Each of our columnists focuses on a specific area of interest. But I suggested to Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami that he take on a special portfolio: "Write about whatever you want." So for each issue he'll do precisely that. J. S.
AS A TRAVELING PREACHER, you pay your dues by the rigors of travel. While you wait an hour for that last piece of luggage to come down the conveyor belt, a woman in orange pants keeps pushing in front of you to see if her luggage has come yet. The formalities of travel entering and exiting countries, getting your tickets and luggage right push your attention away from Krsna. But it's all worth it when you reach the temple and talk to a roomful of devotees and friends.
A main duty of a traveling preacher in ISKCON is to encourage the devotees. This means you have to speak with conviction about Prabhupada's movement. According to Vedic etiquette, people receive a sannyasi with honor sometimes they wash his feet and give him an honorable seat and in return he's supposed to say something worthwhile.
In Santo Domingo today, we all sat at the feet of the sculptured form of Srila Prabhupada. Only because of Srila Prabhupada's work has Krsna consciousness spread to this country and others around the world. We've all been blessed, and we're trying to reciprocate with love. Don't forget even the slightest Krsna consciousness can save a person from the greatest danger at death. So the traveling preacher assures the devotees, "By distributing prasadam, chanting the holy name, and giving out books, you're doing important work."
You wake up early in a tropical country, only a few days after being in a snowstorm in the north. You sit up and chant Hare Krsna. The lights don't work. From a streetlight outside you make out the form of Krsna in a painting within the room. Krsna sits playing His flute on the bank of the Yamuna, His toe in the stream.
ISKCON temples are home for the devotees who live there, and certainly for the travelers who go from temple to temple. The traveler is aware that there's no shelter in the cities of the world except the ISKCON places.
After Srimad-Bhagavatam class a devotee asks, "Should we regard everyone as a demon who doesn't accept Lord Caitanya as God Himself?" The statements of the sastra are absolute, but Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu His Life and Precepts, gave a humble, tactful reply.
We leave it to our readers to decide how to deal with Mahaprabhu. The Vaisnavas have accepted Him as the great Lord Krsna Himself. Some have considered Him as a bhakta-avatara [a divine incarnation to give out love of God] … Those who are not prepared to go with them may accept [Him] as a noble and holy teacher. That is all we want our readers to believe.
In a similar mood, Prabodhananda Sarasvati gave advice to preachers. He said to approach the non-devotee humbly, with a straw in your mouth. Praise him for being learned in philosophy and spiritual knowledge. But then ask him: For the time being, please put aside all your knowledge and submissively hear the teachings of Lord Caitanya.
As for the actual identity of Lord Caitanya, the Caitanya-caritamrta firmly establishes that Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So devotees in Krsna consciousness should be convinced of Lord Caitanya's identity and present it without compromise. But we must also be aware that some people can't accept it right away. So it's even more important to present the teachings of Lord Caitanya and introduce the chanting of the holy name.
We talked together about how to help the guests get more involved in the Sunday feast. One guest complained that the kirtana singing is conducted by a 'choir' and that the devotees in the temple don't really want him to sing along. This happens if the devotees sing tunes too hard to follow or play too fast, ignoring the needs of the guests. It didn't seem a problem in Santo Domingo, though. The guests eagerly sing and join in dancing.
Getting the guests to take part in eating the feast shouldn't be a problem, but if it is, then work harder to make the feast sumptuous and be sure to serve it smartly and see that guests get as much as they want.
If we want our guests to listen to the weekly lecture, we have to know their needs and not give the same old "Sunday feast introductory talk." The maha-mantra is itself a source of unending bliss and variety and can never be exhausted. But we all know what it's like to sit through a halfhearted talk. We can use creativity and surprise in Krsna consciousness to keep menus and lectures fresh.
On Sunday afternoon we went out chanting at the beach. About nine of us stood between two refreshment stands, both blaring with the beat of Latin music. Exotic flowers bloomed on the trees, and a soft breeze blew against our faces and clothes. We sang above the noise, and soon a dozen young men and women danced and sang with us.
I couldn't tell whether they liked chanting Hare Krsna or were making fun of us. But the Dominican devotees were smiling and encouraging everyone to dance and sing.
As soon as our kirtana let up even a moment, the Latin music surged forth. But the devotees were used to it. Yadunandana Dasa handed out flyers with the maha-mantra, inviting people back for the evening feast.
The lights went out just before the Sunday lecture, so we spoke, chanted, and feasted by hurricane lamps. I asked the people who attended to promise to chant at least one round on beads every day. With guests like this, you're inspired to reach out and guide them. They seem like children, and you also feel more like a child, simpler and more enthusiastic. Santo Domingo is enlightening and inspiring, especially after a long bout in North America with debates and pressures. All glories to traveling sankirtana!
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada and some two dozen other books of essays, stories, and poems.