If we had any half decent brains we would have excused ourselves from the world long time ago and dedicated all our waking time to glorifying the Lord. Knowing that it’s the right thing to do and actually being capable of doing it are two different things, however. We cannot imitate Haridāsa Ṭhākura, we are just not there yet. So we engage with the world, it’s our karma.
While we are at it we must try and connect our lives with Kṛṣṇa in every possible way. Preaching is the best engagement in this regard but worshiping the deities or any other form of devotional service would do, too. Preaching is of two kinds – as a process leading to perfection, and as an expression of perfection. We preach because it would make us into pure devotees while pure devotees preach because they are pure. We hope to purify ourselves, they purify the whole world. Of course even our preaching has benefits for others but we shouldn’t put ourselves on the same level as our ācāryas. We simply help in their mission, repeat their words, and they do the actual preaching through us.
“Preaching” and “ācāryas” mean thorough understanding of the world around us and the position of the living entities we want to deliver. Unless we chant the pure name we have to appeal to people’s interests and intelligence, and ācāryas know how to do it perfectly, without diluting or compromising the message.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had a unique skill of cutting through the western mindset. He had an appropriate level of English and a literary skill, too. That’s why his preaching was so successful even if his godbrothers and other traditionalists sometimes rejected his innovations.
He knew what the challenges to spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness were and how to overcome them. He, for example, correctly identified America as the entrance point to the western world. He might not have impressed the leaders of western society but he got thousands and thousands enthusiastic young men and women who personally reached millions and millions of people, all under the radar of society’s guardians. Śrīla Prabhupāda sometimes joked that if they knew what he was actually preaching they would never let him in the country.
Let’s imagine he got an ear of an American president once and the president agreed to help spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Would it have been possible? After all, Kṛṣṇa says that whatever big men do, others follow. The presidents, however, are not leaders, they are slaves to the society. On paper they express interests of their constituents and in reality they serve at the pleasure of their shady backers. Contrary to expectations, presidents are not free to lead, mostly they have to follow the lead of others. Reaching those other people behind the presidents is very hard and changing their minds is nearly impossible because they, in turn, are slaves to their geopolitics.
Maybe in the age of Kali it’s easier to reach the masses directly instead. Maybe Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t realize it in the beginning but an ācārya isn’t his own man, he is guided by Kṛṣṇa, and so Śrīla Prabhupāda quickly got on the right track.
From his books, lectures, and conversations we can see what challenges he considered important to face in our preaching. He wanted to challenge the scientists, for example. He wanted to challenge communists. He wanted to challenge māyāvādīs. He set an agenda for us to follow and we’ve been trying to fulfill it to the best of our abilities.
Times are a changing, however, and with it our challenges change, too. We can safely forget about upending science, for example, it isn’t happening and it won’t happen in the foreseeable future. Christians have a much better hold on it than us and they are not getting anywhere. I would even say that rather than help they are antagonizing the scientific community with their Young Earth Creationism. Intelligent Design is a cool thing but it’s very polarizing, too. Nowadays we also know better how science works and how it deals with revolutionary changes – converting the minds of the present generation is impossible, we need to start from the scratch and build a new generation that is not only open towards spirituality but also doesn’t get trapped in the current debate about evolution where choosing sides isn’t an option – you either fall in line or you are not doing science.
Another challenge is the spread of new atheism. There’s nothing new about atheism, of course, but they are on a very successful offensive right now. They articulate their ideas clearly, they simplified them so they are easy to remember and repeat, they enlist people to further spread their message, which means people have to internalize it and defend it with all their energy. In short, they found a winning formula that wasn’t there forty-fifty years ago.
They’ve got that “scientific method”, for example, which isn’t scientific and isn’t an actual method but we don’t have a short and sweet answer to it yet. It captures public consciousness and forces to frame the debate about God in atheistic terms. Our own Kṛṣṇa consciousness isn’t in any philosophical danger from it but it doesn’t look very appealing to outsiders if we can’t successfully fight it back.
We don’t really understand it ourselves to begin with. We can easily memorize its key points and principles but something is always missing there. It’s not like Kṛṣṇa consciousness suddenly lost its potency but we can’t explain our own behavior in “scientific method” terms so that taking up our process would seem like an intelligent thing to do for its proponents.
Our proposed framework is different and therefore our arguments do not make a lot of sense from scientific method POV. We need to learn how to expose scientific method failures and limitations. It’s not that hard and I’m pretty sure that ten-twenty years from now it will all be forgotten and look as silly as political correctness, for example. Twenty years ago PC was all the rage but now it’s often a subject of ridicule, not that PC itself is gone, it just morphed into something else. Perhaps someone will write an influential book someday after which saying “scientific method” in public would become embarrassing.
How modern society conducts its discussions and debates and how it “proves” things is another challenge we have to face. Winning a debate is not the same as it was when Prabhupāda wrote his books and it’s very different from how previous ācāryas debated their opponents, too. Logic means nothing anymore, for example, you have to capture “social” and in “social” different rules apply. We have to learn that, too, and learn how to deal with “social” demands or get around the restrictions.
So, from where I stand scientific method and its fallacies, and the meaning of victory in the internet era seem to be most important. Other people might add something else or select different priorities, I’ll try to deal with these two first. Unfortunately, not today.