Preaching in the workplace
Some devotees think, that because they are devotees, they must preach instantly to whomever they meet. Perhaps if we had the required force of purity, we could effect changes in people’s hearts on first contact. The reality is however, that not everyone has the required sukrti to appreciate our words; we have to create it for them.
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
Being in the workplace alongside the same faces, day in, and day out, can present challenges for a devotee keen on preaching. Simply letting everyone there know one is a devotee, who always has a superior say on any issue, will more likely cause others to think we are highly opinionated, and indifferent, who have lost the ability to socialise properly. This will lessen, or even destroy any chance of developing the required sukrti for them, to hear Lord Chaitanya’s messages.
Due to numerous reasons, most devotees and congregation members have to adapt to life at the workplace, which is like a second home away from home. While at work, devotees may bemoan their fate for being unable to preach unrestrictedly, and may also think their situation a big step down, or a demotion in life. The challenge of mixing with non-devotees, and earning a living from ‘mundane’ work, really is a blessing to help keep us Krishna conscious.
Distributing books on the street, or door to door, are more or less forthright preaching activities, which work on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. People understand our motives and their choice to accept or reject, lasts as long as the encounter. In the workplace, or similar setting, this is not always possible. Other forms of preaching are required, which may not produce immediate results, but will pay handsome spiritual dividends later on. Patience is required for this.
We need to understand that mostly, when people talk about things other than religion or politics – two potentially explosive and divisive issues – those from opposing beliefs can laugh and joke as friends. We can imagine what sort of atmosphere a devotee will create if topics of religion are discussed prematurely without establishing trust and friendship. Naturally, if people inquire, we can speak. But to impose our convictions can divide, causing negative perceptions, and possibly make the workplace a lonely place to work.
There are ways of making friendship without having to mix intimately with non-devotee colleagues. Our no smoking, teetotal and vegetarian stance will already have signalled our non-participation in their leisurely partying, barbecuing, and other social activities. Our volunteered exclusions should give the impression we are clean living, and serious about what we do. This should translate into a healthy, if not, bemused respect, to be earned from others.
This respect should help to bridge certain divides in perception. On a friendly level, we still have to talk, and sometimes mingle with mundane talks, but we can retain our humour and give light, but well meaning contributions by generally being wise. In other words, simply by being model citizens of integrity and substance, is a form of preaching. If people get to respect and like us without yet preaching openly, we are doing very well in earning the qualifications for them to hear.
Making people like us.
Most people do not know very much beyond their bodies, and the image they portray to the world feeds a huge market in vanity. Wanting to look good helps one to feel good, and with this confidence, try to enjoy life based upon vain imagery. Devotees are not too concerned about their self-image, or how the world perceives them, but for Krishna’s service, we should be. Our sense of vanity has to be transformed to please Krishna.
While preaching non-verbally, getting people to like us, means they will likely extend their geniality to Srila Prabhupada’s mission, and all the other devotees within. By being concerned for them to be attracted to Krishna consciousness, we certainly have to be at our best behaviour at all times.
It is easy to be aloof, and develop a careless ‘like us, or lump us’ attitude. This damaging behaviour can cause people to think the same way about the devotees, and then they tell their friends, and so on. If we are unable to change people’s hearts with our words, then our conscientious behaviour should win them over. Just because Srila Prabhupada on occasion said that sometimes, bad publicity is also good publicity, cannot qualify us to act like pseudo avadhutas with absolute vision.
If we make people angry or envious by our inconsiderate preaching, we could be planting the seed of aparadha. Materialistic persons usually retain their grudges, so after a bad encounter with a devotee, they will probably take it out on the next devotee they see. That innocent devotee has to withstand the worst of someone else’s carelessness.
Creating the sukrti for people.
If our work colleagues like us, and become our friends, then it is so much easier to preach with our words. This means we have created the qualification, or good fortune for them to hear, or help us when needed. Friends want to hear from other friends, and when all preconceived animosities have crumbled, even friends from ‘opposing’ faiths will hear us with interest. We should not worry if they do not convert; simply by being favourable towards us, people can help us in many ways, and engage in Krishna’s service, and thus make spiritual advancement.
The idea of everyone being converted is unrealistic, at least for now. Whatever fortune we create in our own working environments can be replicated worldwide. Here is what Srila Prabhupada said on the matter during a room conversation; Prabhupada: “Yes, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that it is only for the fortunate persons. But we must present. Only the fortunate will come forward. We cannot expect that everyone will come. That is not possible.” (Aug. 10, 1976, Tehran).
As for thinking we are unfortunate to be in a place full of non-devotees, the choice is ours to make things fortunate. In the same conversation Srila Prabhupada said; “You cannot expect favourable situation. It is not possible. When I came to America, I never expected any favourable situation. I wrote that poetry in disappointment, that “Who will accept this?” ….You have to handle unfavourable situation and make favourable situation to preach.”
It may be said that the messages of the Srimad Bhagavatam and Lord Chaitanya’s movement will save the world in its darkest hour. It should be remembered that this help could not come about without the help of fortunate and favourable friends. Making people like us will reap the reward of saving us devotees in our darkest hour’s of need too.
Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa – GRS.