Submitted by Shrutadev das: This was a letter written to the devotees at ISV (ISKCON of Silicon Valley)
By Vaisesika Dasa
Dear Highly Esteemed Team ISV devotees,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Our stated mission at ISV is to show kindness to all living beings by vigorously promoting public hari nama sankirtana performances and the massive distribution of transcendental literature.
We also maintain a temple at which we worship the Lord in a spiritually surcharged, friendly & welcoming atmosphere, encouraging devotees of all levels in the process of Krsna consciousness through systematic training, and by regularly offering access to the practice of the nine direct methods of Bhakti Yoga, following the mood and process of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, our Founder/Acarya.
Silicon Valley is already rife with organizations and opulent buildings that are filled up with workers.
So, what do we have to offer that’s special? What shall be our distinguishing quality that will attract the people of the Bay Area and beyond?
Is it our ability to collect money, to build or maintain properties, or to perform detailed rituals? Probably not. (And if so, there are others who do it much better than we.) Rather, I contend that we will and should become most known for qualities that are not “things” and that are in extremely rare supply in the modern world: generosity, mercy, and kindness.
Somewhere in the mad rush to expand technology and catch the illusive “American dream,” masses of people have been left behind and have lost contact with each other and with themselves. People are oppressed by demanding work that pays them barely enough to live; old people often become “shut-ins,” isolated in their own homes; family farms are being steadily replaced by giant “agribusiness”; instead of friendly local commerce and “mom and pop” stores, impersonal “big box” enterprises now dominate local neighborhoods; corporations unceremoniously lay off workers with little or no thought of their ultimate welfare . . .
In this environment, people are starving for more personal attention offered with a real sense of service.
The day my mother died, some kids up the block from her house happened to walk by when her body was being carried out. These kids came back two hours later with warm cookies — that they had personally baked — a bouquet of flowers, and a note expressing sympathy for our loss. Such a simple act of thoughtfulness was of course, deeply touching to my family and me. Are these acts important or is it merely the bottom line that counts?
I am arguing here that people of the world are starving for these loving exchanges and for pure kindness.
I know that I am.
Fortunately for us, we have based our mission at ISV on these very ideals. With such a solid basis for our existence, we can expect to be successful in every way. After all, when we strip away everything else, we’ll find that this is what people really want. It is what we want. And, in fact, this is what Krsna wants.
In the Bhagavad Gita Krsna directly speaks about the qualities in a devotee that please Him:
“One who is not envious but is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor and is free from false ego … is very dear to Me.”
“My dear Arjuna, he who engages in My pure devotional service, free from the contaminations of fruitive activities and mental speculation, he who works for Me, who makes Me the supreme goal of his life, and who is friendly to every living beingâ€”he certainly comes to Me” (BG 11.55).
These qualities are not only valued by Krsna but are also universally pleasing. Our success will come by focusing on them. To do this requires that we think of ourselves as humble servants and that we scheme how to assist others. When someone comes into our group, it is our duty, (and privilege) to make sure that we attend to their needs. For instance, when someone enters the temple room, we should all feel eager to see that they have a place to sit, a book stand in front of them and that they know which page we are on. We should make new people feel welcome and learn their names, greeting them with warmth. At big festivals, we must go out of our way to make sure that everyone gets what they need: some personal attention. Preaching outside the temple we should leave each person feeling that he or she has just met a saintly person. Saintly means generous, friendly, happy, kind . . .
We should honor our existing members as the rarest souls in the universe who have all come to ISV due to the Lord’s divine arrangement. About the devotees who had assembled in ISKCON by 1972, Srila Prabhupada wrote: “The devotees of Krishna are the most exalted persons on this planet, better than kings, all of them, so we should always remember that and, like the bumblebee, always look for the nectar or the best qualities of a person.”
ISV members are family members. Let’s make sure that they feel included and that they are getting the spiritual and material support they need to thrive. Generosity and kindness: without these, our so-called mission would become yet another stale religious institution in which properties, money and rituals out weigh the importance of the Vaisnava (or even human) spirit. How careful we must be to regularly examine our motives and methods! For if we compromise our ideals for the sake of expediency or out of pride we will lose what is most valuable. So called devotional practice that neglects showing kindness to other living beings — who are Krsna’s parts and parcels — is useless.
Srila Jiva Goswami compares these efforts to offering ghee on ashes instead of into the sacrificial fire.
To achieve these lofty ideals we must surrender, maintaining our own commitment to our sadhana.
Those who are surrendering, putting aside their personal interests and agendas, become free to take up the interests and agenda of the Lord and his representatives, the great Acaryas. Such devotees can join the Sankirtana Party of Lord Caitanya Mahapraphu and spread His mission. They can serve others wholeheartedly.
There is no greater privilege; nor can the reputation of one who does so be matched by any one in creation. Of those who have achieved this status in life, Lord Krsna in Bhagavad
“There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than” he, nor will there ever be one more dear.”
Therefore, as aspiring members of such an exalted mission we must become aware of these principles and practice them. Our ISV mission is not confined to 951 South Bascom. 951 South Bascom is one place we meet up to worship the Lord and serve His devotees. Rather, we must carry the spirit of our mission everywhere: to our homes, workplaces, and into our interactions with all kinds of people and living beings. Real temple building begins in our own hearts and lives. This ideal was personally illustrated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Whose cleansing of the Gundica temple was a metaphor for cleansing our own hearts.
Srila Prabhupada writes:
“By His practical activity, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu informed us how to cleanse our hearts. Once the heart is cleansed, we should invite Lord Sri Krsna to sit down, and we should observe the festival by
distributing prasadam and chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra . . . Thus the cleansing of the Gundica-mandira was conducted by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to let us know how the heart should be cleansed and soothed to receive Lord Sri Krsna and enable Him to sit within the heart without disturbance..” (Cc 12.135).
In Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Siva also affirms this principle thus:
sadhavah prayaso janah
paramaradhanam tad dhi
“It is said that great personalities almost always accept voluntary suffering because of the suffering of people in general. This is considered the highest method of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present in everyone’s heart.”
To realize and work steadily in this spirit is our real mission at ISV. And those who do so will please the Supreme Personality of Godhead and thus attain the ultimate goal of life, love for God. There
is no religious principle higher than this.
Thank you very much.
Jaya Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Jaya Srila Prabhupada.
Here’s are a few views of the devotees engaged during the Bhaktivinoda Monthly Sankirtana Festival being held at ISV this week (click on the player to start the video):