Vanity thought #1488. Jewel of sankirtana

Yesterday I was talking about how preaching comes twice in our lives, in the beginning and at the end, if we are lucky. I don’t know if there’s any śāstric support for this but we can easily see it in the lives of the devotees. Maybe it’s not the right way or the best way but this is what happens.

A person comes in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, gets excited and wants to share his discovery, then he listens to the temple lectures encouraging everyone to go and preach, faithfully complies, becomes older and loses his enthusiasm, tries to catch up on his material enjoyment, drowns in the dark well of married life, and you never hear from him again. Those blessed by guru and Kṛṣṇa keep struggling, most with little success, but there are rare few who stick it out to the end and get Lord Caitanya’s special mercy.

They are the ones who get to experience the bliss of preaching for the second time in their lives. Cleansed of all the anarthas, free from all obligations, steady in their service, they become perfect tools in Mahāprabhu’s hands and their preaching is very powerful, and sometimes very successful, too, even if they don’t strive for the recognition. Not everyone gets to be Hanumān, most of us just plain monkeys. In any case, they can deliver any conditioned soul who takes shelter at their lotus feet, the Lord makes sure of that. How many get saved? That depends.

Let’s look at this process from saṅkīrtana perspective. Holy name is very powerful, whoever hears it for the first time with enough sincerity gets simply blown away, it’s impossible to contain. Perhaps this first stage is simply infatuation, if we compare it to the mundane love, but it is a clear sign of the beginning of something great. I suppose, just as with human relationships, not every one falls in love at first sight, some people need time for their gift of love to grow, but everyone eventually gets to the point when he can’t control what is happening to him and love takes over.

It’s at this point one looks like he can’t shut up about this “Kṛṣṇa” thing and tries to convert everyone around him. I guess it was at this stage that Lord Caitanya instructed Kūrma brāhmaṇa to yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa. We should use this opportunity, too, and we should treat it with great respect, our nascent feelings for Kṛṣṇa consciousness need a lot of nurturing just as building a family requires a lot more than initial romantic infatuation.

That’s why our ISKCON devotees need to be pushed to preach. Their initial urge needs to be magnified and maintained for as long as possible with all the help we can provide. Preaching is important not just because Lord Caitanya said so to one random brāhmaṇa in a place we can’t remember but because preaching is saṅkīrtana.

Saṅ in saṅkīrtana stands for “complete” and “perfect” and at the beginning stage perfection means “congregational”. Eventually it might come to also mean “on the pure spiritual level, free from material contamination” but we are not there yet, and even then it’s not the end of the road. Important thing to remember – saṅkīrtana for us means chanting in the company of devotees.

What has it got to do with preaching, one must legitimately ask. Shouldn’t saṅkīrtana be performed in temples, in the company of devotees? Lord Caitanya locked the doors of Śrīvāsa’s house on purpose – to keep undesirable element out, so, perhaps, that’s how saṅkīrtana should be done.

This is fine, temple programs are there to give us spiritual strength, they are never to be skipped let alone abandoned, but saṅkīrtana is an ever increasing phenomenon, it needs to grow, it needs to be perfected every day of our lives.

Truth is, devotees sitting in the temples and eating prasādam eventually lose the edge. Close proximity leads to familiarity, familiarity breeds contempt, contempt leads to aparādhas, and aparādhas lead to the loss of taste, which makes saṅkīrtana less effective, if possible at all. One can find plenty of examples of temple devotees losing enthusiasm for kīrtanas and walking around with “been there, done that” look on their faces. They can’t admit they are slipping back into māyā so they treat their loss of enthusiasm as a sign of maturity instead.

One of the ways to overcome this limitation is to stick to the company of people who are still full of enthusiasm, guests, for example. Preaching to the congregation is very fulfilling, they come thirsty for spiritual knowledge and they appreciate every bit of devotion that comes their way, they haven’t developed cynicism of the older bhaktas yet. Problem is, they don’t come very often and not everyone gets to deliver classes to them all the time. Outside the temple room they aren’t that focused and can easily misdirect the conversation to mundane aspects of our lives. It’s important to them to get to know other devotees better but discussing our lives is not saṅkīrtana.

That’s why we always can go out and talk to ordinary people instead, ie preach and “proselytize”. There are obvious drawbacks to that but at least we will be spared disinterest of temple vāsīs and boredom of temple conversations – that is if people haven’t met Hare Kṛṣṇas one time too many and cross the road as soon as they see us.

We can also get abused, ridiculed, denigrated, and being totally ignored probably hurts even more – hate at least shows some form of relationship, people listen, think, and respond, so at the end we can still say “we talked about Kṛṣṇa.” Being totally ignored shows us that we don’t have power to connect to people on any level whatsoever, though we can hang onto that initial moment when they realize what is going to happen and turned their eyes away from us. It’s their own shame that is talking to their minds so we have a theoretical opening there, though it’s probably not worth the trouble exploring.

All these bad experiences is not what saṅkīrtana devotees live for, however. There are moments when we do find sincere souls who appreciate our message and are thankful for the encounter. It’s in these moments, however rare, when our hearts melt with gratitude to Lords Caitanya and Nityānanda and we can’t wait to tell devotees back home about it.

This is the saṅkīrtana we should be performing and it works great for our own purification. It’s not about the number of books or the amount collected, or even about praise and mercy we get back at the temple, it’s about sharing this lava-mātra with people we have never met before but who suddenly display appreciation for talking about Kṛṣṇa. This is when it becomes “congregational”, even if for a split second.

Saṅkīrtana is not about tapasyā and taking abuse, it’s not about earning the mercy the hard way, it’s about those rare moments when congregational praising of the Lord actually happens, that’s what constitutes preaching, everything else is just inconveniences we are ready to tolerate for saṅkīrtana’s sake.

That’s why we are not advised to insist on preaching to atheists, saṅkīrtana will never happen in their association, that’s why we are not advised to disclose the glory of the holy name to non-devotees, for that would be offensive. We need to find devotees and disclose the glory to them, then it would work. In some places the land is simply barren and I don’t see the problem with devotees seeking better pastures elsewhere.

There are other, inferior motives that can force us to “stick to the plan”, it could be stubbornness, it could be desire to “win” at any cost, it could be desire to prove ourselves, it could be protection of our bruised egos, it could be the assumption that we are on the great preaching mission authorized and directed by the Lord Himself rather than simple beginner bhaktas who half the time have no clue what they are doing. We might think that our “saṅkīrtana” is a great boon to the humanity and not just a suitable method to purify ourselves.

Truth is, we need nectar to survive, we are not in the position to sacrifice bliss for the sake of service yet. When going gets tough, a devotee seeks where it gets easy. There are limits to our spiritual powers and the amount of abuse we can take before we succumb to our minds and decide to give up the whole thing. If we stick to non-believers company in vain hope that one day they’ll come around we start to take their association and it will never end well. Leave them alone and move on, there are people seeking spiritual knowledge elsewhere, we need to find them, there are limited opportunities for that and we shouldn’t miss them and waste our time on something unproductive.

We should never forget that saṅkīrtana is nectar, it’s meant to nourish and purify the soul, and that is why we go out and preach – we should seek association of people who appreciate Lord’s message and we should enjoy this association together. Everything else gives preaching its negative connotations, sometimes very well deserved.


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