AT THE ISKCON CENTER in Boise, Idaho, some guests, originally from India, questioned ISKCON's emphasis on preaching. They said that preaching was not part of traditional Indian philosophy and culture. In most Indian temples people just perform their personal prayer. The preaching mood, our guests said, was imbibed from the Christian concept of conversion. In India there were no Holy Wars, for Hinduism accepts all religious paths as valid. There is little reason to emphasize preaching.
Yes, Hinduism rejects conversion in the sense of getting someone to give up his or her faith in favor of one's own. At the same time, though, Hinduism aims at reviving everyone's sanatana-dharma, their lost relationship with the Lord.
Unfortunately, religions today, including Hinduism, tend to water down their original message, and their followers in general have wandered from the goal of life. To bring people to their original God consciousness, Srila Prabhupada, as a true Vaisnava, spread Lord Krsna's message for the benefit of humanity.
Srila Prabhupada is not preaching Hinduism but is spreading awareness of our relationship with God through the chanting of God's holy name. Prabhupada's message transcends all material designations of religion and nationality. Srila Prabhupada said that if one is a Christian, one should be a good Christian and faithfully follow the instructions of Jesus Christ. If one is Muslim, one should be a good Muslim.
Preaching does not mean Crusades or Holy Wars, but it is a compassionate service for the benefit of humanity. Preaching is natural, for when one acquires a wealth of precious knowledge one wants to give that wealth to others. A devotee of the Lord is full of compassion, concerned more for others' welfare than his own. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.44), Prahlada Maharaja prays, "My dear Lord Nrsimhadeva, I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krsna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet."
A devotee like Prahlada Maharaja wants others to be released from ignorance and feel the joy of spiritual life. Devotees are unselfish and desire only the welfare of others. Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to a disciple, "Now each one of us has got a great responsibility to spread this movement as far as possible, and that is the greatest service to suffering humanity."
Srila Prabhupada looked on preaching not as a selfish conversion to one's own faith but as a great service to the world. A devotee does not preach with the mentality of "holier than thou." Rather, he feels himself a humble servant of the Lord, giving the greatest service to mankind. Krsna consciousness cures our spiritual disease and restores us to our normal condition. It destroys birth, death, disease, and old age once and for all. Because a devotee so faithfully spreads Lord Krsna's sublime message, Krsna considers him to be His dearest devotee:
ya idam paramam guhyam
bhaktim mayi param krtva
mam evaisyaty asamsayah
"For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me." Krsna then says, "There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear." (Bg. 18.68-69)
Preaching is well rooted in the Hindu tradition and philosophy. It is a vital part of Indian culture. In India we find that people still throng to temples and pandals* to hear from saintly persons or listen to readings from scripture. Great saints of the past Madhvacarya, Sankaracarya, Ramanujacarya, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu traveled the Indian subcontinent preaching their message. They were called digvijaya, those who conquered all directions with their philosophy.
* Religious programs held in tents in public areas.
Archeological finds in India have also revealed some striking evidence of preaching in ancient periods. In Archeology and the Vaishnava Tradition, Steven Rosen (Satyaraja Dasa) writes of the significance of a column erected in 113 B.C. in central India by Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador to India. The inscriptions on the column, written in the ancient Brahmi script, make Heliodorus the first known Western Vaisnava. One inscription reads, "This Garuda column of Vasudeva [Krsna], the God of gods, was erected here by Heliodorus, His worshiper. I, the son of Dion and an inhabitant of Taxila, came as Greek ambassador of the great King Antialkidas to King Kashiputra Bhagabhadra, the savior, then reigning prosperously in the fourteenth year of his kingship." Other inscriptions reveal the author's knowledge of Vaisnava philosophy. So even in the pre-Christian era, preachers were bringing Westerners to Krsna consciousness.
Historian/Indologist J. W. McCrindle writes, "The Besnagar [Heliodorus] record testifies to the proselytizing zeal of the Bhagavatas, or Vaishnavas, in the pre-Christian centuries, and it shows that their religion was excellent enough to capture the hearts of the cultured Greeks and catholic enough to admit them into its fold."
By Srila Prabhupada's zeal many thousands of Westerners have accepted the nonsectarian philosophy of Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada is an ambassador of the spiritual world who spread Lord Krsna's message everywhere. Lord Caitanya prophesied that in every town and village of the world the holy name of the Lord would be sung. And Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura later wrote, "O for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mrdangas, and kartalas and raise kirtanas through their streets and towns. When will that day come?" Srila Prabhupada preached in many ways through chanting, prasadam distribution, book distribution, temple construction and thereby fulfilled Lord Caitanya's prophecy, spread India's glory around the globe, and made the Vedic heritage available to all, even in a small town like Boise.
Ravi Gupta, age twelve, is the son of Ananta Rupa Dasa and Aruddha Devi Dasi, who run the Hare Krsna center in Boise, Idaho.