Vanity thought #1485. Paradoxes of preaching

I don’t quite remember how I got from discussing the need to rest to the need to preach, maybe it’s that Christian sermon that reminded me of preaching, even though that woman didn’t say a word about it, as far as I remember. Hmm, perhaps these Christians are not totally worthless, after all, and can help keep us on track, too.

Speaking of Christians, their preaching is also New Testament based, the Old one doesn’t have any such prescriptions, so, I suppose, they would also have difficulty fitting it into overall theology. Why is it that preaching starts with Christ but he himself didn’t teach anything new but came to fulfill? Same question as I ask myself when looking at our tradition. They say that Jesus was God’s unique gift to mankind, a Savior, and because preaching naturally is an act of saving, it makes total sense. Why hadn’t God been worried about saving people earlier, though? Weren’t they fallen and corrupted by the original sin from the beginning of creation? What changed?

Never mind, we attribute our preaching to Lord Caitanya who inaugurated the saṅkīrtana movement as the yuga dharma for this age. In previous yugas other processes were more suitable but, as they slowly started to lose their potency, the Lord appeared to dharma saṁsthāpanārthāya, to reestablish principles of religion.

I guess at this point Christians can claim that “Jesus did it first” but maybe it was because Kali yuga consumed Palestine faster. Never mind.

Yesterday I tried to attribute preaching to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, and since trying Her mood of devotion was Lord Caitanya’s primary reason for appearance it makes sense. The only missing part now is whether preaching can be connected to regular saṅkīrtana or whether it’s something truly special.

Christians see the differences between proselytism and evangelism, for example, and there are differences between evangelists and missionaries, and between pastors and preachers. It’s obviously a complicated matter, a concept that doesn’t easily fit into the existing classification. Same happens to us.

We do have a Bhagavad Gītā verse (BG 18.68), however:

ya idaṁ paramaṁ guhyaṁ
mad-bhakteṣv abhidhāsyati
bhaktiṁ mayi parāṁ kṛtvā
mām evaiṣyaty asaṁśayaḥ

For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.

Here it’s not only the learning that is important but explaining it to others. Teaching others is even better, and this means preaching. That’s how we see it in our tradition but still something is not right, something is missing.

First of all, it’s not explaining to others but explaining to mad-bhakteṣu. my devotees. Secondly, it differentiates between preaching as a tool to achieve pure devotional service from preaching as a goal in itself, if it, indeed, originates with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. She doesn’t do it to get something else, introducing others to Kṛṣṇa is a perfect service in itself, though I do not know what rasa is that exactly.

We understand preaching to mean going out and converting non-devotees, and it’s not what Kṛṣṇa talks about in this verse. Or maybe we understand preaching wrong.

Here’s another thing – our leaders, the best of the best, hardly ever talk to non-devotees. They preach by giving Bhāgavatam classes in our temples. They also preach by their life example but only devotees get to see and appreciate that. I mean every preaching story by our sannyāsīs starts with “I was sitting on the plane next to…”, and I remember only one variation: “We were travelling by train and there were these guys…”

Travelling is the only time their lives intersect with those who most need to be preached to. And not travelling as in backpacking through Asia or the way medieval merchants traveled to India and China. Modern transportation is a different beast altogether. It’s not a valuable experience anymore, it must be short, comfortable, and isolated from others as best as possible. It’s not like walking together whole day and then finally relaxing by the campfire, which naturally leads to a lot of sharing. People do not buy economy tickets so that they can talk to each other and many try to avoid it at all costs. These people are not travelers, they are passengers.

So, why is it that our preachers do not normally engage with non-devotees? Are they doing something wrong or is there something wrong with preaching this way? And if there’s something wrong with this understanding of preaching then why do they share these few precious moments with the rest of us as if it were most memorable experiences of their lives? Why don’t their stories start with “I was giving this Bhāgavatam class and there was this devotee who…”? Why don’t they remember our faces, life stories, and questions? Hmm, they do remember questions, though: “This has been asked many times before”, or “This question betrays some incorrect understanding on your behalf.” Maybe not in these exact words but the message is there.

I must admit, having to explain simple things all over again does kill the mood, as I said yesterday – we can’t discuss Lord’s intimate pastimes when people are still wondering how the mind gets to control the soul, for example, and ask questions about that.

This difference existed from the very beginning of Lord Caitanya’s mission, btw. They used to lock the doors of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s house to exclude outsiders from their kīrtanas on purpose. And they closely guarded Lord’s later pastimes in Jagannātha Purī, too. There are stories of devotees feeling excluded and then rejoicing when being allowed to enter. There are stories of envious atheists spreading rumors and trying to pollute Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s reputation, too. This practice has been the talk of the town for quite a while.

To be fair, at that time preaching hadn’t been started yet, Mahāprabhu hadn’t taken chanting to the streets yet, but it does show that kīrtanas should be reserved for devotees only. And we can’t say that because they were held behind closed doors they were somehow incomplete, not saṅkīrtanas.

Hmm, this is going slower than expected, the secret nature of preaching is still escaping me, even though I do have an idea where to take this discussion next.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.