’s go and meet him.” All the brahmacaris are trained in this art of hospitality, and the grihasthas also help a lot.
These are some of the ways we try to train the brahmacaris in living according to the principles of their asrama. We have explained some of our endeavors to train brahmacaris and grihasthas; what is practical in a particular temple may not be as practical in other temples, because different temples have different circumstances, different environments. According to kala-desha-patra-the time, the place, and the people-it may or it may not be practical to adopt all these ideas. To literally accept all that I presented may not be practical for you. What is most important is the spirit, that we teach our devotees to be proper Vaisnavas according to their varna and asrama; that we give them personal guidance and we oversee their spiritual lives with great care and attention; that we think of every possible way a devotee may need help; that we create services in which we can help each other. All devotees who have ever come with a sincere heart to participate in the Krishna consciousness movement should never feel neglected, but should feel that the other devotees love them and care for them and want to help them. They should feel that the temple is such a wonderful place to take shelter of. We should try with all our energy to make sure that each devotee is really experiencing happiness in the association of the Krishna consciousness movement. Srila Prabhupada personally put so much effort to try to make devotees happy within his society, and it is our duty to do the same. People cannot be happy in our society unless they are Krishna conscious, unless they are learning how to serve, learning how to chant, learning how to hear, learning how to interact with each other, and learning how to engage their propensities in Krishna’s service. If we have this spirit we will definitely be able to make a tremendous improvement to all of our services to the Vaisnavas. This very humble attempt to make a report may not be perfect-and not all of it may be practical for all places-but whatever we discussed is being done, and the result is that the devotees feel very, very happy and cared for, and they are united. And they’re really trying to imbibe the mood of
trnad api sunicena
taror api sahisnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
Concluding Words: Priorities and Empowerment
In my opinion, if the leaders of any temple or project decide that training and caring for devotees is important, if the leaders decide, “We must do it,” they would definitely put emphasis on this, and the project will be of great success. It may be done this way, or it may be done in a different way, but Krishna will certainly empower us to serve the Vaisnavas if we really want to and we make it a priority. This is a secret ingredient of success. When devotees know that is important to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books they think of every possible way to distribute and Krishna empowers them with so many ideas and millions and millions of books are distributed. When devotees understand that it’s important to build a temple, even people who have no money and no skills build wonderful temples, because Krishna empowers their intelligence. Anything the leaders of our movement put emphasis on, Krishna empowers to be done. All our projects-our book-distribution, our temple building, our Food for Life-anything we have is completely depending on the enthusiasm of our devotees. I don’t believe that there is any greater priority then caring for and training our Vaisnavas. Everything else will flourish if the devotees are strong. But it cannot be done without social programs of organization by which devotees are trained and cared, it is not one man’s job to care for everyone. The leaders have to train the devotees to respect, honor and care for each other in a Krishna conscious way. We have to give every devotee the opportunity to be a first class Vaisnava. Many devotees wanted, but they were not given the opportunity. If we have this emphasis in our preaching and in our management, we will definitely be a great success. We have presented a particular form of a working model and hopefully it may be of some help to you. It’s a place to start, but my real purpose was to try to give you the conviction of the importance of making the care and the training of the Vaisnavas the first priority of our mission.
Hare Krishna. Thank you very much.