Saṇkīrtana, or preaching the glory of the Holy Name, is the yuga dharma for this age but this being the age of Kali even saṇkīrtana brings problems. How so?
Well, a lot of our ISKCON problems are blamed on improper preaching. That has started even when Śrila Prabhupāda was present. Japan was a hot spot and so was Nigeria. Devotees complained to Prabhupāda about “wrong” preaching techniques all the time. At least once he answered that the end justifies the means and so whoever distributes lots of books is doing it right.
Longer term effect, however, needs to be assessed differently and I’m sure there are Prabhupāda quotes to clarify that books needs to be distributed honestly, as a preaching effort, not as some sort of a scam.
So, even book distribution is not immune to creating problems, what to speak of regular fund raising in the name of saṇkīrtana. We better get used to screwing things up every now and then, it’s impossible to be perfect by these material standards – that everybody should be happy about our preaching all the time with no negative consequences ever. By spiritual standards every contact with Kṛṣṇa is beneficial but we don’t see it that way with our material minds and intelligence so problems will be there.
Even Lord Caitanya couldn’t escape it.
Let’s see – He discovered the congregational chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names and tried to spread all over Navadvīpa. There were obstacles, sure, but I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about problems arising from saṇkīrtana itself. First it was His childhood friends who openly questioned the value of glorifying such adulterous characters as gopīs and Kṛṣṇa. They were speaking out of ignorance and it was a blasphemous talk but Lord Caitanya couldn’t do anything – they were His equals with an equal say and an equal right to an opinion. He wasn’t an authority for them.
So, instead of benefiting the whole humanity He ended up with encouraging offenses by “rational” thinkers of His age. Not the intended outcome.
His solution was to take sannyāsa. That gave Him immediate authority, no one would dare to object Him and no one would dare to offend objects of His devotion. This looked like an ideal solution. The Lord went on preaching tours all over India and spread Gauḍīyā Vaiṣṇavism everywhere, converting Muslims, strict South Indian brāhmaṇas, and even attracting devotees of Lord Rāmacandra to worship of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇ.
Perfect, right? Not so fast.
Problems started almost immediately as the Lord settled in Jagannātha Purī. There was the case with Amogha who criticized the Lord for eating too much. Taking prasāda is legitimate spiritual activity for Gauḍīyā devotees, sannyāsa or not, but in the broader spiritual culture it was viewed as inappropriate. The Lord took advantage of mundane adoration for sannyāsīs but it came with side effects, too – He had to comply with standards of behavior of non-devotee renunciates.
The Lord was accused of eating too much on another occasion by godbrother of His guru, Rāmacandra Purī. That devotee didn’t get any praise in Caitanya Caritāmṛta but guru’s godbrother must be respected no matter what he does so Lord Caitanya had to go on a diet. That wasn’t the full extent of the problem, though – other devotees didn’t like it and I’m sure it contributed to their dissatisfaction with Rāmacandra Purī regarding some other, legitimate topics, too. I’m sure some of them developed a rather offensive attitude because even Gadadhāra Paṇḍita got some flak for accepting Rāmacandra Purī as a guest and listening to him.
The whole atmosphere was unhealthy and life returned back to normal only after Rāmacandra Purī’s departure to some other place. With Rāmacandra Purī it would have been awkward regardless but being sannyāsī Lord Caitanya made himself into an easy target even if He didn’t do anything wrong.
Then there was also a problem with local king, Pratāparudra Rāya, who wanted the audience of the Lord but that was impossible due to the same sannyāsa limitations. As a sannyāsī the Lord could preach everywhere and convert everyone but He couldn’t preach to the rich and powerful, and it’s the rich and powerful who set up rules and provide role models for the society to follow. Without converting them preaching would not be effective.
This, however, points to another, larger underlying problem – saṇkīrtana is not for everyone but only for the most pure souls. We’d love to take everyone on board but only they completely if give up all their material interests. Unfortunately, we do not take this prescription seriously and so while our interest in Kṛṣṇa remains our ability to obtain Lord Caitanya’s mercy disappears. We just can’t get it anymore. The Lord came here to give pure love of God to everyone but we excuse ourselves and rather use His boon for our own self-gratification.
Does it still benefit us? Yes, it does. Does it please Lord Caitanya? Not in the least.
There is a chapter in Caitanya Caritāmṛita (CC Antya 9) that describes problems created for the Lord by less than stellar behavior of some of His devotees.
Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers were employed in various government positions where they had access to large amounts of money which they misused on inappropriate things like watching “dancing girls”. This led one of them, Gopīnātha Paṭṭanāyaka, into serious debt. I don’t know how much dancing girls charge but when he offered his horses to settle the debt it wasn’t enough. In one place it’s mentioned that his entire property wasn’t valuable enough to pay back whatever he squandered.
This being Kali Yuga, one thing led to another and soon he was facing capital punishment. Then another brother got arrested, too, probably on some other embezzlement charge. All the devotees rushed to Lord Caitanya for help and that greatly upset Him. What He saw ws the King asking what was rightfully his and devotees getting themselves into trouble over sense-gratification. Having considered the circumstances, He refused to help and advised to beg mercy from Lord Jagannātha instead.
We should all take note here – we can’t count on Lord Caitanya’s mercy to help us with our petty sins. He doesn’t like being involved into our materialistic affairs and it’s not what He descended on this planet for. We are on our own as soon as we decide to make a living for ourselves here. Lord’s mercy is withdrawn from hypocrites who want the benefits of both worlds – material and spiritual, it’s only available to those who completely renounce all selfish interests and surrender to the Lord with all their hearts and souls.
This shouldn’t be injunction only in relation to the Lord Caitanya but in relation to our ISKCON, too. We preach to everyone but we can’t solve everyone’s problems and we really shouldn’t. As Lord Caitanya’s representatives it’s not our job either.
As fellow strugglers, however, it would be unthinkable for us not to offer help. In the case with Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers it was devotee intervention that saved them. Kāśī Miśra met up with the King and reminded him that it was Lord’s devotees who got themselves in trouble. Luckily, the King would have never done anything to harm Lord’s servants and instead of punishment rewarded Gopīnātha Paṭṭanāyaka with bigger salary.
Basically Kāśī Miśra cashed in the Lord’s glory while Mahāprabhu didn’t have to do anything himself. It all worked out in the end and the Lord delivered His mercy in the form of instructions for the future but what we should learn is that He doesn’t like being involved at all.
Also, we aren’t Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers, we might not get as lucky. We are actually entirely on our own, so it’s surrender in full or slowly die at the hands of our karma without ever attaining love of God.