Interview on Preaching in Croatia from Krsna-katha Magazine
17th September 2014 • Interviews
Interviewed by bhn. Mateja, Krsna-katha, No. 5, 2014
I don’t think it is the number of devotees, but the commitment that each devotee is making. Once it is increased, we will do much more in any project. How much we put into it determines the quality of the project. Numbers are important, but to a certain point.
TAKING CARE OF DEVOTEES
First I wanted to ask about your moving to Karlovac recently. How come you chose Karlovac for your residence?
The choice is something that was building up for years. When I first came to Croatia back around 2002/03, I started to meet devotees here and associate with different projects. And then I connected with devotees in Karlovac who had been in other places before, and now had a little preaching center in down town Karlovac. I was inspired by their preaching and especially their harinams in other countries which was the regular part of their preaching, doing the harinama tour. They were working together as an amazing team. Everyone was qualified, everyone was enthusiastic, everyone was able to contribute a lot. And therefore so many people were coming. And things were growing nicely. And at the same time, I was thinking of decreasing my time in America. And my moving from America was something that was always in my mind, to somehow or other shift my energy to this area, after being here for many years. So gradually that started to come and I made the decision to more less try to work full time with devotees there, in Karlovac. Things changed, and therefore what was the original idea has now changed to the something different.
Yes, I wanted to ask about the current situation? We heard that the preaching center is closed and the Deities were moved to New Santipur.
The Deities were moved from the city into a place which we gave the name New Santipur. The place is owned by one of the devotees, Raghunath prabhu. So he opened it up, and it was their idea to move the Deities there, Gaura Nitai deities, which were installed in 2009. HG Krishna Ksetra Prabhu and I did the abishek which was the prelude to the installation. When things got difficult in the preaching center, there were a lot of problems to continue to keep the financial expenses up with the preaching center, and the place was small, really small. There was not any room for devotees to stay, it was quite crowded.
Then gradually things started to change. Devotees started to move in different directions and the yatra started to break up. And then Mohan prabhu, Raghunath prabhu and Dasaratha prabhu decided to move the Deities to that area. At that time there was not much of a temple. It was more like a little place, a little room, and next to it was a kitchen. So we did some renovation, expanded the whole area and turned it into the temple room, and the Deities were taken there. But I was not there during that time when everything was shifted. I was traveling in other places. So it was because things were not working out in the city so much.
What are your plans for Karlovac in the future?
Things have really changed a lot and there is not a major plan anymore. I did have an idea to start a community there, but to do that you need devotees who are working together supportively. Things changed over the years and devotees went in different directions and took up services in different places in the world, so the yatra dwindled down to 2 or 3 people. Now, the present situation is that I will be visiting there, preaching there and spending some time there, but as far as community development, which was an idea, it is no longer a plan. Unless something changes and devotees come forward and give some support, time, energy and finances to help. Than it is a viable place, because the area is very sattvic, in a sense that it is very quiet, it is away from everything. It is a good place for living and I was also thinking, as society starts to deteriorate, the economic condition starts to become less and less easy to maintain society and economy, the devotees will be looking for the alternative lifestyle. We had some plans to buy some land in that area which was for sale, and still is, but because things changed, that is no longer a plan. It can be a plan in the future, depending on some support. But I am going to spend my time just preaching there and spending some side time doing other work there, internal work. But that is all.
How can we build respect for devotees, which we seemingly often miss?
What are we respecting? That Krishna is in the heart of every living being. So, if we are disrespecting someone, we are disrespecting Krishna in the heart of that person. Unless we understand the spiritual nature of our existence, we will judge things by bodily evaluation, “I like, I don’t like”. Of course, people have different personalities and we can give respect accordingly. Some personalities may be different than ours so we can respect them from distance. But those who have similar natures we make friendships with. And that is a way of respecting also. We should never criticize, argue or find fault with devotees. If we do that, that is the lack of respect. Anyone who comes to Krishna consciousness is special. How many people are coming to Krishna consciousness? Very few. So that person has somehow or other some good quality of understanding the value of spiritual life. Maybe they don’t understand it fully, but still they are to be respected in that way.
But, respect goes even further, it goes even to the non-devotees too. Because, Krishna is in their heart too. To disrespect them or mistreat them would also be an offence. Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains, “Somehow I live in this world because I give respect to everyone.“ If we are looking for something from people we are with, if we are trying to get something out of them, then people who give us something, we can respect them and people who don’t, we reject them. But if we are always in the mood of service, we can respect everyone, whether they give or not, because the mood of service is the mood of devotees. The mood of getting is a material way. “What am I going to get out of this relationship?“ A devotee thinks, “How can I serve in this relationship?“ Therefore, we can respect everyone because everyone is Krishna’s part and parcel. We are not trying to get something from everyone. If we can give, that is nice, if not, then we just be friendly and show respect.
What are the right ways of showing respect to different devotees?
We could take the sastric statement based on that, that devotees are classified in three categories: senior, equal and junior. And the sastras say that to senior devotees we should offer personal service and hear from them. Hearing from them means to hear classes, enquire about philosophical and spiritual topics, try to learn. Also, ask for guidance. And we can offer personal service. So, that is how we respect senior devotees.
For equals, we make friends, share Krishna consciousness, it is like friends. The friendship is based on the principle of service, not on the principle of just trying to enjoy each other’s association. That enjoyment is already there, but we should see that devotees who are of the same nature and are on the same level of our practice, we just be friendly with them, share Krishna consciousness, assist each other in the service and act in the mood of a family. If one of the family members needs help, we should be there to help him if we can, to give assistance, to give encouragement… So that’s the equals.
For junior devotees, we should show them doya or mercy. We want to preach to them. Not always so much as preaching, but finding ways to always uplift them in their Krishna consciousness. It can take the form of preaching, it can take the form of care or it can take the form of assisting them in their struggle in practicing Krishna consciousness. That is called doya and that is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam in the 4th canto; to serve superiors, make friendships with equals and show mercy to the less advanced.
Sometimes we struggle with the idea that there are so few devotees, as you mentioned that it is the case in Karlovac. We think that this is the reason our projects are not strong or successful enough. Is this true? Is the number of devotees the only problem?
I don’t think it is the number of devotees, I think it is the commitment that each devotee is making. Once it is increased, we will do much more in any project. It is how much we put into it, that is the quality of the project, not so much numbers. Numbers are important, but to a certain point. As Srila Prabhupada said, “If I have one pure devotee, then my mission is successful.“ That means that one pure devotee can change the whole world. We use the example that one Moon can light up the sky better than many stars, because they don’t have that much illumination power. What we need to do is bring devotees to a higher level of spiritual commitment, help them to surrender more, help them to practice Krishna consciousness in such a way that they are happy and fulfilled. And the more happy and fulfilled the devotees are, the more they are willing to take time and offer service. It is about caring for devotees which will help carry our projects. Numbers are important, but if we just care for the devotees we have now in a very organized way. We can care on an individual level and we should do that. But when we care as an organization, then we set up a system to care for devotees. And part of that system is to engage devotees in Krishna consciousness. So, lately, the society is working on devotee care, how to care for devotees.
Could you give us some practical examples?
The basic principle is that devotees may find whatever they need within the society of devotees, whether it is material needs or spiritual needs. If I need some medical care, I shouldn’t have to go outside and look for the medical care. We should see what doctors there are within our society and somehow or other engage their facilities to take care of devotees. Another thing would be, a woman wants to get married. She goes and thinks, “How do I find a husband?” You go and you talk to senior grhastas and they have a program for helping to meet men and women. And that cuts a lot of the anxiety and a lot of the problems that come with individually trying to find a husband or a wife. That is also a part of the devotee care system. So, there is a marriage system, a health system, or if they need money they can come to devotees and get money for the projects…
Then, on the spiritual side, whatever they need in their spiritual life should be provided in a systematic way. Education, training, service training, spiritual education… We need to set up spiritual programs to do that and educate devotees to do that. That is a whole system we need to set up. There are about 6 or 7 temples in the world which have developed that system and it is working quite amazingly. Just like, if a new person comes to the temple for a Sunday feast, that person gets a chance to meet some devotees, they take his name and then they follow up and they give him some books, invite him to the programs in the future and stay in contact. It helps that person to think, “Oh, all these people care.” And then they become more involved. It is a system for bringing in and training new people. That is a part of devotee care system.
The opposite is when people come and they float around, meet this person and that person, and then after some time you don’t see them anymore. That is unfortunate and that is what has been going on now for years. It is very hard to attract a person, and when they come we don’t have a program for keeping them, for educating them and for finding their own needs in this society. So, Krishna consciousness is meant to be an inclusive society where everything you are looking for can be found. There are models that are already working. That means devotee care. Devotee thinks, “I need this. I can find it in Krishna consciousness.“ „I need counseling, I need a husband or a wife, I need medical care, I need some employment, and devotees can help me with this.” And that means that person is there for lifetime. Instead we have to run to the secular society to fulfill our needs. And that means that we have to take that kind of association. And we become contaminated by that kind of association. The system is developing, but unless that actually comes everywhere, we will just see that we are not going to grow as a society. Make devotees, keep devotees. Not just make them, keep them too. That is a system. When devotees preach they can bring new people. But, where are those people? Sometime they come, sometimes you don’t see them. The temple should be the center of the community, where people can come and get everything they need.
Most of the devotees now live outside the temple, they have work and family, which can be a challenge when they need to do service. What can we do in this regard, how to deal with it?
The devotee care system should extend itself into the community where the community takes care of their own practice. The communities do not have to come to the temple all the time, they can come whenever they can. But they can also have meeting in the community and go over to each other’s houses for programs. The women can share their own experiences of taking care of children and men can make friends and also share Krishna consciousness together. And the community can be organized in such a way that most of their activities go on where they live, not necessarily in the temple. In Chicago many of the grhastas live in the same area. Every morning they go to a different person’s house for mangala aratik. After mangala aratik they do some japa together, take breakfast and then they go to work, and the women go back to the house. There are four or five families coming together every morning for mangala aratik. The idea is to bring people together and get them out of this individual struggle. The way is organizing the community around spiritual activities, around having programs where all the grhastas come together, do yearly camping, field trips to some special holy places or just going on picnics, to somehow bring the devotees together for hearing, chanting and prasadam. To create this family atmosphere, we are all in it together. But you are over there doing it and I am over here doing it and therefore we are all struggling. So, community is the basis for making the struggle a lot easier and getting the support you need for whatever you do. But we don’t take time to do that. It has to be organized. But in the meantime, the grhastas who are in the communities can think, “Let me organize the grhastas around us, let’s have some programs, let’s go on trips once a week or once a month. Let’s go to the Holy Dhama together, let’s go to a Ratha-yatra.” Just doing things together. There are so many things you can do. But we spend too much time and energy just trying to maintain our household that we think there is no time for these things. But when we start doing this, we will find it easier to maintain the household. A lot easier. It is about organizing the congregation within the community, not so much in the temple. Just like the yatra in Kiev in Ukraine. There are thousands of devotees who are in the community and when it comes to their yearly sanga when everyone comes together, it’s the grhastas who do the whole work of putting everything together, not the temple devotees. They organize the whole thing, they put all the tents. They do it all, because they are organized. When you bring people together you can get so much done, but when you try to do things by yourself you do a little here, a little there. And how much can the kids get from that. They get to associate with other kids who are devotees. It’s a program.
How would you describe the significance of visiting the Holy Dhama? Sometimes we say, because we cannot travel often, that it is not that important.
Prabhupada’s program was to come to Mayapur once a year. And he said during the Gaura-purnima Festival. I think that he indicated that we should spend at least three weeks there. So, it is called “recharging the batteries”, getting the association of the Dhama and the holy people of the Dhama, hearing and chanting, and focusing exclusively on devotional activities. And when you come out you are charged up and you are ready to go back and take on more challenges. So, yes, it is important. Everyone should do it, not just grhastas. Sannyasis and everyone. To go to the Holy Dhama, take shelter of the Dhama, hear about Krishna’s pastimes in the Dhama.
Sometimes devotees say it can be dangerous if we commit offences. Some devotees, for example, don’t even dare to go to Vrindavan.
Life is molded in such a way that whatever you do there is always a risk. If you go to Vrindavan, you need to be extremely careful. Because offences are easy to commit there and that is very serious. While Mayapur is not the same. Mayapur is audharya-dhama. It is Vrindavan with the mood of extreme mercy. Vrindavan is also glorious, but one has to be a little more careful. If I have to cross a street, it is dangerous, but if I am careful I will get across. We will not say, “Well, if it is dangerous I am not crossing.” That means you are not getting on the other side. Obviously there is a risk, but the benefit is great. So that is the risk we should take. It is a small thing. And Lord Caitanya is very merciful, He doesn’t count offences. Still, we should be careful. If we are in the mood of humility wherever we are, we will be fine. As soon as we become proud or insensitive to others, we will make mistakes and commit offences.
At the end I would ask you to please say something about ISKCON’s biggest project at the moment, the construction of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur. How can we, who are seemingly very far away, contribute?
Talk about it. Prabhupada wanted everyone to support it. Everyone can give some donation and every temple should give something, because it is a grand project. But, just talk about it. That means getting across the information about it, have discussions about it, have seminars on it. Once that temple is built, Lord Caitanya’s movement will really extend itself. It will open up the mercy more and more. It is a project that is really so powerful that everyone should see the importance of it and see how they can somehow or other offer some support to it. Prabhupada did not want to raise money just among few people. He wanted the whole society to rally around it.