Developing a Vaishnava Community?

By Bir Krishnadas Goswami:

My specialty is developing Vaisnava communities. I am trying to form communities based on the example of community that we have in Fiji. Devotees form extended families. All the devotees are like a family. If someone needs help, the devotees go to help; maybe financially, or if someone is building the house . . . in every way. Devotees invite each other over for prasadam, which is very nice. Women know how to cook, and they always have guests. Vedic culture is based on cooking. In the Upadesamrita of Rupa Goswami, there are descriptions of six kinds of love. Prabhupada says that our movement will spread because of these six symptoms. This is culture; it is in the sastra. People share everything, and sharing starts with prasadam. Prabhupada said that family life means that before sitting down to eat, a householder goes out in the street and calls out to see if there is anyone who is hungry. Prabhupada stressed that this is a culture of sharing, especially sharing Prasadam (food). This actually builds community; a model of sharing, a model of helping each other. Many people join because of social structure – because of friends because they like people who are in the Hare Krishna movement. Preaching is also a kind of sharing, the sharing of philosophy with people, rather than “preaching”. It is sharing of Krishna consciousness.

We need a nice, warm family atmosphere if we want to make devotees. It is essential to build a community to make a large number of devotees. Taking over the Earth should be our goal; Prabhupada was thinking big.

In many cities where they had a temple, the whole Krishna consciousness society became centered on the temple only. They installed more Deities than there were devotees in the temple. In America there are many more Deities than there are devotees. Then the temple becomes a burden, and people forget about the preaching, forget about the community. They preach against the community to maintain the temple. They preach to the devotees in the temple not to get married because they think that those devotees have to stay in the temple. Collect money, do this, and do that. In some places the temple is actually slowing down the spreading of Krishna consciousness. With the development of congregation, temples will naturally come about. Temples will manifest naturally when there is a congregation, and when members of congregation give part of their income.

How to form a community or build a community? The Bhakti-vriksa program is good for that. A family atmosphere, a group atmosphere comes when there are small groups of 10-15 people maximum.

How to start a community? With a small group of 10 to 15 people and regular association. Every member of the small group has to have some responsibility for others. Responsibility means that they have some responsibility towards others. Just like in the Chowpatty temple’s “Mentor Program”, every person is responsible for someone else. “Each one teach one. “We are actually responsible for one another. Personal relationships are based on feeling for others and being responsible for them. This is how to start a community. We do not need the temples to expand. Temples are places where communities meet and worship together, but a building will not make devotees. The greatest treasure that we have in our movement is its people. There is no stability without community.

A community is mainly formed by grhasthas since they are the stomach of the society. Brahmacaris are the legs, grhasthas are the stomach, sannyasis are the head. In varnasrama culture if the stomach does not function properly, everything else becomes disturbed. Ninety nine percent of the devotees become grhasthas, and this is an ashram where we need to concentrate on with regard to developing communities. Householders are stable. Brahmacaris and sannyasis are not stable. They may be stable spiritually, but not materially.

How To Structure Our Weekly Meetings
The best structure that I have seen is the bhakti-vriksa structure. This structure means that you meet and sit in a circle and look at each other. This helps in developing mutual relationships.

The first thing that you do is something what we call “ice-breaking”. This means that everybody says something light, so that the atmosphere becomes relaxed. You can say, for example, what was the worst thing that happened to you last week. Everybody in the circle says something. There is a certain time for everything, and the ice breaking takes about 10 minutes.

Then you can all bring out your japas and chant one round together. This develops the group spirit even more. This takes about 10 minutes. After that, you can all have a kirtan or bhajan for about 20 minutes.

After that the leader reads some text from some part of Prabhupada’s book, and then those present discuss it going in a circle. Everybody discusses what it said, what it means and how to apply it in his/her life. This is called discovery. This is actually refreshing because everyone gets a chance to talk, not only some puffed up sannyasi who is sitting in front of all of you. It is announced in advance which part of the book will be discussed, and in this way everybody is forced to study, to prepare. In general, we all love to read some stories. Most of us will not read until we are forced to read, because this is philosophy. However, philosophy becomes interesting when you talk it. This all takes about 45 minutes.

After that, you can talk about how have you been preaching to others during the week, how you have been distributing prasadam, how you have been talking with somebody whom you have met and given them Krishna consciousness, and how to invite somebody into the group. You can always think about inviting a guest to your group. This can take 20 minutes.

After that you honor prasadam.

If you keep this structure, it will actually keep the group together and encourage people to preach Krishna consciousness.

This is one part of bhakti-vriksa. The second part is that everyone in the group is appointed to take care of somebody else, to be responsible for them. I am responsible for you during the week. I call you on the phone and ask you whether you are chanting your rounds, whether you have some problems. In this way a personal relationship is established. In English we call that “each one teach one”. Another name is mentor. Everyone has a mentor. In this way you always feel responsible for somebody.

… all the other devotees are saying, “Oh, they are in maya”, but nobody calls them to ask them what is wrong…

Without such a structure things become a little impersonal. Many devotees are leaving the Society because nobody calls them on the phone, and all the other devotees are saying, “Oh, they are in maya”, but nobody calls them to ask them what is wrong. That means that it is very important for the devotees to take responsibility for taking care of other devotees.

We can call other people to the meeting as guests. But before someone joins the group, you have to be sure that they fit into the group, and that they commit themselves to come to every meeting.

When someone comes for the first time, should he sit in the group or by the side? By the side. They can observe and participate, if they want, but most people are too shy. It can be hard for them to comment on the texts from the sastra. They can chant with the group, but they should not feel pressure.

The principle is that a small group does not have more than 15 people. If there are more than 15 people, then the group has to break into two or three groups. And every group has to have a leader who is responsible for the whole program. If there are more then 15 people, then there are some in the back who never participate and they feel very discouraged because in every group there are people with big mouths who take over the whole group, and poor innocent people sit in the back. The leader has to take care, so that the people with big mouths do not dominate. This is called group facilitating. This is the most difficult thing for the leader to do.

…That means that it is very important for the devotees to take responsibility for taking care of other devotees…

How To Cooperate Properly
This means, first of all, that we need to hear from others. There has to be an exchange of information and thoughts. Even if you are a leader, you have to be able to listen to others, to hear when they reveal their minds and to actually take this seriously.

Karmis sometimes say that God gave us two ears and one mouth. Therefore, we need to use our ears two times more than our mouths. For me it is a very important principle to hear from the devotees when I work with them. Our job as a leader is to make it easier for them to become Krishna conscious. Instead of preaching, we have to share Krishna consciousness with those with whom we have contact. This means that you hear from people. You have to ask them questions, and hear where they are in their Krishna conscious life and what they actually need to hear.

Preaching means that you have to adjust your preaching according to time, place and circumstances. There are different listeners for whom you need to adjust your preaching. Therefore, you need to see who you are speaking to; you need to be compassionate.

You have to respect the individuality of each person. This is a leader, a real leader, a servant leader.

You have to respect the individuality of each person
Not that you have to do what I say, because I am the president. Guru can say, “I am your guru, you have to do this!” However, once you say that, you lose your authority. If you have to exert your authority in this way, you have lost it, because our movement is based on cooperation, love and trust.

As Srila Prabhupada was speaking, “We should not act in such a way as to destroy or harm individual initiative.” This means that we have to engage people according to their nature, which means that we have to ask them questions. Prabhupada would often ask people, “What would you want to do for Krishna?” Then he would engage them accordingly. However, to regard everyone as fitting the same mold is not good for the devotees in the long run. Therefore, we need varnasrama. Prabhupada said that 50 % of his mission is not fulfilled, and this means varnasrama. Varnasrama means that everyone has a different nature, and that he needs to be engaged in Krishna’s service accordingly.

Concept Of Dharma – A Path To Happiness
In the Vedic system there was a concept of dharma. Dharma basically means to do the right thing. This was the central focus and everything was structured around the idea of doing the right thing. Even if someone was not completely Krishna conscious, he or she wanted to be good and to do the right thing.

In today’s society you practically never hear “You need to do the right thing!” They are teaching us, especially through the advertisements, to do what pleases us. I remember the year 1960. The hippies had a motto, “If it feels good, it is good for you.”

There are so many deviations from moral principles today because people do not have a concept of duty. We have to be attached to the concept of dharma, and this means that we do what is right. Although in many cases this may not be transcendental, it is the basis on which a transcendental practice in this world is built. Nobody can be Krishna conscious if he is breaking the four regulative principles. There is no way; it is simply impossible.

You will not be happy trying to satisfy your desire. You will be happy trying to satisfy Krishna’s desire.

If we follow dharma, then we will be successful. We will go back to God. We should always be attached to these principles of dharma. We need to train the mind to do the right thing regardless of what the mind and the senses say, which is of course a sentimental platform. We have to consider things with intelligence. The platform of intelligence means to be fixed on sastra, scriptures. Then, every time we make decisions, every time we do something in this world, we will consider everything through the eyes of sastra, sastra-caksu. We will ask whether something is good or bad, and not whether I like it or not. The main thing is what Krishna wants.

The same is true in my private life. When I make decisions in life, I always think what would Prabhupada want me to do. I try not to think of what I would do. The attitude of a devotee should be to accept everything favorable and to reject everything unfavorable. If you want to make progress, you have to function in this way. You have to accept everything, which is helpful, and reject everything, which is not helpful. You will not be happy trying to satisfy your desire. You will be happy if you try to satisfy Krishna’s desire, Krishna’s will. This is dharmic, doing only that what pleases Krishna, “Hrisikesa hrisikena . . . ” Exactly this is what will make you happy. If you do what is pleasing to you, you become miserable because you are under the control of the three modes of material nature. On the other hand if you are controlled by bhakti or love, obedience is the beginning of love. If you are controlled by that, by the spirit of dharma and obedience, you will be always happy. You will be free from the three modes of material nature.

The Role Of A Leader; The Attitude Of A Leader

Leaders help and facilitate the devotees’ becoming Krishna conscious.
A real leader is a servant leader. He respects the individuality of others.
A real leader listens to hear what the other person needs, so that he can actually help him.
Leaders lose their authority the moment they say’ “I am your authority,” or “you have to do this!”
Our movement is based on cooperation, love and trust.
Individual initiative should not be destroyed or harmed.
Engage the devotees in Krishna’s service according to their nature. It is not good to force.
One should ask questions, “What would you like to do for Krishna?” [Part 1 of 2, part 2 to be continued in next issue]


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