for ISKCON News on Jan. 22, 2011
We oftentimes hear devotees say that their preaching efforts might become easier if a disaster strikes somewhere, or everywhere. More suffering should mean more turning towards spirituality and God. Will things be as simple as this?
Would thinking like this be a tacit admission that we cannot preach successfully in “normal” times? In the event of a disaster, how do we know if the devotees themselves will not be immune to its likely trauma and effects, so as to impact on their own preaching abilities? Could it also be, that our urgency to see rapid and dramatic preaching results not always displaying, cause us to impatiently seek results through tragic adversity? Are impatience and tragedy useful companions for a preacher?
The fact that we somehow or other turned away from Krishna - since how long no one knows - was itself the ultimate of all disasters. Forever seeking peace and happiness within this tragedy can only earn the unlikely goal of a “peaceful and happy disaster.” Devotees are aware of these incompatible achievements. We can imagine a comedy movie or drama having the title, “Disastrous Serenity, and Jubilant Tragedy.”
Comical as it seems, the ability of the devotees to help people see through this irreconcilable heartbreak is the avid conviction of it to begin with. Without this conviction our power to persuade people otherwise will falter. If there are difficulties preaching within an already disastrous situation without other more dramatic adversities to happen, then we could be naively optimistic to think that people will suddenly want to become devotees during such times. There are reasons for this.
When petrol or gas for transport runs short of supply, we have seen how people react. Any small challenges to people’s “orderly” way of life result in extreme and often violent behaviour. Union and student marches, anti-racism and anti-capitalist protests and the rest all aim to highlight breaches of human acceptability. Of course there are usually anarchist elements that heighten the drama. But full or partial anarchy is likely if disaster strikes and affects the ability of law and order to keep the peace.
The same devotees also say that we can do Food for Life during hard times. This is true provided that logistical means and transportation are available. If the lifeblood of our economies, oil, runs dry, then do we use oxen and carts? Without oil and petrol the whole transportation system grinds to a halt. Food cannot get out, so people scramble for it. Hunger is going to drive people into survival mode and the use of weapons will ensure this. In desperation our oxen could become targets for food. The police cannot get around without fuel. Anarchy will spread.
This may be a worst case scenario, but other disaster situations may be less severe. Whichever level of severity or anarchy arises during expected disasters, it is not going to be as if we devotees are the “only” heroic guardian angels set on rescuing humanity alone. Christians, Muslims and Jews will also have the same compassionate motives. In other words, when these disaster sentiments are expressed, it is as if we devotees will be the only survivors and saviours. This may or may not be true.
These are very early formative years for Iskcon, and our preaching efforts are still part of laying the groundwork for future development. This includes helping to create the required sukrti for people in general, by letting them hear the holy names and read our books. Why do the millions of people who have brought Srila Prabhupada’s books not become devotees now, or even wholeheartedly appreciate us in every way? Because their sukrti is barely developed.
It is during these “normal” times that devotees need the most patience. While the good fortune of the people is building up very slowly, this can escape our detection. Most of our preaching results are undetectable, but they are working. This can lead us to think we are not progressing, and then our impatience surmises that perhaps a disaster will speed things up. For those of us who are visibly results orientated, we’re going to have to wait much of the time.
There are common situations where temples are results orientated for immediate financial stability. This often induces the devotees or congregation members to also develop the same short term expectations. This can lead to passionate types of devotee behaviour, and usually end up with some sort of “burn-out,” or unhappy devotees.
If there is more emphasis in the temples on Harinama, bhajanas and kirtans which pleases the public, they will naturally come forward to offer financial help, and our devotees remain happy. This seems to be a longer term way of keeping temples financially healthy. Happier devotees shall attract happier returns. When people see happy devotees, which are a pleasure to behold, then the public appreciation increases along with their sukrti. The more the public likes us the more they support us financially, and they advance.
Another advantage helping our preaching is the role of democracy. No matter how much democracy allows people to express themselves in often absurd ways, it gives us the freedom to practice Krishna consciousness and preach it.
We can see how democratic principles are being implemented in countries previously out of bounds for religious freedom, through the supposed warring expansion of Zionist imperialism. As deathly and divisive as they are, the new democratic freedoms intended for those undemocratic nations can only help our future preaching prospects. Who knows if these are nature’s way of helping to spread Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana mission?
This complex chess game of world politics and the gradual aim of seeking “order out of disorder,” and the spreading of democracy are opportunistic for us. Devotees should be thankful that democracy allows them to practice the religion of their choice, and while the going is good, to preach with relative ease. If disaster does occur and anarchy results then can the merits of the original “Let’s have a disaster” argument withstand scrutiny?
Just as the direction of world politics is slowly being aligned towards democracy, the endgame of a fuller, inclusive “golden era” within Kali-yuga is some time away yet. We are presently meeting with preaching successes with fortunate people whose sukrti allows them to help us, but the long-term goal of benefitting many more people requires adaptable temple and devotee community plans based on faith in the power of the holy names. Are we convinced that through the holy names, all of our economic and financial problems can be solved?
These results should help the temples more than by short term measures. Another consequence of having disastrous situations is the possibility of delaying or reducing our preaching progress. Devotees will try to stay happy during such times, but patience and other good qualities are going to be rigorously tested too.
It should be far easier if Srila Prabhupada’s books sell, and our devotees excel in preaching during times of “disastrous” democratic peace and prosperity. We need to take advantage of the political stability granted by democracy and the freedoms given to us, before disaster either helps or hinders us.