Educating people in spiritual matters for their own benefit is a duty of a sādhu. Sometimes people will not like to hear what he has to say but a sādhu must tolerate it because that’s his life, tolerance is a big part of it even though being abused seems like being against Kṛṣṇa’s promise of protection. Śrīla Prabhupāda often mentioned two qualities in this regard – titikṣavaḥ and kāruṇikāḥ in this regard, sādhus are tolerant and merciful, also friends with all living beings and inimical to no one, but the point is – they come and tell people about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as Prabhupāda stresses in the purport to the verse (SB 3.25.21).
Okay, that’s a general basis for “preaching”, whatever it means. It’s not every day that sādhu appears at your doorstep and delivers a sermon, it’s a rare and beneficial occasion, he is not a stalker. And neither are we, for that matter. We, however, have saṅkīrtana as our main sādhana and this somewhat modifies the process. Let’s have a look at how exactly.
We have this instruction from Caitanya Mahāprabhu, for example – yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa – whoever you meet, tell them about Kṛṣṇa. (CC Madhya 7.128). The other line is about becoming a guru but I’m interested in the first one. We take it as an order to go and preach. Seems straightforward but we must not forget the context, too. This line was spoken to one Kūrma brāhmaṇa who the Lord met on his South Indian tour. The brāhmaṇa specifically begged Mahāprabhu to take him as a companion on what was a preaching tour but the Lord refused.
The brāhmaṇa wanted to escape clutches of his materialistic family life. He enjoyed serving the Lord while He stayed at his home so even if Lord Caitanya was going to South India to preach about Kṛṣṇa, the brāhmaṇa simply liked Lord’s association. Somehow the Lord thought this approach to preaching shouldn’t be encouraged. First of all, the brāhmaṇa was motivated by bhoga-tyāga duality. He wanted liberation from misery, not service per se. If liberation meant preaching along with the Lord he’d probably do it but he hasn’t thought this through and, in any case, it’s not the proper motive. He’d probably turn back as soon as going got tough and his old family life didn’t look so bad anymore. Preaching deserves more than that, it should become one’s life and soul, not a trade off in exchange for Lord’s company.
So, Mahāprabhu offered a better solution – stay where you are and preach to everyone you meet. This way you’ll gradually understand how important it is and transcend your dual vision of happiness and distress. You complain about your household life now, but if you take to preaching, stay the course and keep your nose clean your life will become successful.
Actually, the first instruction to this brāhmaṇa was to always chant the holy name, preaching order came after that. And the assurance was this: “If you follow this instruction, your materialistic life at home will not obstruct your spiritual advancement. Indeed, if you follow these regulative principles, we will again meet here, or, rather, you will never lose My company.”
Here we have an example of how to perform saṅkīrtana yajña properly – start with chanting, then engage others, then success will come. This is not the end of it, however, because this kind of success was offered in response to brāhmaṇa’s request to be with the Lord, not everyone will stop at this, there are plenty of other devotees who took it much further and accepted fulfilling Lord’s orders as more important than keeping his association.
The entire process, then, goes as follows – start with chanting, follow regulative principles and refrain from committing sinful activities (which are offenses to the holy name), then start preaching about Kṛṣṇa to whoever you meet, then you’ll attain Lord’s association, and then you’ll realize that serving Lord’s mission is even better, then the Lord will utilize you as His tool and put you to real work, preaching the holy name all around the world.
It wasn’t just this brāhmaṇa who was given this path. Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs did the same thing – they met the Lord, took to chanting, attained Lord’s association and received His mercy, and then He ordered them to go and preach on His behalf in Vṛndāvana. The same thing happened to Śrīla Prabhupāda – he met his guru, gradually developed his preaching skills, trying to print books and magazines for decades, got himself a sweet spot at one of Vṛndāvana’s most important temples, but then, at the age of seventy, He was finally picked by the Lord to abandon it all and go to preach in America. Same thing happened to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī – he approached his guru, then he took a vow to chant a billion names, and only then he was ready to start his preaching mission. Same thing happened to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, too – he gradually became a devotee, was preaching here and there, writing simple books etc, became an established vaiṣṇava, and then retired and dedicated the rest of his life to spreading saṅkīrtana all around Bengal and writing his most important books which we use as reference to this day.
The point is – there are two stages when devotees preach – the beginning and the end. At the first stage preaching is a tool to achieve perfection, and at the second stage preaching becomes the goal and perfection in itself.
Not all our ISKCON leaders have reached that second stage yet, it is extremely rare, plus there’s the reality that one man can reach only so many people so it’s more efficient to train the army to fight on his behalf. That’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda did, too – he started his mission on his own but it was his disciples who went out and opened centers all around the world so that Prabhupāda could concentrate on our main projects in Māyāpura, Vṛndāvana, and Bombay.
I don’t think Prabhupāda paying more interest to these three temples was India-centric, btw, it’s just that his western disciples were not equipped to build temples in India, there’s no way they could have done it without Prabhupāda like they did it in Los-Angeles, New York, or London. Well, they didn’t technically “built” temples there but the point is that India was not their home turf and Prabhupāda had to do it himself.
Still, if we listen to Prabhupāda’s lectures, most of the time he didn’t speak to devotees but to potential newcomers. Most of his lectures revolved around simple concepts, spiritual ABCs. Some took it to mean that he didn’t teach us anything advanced, some took it to mean that we need to understand the ABC first, but it also means that Prabhupāda was more concerned about saving those who still don’t know about Kṛṣṇa while his disciples would do just fine.
Even if Prabhupāda had thousands of disciples to help him in the preaching mission, especially in distributing books, still he was very concerned about personally bringing people to Kṛṣṇa whenever he had a chance. Wherever he went, especially in India, he participated in some kind of public programs for outsiders, not many our leaders can replicate that, we are just not ready yet, and we can’t expect everyone to achieve this level either, but someone will eventually reach there, it’s only a matter of time, the process works.