Those who choose a full-time religious vocation sometimes ponder whether to enter an order that emphasizes meditation or one that emphasizes active missionary work. Even Gautama Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi doubted at first which spiritual path to pursue. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in founding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also dealt with this problem and offered a dynamic solution.
The Vedic scriptures may appear to be equivocal on this point. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna recommends living in seclusion in the Sixth Chapter and again in the Thirteenth Chapter. Yet He also says that His dearmost servant is he who spreads Krsna consciousness to others. Lord Caitanya also asked His followers to help Him distribute the fruits of love of God.
The Cistercian monk and author Thomas Merton found the choice between prayer and preaching to be a lifelong struggle. One writer describes Merton's success: "He attained the seemingly impossible integration of unlimited apostolic drive with undivided devotion to contemplation." But Merton's biographer, John Griffin, finds this statement misleading, as if Merton had achieved the resolution without tension or conflict. Griffin writes, "It created profound tensions: no, the tensions were finally created by his need to go deeper, deeper… to go deeper into silence and solitude, to be completely alone with God and completely naked before God…."
In such difficult matters, the Vedas advise us to follow the ways of authorities. Yet, as noted, the scriptures can appear contradictory. The truth of religious principles resides in the hearts of self-realized souls, and we should follow their path.
In creating the modern monastic order known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Srila Prabhupada prescribed a unique combination of contemplative life and vigorous preaching. Starting in America, he began ISKCON communities, both urban and rural, wherein he balanced the inward aspect of spiritual life with the outward.
Through the "morning program" Srila Prabhupada gave his devotees a way to daily deepen their personal meditation on Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Before dawn ISKCON devotees go to the temple for a congregational service of singing God's names. They then chant privately on their beads for a prescribed period of time. Chanting the Hare Krsna mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is recommended in theUpanisads and Puranas as the best means of attaining God consciousness in the present age. Since God and His name are the same, chanting Hare Krsna is pure meditation. And unlike most other forms of yoga (such as hatha-yoga), this chanting can be practiced in almost any situation with relative ease whether you're alone or with a group, or even if you're traveling or working. By stressing the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, Srila Prabhupada provided a synthesis of intense meditation and active work.
After morning chanting, devotees attend a class in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The class is followed by a discussion. Thus, through a spiritually power-packed five morning hours, each devotee seeks his or her personal relationship with Krsna in a protected and solitary setting. After the morning program, a devotee may engage in different kinds of outward activity and with the spiritual strength to do it. If one is unable to live within a temple community, the same morning program may be conducted in one's own home.
Prabhupada also encouraged his disciples to take pilgrimages to holy places in India, such as Vrndavana and Mayapur, which are especially conducive to direct communion with the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Yet because ISKCON's special mission is to save all forgetful souls in Kali-yuga, the devotees are very busy and involved in outgoing activities. In fact, people sometimes think that the devotees are just another kind of materialist, because they are so busily engaged in places such as the city streets, where they chant the holy name.
One reason a devotee may hesitate to go out into the world for preaching is his fear of becoming contaminated by worldly association and of thus losing his spiritual standing. Once one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples asked him if a preacher of Krsna consciousness could be contaminated by the karma of those persons to whom he was preaching. Srila Prabhupada explained that a preacher is like a physician. Just as a physician can avoid contracting a contagious disease from one of his patients, so a preacher can avoid being "infected" by the materialistic persons among whom he preaches. If the doctor becomes infected, Srila Prabhupada said, then no one will be cured. Like a doctor, a devotee must take the necessary precautions. Then he will be immune.
That immunity is the blessing of God. But the devotee must earn this blessing of immunity by balancing the outward missionary activities with internal, meditative ones. Then he will be able to successfully meet all demands.
One may question whether an ISKCON devotee is engaging in solitary worship, since the morning program is conducted in the association of devotees. But when the Bhagavad-gita enjoins that a spiritualist should avoid people, it refers to the avoidance of materialistic people. The intimate association of materialistic people is detrimental, but the association of like-minded devotees is considered even better than solitude.
According to the Vedas, he who meditates alone in a holy place is called a bhajananandi, while the person who moves in human society for preaching purposes is called a gosthyanandi. The bhajananandi is revered for his saintliness, but thegosthyanandi, who takes all personal risks to spread the word of God, is considered more dear to Krsna. The preacher is not so much interested in his own salvation but has developed the compassionate attitude of Krsna Himself, and so he works to bring others back to Godhead. Even though the preacher mixes with sinful people, he is immune to contamination, because he always follows the spiritual practices. He mixes with nondevotees only to tell them about Krsna and to help them, if they are inclined, to practice bhakti-yoga. SDG