Sometimes we feel like we are the best thing that happened to the world since sliced bread. We are part of Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana mission, we tell ourselves. We purify the entire world by our chanting, and actually by our mere presence. One our glance on a conditioned soul saves him from repeated births and deaths. Our family becomes liberated for ten generations in both directions. There’s simply no more potent purifying force than us. Demigods line up to get born in our ranks. You get the picture.
Theoretically we are on the solid ground – sankirtana mission IS the best thing since sliced bread and by becoming devotees we do purify a lot of stuff that gathers around us but there’s always a but.
First of all, we are nothing. Our only value is in connection to devotees who are connected to Srila Prabhupada. This value depends on the strength of the connection which, in turn, depends on our dedication to the mission. Simply sitting there doing nothing is worthless. When death comes Krishna will remember a few tokens of service we’ve done here and there but that will be the only time we can cash in, before that our “super powers” are impotent. We can try and pull rank on younger devotees but the effect would depend on their purity, not on ours. We’ve got nothing to show for all the [wasted] years of our superficial “devotion”.
Purifying power comes only when we are fully engaged in the mission, the moment we drop back for a short break we lose it, as simple as that.
This is not just theory, if we have achieved some level of purity we can actually feel being disconnected from the shakti of our guru and Krishna. As I’ve been saying for the past couple of days – we CAN learn to see the actual value of our bodies and the actual value of our devotion, it’s not that hard.
Just put Krishna before everything else, notably before going along with the interests of our senses, and you’ll see how little devotion we actually possess and how much hypocrisy we profess instead, and when we happen to see our bodies being engaged in service we’ll also see that it’s not our credit and we are just observers of superior powers at play. We come to see that it’s not *our* body that is being engaged, that it was Krishna’s tool all along, we are here just for the ride, in the back seat, not even shotgun.
In this state we can see how spiritually purifying and empowering this engagement is. We can actually see and experience the “hot iron rod” metaphor – when Prabhupada said that ordinary iron being placed in the fire is still iron but it already acts like fire itself.
We can also actually see how iron cools off when being left on its own. I’m not a blacksmith but steel that cools down very fast might become easy to crack, and this is what happens if we not only suspend our service but actively engage in sense gratification along with our fellow materialists. In this state we become the worst enemy of our mission, especially if people know us as Hare Krishnas.
More common, however, is overvaluing and overstretching the mission itself. Even Lord Chaitanya was aware of His limitations and He always put personal purity before everything else. We are not Him, we can’t afford our consciousness to become polluted.
It’s great to hear stories of sankirtana devotees going into places like casinos and gambling dens or even abattoirs but I wonder if they do it for their own gratification (see how pure I am, saving all these sinners) or the Lord actually wants them there. Yes, gamblers can listen to our pitch and they might even buy a book or two, for luck, but their interest is absolutely egotistical, their donations are not made in the mode of goodness or in the spirit of respect.
For them it might be ajnata sukriti but it’s a big question if they ever appreciate it. They are interested only in money while Krishna’s mercy is in separating us from it, they don’t welcome it when mercy is manifested like that.
For us, however, it’s contamination, and if we do it consciously and with any ulterior motives we are doomed to experience a full blowback, which would manifest itself in losing all taste for service. Desire for fame and round of applause back in the temple is an ulterior motive, desire to get more donations is an ulterior motive, too, desire to experience our preaching power is an ulterior motive, desire to have a look inside of a casino is an ulterior motive. It’s highly unlikely that the Lord Himself would lead us into such places so if we do go there it must be for some other reason but pure service.
In our ISKCON history we had a long period of “Middle Ages” when this disease afflicted our entire society. All around the world devotees were selling incense, paintings, baseball caps and other assorted crap for years. We were calling that sankirtana and we thought that we were “liberating” lakshmi this way. In some cases it was downright illegal.
We can say that anything done for Krishna is pure, we shouldn’t worry about legalities of the materialistic society, but that is not true – Krishna doesn’t want offerings from materialistic people, He doesn’t want “liberated” lakshmi, He is not interested in stolen property. Stolen in the sense it wasn’t given to Him but in exchange for a painting or something else. He appreciates only what is given to Him and what is given from the heart without desire for anything in return.
We can say that it is US who offered Him this money and we did it from our heart, so it’s pure, but that is not true either.
When Raghunatha Dasa Goswami ran away to Jagannatha Puri his father sent him four hundred gold coins and a couple of servants for easy maintenance. Raghunatha didn’t take a single coin for himself, of course, and he gradually used this money to offer monthly feasts to Lord Chaitanya. Then one day he realized that this money is un-offerable and stopped. “Finally”, said Mahaprabhu, “I was accepting your invitations and I couldn’t turn them down but I never ever want to eat food bought with money given by materialistic persons with impure intentions”, and that was the end of it.
Our service here is to connect people with Krishna but we should do it only when people want to be connected. Taking away their money and offering it to Krishna is not as purifying as we think. Krishna certainly doesn’t need it and we certainly don’t need it for our spiritual life while the risk of being contaminated is very very high.
Sometimes it’s necessary, when we need donations for building a temple, for example, but we should always think twice and be aware of negative effects, too. In theory we shouldn’t do it but practice is always different even if we try our best.