Over the weekend one leader of Ukrainian (and Russian devotees) had a two-day Zoom conference on dharma and adharma, hoping it would help devotees navigate through dilemmas posed by war. First question after the second session was, roughly:
Devotees developed two main attitudes – one says that our business is preaching and we have nothing to do with one set of demons attacking another set of demons. The other says that we can’t call ourselves spiritual if we do not respond to the suffering of people around us and if we do not condemn those who cause this suffering.
In response the leader mentioned the first meeting between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and how Prabhupada insisted on solving the problem of independence first but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was adamant that preaching chanting of the Holy Name can’t wait and it’s the most important activity. “Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta replied in a quiet, deep voice that Kṛṣṇa consciousness didn’t have to wait for a change in Indian politics, nor was it dependent on who ruled. Kṛṣṇa consciousness was so important – so exclusively important – that it could not wait”, as it goes in the Lilamrita.
Oh, who am I kidding, that wasn’t the answer at all. The answer was:
Preaching is meaningless if it doesn’t address people’s pressing problems. We can’t be preaching abstract solutions to people who experience real life problems. Preaching means we tell people what they should do in every particular situation, and not only tell but demonstrate it, too. We need to feel what people feel and help them find their inner confidence to do what is right. We need to help people find their inner strength, find their inner place of strength, and from this place they would make their own choices what to do. This is the essence of preaching – help people find their inner selves.
Therefore we can’t skip on basic things in our preaching – we need to explain what is going on and we need to tell people what position they should take in relation to these events. This requirement should be self-evident, otherwise there is no point to preaching.
The juxtaposition of two prevailing attitudes mentioned in the question is artificial. We do need to tell people how to preserve their dignity, their humanity, and how they can act to that effect, and this is what creates place for philosophy. We shouldn’t use philosophy to avoid dealing with problems. That wouldn’t be preaching.
And so it went on like this a little longer. Translation is not word-for-word, I can’t be bothered with exact translation here.
I think it was a brilliant answer, but my conclusions from it are probably different from the intended ones. My first conclusion is that yes, people need to hear what is suitable for them and not what they see as abstract and idealistic, but this means that in certain situations they don’t need the Holy Name. They need food, they need shelter, they need compassion, they need reassurances, they need to make sense of the world – all kinds of things instead of chanting.
Another conclusion is that unless we can demonstrate how chanting solves their problems we shouldn’t be preaching it. If you can’t show how chanting makes people’s minds peaceful then don’t tell them to chant. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta could do it, he *knew* that chanting is so important that it can’t wait, therefore he could say it, but if we try it people will dismiss us because we don’t know how it’s supposed to work and it really doesn’t – just words.
So the world might not be ready to hear the message or we might not be ready to convey it. Either way – preaching won’t work. What to do?
One answer is that we ourselves might not have the power but the Holy Name does not depend on us. Our job is to bring it to people, we are not in control of what happens next. Sometimes we are but it’s not a requirement. And at the same time we should have enough sense not to preach when people are going to only make offenses.
Another thought is that we shouldn’t be quick to judge what people’s real problems are. They are always under illusion in this regard and their expectations never match with their real necessities. If we try to fix *their* problems then we will never get around to preaching chanting of the Holy Name because they would always have something on their mind that they think needs to be addressed first.
So yes, we should know what people feel but we should also be able to transcend their feelings and get right to the root of it, and we should do it in a way that they feel they just had a revelation about themselves. So if there is a war and everybody is running for their lives – the Holy Name drives away all fears by its mere presence. Why can’t we give this fearlessness to people? Short answer – we ourselves don’t have it and we only pronounce syllables, not the Holy Name itself. All we need to say is “Chant Hare Krishna and everything will be okay” and really mean it. We should *know* it for ourselves, know well enough that other people can absorb our confidence. Then it will work.
Or we could always simply try to deliver the Holy Name to others regardless of how qualified we are ourselves. This might sound like a cop-out but it takes faith to believe that this will work, too, and people will pick up on this faith and absorb it and this will also make it work. Or they will just try saying “Hare Krishna” and the Name itself will manifest its power. This can happen, too.
All in all, I think Ukrainian devotees are doing okay, given the circumstances – they support people’s angst against Russia to earn their trust and build rapport, and then they feed them prasadam and do kirtans and discuss philosophy. I wish it wasn’t “Hare Krishna against Russia” but blind uncle is better than no uncle. Eventually devotees themselves will figure out that Russia is not their enemy and then people they preach to will catch up, too. In any case – what else can be done if devotees themselves are convinced that they are in a holy war against putinoids? You can’t change their minds in a moment and you can’t tell them to stop preaching, distributing prasadam, doing kirtans etc.
It’s a bit below my expectations but we need to learn appreciate devotees as they are, not as what we expect them to be. Of course it also means that when I’m looking for something new in Krishna Consciousness I won’t be turning to devotees who would call me rashist putinoid, but I’m sure there are lots of other things they do better than me so I can learn those, if I ever need them. It’s exactly the same solution I have for feminists and whoever else I happen to disagree with. Everybody hits their ceiling at some point and we don’t need to learn from what they do trying to break through their ceiling, we can learn from whatever they build trying to reach it.
Not to start whole other thing, but it would be like trying to learn sringara rasa from cowherd boys. I’m sure they have their opinions on it but it’s not where we should look for guidance. This is true about all religions, too – in one classification Madhvas are perfect at dasya, Sri Vaishnavas are perfect at awe and veneration, Vallabhas at vatsalya and so on. Everybody has a ceiling and in the material world everybody is trying to break through it, too. We should be able to spot when it happens and when people preach beyond their adhikara.