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Effective, Mature Outreach

Monday, 10 November 2008 / Published in Articles, Karnamrita dasa / 4,618 views

By Karnamrita dasa

There are different conceptions of outreach, and we may not agree with another view. I am giving one perspective here, and contrasting with what I don’t feel is effective outreach. Some presentations appear to me to be overly conservative, even fundamentalist or fanatical. In some circles our movement can be perceived that way — as narrow and provincial. However, I don’t think this is a proper way for the broad campaign of Prabhupada, his predecessors and Lord Chaitanya to be thought of.

As Prabhupada was the original example in the West of a preacher or outreach person, what can we learn from him? In trying to understand him, someone may question, “Was Prabhupada conservative or liberal?” We might rightly say he was transcendental to labels. Still, he could be seen variously according on the particular context. For example, from the perspective of India at the time of his coming to America, he was very liberal even among other Gaudiya gurus, whereas from the perspective of the counterculture of the 60s and 70s, he was very conservative.

In addition, our conditioned nature or personality type colors the world, and how we see Krishna consciousness or Shrila Prabhupada! I am sure this is obvious enough to many, though I am not sure we are able to look at this fact in regard to our self, and the views or perceptions we hold. Another way of saying this is to question how much we see the world through the theory of K. C. or through realization of it practically. It is important to understand our conditioned bias when we view our guru and his teachings. Merely repeating his words without knowing how to apply them to different circumstances may do more harm than good. Sometimes I read pages of quotes given to “prove” someone’s argument, that don’t apply to the person or circumstances, and where there is much more or at least equal evidence to the contrary. Truly Prabhupada is like the Vedas: we can find quotes from him to “prove” whatever our point is.

This is both a simple and complex subject, as even pure devotees relate to the world and Krishna lila differently. For example, if we evaluate the writings of Prabhodananda Sarasvati, he would not be a person for interfaith dialog or inclusiveness, though surely his association would bless us! (It is also interesting how much more ecumenical or inclusive devotees are to other religions than with other Gaudiya groups with whom they have much more in common.) Prabhupada showed both sides—the universal as well as the exclusiveness of pure devotion, to make different points. The amazing, though sometimes confusing and misunderstood, aspect of preaching is that the same view or example can be presented to make different, even opposite points.

The so-called liberal or broadminded perspective seems to be more in line with my understanding of what Krishna Consciousness is—that is my subjective, though I believe well reasoned opinion.(I don’t know if true objectivity is possible, though we may endeavor for it.) Thus, I see that our presentation should be on the one hand, inclusive (to not disqualify everyone in advance), respectful, and accommodating, while on the other, remaining true to the essence.

Often we have to harmonize such different, apparently contradictory concepts (like inclusive or exclusiveness). Harmonizing means as far as possible to not be one sided—the worst example being fanatical religionists who in the name of their prophet or aspect of God, condemn others as one of their primary tenets (or so it may seem). Usually that is not all they are about, but it is by this fanatical face that the general population perceives them. Unfortunately, such fanatics in any group are usually the loudest voices, since they don’t believe in diversity, or that differences can co-exist. They need to make others wrong to feel “right”—which means to me that they are not really convinced, and are threatened by different views. Our evaluation of others says as much about ourselves as those we may be critiquing, and it is useful for our maturity as a person to be able to look at that.

To me, the primary challenges for the Krishna consciousness movement is to both preserve and understand the essence or spirit of the teachings, and to be dynamic in our outreach to stay relevant to the times we live in. If we study the history of Gaudiya Vaishavism (and we don’t at our peril)—from the six Goswamis to our great acharyas in the more modern world—Bhaktivinode Thakur, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta, and our Prabhupada—they have all adapted the presentation to resonate with and speak to the times. Do we think that this shouldn’t continue to be done?

We have to be very clear what the foundational principles are and what the adjustable details are that foster them. From reading books by Prabhupada, his disciples and our previous Gaudiya teachers, I understand that a relevant devotee is a compassionate, introspective, thoughtful, and broadminded person who understands the current of the times, while teaching by his example. He or she looks for the good in all, while sharing the truth of Krishna in a way that is accessible and practicable for the audience. This is pragmatic, dynamic and effective outreach—not compromise.

When I was a new devotee I often used the “smashing” technique to put other paths down (as I thought this was the proper way), and sometimes I hear devotees still using it. However, I don’t think this is at all useful or effective in promoting the ideals of Krishna consciousness. That is my experience anyway. Great acharyas like Prabhupada and Sarasvati Thakur could use it, but they knew how to use it effectively. Following and imitating are different. We have to judge a thing or any type of presentation of Krishna consciousness or Gaudiya Vaishnavism by the results!

The topic of various types of outreach and conceptions of Krishna consciousness came up to me when I heard about Satyaraja’s book, “The Yoga of Kirtana.” The first thing I heard was a devotee’s critique which appeared to be reactionary and not well thought out. I wondered if they even had read the book. To me their criticisms were a type of endorsement of the book and it made me want to read it! I remember Prabhupada saying that if there is no response to our preaching, then it is not effective. Of course, one would hope that criticism wouldn’t come from devotees, yet in today’s polarized world, it seems unavoidable. My experience is that whenever we stand for something and follow our natural inspiration to support it, there will always be both criticism and appreciation.

I have valued Satyaraja’s other writings, and I know he is very good at connecting with people and exposing them to Krishna consciousness in a way that they can appreciate. I endeavor to use a similar though less sophisticated way to connect with others. It involves establishing rapport with others as human beings, and genuinely appreciating and respecting whatever spiritually or good qualities they have. Every success in life is about establishing favorable relationships—whether with our Gurus, the previous acharyas, the holy name, Radha Krishna, Lord Chaitanya and Nitai, our godbrothers and sisters, devotees or with the people in general. In addition, we can understand the success of our presentation of K. C, by asking our self, “Am I joyful?” “Can people understand me?” “Are they inspired by or at least appreciate what I am saying?”

No one likes to be preached “at” by someone who appears to not listen or care about them or their views. Who we are spiritually and materially speaks loudly. (Example is better than precept.) We can remain convinced about our tradition, yet be respectful and open to others. We don’t have to speak in absolutes or shout to be heard. If we close people’s hearts, they will never hear us! However, if we consider what they have to say with respect and if our behavior and qualities attract them, then they will be more apt to try to understand what we are saying. That is effective “preaching”, a natural outgrowth of our spiritual practices.

“The Yoga of Kirtan” is an example of mature, respectful outreach. Why? For starters, the whole philosophy of Krishna consciousness is presented in brief, as is the mission of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and the philosophy behind the chanting of Hare Krishna. There is also a good sprinkling of our Gaudiya Vaishnava brothers and sisters throughout, which is part of the point of the book: to showcase them and to also respectfully allow us to meet the primary movers and shakers of the modern kirtan world. (who I might add are doing what followers of Lord Chaitanya should have done — namely popularize kirtan and the holy names).

I personally love biographies and here we have a rare opportunity to hear how devotees — many of whom we either know or have heard of — have come to take up KC and/or their love of kirtan. We read how Karnamrita dasi and Shri Prahlada, both second-generation devotees, have found in different ways how to build on their Krishna consciousness childhood foundation. We also hear from Agnideva and Dravida about some of the history of ISKCON in the early days when street sankirtana was king—at the time it was our main outreach and activity. Hearing how devotees have come to Krishna is always inspiring and magical — the Lord works in mysterious ways!

In addition, we now have a face to put to the other kirtaniyas from a wide range of groups. I found it a fascinating read in so many ways. I learned so much useful information! I now have an appreciation for Krishna das, Syamdas, and others, for example, since hearing their stories. We don’t have to accept everyone’s philosophy, yet we can appreciate their sincerity in coming to a spiritual path — how they were obviously guided in taking up chanting with such enthusiasm. In this, I am sure they have much more than I. It is convenient to put people and groups in boxes, yet there is much more complexity to people and groups than labels.

For me one of the most informative interviews was with Shyamdas. He first came into contact with Neem Karoli Baba who was the guru of Ramdas (of “Be Here Now” fame) and Krishnadas (also interviewed in this book). Shyamdas is a learned devotee of Krishna in the line of Shri Vallabhacharya. It is his opinion that contrary to the perception of some of Neem Karoli’s followers, the Baba is actually a Vaishnava! He had the heart of a devotee, lived in Vrindavan, gave his followers prasad (with no onions or garlic), followed Ekadasi, and chanted the name of Krishna and Ram — though he allowed a wide range of understandings to emerge around him.

Shyamdas learned Hindi and some Sanskrit, studying the Vaishnava literatures, and because of this came to see Neem Karoli Baba as a Vaishnava. It seems the Baba was quite an avadhuta. You will have to read it to see it all in context, and decide for yourself. Rather amazing, actually! Perhaps Shyamdas is speaking out of the bhava of a devotee, though his opinion is based on his study and experience.

Counting the devotees already mentioned, there are 21 total biographies, including Yamuna Devi, Patrick Bernard, Bhakti Caru Swami, Rasa, and Vaiyasaki das among our Gaudiyas, as well as famous kirtan singers who have popularized kirtana, like Krishnadas, Jai Uttal, David Stringer, David Newman and others. It is quite interesting that many of these kirtaniyas were first exposed to kirtana from our Gaudiya lineage, so it that sense we can see the hand of Lord Chaitanya behind their singing.

From what I have heard and read, “The Yoga of Kirtan” has been well received in the modern Western yoga world and more. It also shows a broadminded and progressive face of Krishna consciousness which many devotees have appreciated. This is wanted!

The bottom line for me regarding outreach or introducing people to Krishna and/or our spiritual practices like kirtana: We don’t need to beat them over the head to reach them. That’s certainly one way of presenting the philosophy, which I used for years. In my experience, I don’t find that the people I meet respond well to this approach. There is also a step-wise technique, getting them there gradually if they want that. We shouldn’t give people everything at once—it may overload or alienate them. Prabhupada’s early preaching in New York is a perfect example of that.

Satyaraja’s book might be seen as a manual of style for those devotees who want to gently help intelligent people see the wisdom in Krishna Consciousness. Intelligent people are the kind of folks who don’t respond well to bullying of any kind. They want to see the data and make up their own minds, or feel if Krishna is right for them. Isn’t that what we did?


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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    And, getting back to the “institutional authority” point, I guess I just wanted to add that our real spiritual well-wishers and benefactors do request us, implore us, to find a way to properly negotiate the political relationships of Prabhupada’s ISKCON organization in order to fit in effectively and usefully. A need is really felt to make this work as an organized, large-scale cooperative effort.

    When I was talking about quacks and charlatans before, I thought how learned professions like the medical profession eventually were able to organize themselves to drive out the witch-doctors and snake-oil salesmen. [No, I do not want to start a discussion about the virtues of different kinds of healing methods or the corruption of the health industry. It is just an example.] :-)

    Maybe some day there will be a bona-fide spiritual professional organization so that only qualified Vaisnava-brahmanas can “practice” teaching people about the soul, God, and devotional service. Just a thought….

    Oh yeah, and I wanted to say: As much as we do not like to think so, humans really are sort of like herd animals. Some Christian groups speak of “flocks” and “pastors” (I prefer to think of us as Krishna’s “cows”, rather than as “sheep”)

    [I remember one hilarious Gary Larsen “Far Side” cartoon where a bunch of cows are all grazing together in a field, but one is standing up with this comical-astonished-horrified look on its face, saying, “Hey, wait a minute… This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!”]

    There is strength in numbers, and people naturally want to “get on the bandwagon” of a successful, effective, strong society with leadership and organization we can count on. So, continuing to improve ISKCON as a well-organized, unified, spiritually-strong instrument for enlightening the world with *genuine* authoritative spiritual knowledge is of great importance to our whole disciplic succession.

    I seem to recall Prabhupada saying, “History will someday record how ISKCON saved the world.” We cannot afford to lose faith in that vision and spirit.

    Prabhupada gave us this great project to dedicate our lives to. So many unfortunate, aimless people do not really know what to do or have any mission or goal to dedicate themselves to. We have been given our “life’s work” on a silver platter, and it is not even solitary, lonely work, but has a ready-made gang of friendly co-workers!

    So…we cannot afford to look like just another “religion.”

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    A popular bumper sticker announces “Question Authority”, and although the mood may be a little rebelious and iconoclastic, if we look at it in another way it is good advice.

    tad viddhi pranipatena…upadeksyanti… (B.G. 4.34)

    We have to learn, first of all, who is really a bona fide authority, and second of all, how to properly approach such authorities with submission and service so that our relevant questions and inquiries will inspire them to reveal all the answers in our hearts and destroy all our doubts and misgivings.

    …isvarah sadyo hrdy avarudhyate ‘tra kritibhih susrusubhis tat-ksanat (S.B. 1.1.2)

    When we properly hear Srimad Bhagavatam from the right authorities in the right way, then the Supreme Lord becomes established in our hearts.

    ….bhaktir bhavati naisthiki… (S.B. 1.2.18)

    The unwanted things in our hearts become cleared away and devotional service becomes firmly established there as an irrevocable fact.

    But the “Question Authority” stickers and all the skeptical smart-Alec atheists like Bill Maher (I have not seen his “Religulous” movie but a devotee friend of mine actually recommended I see it) are popular because there are so many bogus or defective authorities presenting half-truths and even horrors (like the recent terror attacks in Mumbai) in the name of God and spirituality.

    People are understandably skeptical and nervous about giving themselves over too much or too quickly to some self-proclaimed authority, when there are so many unqualified authorities, quacks and charlatans out there.

    Just because there is counterfeit money does not mean there is no real money, but on the other hand, when almost all the “money” anyone ever sees is counterfeit, we may easily become inured and expect that anything posing as genuine gold is probably just another fake.

    And really we are all swimming around in the toxic sludge of this corrupt age of vice and quarrel, where true friendship and fidelity seems as mythic as a unicorn, and where apparently the best that art and literature and culture and philosophy and politics has to offer is just like a drop on our desert-parched tongues.

    So…we can understand why people will be skeptical at first, stand-offish, or even turned off if we come accross as another dogmatic, pushy, impatient group trying to capture them. We have to be patient and persistent enough to let them see for themselves how these books by Prabhupada really are everything we say, and more.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    Obviously, devotees who are unhappy in their own practice (finding austerity difficult) and who are envious of the people they are preaching to, which causes them to judge and belittle their audience, will not succeed in attracting people to Krishna consciousness.

    On the other hand, to get people to really have a taste of Krishna consciousness, it usually helps to induce them to really “dive in” and practice full 24-hour sadhana for a while, or at least full morning program. It is just a question of how to get them interested enough to really try it.

    At least, that is how I joined. It is how we did things in the “old days”. I had been reading the books (without much understanding), discussing or arguing with the devotees, I had gotten a little experience of sweetness from chanting and taking prasadam, and I had gone to a number of Sunday feasts in different temples and had been to San Francisco Ratha Yatra and seen Srila Prabhupada, but it was not until someone convinced me to come stay for a few days in a temple and go to mangal arati, japa period, tulasi puja, Bhagavatam class, guru puja and greeting the Deities, that I really got hooked.

    Maybe I am just a dinosaur and times have changed, but in those days there was this gulf you had to jump over, to decide if you were a real devotee or not. If you were, you had to accept all the regulative principles and basically cut off your connection to material activities and become a full-time devotee in the temple.

    With the modern, less judgmental preaching, people can join at their own pace. Maybe it is better. (It probably is better). But I find myself fearing that unless the new devotees get an experience of austere, full-time brahmacari life, they will be missing something important.

    Nowadays many more people are coming with the idea that they can go on with their school, their jobs, their families (more of them have families), and add a little Krishna consciousness. I guess this is really better, more realistic. It makes ISKCON less marginal and culty.

    Eventually they do get the idea that they want to be initiated and follow strictly.

    Meanwhile now I am mired in responsibilities of married life, mundane activities for making money, even mundane recreation, and my KC edge has become dull. But I do have that sense of what it was like to be on traveling sankirtan for weeks at a time, and to live as a totally dedicated student, and I think that is worthwhile.

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    Karnamrita.das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Pranams Akurantha. I wasn’t really speaking of living in the ashram vs not—from my personal experience I think it is very valuable for a number of reasons. For one, getting in the habit of rising early and have a fixed program of sadhana, as well as serving without any fruitive mentality. Although personally I don’t have a problem with paying householder devotees for responsible important service, the experience of how to live by serving without any other consideration is invaluable. There is no material impediment to devotional service so certainly in any condition one can serve and be purified. Never the less I still recommend new devotees to experience living in an ashram for a weekend or for some time to feel immersed in the cultivation of bhakti.

    I was speaking more of how we reach out to people to introduce them to K.C.,or how we present things and handle the differences on the street or in a class. In my “old days” memory book, we preached an all or nothing presentation that motivated hippies and others burnt out with the world. Those types are still there, but there are many today who need to be reached in a different, more gradual way. I agree that they need to have an experience to really know what we are offering, yet the question for me is how we should present K.C. considering the social climate, and the past mistakes we have made, that will enable them to be able to embrace the process. We have to be the example of knowledgeable, thoughtful, introspective and reasonable people. It is more than reason of course, we are meant to share our experience. People may not agree with our logic, but ones experience is powerful, and not dogmatic. We joined Prabhupad more because of who he was, then what scripture he was quoting from.

    This is not watering down, but showing that although people should see we are sincere, dedicated, and convinced , we are aware of the virtues of different paths or conceptions, though from our study bhakti makes the most sense to us and our acharyas. When we point out the differences, we do so in a way that is not all condemnation and seems reasonable. Prabhupada’s comments on the various world philosophies and religious (Dialectic Spiritualism)is very instructive. He didn’t just condemn them, but if he saw truth or something useful he would acknowledge it, mining the nectar from poison, or utility is the principle.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    One of the great practitioners of nonconfrontational-style outreach was H.H. Bhaktisvarup Damodar Maharaja. It just was not in his makeup to argue with or try to “defeat” a nondevotee.

    He had a deep conviction that by just giving people our friendly association, prasadam, holy names, all in a very low-key way, usually not even very much philosophy, we were actually doing important preaching work. It was interesting to watch him. His style was so different from Srila Prabhupada’s, I fear many of his godbrothers did not understand it.

    The truth is, though, that by our being fanatical and trying to “conquer” or at least challenge everyone the way Srila Prabhupada did, many people got a bad impression from our preaching. We reveled in being as different as possible from the nondevotees, to the point of seeming exotic (or more likely, just really wierd), and they often got the idea that we were some strange kind of brainwashed zombie cult.

    People respected BSD Maharaja’s understated gentlemanly demeanor wherever he went. One time I was sitting with him and a Berkeley professor of Nepali and Bengali language (she is a Nepali woman who grew up in Calcutta next to a Gaura-Nitai temple), along with some grad students. Everyone was admiring this holy Swami, and then he showed a flyer advertising “Festival of India” (SF Ratha Yatra) and asked them all to come. One student, with long hair and a beard, interjected, “But that’s the Hare Krishna festival!” I could see he wanted to warn this nice Ph.D. Swami not to get mixed up with those strange Hare Krishnas. Then Maharaja said, “Yes, Hare Krishna,” and I saw it come over the student’s face like the breaking of dawn that Maharaja was a Hare Krishna Swami, and the professor also likes Hare Krishna, and that Hare Krishnas were really cool and respectable, and his preconceived notions were washed away.

    Maharaja said that Prabhupada had instructed him not to challenge the scientists in BI preaching. The most important thing was to make them feel comfortable and to come back again.

    His cultural preaching with the Ranganiketan group also had this effect of making Hare Krishna seem more respectable and challenge some stereotypes or preconceived notions.

    Personally, I love to dispute philosophy with people or try to explain our ideas and traditions, but sometimes just making them like us (and the prasadam) works best. Eventually they will read Prabhupada’s books at their own pace.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    In case I did not make it clear, Karnamrta Prabhu, I do agree with everything you say here. Kudos again for another great article.

    I am just trying to “mix it up” a little to see if we can churn the discussion a little.

    People do get turned off if we get impatient with them and push them. But if we are too patient are we not being a little uncaring, insincere or lackadaisical?

    Some devotees have discovered that having temple programs creates a certain kind of cultural environment that only attracts certain kinds of people, and that limits the people and kinds of people we can reach.

    There are many different kinds of preaching and outreach approaches. Of course we always had festival programs, college programs, visited rock festivals and rainbow gatherings and so on. Loft preaching, kalpa vrksha, japa retreats, have been some successful innovations. Even opening prasadam restaurants is a kind of preaching.

    Life Membership is also a kind of preaching or outreach. It is very wrong to think of it as a money-making scheme. It is a way of establishing relationships with our well-wishers and fellow travelers, without insisting they “shave up” and move into a temple.

    Devotees are experimenting (with some success I think) in preaching through yoga studios, and while some senior devotees (notably H.H. Danavir Maharaja here on Dandavats) have questioned this practice and given us a kind of reality check, we have learned that Srila Prabhupada had occasionally condoned devotees like Parivrajakacarya to try this kind of outreach.

    The “Yoga of Kirtan” book opens our eyes to the popular kirtan movement and its preaching potential.

    If we are careful about being good devotees ourselves, we find we are preaching in all kinds of indirect ways to whomever we contact. When I was working in a big law firm, I found that certain spouses would gravitate to me and my wife at the Christmas parties and so on to inquire about Hare Krishna. (Of course, I never went proselytizing around the office).

    Of course books are the basis, and our primary outreach is meeting people wherever we can and introducing them to Prabhupada’s books. Also finding ways to hold seminars and discussion groups about the books is very effective preaching. Just as the Communists made succesful inroads by discussing the literature of Marx and Engels, etc., we can discuss Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam until the cows come home, (along with Krishna and the cowherd boys.)

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    When I was in law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1984-1987), I was happy to encounter devotees on campus, but I found their preaching to be a real turn off. They were telling the students, “Your professors are demons. There is no value to the education that is being offered to you here.” One young devotee kept trying to tell me that, and it really put me off.

    (I was already initiated, but had essentially “blooped” in order to complete my studies and be able to earn a living. I still liked Krishna and described myself to friends as a fallen Hare Krishna, but I was not strictly following, though I did of course remain vegetarian.)

    Maybe it was just me. Maybe I was going through a time in my life where I wanted to turn off Krishna consciousness, but the way I experienced it was that I did not want to be associated with this anti-intellectual, fanatical preaching.

    There was a little preaching center run by Dasarath Prabhu, and I went to the occasional Sunday Feast, but I really found that the devotees’ disapproval of the whole academic enterprise was out of place in the big college town environment. The devotees seemed irritated rather than happy to me, and also not very well informed or educated, and it was not an attractive presentation, I though. (Again, maybe Maya was playing me)

    I wanted the devotees to assume their rightful place as the best that learning and philosophy has to offer. (Idam hi pumsas tapasah srutasya va….) I wanted to be proud to be associated with them. Instead, they seemed to be trying to pick off stragglers who were frustrated with their studies and wanted to irresponsibly escape.

    I had a very different experience in undergraduate school, where Trivikram Swami was the Hare Krishna Chaplain and ran a nice program for inquisitive students, inviting Sadaputa Prabhu to give lectures, etc.

    I guess there are just many kinds of outreach, and we need to learn to tailor them to the right environment and audience.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    I guess what I was trying to get at in my usual, long-winded, roundabout way, is that poeple in Kali Yuga are very leary of being tyrannized, bossed and bullied. Anyone who has ever had a boss, a spouse, or a parent in this fallen age (i.e., everyone) knows what I am talking about. People do not like being told what to do and being in a position of having to obey commands.

    In an ideal society and culture, there is a different dynamic, where everyone knows to whom they owe deference and obedience, and the authorities have a strong sense of obligation and genuine care and concern. (As hard as it is being an obedient child today, imagine how hard it is to be the child of a neglectful foster family or orphan’s institution).

    “Old style” preaching had to be very powerful and influential because we were, in effect, convincing people practically to “join the army” and give up so much privacy and independence. It is great if we really have the potency to convince people to be so renounced (and to do it we probably have to practice what we preach and live that renounced way ourselves).

    But when we are preaching to people with families, jobs, educations, wealth, responsibility and social respectability, we may find they like chanting Hare Krishna and studying Prabhupada’s books and may even become convinced enough to understand the philosophy very well, take initiation and perform service according to their capacity, without being ready to “renounce everything,” move into a temple and “surrender” to our chain of command.

    People can easily sense if we are trying to dominate them and get them to give up their individual initiative, and we do not really have to do that to preach effectively. In fact, it may be very hard to be effective if we do try to do that.

    * * *

    One wonderful thing that sets us apart from so many cults and spiritual groups is these wonderful, authentic devotional books by Srila Prabhupada. People still read and revere learning. Books are a universally accepted symbol of knowledge. If we convince people we are offering some very valuable, high achievement of a timeless, Classical culture, touching the Highest Truth and Pinnacle of Beauty, expressed in choice Sanskrt poetry expressing the true nature of the Purest Love, (which we are), how can they resist?

    They can join our army and chain of command later, when and if they are ready, but in the beginning we are just giving and sharing.

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    Karnamrita.das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Akruranatha Prabhu, you are the consummate churner of topics here in Dandavats loka. It would be hard to imagine it without your comments and thoughts. I experienced the type of outreach you are speaking about personally in the company of BSDM and others as well. People become touched by the purity and sincerity of devotees, and in their conviction for Bhakti, yet respect and knowledge of other paths. The books are essential, yet those who live the books are as important, if not more so.

    I think a lot of people today are not really interested in joining an institution, but in a way of life and thinking. That is what modern Buddhism is doing–it is packaging in consideration of the needs of the people and social climate. Many of us have experienced so much nectar through our spiritual practices, so we want to share whatever taste we have and who we have become spiritually.

    I don’t know if we can be too patient unless it is just fear that people may not take up the process if we spell everything out. We have to be tuned into where people are at and their particular needs. Then if we are insightful we will know how much to push or hold back. Although I know many devotees who travel to Poland for “favorable” preaching I think America is very favorable and ripe, though we have to be ready to adopt new strategies. I don’t know if it is realistic at this time to be going after main stream America. Rather we can see the success of alternative spirituality and the segment of population which is receptive.

    Anyway I am not a big preacher by any means. I have my little New Age corner and I see how receptive they can be. There needs to be devotees in every occupational sector who know the language of that group and can tailor make the KC presentation accordingly. Every group has their own lingo and filters and those devotees in that culture can speak in such a way to attract those people—and find the devotees there. The form is only as useful as it delivers the substance, so we might rethink everything if necessary.

    As I said it is all about relationships and how much we care about people and minister to them and their needs. In my various occupations I have found that if people like one as a person, they are much more apt to be curious about one’s beliefs, and think it must be a pretty good path. Our good character gives credibility to our path, not just a great talk.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    At least in ISKCON all of our devotees should feel a sense of obligation and gratitude to Srila Prabhupada, which is so great we could never repay it.

    Srila Prabhupada has imbued us with a sense of what he wants from us. Of course he wants that we should become pure devotees, but also specifically he wants us to cooperate in harmony to make this ISKCON a successful preaching mission.

    Krishna does not need anything, but we need to serve Him and please Him. One service He particularly assigns to great devotees like Srila Prabhupada is to awaken the masses of people to Krishna consciousness. As Lord Caitanya, He showed how dear this preaching Movement is to Him, and ISKCON is one particular (very prominent and glorious) branch of Lord Caitanya’s Movement. There may be some devotees who go off to practice bhajan in seclusion or in small groups, but Srila Prabhupada emphasized and very much exemplified the ghostyanandi mood of compassionately distributing Krishna consciousness all over the world to everyone.

    To do that he opened temples and organized sankirtan parties under the aegis of ISKCON (and publishing operations under the aegis of the BBT).

    ISKCON basically has an organizational political structure like a modern corporation or church. It has no specific single Acarya at present, but is managed instead by a governing body (GBC). It is not a centralized monolithic structure but consists of numerous individual organizations who are spiritually and ideologically beholden GBC authority.

    Our service to Prabhupada should consist in some way in making this model work. Our teachers and gurus should encourage everyone to serve the preaching mission of this specific ISKCON organization, not out of a sense of being overly attached to the ISKCON organizational structure (niyama-aagraha), but also not neglectful (niyama-agraha) of the needs of working harmoniously within the corporate structure to effectively make it succeed as Srila Prabhupada desires.

    I know I am going off on a big tangent here (and probably just saying some self-evident platitudes), but I promise to tie this back later to the discussion of mature outreach.

    Many devotees I have been talking to lately think that getting all these relationships clearly in mind and properly expressed will help ISKCON in its adaptation from the largely monastic and communal, self-contained counter-society it was in the ’70s to the broader, more inclusive preaching force it is today.

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    Pandu das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I could probably benefit from the advice given here, but am also concerned that it is often taken to the opposite extreme, if one could call it that. For example, it is very common for devotees today, even second-initiated, to not only wear Western clothes (as Srila Prabhupada permitted), but to also forgo being shaved up with sikha and wearing tilak only during formal devotee gatherings such as temple programs. If the public does not know we’re devotees, then how much does it help our preaching to just be a nice person? Similarly, devotees who are reluctant to reveal themselves as such publicly tend to also be shy about going out on sidewalk Harinam programs and book distribution.

    It seems to me to be a delicate balance. I recall from a psychology class in college (before I’d heard about Krishna) that when a person is confronted with a viewpoint that is too different from his or her own view, the person naturally sees it as a threat and withdraws deeper into their original view as a defense. I have seen this on occasion in my preaching efforts, and it is very unfortunate. So we have to approach people in a way that does not activate their defenses, which requires a certain degree of expertise when one is actually interested in awakening them to the Absolute Truth and purifying ourselves at the same time.

    My concern is that the material world is such a perilous place that genuine spiritual realization is actually quite urgent, so we have to make the most of every interaction. Also, we cannot compromise the philosophy that Srila Prabhupada has given us. For example, in Caitanya Caritamrta (, it is stated that anyone who is opposed to Lord Caitanya’s movement is an atheist. Naturally this can be taken at a minimum that anyone opposed to worshipping Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead is actually an atheist, despite of their so-called claim of religiosity. If we compromise on this point, what does that make us?

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    Karnamrita.das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Pranams Pandu Prabhu. You have brought up some interesting points. It is a little difficult to respond to you specifically, since I don’t know you or your history. This is important in any discussion, and usually is not there in these Internet discussions. There are general points of philosophy and then how we apply them to devotees in different conditions of life. You have a particular perspective you believe in that is in accord with your understanding of Prabhupada and your life at this time. I imagine you and I would have points of agreement and disagreement based on our personal history and understanding how we apply the philosophy. I am speaking in general here, but I really wish devotees would appreciate that there can be differences with regard to how we understand the application of the philosophy which can be reconciled if there is some sympathy are respect for devotees in general—the idea of unity in diversity. This point was part of the point of the article.

    Regarding what you said about wearing devotional attire, I think it is much more complex then you have indicated. Personally, I am not one who believes it should be dispensed with. It would appear to be favorable for bhakti by helping us feel we are servants of Krishna. Of course dress is not everything. The dress must reflect our inner convictions, and we know too well that we devotees know how to “look good”, though our dhoti or sari doesn’t mean our heart is devotional. Our appearance can be for social acceptability more then any spiritual conviction. In my experience there can be a lot of judgment based on externals, rather then on deep relationships with each other.

    When it should be worn is a matter of discussion. Certainly in a perfect world devotees would always where the devotional dress, both at the Temple and in the world. If this is our conviction then we can set the example ourselves and do our best to inspire others. It can’t be legislated, and it will not be helpful to make people feel guilty if they don’t wear it. Like anything devotees have to see the practical value for themselves and their spiritual advancement.

    Our movement at least in America has black eyes and broken bones, so there may be some reluctance to be identified with it. Not everyone has to agree with us, though at least we should be respected in the society for our saintly character and broad mindedness.

    As far as the quote you gave. To apply it literally is dangerous.

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    Karnamrita.das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Why dangerous?(a big topic) My understanding of such statements is that they are really the bhava a pure devotee—that is why I mentioned Prabhodanda Saravati. Prabhupada made many such statements as well, and we have to step back from them and try to see them in context and think about how to apply them. For instance, should we drop the bomb on non-devotees? No—then the world would be finished, and that is not our mission as aspiring Madhyam devotees. Yet some devotees read such statements and think we should repeat these statement broadly and put them literally into practice. To me putting them into practice means to pray for such conviction and spiritual emotion. Just repeating the words without really understanding the spirit of Prabhupada or the Cc, will likely be fanaticism. It takes a lot of thought, study, service and humility to understand K.C., and we have to look at all the statements Prabhupada made, seeing them in the context of our tradition. Everything can be used or abused.

    We have to be careful in repeating statements, and question if they reflect our spiritual conviction—not just belief but realized faith. Should we go out into the world calling everyone a non-devotee demon? Many of us did that for years, and we had a real “us and them”, “black and white” mentality, which caused many problems in lives of devotees, their families and communities.

    If devotees are not inspired to appear in public as devotees, we need to understand their reasons, and not just assume it is there insincerity. I wear a dhoti at the Temple, though I don’t mind if others don’t. More important to me is our relationship and if we relate together in a devotional way. Some devotees want to enforce devotional dress as if that means a person is a sadhaka. It may or may not mean that.

    I don’t wear devotional dress where I work, though people eventually learn I am a devotee. While I don’t think our preaching should be that devotees are like everyone else, they should understand that one can be a devotee in any circumstance. Our character, conviction, purity, thoughtfulness, broadmindedness, and humility should be what people notice about us. That is a tall order no doubt, yet in my experience working in the world, people notice you are different and if they like you, they are more apt to understand what you are about. If we are attracted to Krishna and bhakti, it is natural that we will share this according to our conviction and capacity.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    I know my last post was not very clear. I am perhaps trying to say too much (too much for the Dandavats word limit, but also perhaps too much for me to clearly grasp and explain. As usual, I am trying to grasp beyond my limited reach, so to speak.)

    Anyway, I know Karnamrta was primarily talking about forms of outreach to new people, but the points he makes also touch on issues of how we understand the meaning and nature of “joining” ISKCON as an institution. Or at least I think I see a connection there. This connection has implications for many topics of curent controversy, including “cultural” issues and varnasrama dharma.

    One “mode” of relating to ISKCON does not demand any commitment to the organization whatsoever. We just have some nice mantras and meditation techniques and spiritual knowledge we are anxious to distribute for free (donations are encouraged, and we cannot very well let the valuable books go for nothing, but our purpose is really just to get people to consider this philosophy and try to practice this hearing and chanting and temple worship according to their capacity and willingness. We have no power or jurisdiction to force anybody, and you cannot force someone to love anyway: it has to be voluntary.)

    Moral norms do involve a sense of compulsion. The laws of dharma are broken at the peril of being punished by the government, or at least by the laws of nature and the judgment of Yamaraja.

    And yet, when preaching in societies in which such norms are not generally accepted and such universal justice is not well-understood, it is often strategically wiser to soft-pedal points that could make our audiences feel we are judging and condemning them, and offer them the sweet nectar of Krishna consciousness in whatever way attracts them. At least, as HH Bhaktiswarup Damodar Maharaja would say, we want them to come back again.

    But once we become hooked and a little well-informed, we not only feel compelled to be moral people in terms of universal Vedic duties like “don’t lie, steal, kill, fornicate, disobey authorities (like parents, etc.), or unnecessarily disturb any sentient being.” We also have “supermoral” duties to make progress in awakening our love and surrender to Krishna.

    We do that (at least initially) by strictly following the yamas and niyamas of vaidhi bhakti (avoiding niyama-agraha and niyama-aagraha), one of which is to surrender to Guru and learn how to serve Krishna from him. . . .

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    Karnamrta Prabhu is making some very important which have deep implications for many of our current discussions and controversies.

    The “all or nothing” type approach still works with some people, but in the U.S. in the ’70s it seems there were a lot more young people of a certain predisposition than there are today.

    These young people were frustrated with the idea of regular “9 to 5 job” and the suburban family, station-wagon lifestyle, and were ready to join some sort of “far-out” spiritual communal/monastic preaching mission, organized with military-like discipline and geared toward full dedication to 24/7 spiritual practice.

    Preaching often involved convincing someone to jump over the “moat” that existed between our spiritual “island” and the mainstream society. Deprogrammers called this phenomenon “snapping”. [Maybe it was not a moat, but some kind of celestial water surrounding an island, like we find in Nadia] :-)

    Karnamrta writes: “I think a lot of people today are not really interested in joining an institution, but in a way of life and thinking.”

    There have been a lot of discussions lately about the meaning of ISKCON as an institution, about “spiritual vs. institutional” authority, “parallel lines” of authority, and “God Consciousness vs. Society Consciousness.”

    Even a lot of initiated ISKCON devotees have either associated themselves with other Gaudiya Vaisnava institutions, or just become so reintegrated into mainstream society that they do not feel any particular need to be plugged into ISKCON’s institutional “chain-of command.”

    I find it on some level a disturbing trend. Those who are followers of Srila Prabhupada should feel a deep commitment to serving the ISKCON “institution”, for making it a better and stronger and more effective agent for cultural and social change. Srila Prabhupada sometimes said things like “ISKCON is my body” (or so I have heard), and service to Prabhupada in many ways entails service to ISKCON. [At least it is hard to conceive of surrendering one’s life to Prabhupada without a commitment to serving his ISKCON institution].

    The solution may be reflected in Karnamrta’s observations. People today are less willing to commit to an “all or nothing”, cult-like organization where obedience to institutional norms is paramount. We have to reflect our deep spiritual values, not only in our lives, but in the organization of ISKCON. We have to explore the spiritual meaning of ISKCON seva.

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    jagabandhu dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dandavatts Karnamrita Prabhu!

    Your mood of compassionate outreach is very nice!

    I remember your kind-hearted association when you were in Berkeley in the early 80’s. I think it was 82′ (or possibly 83′) when I rode with you and your wife in your old yellow Volvo wagon down to LA for Ratha-yatra. And how when you had moved to LA in 84′ and let me house sit your apartment near the LA temple one time when I was basically a homeless vagabond and struggling with the flu.

    I’ll never forget how you were reading “As A Man Thinketh,” by Mr. James Allen. “A mind changed against it’s will, is of the same opinion still.”

    Personally, I don’t preach (or condescend), but rather “reach” out to suffering jivas that happen to surround me in the world wherever I go, patiently encouraging “prabhu kohe jiva doya vaishnav seva nam ruchi…” and trying to help each soul I encounter to wake up. At least a little more than before. I’m an eternal soul and so are they. So long as we’re both genuinely progressive in our consciousness development, we have forever to really learn our lessons together.

    Many years ago, I heard a quote that Srila Rupa Goswami had suggested that “…whoever worships the Divine Couple in the temple, but doesn’t see them in the hearts of all living beings, is simply wasting their time.”

    Srila Saraswati Thakur’s own conception was that each soul was to be potentially considered as a temple themselves when awakened with spiritual consciousness. This type of Divine liberality eliminates all ideological demarcation points with the fundamental focus becoming the awakenment of ourselves and others regardless of apparent external ecclesiatical affiliation.

    Because I’ve made my living as a construction worker, I’ve developed a sort of a rough exterior aspect (or veneer). Most people who know me in the world are only aware of my strict vegetarianism and my heartfelt insights and humor with which I’m always trying to help lighten up everyone’s heavy loads. Without argument (quarrel) or pretense.

    I always try and relate to souls where they’re at and encourage further growth from that point. Most are left with a feeling left unsaid that I must certainly be of their own chosen philosophical persuasion (which is Southern Baptist in my neck of the woods).

    Humbly with affection,

    Jagabandhu das (aka “Kavi’)

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    Praghosa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In relation to people feeling ‘accosted’ when being stopped on the streets by devotees distributing books, I once asked one of ISKCON’s leading book distributors about this.

    His response was interesting, he told me that he rarely if ever stops someone walking on the street. Rather he approaches people at bus stops, people stopped talking in groups, people ‘window shopping’ and in any other situations where they don’t have to be ‘accosted’ which is of course a somewhat aggressive activity. There is also door to door and shop to shop book distribution as well……..

    Hare Krishna,

    Praghosa dasa

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    Sometimes when we try to stop passersby on a street or other book distribution venue, they feel like they are being “accosted”. To a certain extent this may be unavoidable, but book distributors have to learn the art of doing this as far as possible without annoying people.

    We should never keep following someone down the street if they refuse to stop. We should never have our false ego so invested in stopping them that we take it as a personal affront or insult if they are dismissive of us, and react. We should always be meek and humble and very happy and friendly and detached, and then many people will stop, and the ones who don’t will not be annoyed.

    It helps to watch Vijay or Vaisesika or other masters of the art, and to constantly practice.

    As Vaisesika constantly reminds us, the primary rule of book distribution is, “Always leave everyone with a good impression.”

    They may not take a book or even stop and talk to you today, but they should think, “Oh that Hare Krishna person seemed very nice.” Maybe later they will talk to some other devotee, after building up sukrti just by having nice thoughts about you and your friendly, well-mannered persistence in trying to distribute holy spiritual books.

    Generally we should not try to stop someone who is in an intense conversation, or is on the phone, or has made some indication that they are determined not to be stopped.

    We should think of how we feel when we get interrupted by some soliciter or salesperson whom we did not seek out, who intrudes on our privacy and stops us, however briefly, from going about whatever activities we are intent upon doing. Unless it can be made an interesting or attractive experience, we will feel annoyed.

    But what can we do? We cannot refrain from trying to stop people and convince them of the merit of these books. That is our bounden duty. We only have to learn how to do it in such a way that people will not feel “accosted.”

    And frankly, I do not meet too many people nowadays who have a bad impression of devotees because of the high-pressure distribution tactics of the ’70s and early ’80s. Mostly when I go out I meet a lot of people who are just distracted and therefore a little indifferent, and always a few people who have very positive things to say about Hare Krishna. There is a mood in America right now (or at least in Northern California) where lots of people look very favorably on seeing Hare Krishnas chanting and presenting books.

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    Pandu das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krishna. I really appreciate seeing the various viewpoints of devotees here in regard to preaching Krishna consciousness. I know I have a lot to learn. Also I am grateful for the clarification from Jagabandhu, which we also discussed via e-mail. It’s so easy for misunderstandings to occur in written forums.

    Personally I am very reserved about preaching at work; although because I work in environmental law enforcement, I take every opportunity to promote the vegetarian diet on a scientific basis. It seems to me to be poor etiquette to discuss religion in a secular job, but also no one can tell me I cannot display the marks of my faith. I specifically chose a civil service career with that in mind. (My dream is if I could earn my living while preaching Krishna consciousness, but I haven’t figured out how I can do that yet.) I’m sure I make less money this way, but that’s a trade-off I can accept if necessary. If I can’t have the inner mood of a Vaisnava, at least I want the outer appearance and cubicle-decorations.

    I’ve heard many times from people saying they’ve been “accosted” by Hare Krishna devotees. I’ve definitely never accosted anyone. If there is a philosophical discussion taking place, I present relevant points of Krishna conscious philosophy as I’ve understood them from Srila Prabhupada’s books, and offer some actual books if I’m able. I also participate in public chanting whenever a group of devotees can be organized. (I’ll do the organizing if necessary.) Other than that I simply let the Vaisnava symbols – tilak, sikha, kanthi mala, and japa bag/mala do the talking. If someone is familiar with devotees, just seeing me like this reminds him or her of Krishna. Otherwise they probably just think I’m weird. (I do think that if more devotees revealed their faith this way, more of the public would be reminded of Krishna and hopefully fewer people would think I’m weird.) Some of these people ask what these insignia are about, and then I have an invitation to say something about Krishna. Most of the people I see are simply passing by in various public settings with no opportunity to cultivate them over time, so I simply want to remind them of Krishna, even subconsciously, via tilak and sikha. I also have a big Hare Krishna painted across the back of my car. 8^) I’m trying to develop the sort of personality for distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books profusely, but due to shyness I’m not quite there yet. Hare Krishna.

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    Pandu das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Karnamrita Prabhu, Hare Krishna. PAMHO. AGTSP.
    I think we can agree that we should do whatever may help to induce people to chant the Hare Krishna mahamantra in a mood following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya. My experience as someone who grew up in a Christian family and having lived surrounded by Christians my whole life is that the more they are interested in the Bible, the less they’re interested in Krishna consciousness. They say that Jesus is God, and Krishna is not God; and among scriptures they tend to respect only the Bible. Since the Bible does not directly say anything about Krishna, nor does it emphasize chanting holy names, they don’t consider our movement bona fide. Some think our abstaining from meat is proof of our rejection of God’s commandments (what to speak of Deity worship), and that we’re surely going to hell forever unless we accept Jesus as the only way.

    I try to be friendly with everyone I meet (and the first thing they see is my tilak and bald head with sikha), but fact that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot be compromised. Someone may be attached to Krishna in His other forms, such as Rama or Nrsimha, and that is fine, but if anyone derides Krishna, I can’t help but consider the person an atheist. Krishna calls them “fools” in B.g. 9.11, and describes their views as demoniac and atheistic in the following verse.

    In considering whether Christians are acting as atheists, I can’t help but see that they portray God in an absurd, insulting way, and have thereby made self-declared atheists in vast numbers. They reject reincarnation and thereby paint a picture of gross injustice in the world. They slaughter tens of billions of animals each year, thinking there is no soul in them. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly emphasized the Biblical commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” but now they say it really means “murder” and cite the Bible to say that God actually wants us to eat animals.

    It is nice when people accept that there is a supreme authority, but to love God one must actually know who God is. When the truth is presented that “Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead,” it must be accepted. As Srila Prabhupada concludes the introduction to B.g. “Let there be one God for the whole world – Sri Krishna… and one hymn, one mantra, one prayer — the chanting of His name: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Haribol!

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    jagabandhu dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    When I look about me in the world I can see many jivas professing particular affiliation with the many attempts to socialize the apparent ideology initially expressed by great spiritual thinkers of antiquity. Regardless of external manifestation of official faith, what I perceive beneath is a diversity of souls seeking in varying degrees of sincere supplication to achieve a semblance of Divine Understanding in order to make sense of their own unique individual circumstantial strife. If others do not share my particular subjective preference or Divine flavor of Faith, I am not in the least bit threatened by cosmetic ideological variance. I am a jiva. They are also jivas. Neither of us can be anything but a jiva. The ultimate purpose of all religion is for us to become re-awakened to this irrevocable primal fact and pursue a sincere and honest progressive relationship with the Supreme Soul. And then help others to do the same.
    The very idea of conversion is itself an external contrivance pandering to the collective misconceptions of institutional religiosity. A soul always remains a soul and cannot be converted into anything else. Although it appears that sometimes because of fundamental misunderstanding and ego distortion a ruinous mood may occur which can make souls behave like asouls. And then feel it is their “Divinely Sanctioned” obligation to force others to subscribe to their particular ecclesiastical subjective preference. As if God were in competition with Himself. And as if the “converters” were unable to believe in their own ideology if others do not, thereby causing their conversionary attempts to be little more than facilitation and external validation of ostensible convictions which they themselves do not truly possess at any real depth and subsequent genuinely positive environmental influence.
    May we kindly remember that Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur himself boldly expresses that individual liberty is God’s greatest gift to all souls. Please consider how Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada himself once cautioned about preaching to “Christians” to get them to “give up” their “Christianity” and take to Krishna Consciousness instead, that if they “gave up” their “Christianity” but did not take to Krishna Consciousness, then they might be left with no faith at all. Like a riven cloud. With no position in any sphere of faithful association and hopefully spiritually positive influence.


    Jagabandhu das

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    Karnamrita.das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krishna Panduji: I think the point you are speaking about brings to light the reason I wrote the article: Considering our deep theology and high standard of spirituality, what is mature, effective outreach considerating our own spiritual standing, and the mentality of our audience?

    Krishnadas Kaviraja in his Cc speaks of Jarasandha who although a strict follower of Vedic culture and varnasrama, was against Krishna, so he called him an atheist. What is the spirit of this statement? Just a show of religion doesn’t mean one is truly religious or has any spiritual standing. That is my take. My question to you is should this be the soapbox or platform that we use in speaking to the people in general? That is certainly not the approach I believe in. We can’t expect people to just accept us by divine right just because we are devotees. Only devotees will accept our assertion that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and “preaching” is a way to find them. Others will worship according to their own faith and we may respect them from a distance. At least among thoughtful and spiritually progressive people our spirituality, insights and mature perspective will be appreciated if they are present. That some people or groups will never appreciate Unity in Diversity is a given.

    So much of our conversation has to be in response to our particular audience. We can speak of what is true religion and spirituality, and various applications according to the modes of nature. Certainly anyone who is blatantly against Krishna we would not consider to have spiritual standing, and if we needed to, our reasons for this could be discussed. But just calling a person an atheist if they don’t agree with our take on religion would appear fundamentalist and reactionary. Are we to be known as reasonable thoughtful people, or angry, accusing, and narrow minded religionists?

    Another point is that there are different arenas—amongst devotees, different spiritual, religious groups and people in general, and our presentation should reflect that. It is not that one size fits all, or that in the name of being uncompromising we alienate those who might be at least favorable to Krishna. I am not speaking of changing the ideals or principles, or “watering down” the standard, but of understanding our ideals in a dynamic way in order to be relevant to the times we live. Every acharya or even book distributor has to do this.

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    Pandu das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Jagabandhu Prabhu

    Hare Krishna.
    I don’t know your situation, but around here people celebrate their faith with “Praise the Lord Pig Roast” parties, church barbecues, etc., in the name of religion. These poor jiva souls are sleeping in the forest fire of material existence, and sweet, flattering words will surely blend nicely with maya’s soft lullaby.

    It may make me an “asoul” in your view (clever hidden vulgarity, if you don’t mind being offensive), but I am determined to loudly call out Krishna’s holy names with drums and cymbals to awaken whomever I can and get them out of this perilous situation. I am only preaching what I’ve learned from Srila Prabhupada’s books, and I don’t want to stop.

    Dear Karnamrita Prabhu,

    Hare Krishna.

    As I mentioned, I try to be friendly with everyone I meet, and I don’t go around telling people they’re atheists if they have some religious faith. I work in a big office where everyone knows I’m a Hare Krishna and I have no problem. I understand that the goal of preaching is to actually convince people, but what do you do when someone insists Jesus is the only way, but they feed their kids hamburger?

    From what I’ve seen, very few people are interested in philosophy. They want sense gratification, and Christianity gives them a license to get it. All they have to do is ask Jesus for forgiveness, and if you don’t accept Jesus as your personal savior, then you’re damned to hell for eternity. Am I wrong?

    They get this from the Bible, and I’ve had quite enough of it. Cow protection and slaughterhouse religion cannot coexist. The way God is described in the Bible sounds to me more like a demigod than the Personality of Godhead. What does it mean when a devotee hands someone Bhagavad-gita As It Is but the person doesn’t take it? Why does Paramatma not guide the person to accept Krishna? It seems to me that it would be because the person does not want Krishna at that point; he thinks Krishna is an ordinary man, or deep down he just doesn’t want to surrender to Krishna. The Bible thumpers are usually in this category, and when they use the Bible to justify nonsense, I feel a duty to at least say, “No, Krishna is God, and if you want to understand God, you should hear what He says in Bhagavad-gita. If you’re really serious about knowing God, you should just read this, and then tell me if you think Krishna is not God.”

    Whether they accept or not is between them and Krishna. I do my part.
    Hare Krishna.

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    bbd says:

    Karnamrta Prabhu

    All glories to you for bringing this discussion to light…it’s long overdue. In my limited experience in practicing Krsna Consciousness, I’ve seen many devotees in America face the same problem again and again. This obstacle tends to set back our efforts in reaching out effectively to the general public. As time goes on, this problem takes away our modesty in outreach efforts by distancing our ability to relate with everyday people. The reason, as I have studied and objectively observed, is that many devotees loose the distinction between a cultural religious tradition and a genuine spiritual process.

    Yes, things like devotional dress, tilak, shaved head with sihka, and the many other external features (cultural traditions) of a Vaisnava serve as practical tools for one to better develop one’s consiousness as a spirit soul. And they should be accepted for ceremonial purposes in the temples and for those in the renounced order. However, when these external features become an obstacle in sharing transcendental knowledge with everyday people, they should be temporarily set aside for the sake of spreading the Holy Name. In my studying of Srila Prabhupada’s divine character and mission, I’ve come to the conclusion that His Divine Grace would sacrifice the external features for the internal ones. Krsna Consciousness is a change of heart and not a change of dress. Time and time again, I’ve meet people who have become interested in Krsna Consciouness but have fallen away due to social pressures from our communities placed on interested people having to make these changes of external features. Therefore, the internal change does not have the ability to take place.

    This movement in America has become stagnant (with a few exceptions) for several reasons. One reason, in regards to this post, is devotees losing a grasp on the target audience and how to best help them take their next step in spiritual life. Books go out, programs in temples are being held, but why such a low turnout amongst the American populace? We must use our intelligence in making Krsna Consciousness attractive and acceptable for the public in general. Otherwise, we fail in pleasing Srila Prabupada. Does anyone think that Krsna really cares how we dress our bodies? We are after people’s hearts. Whatever it takes (without sacrificing the philosophy and principles) to make people more spiritually conscious.

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    bbd says:

    Let’s face it, it’s not 1972 anymore where the American youth was willing to try all sorts of things without consideration. Srila Prabhupada and the 1st generation tapped into that audience. But now, times have changed and so has the American people. People are more educated, have more access to information, and if they know what a Hare Krsna is, most likely it’s not a good thing. Better to serve them up the philosophy and help them so they can comfortably apply it to their lives (to whatever degree). If that means goodbye to the dhoti and tilak, then goodbye! We are ourselves trying to reject the bodily concept of life and we endeavor for others to so do as well. So let’s not put so much importance on the external factors at the expense of the sharing our flawless philosophy with others. We must use our intelligence. Every outreach situation is different and requires different adaptations all within the confines of Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental house. Much more discussion is needed on this topic…

    As for the earlier remarks about Christians and people of other faith, here’s some food for thought:

    “I sometimes remember that when I spoke in Portland there were many Christian people there, and they were very much favorable whenever we mentioned that we were also lovers of Christ. So you may preach in that way, that we are not canvassing for people to convert or criticize, we are canvassing people that they should simply utilize their time for loving God by engaging in his devotional service, either they are Christian, Catholic, Jew, whatever. We are after God, that’s all, we are servants of God. So preach like this, very simply, and hold sankirtana widely all over the city, and distribute prasadam profusely, especially to the young people and the students, and everything will be increasingly successful more and more. We have observed in Amsterdam that there are many frustrated young people and they have become very much degraded in their way of life. They will not even listen to philosophy. So it is better to concentrate on the sankirtana and get them to chant with us. If they go on chanting, eventually they will become purified. And if someone wants to understand a little philosophy, he can purchase one of our books. We have got so many big, big books. So in this spirit carry on with great enthusiastic endeavor and this will please me very, very much.”
    (Srila Prabhupada 8-2-1972)

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    jagabandhu dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dandavatts Pandu Prabhu!

    Apologies. Please excuse me for letting you think that my vulgar/offensive “asoul” reference was somehow directed towards your Grace. What I expressed was intended in a general way about the psychology of “conversion,” but because it appeared consecutively after your own comments I can see how you might think my thoughts were more specifically directed towards you. Also, it wasn’t intended as discouragement for anyone to discontinue their earnest preaching efforts. Actually, what I had in mind was that proselytizers of all traditions seem to be unable to account for or tolerate others to have different faith than their own, which seems very spiritually immature and possibly an indication of their own real dearth of actual sublime conviction.

    My situation is that I’ve actually had employers who liked my work at first, but when they found out I was a “Hare Krishna,” they became very put off because the bad experience they had with “Hare Krishnas” in America raising money. Eventually, I was able to regain their affectionate trust and friendship.

    I live and work in the Florida backwoods wherein I am surrounded by many simple people who aren’t likely to ever become vegetarian or listen to Eastern philosophy or even “new age” ideas—what to speak of Krishna consciousness per se. Nonetheless, they remain souls beneath the illusory veil. I see this aspect and reach out to it. Rather than condescend, I affectionately befriend them while encouraging them to sincerely approach the Divinity they know as the souls they are. After years of sincere and affectionate friendship with them, they have affection and trust for me and the sublime philosophical suggestions that I patiently spoon-feed them with in my humble attempt to be a kindly friend to all.

    Generally, the people I mostly deal with are a “rough’ bunch who wouldn’t cotton to the untrustworthy insincerity of sweet flattery (which I don’t use in my dealings with anyone). In fact, they’re tired of being cheated time and again by insincere preachers and politicians of all variety. Therefore, I take the circuitous (non-confrontational) or long approach in my hopefully affectionate, hopefully mature outreach to them. And many of them have grown to trust my unusual insights into whatever severely challenging circumstance Providence places before us which might require harmonizing through scrutinizing essence.

    Humbly with affection,

    Jagabandhu das

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    Karnamrita.das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Pranams Panduji! Though written communication like this is prone to be misunderstood being somewhat one dimensional, I appreciate the opportunity to go deeper into what Krishna consciousness is and to think deeply. Association with devotees should challenge and stimulate our hearts and minds. We have to understand as far as possible the sincerity, nature and struggles of other devotees in order to really respond and not react to what they are saying. I don’t mean to seem like a critic of your perspective. I want my life to be about support for those on the path to Krishna. You are obviously a sincere devotee working in a difficult environment and are doing what you feel you need to do in your present situation. We have to do that which is favorable for bhakti taking into consideration our conditioning.

    I am a different person then you have my own way of dealing with others. I also worked in office situations and in a warehouse with less than philosophical persons for 20 years. I tried to make the best of it. I felt my best contribution would be to exude positive, peaceful friendly energy. I distributed prasad every week, though in general I kept to myself. Most people were not interested in anything spiritual or philosophical, though a few were. Like you mentioned, people in general are not that philosophical or really interested to go beyond their religious dogma. We are advised not to “preach” to the unfaithful and we have to wait for teachable moments to share even a few steps above their understanding. In any discussion I can’t help but see my own shortcomings as a bhakti practitioner, and I think how I might be guilty of whatever “fault” I may observe in others.

    I sincerely believe from my philosophical study and experience working with people as a spiritual counselor and healer that life responds to us according to our mentality. Psychologically speaking we see the world not as it is, but as we are. Negative people see the work badly, and positive people have a sunny disposition. Basically I am a brahmin/sudra, with no fire in my chart. I don’t like conflict or confrontation. I don’t find it helpful for me to focus on peoples shortcomings or to make neat categorizations of friends and enemies. I look for the good and encourage that. Some people are to be avoided–no doubt—yet in an office situation that may be a real challenge. If you have to be there you have to co-exist and spiritually survive, not create conflict.

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    Kesava Krsna dasa ( User Karma: -8 ) says:

    Dear Prabhus,

    Mature outreach and preaching in the workplace is something that usually takes time – it is a patience game if you like. If we are intent on getting immediate positive or negative results, or create a take it or leave it scenario, the sudden attempt to unleash knowledge about Krishna will in most cases, be met with indifference, because the sukrti is lacking.

    One of the 26 qualities of a devotee is to be friendly, and we can befriend any person of any religious persuasion on a dignified level without having to push our convictions. As many mature devotees have indicated in this discussion, simply to let people like or love us on their level will increase the chances of them hearing us when we eventually tell them about Krishna. This may take years, but is patience not another devotee quality?

    My wife and I have been distributing prasadam and books in the busy television studios (SABC) in Johannesburg for 14 years now. Just recently, a conservative Africaans born-again Christian, who happens to be one of the managers there, and a long time customer of ours, has actually inquired sincerely about our philosophy, particularly reincarnation. Now, under normal circumstances he would have nothing to do with “heathen and pagan” affairs.

    Over the years we treated him like everybody else, as a friendly customer. This friendship, and of course the prasada, created the neccessary sukrti, enabling him to have this conversation, and furthermore, request a cd of our “spiritual” music. He and others showed interest through our friendship, and it wasn’t immediate. In fact, more people approach after some years once they realise we are people of integrity, and this adds to the excitement of preaching.

    In many cases we need to be patient while creating their sukrti, or qualification to inquire and hear. This I am sure is required for most people anyway.

    Nowadays, with sportstars and entertainers brandishing new clothe lines and perfumes and so on, the trend to ever more increase attachment to the material body is not going to make the task of preaching easier. The trendy youngsters with their gelled hairstyles and branded clothing are not going to dress like devotees in a hurry either. Just as Srila Prabhupada adjusted his preaching accordingly, so should we.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna Dasa.

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    Babhru ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I commend and thank Karnamrita prabhu for opening up this important topic. Whether anyone agrees with everything he, Akruranath, or anyone else here says, we do need to consider carefully what kind of outreach will have the effect we want. Our purpose, it seems to me, should be to increase faith in the teachings of Lord Chaitanya (our faith and others’), creating some bhakti sukriti. We do that best by our character, as we see in Mahaprabhu’s outreach to Prakashananda Sarasvati and the other sannyasins.

    It would be nice to see a forum where this topic can be discussed threadbare.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    Haribol Babhru Prabhu!

    I agree that whenever devotees meet they should be discussing how to distribute Krishna consciousness more and more to all jivas.

    Regarding a forum where the topic of effective outreach can be discussed threadbare, I want to again praise this Dandavats website, which provides such a forum in a very nice way.

    I have not been posting my usual quota here in the last two weeks because of being busy in my law practice (I have also been corresponding with some other devotees about these same issues of “institutional authority” in ISKCON, and “authority” generally)

    But also after posting so many in a row without having a specific response, I kind of felt I was talking too much anyway. (Your post has now given me an excuse to say more) :-)

    I guess our traditional means of outreach, public harinama kirtans and vigorous book distribution, are still the tried and true best method, authorized by our acaryas, for spreading the glories of Krishna far and wide.

    But then, when someone has some interest and wants to associate with like-minded devotees and go deeper, what can we do for them?

    Well, we do have temples where beautiful deity worship and daily sadhana are being followed. That is usually where we direct people if they have that kind of aptitude and want to dive into the practice of Krishna consciousness in a more committed way.

    We also have festival programs, farm communities, academic environments (which also usually emphasize daily sadhana as part of an overall life of appreciation for the complete culture of Krishna consciousness, which is replete with the very highest of literary achievements, generally reserved for topmost paramahamsas).

    And then there is also the chance to bring Krishna consciousness “out into the world” by just naturally exuding the good qualities of Vaisnavas wherever we go until people around us take an interest in this mantra, these books, this tradition of daily practice and constant remembrance for drawing out our dormant love.

    There are unlimited opportunities for service, all of which help us attain a taste for hearing and chanting about Krishna.

    But most of all I think we should remember to be very appreciative of the devotees. They are our only true friends. Who else could we hear and chant with?

    Just as integrating peacefully into the devotee society is all-important for us, we should be mindful to help others integrate in a friendly way within our communities.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -9 ) says:

    I used to be uncomfortable with the way we sometimes use the term “mature devotee”. While it should properly refer to our maturity of realization and practice in devotional service to the Lord, and the development of actual, firmly established spiritual feelings, sometimes we tend to use the same term to describe a devotee who has been able to successfully integrate into the nondevotee society as a productive and well-adjusted citizen.

    I used to think that truly mature devotees do not necessarily mix well in materialistic society. Materialists find devotees crazy, and devotees find materialists crazy. I can imagine a mundane therapist pronouncing great saints like Gaura-Kisore Das Babaji or Haridas Thakur as having “difficulty functioning in society” or some similar learned diagnosis. Of course, it is a tenet of devotional service to rigidly give up the association of nondevotees (except for preaching).

    However, I have come to see lately that the two senses of the word “mature” really in many ways run parallel. The developmental theorists like Piaget and humanistic psychologists like Maslow seem to agree that emotional and cogntive maturity involves an ability to empathise and understand how things may seem different from the viewpoints of others.

    When Krishna entered the wrestling arena of Kamsa, He was seen differently by the different people present. To be an effective preacher, one has to be able to understand the perception or point of view of the audience and make a connection on that basis.

    In a very real sense, this is what is meant by becoming a madhyama adhikari as opposed to a materialistic neophyte. We have to learn to distinguish spiritual from material, and to perceive the movements of people’s subtle bodies in addition to just the gross physical manifestations. Only then can we truly live for the spiritual.

    Until we can do this, our so-called preaching will remain primarily something we do to fulfil our own needs, to convince ourselves perhaps, or establish for ourselves a sense of our identity as devotees, or even (hopefully not) to engage in the ubiquitous materialistic “pastime” of dominating and controlling others.

    But a madhyama adhikari devotee who actually knows how to treat each individual properly according to his or her psychological or spiritual condition will not only be an effective preacher, but will also be perceived as mature and well-adjusted by the general public.

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