All glories to Sankirtana, Prasadam and Srimad-Bhagavatam’ is very welcome!
“Your statement in the letter, ‘All glories to Sankirtana, Prasadam and Srimad-Bhagavatam’ is very welcome.” – Srila Prabhupada letter to Rupanuga (2/1/70)
tasmat kenapy upayena
manah krishna nivesayat
“Somehow or another fix the mind on Krishna. The rules and regulations come later.” (SB 7.1.32, cited in purport CC Adi 7.37 as the recommendation of Rupa Goswami)
ISKCON is for the brahmanas. And that’s great. So now we must answer: what about everyone else?
I have no realization of the brahmana level because I am not brahmana initiated or qualified. But it occurs to me that the traditional role of brahmanas in society was to assist the population in general, even if that population’s spiritual realization and capacity to understand complex philosophy was not at the same level. It was not to be expected of most people that they would follow much in the way of religious procedure. But the brahmanas were greatly respected because they offered their skills and assistance to humanity. In this way, they were able to associate with the people in general and give them their blessings. In the case of Vaishnava brahmanas, those blessings took the form of very simple preaching, nama, the distribution of prasadam, and an open door to anyone to participate. Bhaktivinoda Thakura is the perfect example of a Vaishnava apparently engaged in the mundane affairs of judicial work, but who nonetheless gave us the nama-hatta movement, surely by now a foundation of Vaishnava culture. Bhaktivinoda Thakura had the ear of the materialists because of the respect and praise he won from them for the excellent work he did in the mundane sphere. In spite of this contact with the materialists however, he remained throughout his life a model of Vaishnava humility and material renunciation.
The Six Goswamis are nana-sastra-vicaranaika-nipunau sad-dharma-samsthapakau – very expert in scrutinizingly studying all the revealed scriptures with the aim of establishing eternal religious principles for the benefit of all human beings. They are dhiradhira-jana-priyau priya-karau nirmatsarau pujitau – popular both with the gentle and the ruffians, because they are not envious of anyone. Why is this?
tyaktva turnam asesa-mandala-pati-srenim sada tuccha-vat
bhutva dina-ganesakau karunaya kaupina-kanthasritau
They “kicked off all association or aristocracy as insignificant. In order to deliver the poor conditioned souls, they accepted loincloths, treating themselves as mendicants.” (Sri Sri Sad Goswami Astakam by Srinivas Acarya)
Therefore, in order to deliver the principles of Krishna consciousness to the wider population, we must first ask ourselves, what is the required qualification to do so? ISKCON means “followers of the Six Goswamis”, so we must take their example. And their example is to treat themselves as mendicants and behave graciously in a friendly manner toward everyone, casting social class considerations aside:
brahmane gavi hastini
suni caiva sva-pake ca
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater “ (Bhagavad Gita 5.18)
Indeed, Advaita Acarya Prabhu said, “If You distribute love of Godhead, then give it also to the women, the sudras, the fallen, and the ignorant people. And those sinful persons who have become intoxicated with material learning, wealth, family, etc., and subsequently do not respect Your devotees, or the process of devotional service to You, let them burn in the fire of hell. Let everyone else, including the candalas, dance in ecstasy, chanting Your holy name.” (Caitanya Bhagavata, Madhya Lila, Chapter 6)
pātrāpātra-vicāra nāhi, nāhi sthānāsthāna
yei yāṅhā pāya, tāṅhā kare prema-dāna
“In distributing love of Godhead, Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His associates did not consider who was a fit candidate and who was not, nor where such distribution should or should not take place. They made no conditions. Wherever they got the opportunity, the members of the Pañca-tattva distributed love of Godhead.” (Caitanya Caritamrta Adi 7.23)
It is thus in this mood that Food For All in it’s activities attempts to follow the teachings and example of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and of the Six Goswamis. Whilst it is true that harer nama is the eva kevalam, and whilst it is true that the books are nama in written form, Krishna-prasadam is nama in it’s edible form. Prasadam is identical to Krishna. Whilst the very sound of nama can appear bitter to the jaundiced mind at first, prasadam tastes sweet to all.
yāt kṛṣṇa-nāma-caritādi-sitāpy avidyā-
pittopatapta-rasanasya na rocikā nu
kintv ādarād anudinaṁ khalu saiva juṣṭā
svādvī kramād bhavati tad-gada-mūla-hantrī
“The holy name, character, pastimes and activities of Kṛṣṇa are all transcendentally sweet like sugar candy. Although the tongue of one afflicted by the jaundice of avidyā [ignorance] cannot taste anything sweet, it is wonderful that simply by carefully chanting these sweet names every day, a natural relish awakens within his tongue, and his disease is gradually destroyed at the root.” (Nectar Of Instruction, Verse 7)
The very act of taking prasadam induces one to chant the holy names “Hare Krishna!” Everyone who takes our prasadam in London refers to it as “Hare Krishna food”, therefore engaging in chanting nama at the same time as taking prasadam, often glorifying the devotees with words of praise as they do so. What wonderful ajnana-sukrti they are performing! They are no doubt sure to take books when offered to them one day by a sankirtan devotee.
It is true that we do not proselytise. We find that our relaxed mood enables the broadest range of people possible to feel comfortable taking prasadam from us. If we were to proselytize, many atheists, agnostics, and members of other faiths would refuse to take the prasadam we were offering them. In this case, according to the principle of yukta-vairagya, there is no need of our philosophizing to them. Many sankirtan devotees will confirm the validity of this strategy. The bhakti process does not depend upon our philosophizing. There are nine processes of bhakti, a few of which our service could be said to introduce people to… people from all backgrounds, all faiths and all nations.
sa vai manaḥ kṛṣṇa-padāravindayor
karau harer mandira-mārjanādiṣu
ghrāṇaṁ ca tat-pāda-saroja-saurabhe
śrīmat-tulasyā rasanāṁ tad-arpite
pādau hareḥ kṣetra-padānusarpaṇe
kāmaṁ ca dāsye na tu kāma-kāmyayā
“Mahārāja Ambarīṣa always engaged his mind in meditating upon the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, his words in describing the glories of the Lord, his hands in cleansing the Lord’s temple, and his ears in hearing the words spoken by Kṛṣṇa or about Kṛṣṇa. He engaged his eyes in seeing the Deity of Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa’s temples and Kṛṣṇa’s places like Mathurā and Vṛndāvana, he engaged his sense of touch in touching the bodies of the Lord’s devotees, he engaged his sense of smell in smelling the fragrance of tulasī offered to the Lord, and he engaged his tongue in tasting the Lord’s prasāda. He engaged his legs in walking to the holy places and temples of the Lord, his head in bowing down before the Lord, and all his desires in serving the Lord, twenty-four hours a day. Indeed, Mahārāja Ambarīṣa never desired anything for his own sense gratification. He engaged all his senses in devotional service, in various engagements related to the Lord. This is the way to increase attachment for the Lord and be completely free from all material desires.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 9.4.18-20)
Our technique is not accidental or avoidant. It is carefully considered. If people are curious as to the philosophy, we are very happy to direct them to the books. More people are becoming curious about the philosophy due to the fact that we are giving out prasadam, than would be if we were to stop tomorrow. If we are a religion at all, then we are a kitchen religion. Prasadam is our secret weapon.
We do not pre-judge who Krishna may show mercy to in bringing them closer to Him. We simply offer the opportunity to everyone. Sankirtan distribution of more and more books depends on creating more and more people who have a favorable disposition toward the devotees. Adherence to the principles of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu means not pre-judging who may or may not develop in Krishna-bhakti. Many one-time atheists or agnostics, drug addicts or debauchees became devotees by reading Prabhupada’s books. You may be one of them, I know I am. But some of us need some encouragement first. What better encouragement than a delicious plate of food given freely by a volunteer? Even to hear of such a deed second-hand from a book distributor is to make someone more favorable to us. And even if the furthest someone gets along the bhakti path in this lifetime is to say “well I don’t believe in God, but those Hare Krishnas are alright” then, if we really believe in nama, we may consider our efforts a success.
stenaḥ surā-po mitra-dhrug
ye ca pātakino ’pare
sarveṣām apy aghavatām
idam eva suniṣkṛtam
yatas tad-viṣayā matiḥ
“The chanting of the holy name of Lord Viṣṇu is the best process of atonement for a thief of gold or other valuables, for a drunkard, for one who betrays a friend or relative, for one who kills a brāhmaṇa, or for one who indulges in sex with the wife of his guru or another superior. It is also the best method of atonement for one who murders women, the king or his father, for one who slaughters cows, and for all other sinful men. Simply by chanting the holy name of Lord Viṣṇu, such sinful persons may attract the attention of the Supreme Lord, who therefore considers, ‘Because this man has chanted My holy name, My duty is to give him protection.’” (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.2.9-10)
All the best,
Administrator, Food For All