Congregational preaching

By Jayapataka Swami - 8.11 2017

Srila Prabhupada was given the whole world as his frontier for preaching. He wanted to fulfill Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s prediction that His holy name would be spread all over the world. Prithivite ache yata nagaradi grama / sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 1.117). Srila Prabhupada traveled the world eleven times, published volumes of Krishna conscious books and established 108 temples and centers. Everything was a massive success.

Srila Prabhupada was the pioneer who paved the way for the future of Krishna consciousness. Millions of his books were distributed, yet at the same time he realized there were not as many devotees to match the numbers of books that had been distributed. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada said, “Training is needed.”

That training is fulfilled by congregational preaching, which emphasizes small group cultivation of people, and training in the principles of devotional service. He wanted to see Krishna conscious communities develop all over the world. His vision was that people will practice and preach Krishna consciousness from their homes. The congregation can help preach alongside and support the temple preaching in various ways.

“Make Homes Into Centers”

Congregational development is an untapped field that presents new opportunities for all kinds of preachers,. It incorporates a systematic method for contacting and cultivating new devotees and engaging them in service. New people and potential devotees should, as far as possible, be brought into the loop, their details taken and follow-ups commissioned. As Srila Prabhupada said, we have to fan the fire and cause it to burn.

In the developmental stages of Krishna consciousness, new members can serve from their homes, and participate in programs at the temples. Everyone can be engaged in congregational development; everyone can be a part of the rich programs that bring in new devotees. There are possibly over one million people already in the Krishna consciousness movement. Yet we must ask ourselves, “Is everyone engaged? Particularly, is everyone engaged in bringing in new devotees?”

It is very important that people utilize their talents and abilities to give other people Krishna consciousness. This was the mood of Lord Caitanya. This is what He told the brahmana in Kurmaksetra.

“Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krishna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.”

—Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 7.128

The Lord instructed His follower, “Stay in your home and make your country people Krishna conscious. You do not have to become a sannyasi.” This is the idea motivating congregational preaching: It is spread by those empowered by the mercy of Lord Caitanya. If the Lord desires, a devotee is able to tell people about Krishna consciousness. And there is no limit to Lord Caitanya’s mercy.

Every devotee should be engaged in spreading Krishna consciousness. There is no limit to how many people can become involved and we need to get everyone involved. Everyone should see that they have a very important part to play in developing Krishna conscious communities.

People in many parts of the world are not so favorable to organized religion due to previous negative experiences. When congregational development is at the forefront of the preaching, however, people can be taught how to practice in their home, a pressure-free environment. After that, it is up to the individual to determine how much he or she wants to be involved in organized temple programs. The home can be made into a suitable place for practicing Krishna consciousness. The point is that everyone should practice Krishna consciousness. Krishna consciousness is a very open process – at any place and in any circumstance, everyone should chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and read Srila Prabhupada’s books.

As one becomes more and more Krishna conscious, the temple festivals and preaching activities become naturally more attractive. Sometimes people are allergic to Krishna consciousness because they think that joining the movement means becoming a monk or living a monastic life. Of course we have that option for people who want to live as monks, but we also have the option for people to practice Krishna consciousness from their homes. Srila Prabhupada said you do not have to shave your head or join the temple. Krishna consciousness is very relevant to everyone. Congregational outreach programs bring new opportunities and new challenges. These programs save people from illusion and contamination from the material world. Krishna consciousness gets rid of the binding illusion of the material world and liberates us from material identification. We need to give people this contact with Krishna consciousness, and this is where congregational development becomes essential. Congregational development reaches out to people in various ways and gives a range of options for a variety of prospective devotees.

Another important aspect is that as the congregations grow, it becomes difficult for the temple presidents and temple devotees to care for the congregational devotees. Temple devotees have time-consuming services, deity worship, and the routine work of the temple. Caring for the congregation and training them can be done by the congregational members themselves. Helping the congregations to develop is a very exciting aspect of preaching. The more devotees are trained and inspired in Krishna consciousness, the more effulgent they become. The more active they are, the more instrumental they become in spreading the sankirtana mission..

Sometimes we do not know how to engage new devotees, especially devotees in the congregation. But the idea is that everyone can be a preacher. Lord Caitanya told the brahmana to be a preacher. Anyone can share what they know; even new devotees have something to share. They can tell their relatives, friends and neighbors about how wonderful Krishna consciousness is. Every man, woman, and child has the potential to be empowered by Lord Caitanya and do service for the temple and for the conditioned souls.

Many senior devotees have experience in the temple and in congregational preaching but don’t know how to engage their talents and abilities in expanding Krishna consciousness to meet the demands of the times. This wealth of experience can be actively utilized in congregational preaching. I know some devotees who have their own Nama-hattas or Bhakti-vrikshas and they engage their time in cultivating people in Krishna consciousness. One example is Matsya Avatara Dasa, who has his own center in Italy for training people. (Prabhu’s testimonial is included in this book.) Some devotees may preach in a big way, and some may preach in a small way from their home. By “preaching” we do not mean in a negative, pushy way. Effective preaching means sharing information and distributing our wealth of experience to help new people see the value of taking up the process of bhakti-yoga. Congregational preaching offers a wide range of opportunities for devotees to help people go back to Godhead. If one person goes back to Godhead, then the person who helped them gets a free ticket to the spiritual world.

We know that when we help others come to Krishna consciousness, our own spiritual progress is increased. I know some families who were living in an environment unfavorable to spiritual life. But when the family worked together to spread Krishna consciousness, the whole environment changed. The family members became preachers, soldiers in Krishna consciousness, serving in Lord Caitanya’s army to deliver the conditioned souls.

Another avenue where congregational preachers may have considerable influence are yoga and vegetarian societies. Millions of gurus and organizations promoting different varieties of yoga and vegetarianism. People are interested in things that are favorable to a Krishna conscious lifestyle. Hare Krishna devotees can try to make bhakti-yoga attractive to them. We can propose, “Why stop at hatha- yoga when you can go for the topmost yoga, bhakti?” This is an opportunity for our devotees to bring practitioners of other types of yoga to higher levels.

Congregational development was the original preaching program of Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada

Srila Prabhupada mentioned that Lord Caitanya did not personally establish any temples. Lord Caitanya spread the congregational chanting of Hare Krishna by preaching everywhere He went. Lord Nityananda started the Nama-hatta. But even before Lord Nityananda and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu started the sankirtana movement, Srila Krsna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami described in Caitanya-caritamrta that Advaita Acharya, Srivas Thakura, and the Vaisnavas of Nadia district held meetings in the devotees’ homes. From Sri Caintanya-bhagavat (2.111) we find that Srivas Pandit and his brother loved to chant the names of Hari in his house.

After Lord Caitanya went to Sri Jagannath Puri, He sent Lord Nityananda to Bengal to start Nama-hatta. Then there was a gap of four hundred years. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura revived Nama-hatta and wrote about the importance of congregational preaching. He had over five hundred Nama-hatta groups all over Bengal. These groups were more developed than what we call Nama-hatta today. Some of the groups would meet daily. Bhaktivinoda Thakura required that every full-time member of the Nama-hatta visit five homes per day with a flag in their hand. The name of the flag was the “Victory Flag of the Holy Name.” The devotees would go door-to-door and chant Hare Krishna just like the original followers of Lord Caitanya. This style of preaching is very good for learning how to surrender to Krishna.

The Nama-hatta groups were called prapanna ashram (a center of surrender), and the homes that were Krishna conscious were called sraddha kutirs (a home of the faithful). Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura developed very extensive programs to involve people in preaching and, with his followers, organized different festivals called maha-utsavas.

Later, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati took over the birth place of Mahaprabhu and formed a matha. He established 64 temples and preached in London and Bangladesh. He said book distribution was the brihad mridanga. Book publication was most important in his vision, yet when he gave his final address to his disciples, he conveyed a more holistic view of the preaching: he talked about the importance of developing the Gaura Mandal parikrama. He stressed the importance of devotees serving the holy dham. Book publication and distribution and Nama-hatta preaching will bring more people into the Mayapur parikrama. With the development of Sri Dham Mayapur and increased book distribution and Nama-hatta groups, congregational development will take on even more importance.

Preaching Is the Essence

The Congregational Development Ministry is trying to develop different strategies to stimulate the preaching work. These preaching methods can be standardized, copied, refined, and perfected. Some of the preaching programs were developed by devotees in the field. Some approaches (like the cell-program) already existed, and we adapted the method to suit our Vaisnava tradition. Some things were done by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu 500 years ago, and we are continuing in the tradition He established. And, of course, we are always trying to improve in every respect. Presently we have many Nama-hatta groups, and the devotees are holding kirtana, lectures, and distributing prasada. One of the interesting priorities is identifying and recognizing Krishna conscious families. We want to give them recognition by calling them Sraddha Kutirs. We need millions of Krishna conscious families in the world to be bases for Krishna consciousness.

The activities of many groups will be discussed in this book so that readers can understand the different systems in summary. Of course, if one wishes to delve deeper into any of the subjects, The Bhakti-vriksha Manual and the Congregational Preaching Journal are available from our Ministry library and give more detailed information. In The Nectar of Congregational Preaching some of the programs that will be discussed are:

Nama-hatta

Sadhu-sanga groups

Counselor groups

Bhakti-vriksha

Various temple-based programs

Sunday school

Sunday Feast

Outreach programs

Prison preaching

In the future we are certain that new ideas will arise as devotees become more and more determined to spread Krishna consciousness. The different kinds of preaching are like links in a chain. Books are the basis, preaching is the essence. To pull people out of material suffering, we need a strong chain of different kinds of connected preaching. We want to pull this civilization up. We want an ISKCON where congregational preaching is very strong. We need many expert preachers. For that purpose, we have compiled this book. We hope that people take some inspiration from it, get a vision from it, and get some ideas about what they can do within their realm of congregational development.

What is congregational preaching?

Even after many years, a clear understanding of congregational preaching has yet to emerge in many devotees’ consciousness. Many devotees seem confused, even mystified, about what congregational preaching is. They are not able to grasp that what has actually developed in this field is relevant to them. Congregational preaching is relevant to every person in the Krishna consciousness movement. It’s a basic necessity for us to preach. We hope that The Nectar of Congregational Preaching will provide basic information about the field. We seek to clarify what congregational preaching is and give an overview of many of the basic programs. We hope that all of the mysteries will be revealed and that devotees will become part of the inner circle by reading this book. We want that preachers and devotees at all levels get a taste of the nectar by reading this book.

We have compiled testimonials of various senior devotees, sannyasis, preachers, gurus, and devotees who have direct, hands-on experience in congregational preaching. We have tried to address the following questions:

What is the importance of congregational preaching?

What are the highlights?

What are the experiences of the devotees in the field?

What are their needs?

Where are we lacking?

It is important to hear from the congregational field preachers, the people who are actually serving as congregational preachers as their primary service to Lord Krishna. When we read their realizations, it’s enlightening for all of us. What do they feel? What do they experience? What are the challenges that they face? What are the goals that they have? We hope that some of these questions will be answered in the following pages.

Sometimes Srila Prabhupada criticized inactive Hindus who just believe, but don’t practice defending, propagating, or protecting their own religion. We want to avoid a static congregation. Static congregations don’t help spread the Krishna consciousness movement, don’t help support the temples, nor help in saving the conditioned souls—this is what we don’t want. There’s a need for engaging everyone in congregational preaching. We want dynamic congregations in every temple. We want congregations that are actively preaching and are empowered, enlivened, and enthusiastically bringing in new devotees. We want congregations that are supporting Krishna conscious programs to their capacity. Everyone has their different capacity. Many devotees have household duties, and it is understood that there will be a limit to the amount of time they can give. But there’s a need for everyone to identify themselves as congregational preachers to make a bigger community. We need everyone to give some time and some energy to make it all progress.

In 1972 or 1973, Srila Prabhupada urged the English devotees to reproduce the wonderful book distribution results of their American godbrothers. The boxes of Krishna books and The Teachings of Lord Caitanya filled the book room at the Bhaktivedanta Manor and devotees were wondering how they could distribute so many books. Tribhuvanatha Dasa, who was very enthusiastic about Hare Krishna festivals and who had been very much encouraged by Srila Prabhupada, became concerned that perhaps he should stop the festivals and simply distribute books instead. When he expressed this to him on a morning walk, Srila Prabhupada quickly turned around, struck the end of his cane on the ground, and said very firmly: “No. Everything should go on simultaneously – side by side.”

Temple devotees should be trained in congregational preaching so that they can make new devotees from people who don’t fit into the temple devotee profile and make them part of the congregation. We have options to offer. Everyone should know what those options are and the methods by which we identify whether a person is suitable to be a temple devotee or is better situated as a congregational devotee. Then we can preach accordingly.

Hare Krishna,

Jayapataka Swami
Minister, ISKCON Congregational Development Ministry