LAST WEEK MARKED the grand opening of the second ISKCON temple in Trinidad. It's not a huge temple, but it has a high-ceilinged kirtana hall and separate rooms for men's and women's asramas. The neighbors come in the evenings for aratiand lectures.
Last night I asked the temple president, Rajarsi Dasa, for a lecture topic suitable for the people of Trinidad. He said they like to hear about how forces such as the government mislead people and how to practice Krsna consciousness in the Age of Kali.
Taking that as a cue, I chose the verse that says that theBhagavatam is "as brilliant as the sun." And I also spoke on the verse praising Vyasadeva for composing the "satvata-samhita," or book of knowledge about the Supreme Truth, to free people from miseries in the Age of Kali.
It's easy to speak here because the people know "Hindu" philosophy and expect to hear Sanskrit verses. They respect the Vedic line of teaching coming from Srila Prabhupada. So you can repeat the same examples Srila Prabhupada gave, and it doesn't bore them. For instance, last night a guest asked me, "Why is it that many people hear the Bhagavatam but don't find it relishable?" So I replied that they are licking the outside of the bottle of honey; they are unwilling to take the Bhagavatam'steachings to heart.
Today I asked Rajarsi for another topic for a Trinidad audience. He said that everyone respects the Bhagavad-gitabut they hear so many misinterpretations, so I might speak on the actual conclusion of Bhagavad-gita. With this hint, I selected four popular misinterpretations and pointed out their shortcomings.
I may say that lecturing is easy, but the devotees here know how hard it is to persuade someone to become a serious practicing devotee. Trinidad is a land of frivolous sense enjoyment, even when the national economy is down. The highway billboards for Guinness Stout advertise "inner strength." Carnival and rum, pay cuts, tax climbs, hodgepodge Hinduism, calypso bacchanal—and hardly any-one is interested in Krsna.
Yet because of some remnants of Vedic culture, they come to our temple and hear respectfully.
Sunday morning, Rajarsi asked me to read selections of Srila Prabhupada from Preaching Is the Essence and comment on them. I have come to think that everything in Krsna consciousness is part of preaching. The distribution of books is the front line, but even private practices, even how a husband and wife get along together in Krsna consciousness, is part of the preaching mission.
People want to see whether the Krsna consciousness movement is sincere or hypocritical. So even the way we walk or dress or how we deal with merchants is preaching. No one need feel guilty that he or she is not preaching; everyone can take part in some way.
Prabhupada speaks of "an organized effort to turn the citizens into devotees of the Lord." So there must be deliberate work to give them books and invitations to practice Krsna consciousness. Initiated devotees also need to be sustained by sharing Krsna consciousness, encouraging one another. All this is preaching. If we keep spiritually alive, we're always preaching.
After I read from Preaching Is the Essence, one devotee told me how while out preaching he had been challenged. We devotees, someone had said, are not really compassionate; we only preach in hopes that we will get good karma.
I replied that the scriptures speak of devotees as para-duhkha-duhkhi, unhappy over the unhappiness of others. And even if a neophyte doesn't have compassion in his heart but preaches out of duty—to be blessed by his guru and Krsna—that is not wrong.
Another devotee asked, "Does a preacher's compassion have limits? How about when people are inimical?"
I said that great preachers such as Lord Jesus Christ and Lord Nityananda Prabhu had no limit to their compassion. They were ready to give their lives. On the other hand, it's natural to preach where preaching is favorable. We shouldn't needlessly preach the glories of the Lord to the faithless or inimical.
Another question: "How do we understand that within the spiritual master's order is the potency to carry it out?"
I said that this potency is something for the devotee to earn. For example, a geologist may say that within a certain area of earth, rubies are present. This doesn't mean that as soon as we scratch the ground we get gems. We have to work hard and dig. In spiritual life, as soon as you begin you benefit. But to fully realize the potency of the guru's order, we have to give our full surrender.
In the life of Srila Prabhupada we see this in perfection. When Srila Prabhupada was a young man, his spiritual master told him to become a preacher. Yet Prabhupada had to wait many years in household life. Then when he tried to spread Krsna consciousness, he went through many rejections. But Prabhupada writes, "Success or failure has no meaning for the pure devotee, who is like a soldier on the field." And in time success came to him in spreading Krsna consciousness worldwide.
The devotees liked when I stressed that preaching in Trinidad should be done especially by example. The island has only a few million people, so everyone knows what everyone else is up to. When people see a devotee they chant "Haribol."We have to act carefully so that they will become more and more confident that the devotees are sincere, peaceful, and realized in love of God. We have to beg for compassion to preach. Otherwise maya will close in on us.
On Sunday afternoon we drove to the other ISKCON temple in Trinidad. When I asked some of the devotees what they thought would be a fitting topic for the Sunday lecture, they suggested I advise the congregation not to be critical of devotees.
At first I was sorry I had asked for a suggestion. The topic sounded too pointed. If the temple devotees have some misunderstanding with their congregation, I thought, why not call an open meeting to discuss it?
But, party politics aside, the theme "don't criticize devotees" is important. Srila Prabhupada always defended his devotees from unfair criticisms. And if we are going to respect devotees, we should respect not just those in the temple but the guests also and anyone who renders any devotional service. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna praises "even a little advancement on this path."
Aside from special requests from temple presidents, a traveling preacher is asked to speak on a different Bhagavatamverse every day. You don't go around speaking your own thing. One day you may arrive at a temple where they're reading from the Second Canto about the universal form, and the next day, in another temple, they're talking about Krsna's rasa-lila. It's a challenge to be flexible and serve Krsna and the devotees as the situation demands.
Sometimes you're put on the spot by guests who want to debate their doubts about Krsna conscious philosophy, and sometimes the devotees also express doubts. The preacher himself is not always perfect or free from doubts. But when he faithfully represents the tradition and he answers as he has heard from his spiritual master and the scriptures, his own faith grows.
And so the traveling sannyasi has to serve wherever he goes, according to his realization. Simply by serving the Vaisnavas, the devotees, one is molded into a serviceable preacher.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.