Preaching is one of the most striking similarities between Christianity and ISKCON but we don’t usually discuss why it is so, or maybe I have missed these discussions. We do analyze behavior and development of various religious groups, we have friendly visits to see how others manage, we engage in interfaith movement, but I don’t remember ever hearing about preaching. Perhaps it’s one of the topics that is politely avoided in our dialogue, and one can easily imagine why – we preach completely opposite things, on the face of it, and so there’s no space for a joint stand without stepping on each other’s toes.
For Christians preaching is imploring others to accept JC as their only light and savior and it goes right to the heart of their religion. There’s no space there to allow “let them to their thing, they might be right in their own ways” thinking. As soon as we approach there they see us as completely bewildered by the devil, worshipers of a false god, and a black one at that. If we ever going to agree on something it’s on instilling good morals and feeding people, not on preaching.
Of course one could say they preach, we preach, sure there’s something common in our experience, and be totally right, but from their POV, I’m afraid, our “preaching” is as much preaching as Satan spreading his corruption. Fine, we don’t have to talk about it with them, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t raise interest among ourselves. There’s still so much we don’t understand about it that any effort should be welcome.
On the surface it’s easy – maddened by spiritual ecstasy that comes from chanting Mahāmantra we cannot contain ourselves and naturally want to share it with the whole world. Or we can also say that we are doing it on the order of the spiritual master, if Prabhupāda said “print books” we print them and if he said “distribute books” we distribute them. Questions, however, still remain.
One could say “What is the use of talking about it and discussing questions if all we have to do is just do it?” Right, but what if we are not doing it and can’t find strength or opportunities to do it even if we seem to be solid on the philosophy and all other doctrinal points? What is missing? Why haven’t we internalize the need to preach? Why don’t we accept it like we “accept” the need to eat? Why is it not equally obvious and irresistible? Why it was felt at some point in our lives but not anymore? Is it a regression?
What is the scriptural basis for preaching, for example? We have plenty of examples of devotees who achieved perfection without doing any significant preaching? Why is it not listed among nine, or even sixty-four limbs of devotional service? Maybe some of those limbs could be explained as to include preaching but none does so directly, afaik.
What is the difference between proselytism and preaching? Is it important? If it is, should we avoid one while engaging in the other?
Usually, proselytism means converting others to one’s own faith. Prabhupāda went to a Christian country and converted thousands to Hinduism, it could be argued. We don’t, however, accept this argument. Prabhupāda took people who were completely disenchanted with Christianity and even the general western way of life. He didn’t convert good, wholesome Christian boys and girls, he took the dregs of the society (pretty much like Jesus did).
Nothing Prabhupāda had ever said about Christianity would justify conversion. If they want to join ISKCON – fine, but our first message to them is to strengthen their own Christianity and follow their own commandments. Prabhupāda was preaching spiritual science that works in whatever religion one wants to apply it.
He similarly was against converting Muslims – let them worship their God, but just do it properly, with love and devotion, and in knowledge of their constitutional position as tiny spirit souls who are thrown in the ocean of birth and death. They, and Christians, too, might reject reincarnation, but if JC is able to deliver them at the end of this one life then reincarnation is besides the point.
We can say the knowledge of reincarnation is important when they curse others to eternal damnation but the truth is that they are still not very far off – the amount of sins we commit in this day and age does warrant near eternal residence in hell.
So, if they follow Christ correctly then reincarnation doesn’t really matter, and if they do not follow him correctly then it matters only if we push their doctrine to its limits while in the foreseeable future it still holds.
The point is, we don’t covert people from one religion to another, as long as they are worshiping God. As long as they want to attain loving devotion to transcendent Lord we should have no principal objections (SB 1.2.6).
There are, however, “lesser” religions and they are a fair game. Vedic literature, however, does not talk about religions but about dharmas, and there are plenty of those. They are all meant for gradual elevation of the soul but at this point in history things are going to get so much worse before they turn for the better in four hundred plus thousand years so it is going to be “gradual” in extreme. When westerners talk about religions they talk about a special kind of dharmas but these days they are totally confused about where to draw the line.
In the US they have freedom of religion but no clear constitutional definition of what religion is. Ron Hubbard found this loophole and realized that the only legal opinion that matters is that of the IRS, and so if he could convince the IRS to stop taxing him then it doesn’t matter whether any one else accepts Scientology as a real religion or not.
These days it goes like this – religions are based on faith, so if you can choose a set of things to believe in regardless of any evidence you’ll have yourself your own religion. They can cite vague benefits of having such blind faith, or they can do it just for fun, like pastafarians, but, basically, religion means pretty much whatever you want it to mean.
Should these fools be spared from proselytism on the same grounds Christians and Muslims are? Of course not, they are idiots. Should Buddhists be spared? I don’t think so, though we do not get much traction in Buddhist countries anyway, and in some of them proselytism is probably illegal.
In some sense proselytism is not even a thing in our vocabulary – because there’s only one true religion, the one that teaches loving devotion to the transcendent Lord, so there’s no question of conversion but only of acquiring it. If you don’t have it you don’t have a religion, in the sense the word religion means to us.
There’s also a “scientific” fact that once someone knows his actual position then loving devotion to the transcendent Lord becomes an obvious and natural consequence, not really a choice. I put scientific in quotes because I meant it the way Prabhupāda used, not the way science means to infidels. There’s a choice in which God to worship but this differentiation is superficial. We say we worship Kṛṣṇa but we really don’t, most of the time we deal with more or less the same aspects of the Absolute Truth as Christians or Muslims. Service to “Kṛṣṇa” becomes truly meaningful only after liberation and until then we all try to serve the all knowing and all powerful creator and maintainer of the universe. I could say that Christians focus relatively more on the “provider” part but we are not immune from begging the Lord to fulfill our desires, too.
Next up – why do we need to preach? What is the basis for it? Is it the same across all religions?