Vanity thought #366. Sacrifice in the name of sankirtana

Heard this question today – can a devotee completely ignore his bodily needs for the sake of preaching? I think it was about distributing books. The question was loaded and the expected answer was almost hanging in the air – of course not, one should take proper care of his body because …

While I was processing it I missed the actual given answer but it sounded like a diplomatic way of not upsetting the person asking and and the same time not giving him ammunition to attack whoever it was all about.

But what should the real answer be? Should we pause the sankirtana mission to take better care of our bodies? What happens if we don’t?

On one hand it’s really really simple – properly maintained body can serve much much longer so while we are sparing an hour today we might lose a year later.

On the other hand this question is similar to telling people to quit smoking and drinking because it will prolong their lives, to which they answer that they are not interested in useless life without drinking no matter how long it is. Sometimes they do the math and say that ten years of exercising adds only two years of life, so it’s time wasted. I bet there are other variations, too.

In both cases, sankirtana and drinking, we are facing with serious addiction. Life without it does not seem to be worth living and everything must be sacrificed to feed that addiction.

So, what’s wrong with being addicted to sankirtana? Too much heavy book lifting and walking the streets might damage one’s health and even shorten his lifespan, but how do you measure success? By the number of years spent on this earth? What’s wrong with going back to Godhead a few years earlier?

Perhaps a better, more appealing to sankirtana addicts, argument would be – you’ll lose you ability to preach and you’ll spend the rest of your days in bed, unable to help anybody and accepting service from others. That might scare them off, but it also sounds like an implausible scenario – people don’t need that much to preach, no one is ending in hospital bed for reals. Scary scenario but improbable.

We should also remember that no matter what it looks like to us but everyone is taking care of his body one way or another. Even the most dedicated preachers occasionally pause to eat and sleep. It just appears insufficient by OUR standards. Who are we to impose our standards on others, btw?

So it appears that my answer would be – let them preach and distribute books as much as they want, these people are so rare in this world that we shouldn’t be worried about them, we should be worried about those who can’t get their bottoms of the sofas (and no, yoga doesn’t count).

They might damage their health and suffer negative consequences but it’s not the criteria for success or failure, they are prepared to face the pain, that’s why it’s called sankirtana-yajna in the first place – we must sacrifice something. How much? Not our job to judge.

There are important considerations, though. So far I assumed that we are talking about people making sacrifices in the name of spreading the Lord’s glory. That is not always the case. Some people might have ulterior motives, they might want to appear better devotees than others, they might want to win the first place and all the adoration that comes with it. They might want to prove the strength of their own willpower. People perform all kinds of sacrifices and tapasyas for all kinds of reasons all the time.

Sacrifices performed for these ulterior motives will definitely bring results and they will definitely be unfavorable to devotional progress. On the other hand – if one is inclined to perform tapasyas then it’s better to do it while distributing books – it’s the best activity in the world for purifying one’s desires .

So, while we should watch out for the motives, having them is not sufficient enough to slow down one’s sankirtana.

Perhaps the only valid reason is if one goes out to distribute books when his actual service is something else. Sankirtana, of course, is the most valuable service in the universe, but we still can’t break the main principle – we should do our service first as given to us by gurus and authorities. We might feel that it’s small and unimportant but if that’s what the Lord wants from us then we have to do it with love and devotion, not with resentment and aversion.

One cannot abandon his wife and his children at will, for example, they depend on us not only materially but, most importantly, they depend on us spiritually. Their spiritual progress is tied up to us and ours to theirs. If we can’t make them into better devotees we are failing in our primary responsibility, a few distributed books here and there won’t change that.

Come to think of that – there are so many people tied up with so many things and hardly anyone has any time for sankirtana, and if we find such a rare soul we are trying to pull it down and restrict his enthusiasm? What is wrong with us? Do they make us uncomfortable? Do we feel guilty of indulgence in mundane things that come with our territory so we want them not to stand out too much? Are uncomfortable because our value structure seems so selfish and superficial comparing to theirs?

There are a lot of questions to ask of ourselves if we suddenly become concerned with too much preaching going around.

The years, months, or even days when one could go out on the streets, meet people and tell them about Krishna are the most important times of our lives, let’s not forget about that.

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