By Devaki devi dasi
For those who do not know HH Niranjana Swami personally, he is the embodiment of a caring preacher. Maharaja always puts the individual devotee first, and then sees the different structures, having full faith that if we concentrate on giving substance, then structure will automatically follow.
His latest book, Taking Care of Krishna’s Devotees is one of the most significant contributions to ISKCON worldwide within recent years. It addresses a subject that we have been neglecting for many years. So often we seem to make the same mistake: we concentrate on the externals like big projects and big programs, and we forget that the real goal of Krishna consciousness is to develop pure love for Lord Krishna. And because we focus on externals and strive for quick and big results, we often forget to take care of individual devotees. In his book, Maharaja introduces the concept of the Counselor System, a system that has evolved over many years at the Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath temple in Chowpatty, Bombay. This temple is the model of ideal community development within ISKCON.
The Counselor System is not an artificial imposition; rather, it simply facilitates and encourages the most natural and essential development within the society of devotees: giving shelter, care and support, and accepting shelter, care and support. Strong relationships are developed on the basis of sravanam /kirtanam. We all need close and confidential friends and well-wishers who can assess us a daily basis. We need inspirational examples. Our association must be with devotees who can offer us actual assistance in our attempts to apply the process of Krishna consciousness in a healthy and balanced way. Devotees benefit from support in our struggle against anarthas. Maharaja also mentions another whole network that gives support to devotees in all different fields of worldly aspects of life: support when changing ashram, for health problems, for problems finding a job or a place to live, etc.
Care, support and shelter is something we all need in order to have our bhakti-lata develop in a healthy and balanced way, since we can only wholeheartedly surrender if we feel sheltered. Shelter is the most natural and essential thing in spiritual life. In the same way, there is nothing more natural for a mature devotee to do than to give shelter, care and guidance to others. As we all know, serving the devotees is the only way to please guru and Krishna. What better way of serving is there than giving care, shelter and guidance to others in a selfless way! The Counselor System also encourages older devotees to rise up by becoming exemplary in their personal behavior and spiritual practice. By developing true compassion and selflessness towards other devotees and taking responsibility not only for their own spiritual life, but also for the spiritual life of others, devotees satisfy Lord Krishna.
Throughout his book, Maharaja draws on the wisdom of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura to help us recognize how we can apply these essential truths in our daily lives in order to create a healthy, supportive structure and environment for spiritual progress. I dare say this book is an absolute must for anyone interested in sharing Krishna consciousness with others. And I boldly say the Counselor System gives us the formula how to turn every yatra into Vaikuntha! Maharaja’s personal example of taking care of Krishnaâs devotees, of tirelessly preaching about the need of the counselor system within his zone, and finally compiling this wonderful book will no doubt gradually create a revolution within the hearts and minds of many devotees worldwide–exactly what ISKCON needs the most at present!