I thought it could be useful to have a closer look at how saṅkīrtana devotees do their magic, if we can actually say “their” magic. How does it work? Is it possible to figure it out or is it going to be forever hidden from us as Lord’s mystery? Maybe all we can achieve is describe how it happens but not what’s causing it.
When we talk about any material process then answering the question “how” means we know how to control and manipulate the it. Knowing how presumes that we are being the active agents and it’s only “how” that separates us from success. Once the “know-how” is there we only need supplies and the result is guaranteed. This won’t happen with saṅkīrtana or anything else related to the Lord.
We might know how the Lord appeared as Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya – the descriptions are there in our books, it might even earn us a place in Lord’s entourage according to janma karma ca me divyam verse. Not might – Kṛṣṇa explicitly promised return to His own abode there (BG 4.9), the only doubt is what vetti tattvataḥ means exactly. What does “knows for real” means there? Maybe memorizing the story from Kṛṣṇa book is not enough. In any case, even if we do know how the Lord appears it doesn’t mean we can cause it ourselves. Advaita Ācārya could do it, but He was God Himself, we cannot possibly have His powers. So we might know how but still we can’t do anything.
In case of saṅkīrtana the Lord remains invisible, we are the only obvious agents of action, so if we talk about “how” we talk about our own actions, which ordinarily would mean that we should be able to replicate the experiment, but it never works. “Scientific method” is of no use here because when it comes to saṅkīrtana, fundamental reality is different from what scientists are used to observe and from which their draw their methodology.
Saṅkīrtana is a lot like a twister, in a sense. It forms seemingly randomly and consumes everything in its path. With twisters it’s still theoretically possible to predict their formation and course, we just need to crank a lot more data with a lot bigger computers, so let’s leave it to Chinese – as an aside, China now not only hosts the fastest but also builds the largest number of supercomputers in the world, far ahead of the traditional leader the US. I don’t meant that aspect of a tornado, though, let’s assume we can’t predict them and instead concentrate on observing of what is visible.
When powerful saṅkīrtana is going on (I mean book distribution), everyone gets sucked into a vortex and feels a compelling urge to participate. People don’t yet see what’s going on, there might not be even a visible crowd, but the whole atmosphere subtly changes already and they are hooked with no escape. Take the method employed by Harināmananda. He would walk the street with books in his hands, there’s nothing outstanding about him, there’s no music, no loud announcements, he doesn’t gather crowds, he is just a man talking to other people, there’s nothing about it that catches the eye, and yet when saṅkīrtana is afoot nearly every person in his path stops, listens, and buys a book. They don’t even know what hit them.
People might subconsciously register satisfied or elated look on the faces of those who just talked to Harināmananda, people might catch a glimpse of colorful books in their hands, too. Both of these are strangely attractive. I mean we talking about the face of someone who had just seen God. Not literally, but when a devotee with sufficient purity talks to them the sound reaches the depths of their soul they never knew existed, evoking the primordial state of servitude to the Lord. They don’t “see” God but they perceive Him through the words of the devotee, they feel the touch, the connection, and it changes the look on their faces. If you catch that look you’ll definitely want something like this for yourself, even if you don’t have a clue what exactly.
Quite often delivering our pitch is compared to telling people that there’s a fire, you don’t really need the language to alert them about it, if the fire is real one look at you will make it believable and force people to act. It’s a contingency we are all aware of even though it doesn’t feature in our thoughts. We know that fire is a serious business, that people telling us about it are not joking and it’s time to do something, run, help, whatever, but you can’t go on about your life anymore.
A saṅkīrtana devotee has more or less the same attitude towards the entire material life. There IS a fire – a fire of material existence, and he wakes us up to it. He is not joking, he is dead serious, and we can see it the tone of his voice, in the look in his eyes, in his posture, in his entire personality. That’s why I stressed the importance of sādhana the other day (here, for example). There should not be a moment in his life when he indulges in sense gratification, just like a person warning you about the fire can’t be seen licking ice cream, it would ruin his credibility. There should be nothing in his persona that suggests the material life is acceptable and he doesn’t really mean what he says.
Or, we could say that he starts another fire, sacrificial fire in this case, the heat of which is felt by everyone in the area. He is at the epicenter or it but everyone touched by this fire carries the same attitude, too. Their voices change, their faces change, their gait changes, and we don’t really need to process it intellectually to feel that something important has just happened and we need to check it out for ourselves. That’s how saṅkīrtana fire feeds – by drawing more and more people into it, you can’t have it in an empty space, it travels from soul to soul, people must be there.
Books are also important – you see them in somebody’s hands and they are just irresistible. People hold them as the most precious objects that are going to change their lives forever but the mere sight of our books is a life changing experience on its own – the colors, the size, the heft, no wonder most saṅkīrtana devotees prefer to distribute big and mahā-big books, they fit better with the importance of our message.
And still there’s Lord’s help beyond our control, too. He must arrange for the crowds coming our way and He must soften them, too, when they are too disturbed by material happenings it’s a lot harder to talk to their souls even for the best of the best. Say if there’s a real fire no one will stop to listen to us. This means that a lot of success in saṅkīrtana is down to being at the right place at the right time, the atmosphere must be conductive, people must be there, a certain amount of sattva guṇa is necessary and so on.
When the Lord arranges all these things, as actually predetermined by the universe, saṅkīrtana will happen. For the next ten thousand years it is possible, even though YMMV. This, however, doesn’t mean that our personal purity is less important – if we don’t understand the urgency of our own mission then no one would believe us no matter the circumstances. We will become the obstacle in promoting Lord’s mission ourselves.
Our only hope that the Lord will arrange for our purification, too, just as He arranges for other favorable conditions. If we are hopeless he will find somebody else and it will be our greatest loss – being passed over for the chance at the Lord’s service, and a very blissful one at that. It happens all the time to almost everybody even among saṅkīrtana devotees themselves. Saṅkīrtana devotees, however, never stop trying and eventually the Lord picks them up. Persistence is our secret weapon here, we should always stay sharp, keep our noses clean, and try, try, and try again. We won’t ever deserve Lord’s mercy but His heart is not made of stone either.