Chakra Discussions

Teaching the Public

by Bhaktin Sara

Posted June 6, 2007

I am a little confused about something. I don't understand why people sometimes get kicked out of temples or discouraged from doing service. All I can do is give my perspective, whether it is right or wrong I do not know. My perspective is coming from the profession of school teacher - maybe a bit idealistic - where we take courses on how to be compassionate and understanding educators, believing that everyone has the potential to learn.

Imagine you are a teacher of some little four year olds, and a new student comes from another country who does not know anything about the culture of America - the language, the dress, the customs - this child simply comes to learn.

Imagine the teacher and the other students get angry at this student because he does not know how to act like an "American" and instead of welcoming him into the classroom to learn, and patiently trying to teach him, they just kick him out and the teacher tells the other students not to make him feel welcome, because we don't want our classroom to be disturbed. To me this does not seem to be compassionate at all but very scary!

I think one obstacle is that there may be conflict in the temple being a living quarters (home) for many practitioners of Krishna Consciousness, versus being a place of education for the general public. A public place of education (like a school for example) has the legal obligation to teach anyone who enters. Their purpose is simply to educate the public. A home, on the other hand, serves the purpose of providing food, shelter, and a place of safety and comfort to its residents. It is natural to draw some boundaries on who can enter into your home. I also would not just let anyone sleep in my home. So it seems the two conflict with one another - on the one hand we have a duty to educate anyone who is interested in the practice of Krishna Consciousness, and on the other hand the temple residents have to also be happy and somewhat peaceful and may not feel comfortable welcoming everyone into their "home".

So what to do? Which is more important? What is the function of the temples - to educate the public, or to give comfort to the already practicing devotees? Can both duties be met simultaneously or do they conflict with one another? Does it actually benefit the temple residents to exlcude others from temple life, or would they benefit more by welcoming others who don't fit the bill and thereby increase in tolerance and compassion?

Do we need to open up separate Krishna Consciousness centers for educating the general public, and have temples and ashrams only be for those who want to follow a certain standard? (Like the Christian Scientists have reading rooms for the public, and the Mormons have Institutes for learning separate from their temples). There just seems to be confusion over where to invite new people, especially those who may not fit in with temple life but still have desire to learn about Krishna.

I recently met one lady who got kicked out of the temple in the late 1970's for sticking the thread of a flower garland in her mouth (she was trying to make the needle go through). Luckily she had a sense of humor about it, but she has not since returned! Who knows how her life would have been different if she had been encouraged in devotional service rather than kicked out!

Another man I recently met was given the impression back in the late 70's that he had to choose between "joining" the movement and going back to school. He wanted a career and family so he returned to school. What if he had been encouraged to do both? How would his life be different today?

Temples are beautiful places and I am so grateful to have easy access to darshana, kirtana, devotees, and prasadam, but lately I am wondering where to invite new people who want to learn about Krishna in a safe, slow, organic, westernized way - who are not ready for temple life - like a kindergarten classroom where all are welcome to learn the basics, and grow and make mistakes. Any ideas? Is this actually a serious concern in our movement?