by Pranada dasi
Presented at the ISKCON Communications Conference, Radhadesh 1992
Over the past ten years, I’ve experienced a growing pain in seeing devotees (adults and children) leave the Krsna consciousness movement. Each time someone I know leaves, I feel a deep loss and my heart breaks. Prabhupada once said not to be surprised that devotees leave but to be surprised that they stay, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that we have lost thousands of devotees over the years – perhaps more than the number we currently have in our temples. But Prabhupada didn’t think lightly of the loss of even one devotee. In a letter to Upendra he wrote, ‘Those who have left the Society, I am always thinking of them.’ Prabhupada’s heart went out to those who left, and he wanted them back. He pointed out that devotees are rare souls and that each one of us was trained with great difficulty. Many times he told us not to reject members so quickly, but to reform them, which requires great skill and tact.
Each person has free will and therefore we, as a society, cannot take full responsibility for everyone’s actions; however, from my years of watching devotees leave and speaking to them about why they leave, I have determined that each of us has to take some responsibility for this. In many cases, had there been strong relationships with other devotees, or kind treatment during someone`s difficulties, the devotee would not have left.
In a class last November in Vrndavana, Narayana Maharaja expressed his sentiments: ‘I always pray that those who have left ISKCON, they should come again to ISKCON. You should also see that you give them preference to take them back. If I see them all together I will see in no time that it will spread more and more in this world, your Prabhupada`s mission.’
My prayer is that one day, each individual in ISKCON can break through the barriers that keep our family from coming together to spread Krsna consciousness for Srila Prabhupada. I invite you to join me in this prayer and meditation.
The title of this essay is somewhat misleading. After all, Prabhupada has built ISKCON already and because ISKCON is Lord Caitanya`s movement and is therefore non-different from Him, it is all-attractive. The statement ‘building an all-attractive ISKCON’ implies that the movement’s all-attractiveness becomes covered at times by our material conditioning and therefore it doesn’t look all-attractive from inside or outside. There are things we can do to make it all-attractive.
ISKCON consists of people trying to advance in Krsna consciousness but who are not yet freed from faults, and because the world relates to Prabhupada’s mission through the behavior of his servants ISKCON is sometimes seen as having faults. In fact, as devotees, we ourselves have that perception too, so we should take seriously the responsibility of ensuring that the movement’s glory shines and attracts many conditioned souls. In the simplest sense, ‘building an all-attractive ISKCON’ means that each devotee must allow the inherent all-attractiveness to come through by good behavior and developing spiritual friendships. In the Nectar of Instruction, Srila Prabhupada explains the all-attractive, simple principles by which ISKCON has spread all over the world:’
guhyam akhyati prcchati
bhunkte bhojayate caiva
‘Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasada and offering prasadam are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another’. (NOI 4).
In the purport, Prabhupada writes: ‘The International Society for Krsna Consciousness has been established to facilitate these six kinds of loving exchanges between devotees. This Society was started single-handedly, but because people are coming forward and dealing with the give-and-take policy, the Society is now expanding all over the world … The life of the Krsna consciousness society is nourished by these six types of loving exchanges among the members; therefore people must be given the chance to associate with the devotees of ISKCON because simply by reciprocating in the six ways mentioned above, an ordinary man can fully revive his dormant Krsna consciousness.’ In the same purport, Prabhupada explains that this principle of loving exchanges is the basis of all activities of our Society. It is the foundation of book distribution, prasadam distribution, hari-nama, Sunday Feasts and interactions among ourselves. By this, he has indicated that the foundation of our movement is spiritual relationships–loving exchanges centered on Krsna.
We can speak of various aspects of the development of the ISKCON community or society. Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is varnasrama-dharma: developing farm communities, establishing cow-protection and educational institutions for children and so on; but I have chosen not to focus on these topics, which are the structure of community. Although it is important to discuss them, I am going to concentrate on the fundamental principle of community–relationships–which lacks a certain necessary quality in our Society.
Before building a structure, the foundation must be solid. If the foundation of our Society is love and trust, and true friendships between devotees are developing, then we have a healthy environment for devotees to advance in Krsna consciousness. The all-attractiveness will bind us to stay, draw back those who’ve left or who are reserved in their participation and invite the general population to become devotees. There is a great need in our movement to shed superficial interactions among ourselves and develop deep personal friendships–relationships centred on Krsna, but which keep us bound in Krsna consciousness and attached to our true, spiritual family. Such relationships are not maya; they are not to be avoided. Allowing ourselves to express human emotions of caring and love is part of the process of bhakti.Bhakti-yoga is one hundred per cent personalism. Personalism means relationships. Each of us has an eternal relationship with Krsna and His devotees. While relationships in the material world are binding, relationships with Krsna`s devotees, even the ‘insignificant’ devotees, are liberating. In talking with Ramananda Raya, Lord Caitanya asked what was the most auspicious activity. Ramananda Raya replied, ‘the association of the devotees of Krsna is the only auspicious activity.’ I think we’ll all admit that our progress on the path back to Godhead is supported and enhanced by all the devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement. Without the association of Krsna`s devotees, there is no chance of our going back to Godhead, but by learning to associate with Krsna`s family here, we are being trained to re-enter a relationship with Krsna. Valuing the devotees’ association, we should cultivate personal friendships with them.
The very core of our existence is our desire to exchange in a personal relationship with Krsna. Indeed, the reason we exist is to exchange in that relationship to give Krsna pleasure. We know intuitively how to have personal relationships because we are originally persons, and Krsna is a person. Although we are now covered by fear, greed, lust and envy, and cannot engage in completely spiritual relationships, we have the guiding light of Prabhupada`s own example to show us our way back to true spiritual relationships. We need to follow this guiding light.
In this regard, I have some observations to share about our ISKCON family which I’ve learned from being a mother. I dare speak at all, not because of being a learned spiritualist or having a position in ISKCON, but simply because I have some practical experience being a mother and many things can be applied to our transcendental family. Many devotees disheartenedly refer to the institutionalisation and lack of spontaneity of ISKCON since Prabhupada’s departure.
Please allow me to make a generalisation here, knowing that a generalisation doesn’t seek to condemn, but to highlight a point: ISKCON as an entity has lost its heart and feeling in the search for order and organisation. To a large degree I feel it is because when we lost Srila Prabhupada’s personal presence, we lost not only our powerful leader, our founder-acarya, but a mother with a heart. Sometimes devotees affectionately refer to Srila Prabhupada as having the heart of a Bengali mother, and indeed, Srila Prabhupada cared for us like an affectionate mother. Our mother has an amazing capacity to love us, accept us as we are, respect and appreciate us. She may see our faults, but she has faith that we will overcome them and our higher traits will prevail. Sometimes her reassuring faith alone helps us conquer our lower nature. She gives us a sense of self-worth and makes us feel that we have a contribution to make in the world. When there’s fighting among the brothers and sisters, she knows how to pacify each one and maintain a co-operative spirit for the welfare of the entire family. If she’s a good mother, she`ll not only take care of us materially, but give spiritual direction as well. Prabhupada had more than a normal mother’s capacity for patience and love and we came to know him as our most intimate well-wisher. He brought a nurturing, caring, spiritual relationship which we so much needed. Thus, he gathered his followers around him in love and made the ISKCON family.
We’ve all seen that devotees join ISKCON because of a personal relationship they develop with a devotee. Naturally there was some introduction like receiving a book or seeing devotees on hari-nama, but mostly devotees have joined due to a personal relationship. We stay because of relationships we develop, or we leave if they are lacking.
Devotees who joined Srila Prabhupada in the beginning almost always relate that they joined because of the personal relationship they developed with him. A relationship with Krsna seems distant, even impossible or unreal, but the relationship we develop with Srila Prabhupada, even if at a distance, is not only real, it fills our whole existence. There is nothing else really attractive in the world when we’re in touch with Prabhupada.
Satsvarupa Maharaja relates a powerful experience that bound his heart to Srila Prabhupada. Maharaja had been visiting 26 Second Avenue but felt reserved about surrendering fully to Srila Prabhupada. He even passed up the first initiation. He relates that he wanted a personal invitation from Srila Prabhupada and that Prabhupada expertly caught him in the bond of loving affection by a simple gesture. Once, as Satsvarupa Maharaja was leaving Srila Prabhupada’s room, Prabhupada said, in a matter of fact way, ‘If you love me, I`ll love you.’ This struck Satsvarupa to the core, and he happily surrendered to Srila Prabhupada.
In this exchange and many others, Prabhupada showed us that our love is meant for Krsna’s devotees. Although ‘love’ isn’t generally accepted in ISKCON as a viable term except in relation with Krsna, Prabhupada didn`t hesitate to use it in relation with Krsna`s devotees . He expressed it freely and genuinely.
Prabhupada endeared us to him because he really cared about us. He loved and respected us and demonstrated it by practical activity. His feelings for us were genuine; they weren’t feigned or superficial. Even though he was so great and we were fallen, he used to ask us our opinion on matters. He would take the extra moment to notice us with his eyes and show that he knew us and loved us. He sincerely appreciated whatever little attempts we made to help him spread Krsna consciousness and he told us so. He liked being with us . He expressed concern when we were ill and he gave us practical advice how to get better. He sincerely empathised with our struggles in becoming Krsna conscious. To us, these were all signs of his genuine love for us.
We are not on the level of Srila Prabhupada and we cannot cause the potent change of heart which he did, but we can go a long way in increasing the number of Krsna’s devotees and keeping them, by being personal and sensitive human beings. Although Srila Prabhupada was an exalted paramahamsa, completely beyond this world, he was at the same time very much of this world, very much a real human being, and that was what was so attractive to us.
I want to share a story which exemplifies one of the most important qualities that could be improved among ourselves: ‘The Rabbi’s Gift’, from The Different Drum by Dr Peck.
A monastery had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. ‘The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again,’ they would whisper to each other. As he agonised over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot to his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. ‘I know how it is!’, he exclaimed. ‘The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.’ So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. ‘It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years’, the abbot said, ‘but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?’
‘No, I am sorry,’ the rabbi responded. ‘I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.’
When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, ‘Well, what did the rabbi say?’
‘He couldn’t help,’ the abbott answered. ‘We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving–it was something cryptic–was that the Messiah is one of us. I don`t know what he meant.’
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery. If that`s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Oftenvery right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Philip. Philip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Philip is the Messiah.
Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?
As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off-chance that one among them might be the Messiah, and on the off, off-chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which the hermitage was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So, within a few years, the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant centre of light and spirituality in the realm.
The purport here is that respect and appreciation for each other is the key in allowing the effulgence of spiritual relationships to shine forth and attract others. And how attractive are those relationships! Just consider our attraction to the Caitanya-caritamrta. Although it is full of rigorous philosophy establishing Lord Caitanya as non-different from Krsna, what most devotees are really attracted to are the very blissful relationships between all the devotees. Don’t we each hanker after these types of relationships?
There is no reason why our movement cannot be as attractive. The question may be raised: is it possible to have these types of friendships in a society that is made up of kanistha-adhikaris who, by definition, don`t know how to interact properly with devotees? Aren’t we simply pointing to the need to become madhyama-adhikari, devotees manifesting the twenty-six natural qualities of a devotee? Yes and no. Obviously we can`t overemphasise the importance of sadhana-bhakti: chanting sixteen rounds, following the four regulative principles. By advancement in Krsna consciousness, we automatically develop all good qualities. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t endeavour to act on the platform of ladies and gentlemen, of Vaishnavas. Indeed, my experience and firm conviction is that a little awareness and adjustment in our attitude and outlook can make a big difference.
In Dr Peck`s extended studies of communities, he gives repeated examples of how the average non-devotee has applied principles of gentlemanly behavior and attitudes to build communities. Therefore, we don’t have to become pure devotees to develop friendships and relationships centered on Krsna that will attract the whole world to Krsna.
Here are some details about personal development of attitudes and behavior in our relationships. I derived the following list from studies of community development combined with the qualities of a devotee. You can use the list to contemplate regularly in your personal attempt to improve Vaishnava sanga in your community.
Attitudes needed for development of relationships in community
1. Being conscious of others
2. Good communication
3. Appreciation and respect
4. Transcending individual differences
5. Honesty and humility
8. Resolving conflicts gracefully
1. Being conscious of the needs and emotions of others
The beginning of a relationship is acknowledging that someone exists and that they, like us, have needs and emotions. Of course, this may seem so obvious as to be insulting to even state it, but it is with amazement that I note how we operate at times completely oblivious of another’s existence. Most of us tend to focus on our own needs, often at the expense of the needs or emotions of others. We may not even be conscious of offending or hurting another devotee.
The key here is being conscious. Just as Krsna consciousness begins by being conscious, so does developing the requisite skills of interpersonal dealings. We need to become aware of how our behavior, attitudes and interaction with other people affects them. All our interactions have some kind of effect, positive or negative. If we’re lucky enough to learn we offended someone, then we’re at an advantage to correct the situation. Take the opportunity to address the mistake. Don’t let it slide! Sometimes a simple apology is all that is required to mend the relationship. Leaders of our Society need to take special care to see that this is done. Bridge the gaps, heal the hurts, be real people. As with anything, the first step of improvement is understanding the problem and admitting that it exists.
An important builder of being conscious of others is putting ourselves in someone else’s position. Taking a moment to reflect on the feelings of another will bring out natural qualities of a devotee, like compassion, empathy, humility and love.
2. Good communication
It is significant that the word ‘community’ has a similar root as the words ‘community’ and ‘communion’. The root word ‘communis‘ means having something in common. Krsna is the common factor among us. Communication creates communion – or spiritual fellowship – in a community. These three are inextricably linked, and communication is the element that sticks it all together. Communication is the most important feature of community. It creates and sustains community. In fact, it is the basis of all social interactions in the community. With honest communication, one can achieve miracles; without it, even with the most attractive philosophy, we won`t be able to develop a lasting community.
I have specifically entitled this attribute ‘good communication’, to indicate that there is a difference between good and bad communication. Good communication is best fostered when we understand a few important aspects of communication. Firstly, it must be two-way. One-way communication is totally ineffectual. Therefore, the type of communication that just passes a message down from husband to wife, parent to child, leaders to rank and file, does not serve the purpose of being a relationship builder and thus it’s likely that those on the receiving end are dissatisfied, perhaps to the degree of being rebellious. When we learn to allow the communication to flow back in the other direction, strength is brought to the exchange. And, most importantly, we learn, because everyone has something to offer.
The most crucial aspect in allowing communication to flow back in the opposite direction is listening. Listening has been claimed to be one of the most undeveloped, but most essential skills in communication. So often this is a major cause of a marriage collapsing or unrest between followers and leaders. If someone feels he’s going to be judged, he won`t be open. If he senses that we don’t value him as a person he won’t speak. If we can’t sympathize with him, he won’t share with us.
Listening openly doesn’t mean we give up our ability to discriminate right from wrong. Listening openly means being broadminded enough to be open to other viewpoints, realizing that I may not always be right. I listen without passing judgement and I listen with respect and empathy. It means that we have enough integrity to respect others wherever they happen to be on the spiritual path. We clearly understand the standards of Krsna consciousness and practice rigidly ourselves. We preach to them and try to encourage others, but with the utmost respect, knowing that we don’t have to play the judge in their lives. Without this attitude true communication becomes impossible.
We all know what it’s like trying to communicate with someone who’s already judged us or who is unsympathetic with our views. It’s an unfruitful endeavor for both people. Real communication is worth working for. It is possible, it is satisfying, and most importantly, it is absolutely necessary for harmony and progress.
3. Appreciation and respect
We could spend a long time on the importance of appreciating others. Srila Prabhupada demonstrated its importance by personal example and he emphasized it in his preaching. Even though he was such an exalted devotee, Prabhupada always saw the good even the smallest of us did, and he wanted his disciples to have this vision also. He wrote to Tamal Krsna Maharaja in 1968, ‘Your appreciation for the service of your Godbrothers is very much laudable. This is actually a devotee’s business that everyone should appreciate the value of other devotees. Nobody should criticize anyone. Because everyone is engaged in the service of the Lord, according to one’s capacity, and the thing is, Krsna wants to see how much one is sincere in rendering Him service.’
It isn’t that we should respect the devotee with a big position and not the devotee with a little position. If we take the time to consider each devotee’s contribution and what we need to do to spread Krsna consciousness, it becomes quite easy to appreciate the value of each devotee. Prabhupada wrote in letters that each and every devotee was very important to him. In fact, in one letter he wrote that we were all limbs of his own body. How important we all were to him! Let’s reflect on that more often, and see that Krsna, too, appreciates the service of each devotee. If we remember this, we’ll appreciate and respect all our godbrothers and godsisters irrespective of position or status. And if we are humble about our own position in Krsna consciousness we can see that others have just as much to offer as we do.
This quality is important for all devotees, but it can be especially difficult for managers to acquire. Several years ago, I was managing the schedules of about twenty lady devotees. As usual, the amount of service outweighed the ability of the available devotee power, so I always felt a strain in covering all the duties. I noticed that I tended to judge a devotee`s worth by how much service she did. I didn’t think highly of one young mother in particular who spent most of her time taking care of her daughter. I had calculated that she should be doing a lot more to help out. In fact, I started categorizing everyone I was dealing with: good devotee, not so good devotee, and so on.
One day, one of the most reliable stalwarts fell ill and it looked like she would be ill for a while. I didn’t know how to help her with her illness and I was certainly hard pressed for time to do so. The devotee I had bad feelings for took it upon herself to nurse the sick devotee back to health with special medicines and prasadam. She’d been studying herbal medicine and natural cures, and had a knack for treating devotees. It seemed like a little thing, but I gained a powerful realisation. By Krsna’s grace I saw very clearly how wrong it was to pass judgement on devotees. Each devotee, each living entity, no matter how insignificant, has something valuable to offer the Krsna consciousness movement, even if from our little perspective we don’t know what it is. Each devotee has a special place in Krsna’s family and I realised I wasn’t someone to deny them that, even in my mind. While I still fail at times, I remember the lesson the young mother taught me and I become a little humble and correct my mentality.
The inability to be equal to all is perhaps the most serious violence we can commit and has already created havoc in our movement in various ways. At times we see antagonistic distinctions between Prabhupada’s disciples and disciples of other gurus, between men and women, renunciants and householders, leaders and rank and file devotees, core and congregation. Who’s better and who’s lesser. We think that whoever has a position must be more advanced. But this type of elitist mentality will destroy our movement.
Prabhupada told us that there is no force in the world that can stop our movement’s progress – except one. Our movement can be destroyed from within. A controversy surfaced in 1976, between the grhasthas and sannyasis, which concerned Prabhupada very much. Prabhupada patiently waited to see how we would deal with the controversy, but as the conflict continued, he felt that it wasn`t being handled properly, so Prabhupada stepped in with words of advice. He highlighted his deep appreciation for all devotees, even the small ones. One time, while reflecting on the repercussions of that controversy, he pointed out that he could not reject the love and devotion offered in making a small decorative item on his desk. He said that it was his responsibility to help everyone serve Krsna and he commented, ‘Party politics will spoil everything’.
Historically, Prabhupada pointed out how this type of mentality caused a serious decline of Vedic culture. Prabhupada explained that the Mohammedan population in India was not imported from other countries; they were converted from among the lower classes of Hindus. There had been a mass conversion because the brahmanas, being arrogant, would treat the sudras badly. The sudras were not given facility for spiritual culture because the brahmanas monopolized it. The brahmanas kept the sudras downtrodden and because they were neglected, they didn’t see a reason to remain Hindu.
Making distinctions of better or worse is extremely dangerous when dealing with devotees (or potential devotees as seen in the story of Dhruva Maharaja). We can`t afford to lose any devotees to this narrow view and a simple dose of honest appreciation will control this tendency. One practical way to increase our appreciation is to openly glorify devotees. In one temple on the East Coast devotees got together for a session in which they each glorified one another’s good qualities. Devotees said they would always remember the uplifting experience. Even if we don`t do it in groups, we can each make a commitment to glorify and appreciate the good qualities of some devotees every day. Just as the Goswamis offered obeisances to devotees a fixed number of times daily we, too, can take vows to openly appreciate the devotees we know and work with every day. It will go a long way to improving our own attitude towards our godbrothers and godsisters, and it will benefit those who hear it.
One devotee in San Diego compiled a book of many devotees, How I Came to Krsna Consciousness, and when reading that book it’s hard not to appreciate just how exalted each person is. Every one of us has to overcome many obstacles and be very determined to join this transcendental family. Let us not forget how special each devotee is.
4. Transcending individual differences
If there was one prominent focus a community should have, based on the findings of Dr Peck in his book The Different Drum, this is it. Dr Peck studied communities of many different sizes, simple groups of people, large institutions, and so on. In all cases, he concluded that the most important attitude for development of community is the ability of the members to appreciate the differences brought to the community by the individuality of each person. The differences shouldn’t be seen as a threat or something to overcome, but should be seen as valuable.
I recently had a discussion with Burke Rochford, a sociology professor at a university in Vermont. He has done a couple of surveys on ISKCON, written a book about the movement, and has a personal interest in how we are raising our first generation. In fact, he recently taught for a week at the gurukula in Alachua. We were speaking about the tensions that exist between the core of our movement and congregation (sometimes manifest as tensions between the householders and renunciants). He commented that in his opinion the most crucial issue for our movement right now is how, or if, our members can learn to face the differences (between statuses or asramas) without being critical. Can we turn petty differences into progressive discussion? Can we build bridges instead of creating greater gaps. I found it interesting that he immediately pointed to our ability to transcend the differences among us as the central issue of our progress.
Transcending individual differences doesn’t mean ignoring the natural differences in varna and asrama or not observing the roles each of us needs to play. It means to go beyond the differences we find in our varying views and different abilities. To a large degree it means simply appreciating the differences between us as gifts. Some will be book distributors, some will be renunciants, some will be mothers. Not everyone will see eye to eye on every topic in Krsna consciousness, but these are the differences which make us the International Society for Krsna Consciousness.
Prabhupada taught us that differences are natural and desirable for serving Krsna. He would often point out that even among the most elevated devotees, the gopis, there are two opposing camps with differing views on how to best serve Krsna. He said that acaryas even sometimes disagree on certain points. It is all right and to be expected.
Let us learn to embrace the differences as valuable to Prabhupada’s movement. Let us give up our critical, condemning attitudes. The best way to achieve the transformation of attitudes is by being committed to coexistence. Committed to Prabhupada and to each other. No matter what the difficulty or the differences, I will remain participating in Prabhupada’s movement through thick and thin.
Prabhupada taught us that a devotee is straightforward in his behavior. Honesty really shouldn’t need much explanation. Sometimes we think that diplomatic dealings are laudable when used for the benefit of the Society. Most of the time this strategy tends to back-fire –perhaps sticking to straightforwardness is best.
Just as each devotee must be attentive to self-improvement by self-examination, so too, the community needs to be attentive to improving itself. In order to maintain individual and collective spiritual health, we have to be self-critical, open and thoughtful to the feedback of others. Self-examination for a community naturally occurs when individuals within the community speak out. We should not see this as antagonism or negativity, nor should we ignore the feedback. It is an important chance for improvement and we must always be vigilant to take the opportunity to move forward.
Only devotees can feel true empathy because we understand the original position of the spirit-soul and how far the soul has strayed from that position. Because a devotee is naturally soft-hearted, his compassion for others is easily aroused. A devotee sympathizes with the suffering of all living entities. Although it should be natural for us to empathize with our fellow godbrothers and godsisters, it’s surprising how much we refrain from expressing natural empathy for their struggles or pain. Again, the point needs to be made that we should express sentiments in our relationships.
8. Resolving conflicts gracefully
As everyone knows, conflicts naturally arise; they cannot be avoided. We are realists and a realist will face conflicts or discrepancies head-on. Still we must deal with each other with utmost respect.
So, these are some essential building-blocks for real community among the devotees. When we take practical steps to apply these attitudes in our life, we will see an immediate difference around us. In my experiences in dealing with my son or friends, whenever I become aware of problems it usually takes time to get the resolve to do something to change my behavior. But as soon as I make even little attempts, I see noticeable results in my relationships. I also know best where my shortcomings are. Sometimes I’ll take a minute to evaluate where I’m weak and then think about how to improve my next interaction with another devotee. One time a devotee explained to me how she dealt with her husband who was an especially difficult person to get along with. She knew that whenever she had to exchange with him there would be problems. She decided to make sure that all encounters were as smooth as possible and to achieve this she decided to premeditate on being courteous, accommodating and surrendered before she saw her husband. She knew when she would see her husband next and would take a moment to mentally prepare herself for any exchange that may occur. So there’s nothing wrong with being thoughtful about our dealings and we can make little practices like this.
There is nothing revolutionary or novel about these things, but at some point we have to decide that it is important and then do something about making changes. As I mentioned earlier, much of what we’re talking about here are changes in our daily lives. As one devotee suggested, the importance of building relationships and friendships needs to be preached strongly in our Society alongside our constant reminders to chant sixteen rounds and follow the four regulative principles.