While recollecting various saṅkīrtana stories it’s impossible to attribute them to anything else but Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. What is the nature of this mercy, though? What is our relationship with it? Why is it so abundant at one time and barely visible at others?
Take the case of Harināmananda who was able to meet and sell books to hundreds of people every day. Just think the logistics of it. Saṅkīrtana is not a 9 to 5 job but pretty close, devotees go out after breakfast, hitting the streets by 9, and come back in time for the evening program, they also have lunch in the middle of the day, so book distribution itself lasts for about eight hours. Eight hours make four hundred and eighty minutes, lets round it up to five hundred. This means that a book must be sold every five minutes, it means that in time I typed up these two paragraphs two books would have been sold, two people talked to and money has been exchanged. That’s assuming that everyone you approach buys a book, which is never the case.
Do you think it’s possible to pluck a person off a street and convince him to buy a book he never knew existed in under five minutes, and not just once but repeat this with EVERY person you meet? What about days when they sold up to a thousand books? The other day I mentioned a record which was close to a thousand and these books were sold in one afternoon, which means two-three books being bought every minute for several hours non-stop. It is humanly impossible to preach at this speed and with this success rate, the mercy must be there, the universe must cooperate.
When we talk about mercy we might imagine a fuzzy warm feeling but when we talk about saṅkīrtana it means the universe changes around us. It’s not really that the universe turns her favorable side but that the Lord makes her do so. His mercy is not felt, it’s practically seen all around us, it’s real and as empirical as any scientific observation. Of course it also feels great but with saṅkīrtana afoot who has time for feelings?
Atheists would attribute success in book distribution to any other factor but the mercy of Lord Caitanya, that’s understandable but not something we should take seriously. Rather book distribution IS mercy, not result of mercy, just like rising Sun and existence of air to breath is mercy to those on the bodily platform. Conditioned souls take it for granted and atheists refuse to see God behind it but we should know better – it’s how God interacts with us, with our bodies. Our bodies are not isolated systems, they cannot last a minute without demigods’ help, we need food, water, air to breath, Earth to stand on and so on.
There is nothing but the Absolute Truth, we are separated and deluded parts of it, too, and we perceive the whole according to our consciousness. Absolute for us is sensory objects, depending on our development we can perceive the Absolute as logic or as laws of the universe, as love and family, whatever rocks our boat. When saṅkīrtana comes along it’s how God manifests for His devotees, too. It’s as real and as perceptible as ground under our feet or wind in the air. Relatively speaking, it offers a better taste than any other interaction so we seek it above eating or sleeping, or helping people achieve their mundane needs.
Somehow the universe arranges a vortex of appreciation for God when saṅkīrtana happens. Complete strangers stop, hear about God, and feel compelled to contribute with whatever they have, money, kind words, thanks, whatever. Atheists would delude themselves if they say it’s all about books and nothing else. No, people remember God, appreciate God, and contribute to God’s work. By the atheist logic it can be reduced not to buying books but to buying multiple sheets of paper bound by stronger carton, which is silly – even atheists accept that a book means so much more, that content matters. In this case the content is about God, that’s what people become attracted to.
Next the atheists would probably talk about “God delusion”, that it’s a some psychological need for mindless weaklings, that it’s an imaginary concept and so on. Let them, we know how it feels to talk about God in a company of appreciative people, we know the spark in their eyes, we know the glimpse of higher consciousness when they remember that there’s more to their lives than the daily grind. Atheists can’t replace it and their offer of contemplating the beauty of the universe instead. It just doesn’t match the exhilaration of saṅkīrtana, we are not making it up, we know this for real. Their videogames, fascination with Star Wars, or love of bacon don’t match either, they are not even poor substitutes.
At the end of the day it’s all a matter of rasa, matter of real experiences, not logically justified but still imaginary ones.
Does it mean that we get to see Lord Caitanya Himself dancing in the streets? Nope, never heard of it, or maybe devotees simply didn’t admit it, but it feels just as awesome. Seeing saṅkīrtana mercy flow around us beats all other manifestations of bliss. It beats sitting around and imagining making garlands for Kṛṣṇa’s līlā, perhaps a legitimate service in some cases but it’s just not real, it’s still imagination. Saṅkīrtana is real, congregational praise of the Lord is real, it’s perceptible to one’s senses and it’s felt within the heart by all the participants.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to step into this river and take a purifying bath. Sometimes we are even luckier to go with the flow and ride its waves, but all good things come to an end for those conditioned by their false ego. The river never stays the same, you don’t get to step into the same water twice. What was pleasingly cool in summer is not there in winter anymore. It might be the same river but it just doesn’t feel the same.
Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana party is not exactly like a river either – it never stays in the same place, relative to the universe, and so it must be chased. We, however, are limited in how far we can follow it, both geographically and by time. We can’t go back to the seventies in the US, the eighties in Europe, or to the nineties in Russia. Those times are gone, and even if we hear about saṅkīrtana going on somewhere right now it’s difficult to get up and join in when it’s on the other side of the world and you don’t have the cultural background or language to immerse yourself in local experience.
All we have left is to hope that it might come back and visit us again, or simply wait out our span of life and enjoy the experience of serving it in the next birth, we are surely to be given chances, Kṛṣṇa promised.