by Swami BV Nemi
Preaching now and then
Everyone knows that, in principle, we are a preaching movement. Srila Prabhupada continuously emphasised that, and Srila Gurudeva also emphasized it. In his will, he wrote,
“All my work and efforts since 1952 have been exclusively for the missionary purposes described above, and I have not pursued any material gain for myself or others. Thus, I desire that any progress or achievements made by my efforts in my missionary work be used by my disciples and spiritual associates to further and continue my spiritual mission.“When Srila Prabhupada began the Krishna consciousness movement in the West, hundreds and thousands of young people were eager to join religious or spiritual movements. Now, the situation is quite different. People in general are much more suspicious of religion, and the Hare Krishna movement does not necessarily have good press everywhere. On the one hand, we clearly need to modify our approach. On the other hand, despite that, we still tend to present the age-old tradition of Krishna consciousness, replete with Sanskrit and Bengali, and with what look to the uninitiated like archaic Indian rituals.
Furthermore, especially in the Srila Gurudeva’s sanga, devotees tend to present extremely elevated topics to complete newcomers. The man on street can hardly relate to the idea that the Supreme Absolute Truth is a blue boy who plays on the flute, and dances with the wives of others in the forest at night. To tell the truth, the same is true of many of our newer devotees.
How are we relevant?
Do we really have anything to offer modern society, or can we really only offer a shelter to those who can make the gigantic cultural leap from modern society into our rather monastic culture? Is the Krishna consciousness movement really relevant in modern society? If so, what can we offer to modern society, and in what way can we offer it?
My Guru Maharaja deeply pondered these questions before he came to the West, and we see his answers in the Seven Purposes of ISKCON, which he established in 1966. The second Purpose is: “To propagate a consciousness of Krsna as He is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.” This is more or less the conventional presentation of Krishna consciousness. His first Purpose established the foundation for the preaching movement: “To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large, to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.”
What did he mean by this? We know that he very strongly emphasised two particular programs, especially at the end of his presence here. The first was the establishment of varnashrama-dharma, and the second was the scientific preaching by the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Varnashrama-dharma is for those who do not yet have a taste for direct service to Krishna. Scientific preaching is important in proving the existence of consciousness, the soul and Supersoul. However, it cannot reach to Krishna in the spiritual world. Hence, while both of them give a very strong foundation for Krishna consciousness itself, neither of them is directly Krishna conscious.
We see that the world today is in dire need of the “peace and unity” that Srila Prabhupada talked about in the First Purpose. Clearly then, there is a great need for the “spiritual knowledge, techniques and values” which are contained – albeit sometimes in a hidden way – in the Vedic tradition. Only Vaishnavas have access to this wonderful knowledge, and amongst them, only the Gaudiya Vaishnavas have the mood to adapt to this and spread in the world at large. It seems to me that, amongst the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, our Srila Gurudeva’s Sanga has a unique quality and position.
By the way, sometimes devotees comment that there is some lack of “peace and unity” in the Krishna consciousness movement as a whole, and even in our own sanga. Could it be that we also need to pay more attention to the “spiritual knowledge, techniques and values” that Srila Prabhupada talked about? I believe that this is the case. Otherwise, why would Srila Gurudeva had given instructions that we should open a school for teaching the principles of harmony in the sanga?
Wisdom into society
You may know that Bhudhara Prabhu and I have each been working for many years on projects for introducing non-sectarian spiritual principles into society. We have been cooperating for the last four or five years, and now we will be working together more closely. Bhudhara Prabhu has done a tremendous amount of research, and has found that many responsible leaders, particularly in the business sector, are looking at the wisdom traditions to solve the problems in modern society. Together with a colleague who is a professor in Holland, he has started a foundation called the Cranmore Foundation, whose purpose is to introduce the principles of the wisdom traditions into society, and specifically to business people.
Bhudhara Prabhu and I have agreed to work together to present spiritual principles and practice in society in various ways, and on various levels. Our intention is to catalyze the formation of an extremely open, informal educational network. We would like to cooperate with devotees who are open-minded, creative, adaptive team-players, and who are professional in their approach. (That is to say, they are disciplined, and they stand up for and stick to values and standards, and attention to detail). We already have good ideas, and the beginning of a good approach. This is just the beginning.
The project will be non-hierarchical, and will be based on mutual agreement. As we form a wider group of participants, one of our first tasks will be to brainstorm to get a good idea of what other approaches we can use, and in what directions.
If you think that you may be interested, or if you would like more information, please get in touch with me. Here is a link for the Cranmore foundation website, which is still under construction: www.cranmorefoundation.org.