Some Problems With “Bridge Preaching”
By Paramadayala Nityananda Dasa
ISKCON is a monotheistic movement, based on authoritative scriptures which provide an ontology and epistemology unparalleled in the history of mankind. Monotheism, and acceptance of sacred literature is pervasive throughout the western world: and there is high regard for critical/philosophical analysis, as a means for finding truth. As such, creating an accurate perception of ISKCON in the minds of people in general is the most powerful way to attract true spiritual seekers among the masses. However, we are utilizing our energy on “bridge preaching” programs which cloud this accurate perception.
It is understandable that ISKCON was not accurately perceived in the beginning. One reason is (as known by those familiar with the sociology of mass movements) the first to join a new movement are almost always young radicals. People in general tend to characterize the movement by their perception of the early followers- rather than through a serious study of the movements teachings. Because the new movement receives acceptance by those on the fringes of society, and resistance from the mainstream, it makes sense for it to target those attracted to alternative lifestyles; however, this reinforces the divisions. This can be seen in our movement. In the beginning of ISKCON most devotees were previously hippies. It was easy for devotees to wrongly think that the percentage of true spiritual seekers is greater among those seeking an alternative culture (compared to the mainstream). This should not be the case after 50 years, but it still is. This is proven by the fact that some ISKCON leaders want to bridge the gap between “westerners” and ISKCON by teaching hatha yoga at our temples.
Anyone who has read Srila Prabhupada’s introductory books for a few minutes can see he emphasized the fact that hatha yoga is not part of an effective spiritual process in this age. Obviously Srila Prabhupada felt this is something people really need to know. We must teach people in accordance with this. Our preaching style should demonstrate our foundational principal -the difference between material and spiritual. A “western” thing is spiritual if used in Krishna’s service, and a system of bodily exercise is material, in spite the fact that it comes from the east. Teaching hatha yoga at our Temples implicitly contradicts this.
Some will argue that hatha is being made spiritual because people are coming to the temple to learn it. This is a stretch of the truth. We could use this logic to justify teaching any type of exercise, hobby, or material pursuit at the Temple. Indeed, I know of one temple which offers classes in personal management, during the Sunday Feast, in the name of bridge preaching. We might take a lesson from the early Methodist Christians. Methodism spread like wild fire through itinerate preachers, traveling with great zeal on horse back all over the U.S. Thousands of families gathered for weekend camp meetings. Constant singing of hymns and reading from the scriptures took place. Then, occasional seminars on secular subjects were introduced. In a short time, the location of the biggest camp became known as Martha’s Vineyards, the now famous luxury vacation village.
Many people know of the connection between hatha and mayavadi philosophy which thy consider absurd. Such people are good candidates for Krishna Consciousness. Srila Prabhupada worked hard to distinguish ISKCON from these other groups. But when we advertise hatha yoga at ISKCON we encourage people to lump us in. There is nothing wrong with targeting any subculture. We can inject Krishna Consciousness into most anything people relate to. Such programs should be conducted in a location separate from an ISKCON Temple, so people in general do not identify us with these groups.
In the very beginning, when almost all devotees came from one group, spending the large amount of time targeting that group was warranted. After 50 years, the percentage of time we use targeting one group should be roughly equal to the percentage of the overall population they comprise. Krishna Consciousness is for everyone, hatha yoga is for a certain type.
If we want to attract westerners, we should find something they all love which can be directly spiritualized. If the Sunday feast program needs some innovation we should offer free prasadam pizza, french fries, and milkshakes. We can also look at carnivals to find foods that people go crazy for; candy apples, cotton candy, fried dough with powdered sugar etc. This will demonstrate that Krishna Consciousness transcends culture. It will be equally attractive to hatha yogi’s, Hindu’s, born again Christians and any other group.