Chakra Discussions

Attract Newcomers By Preaching And Harinama

by Satyahit das

Posted December 21, 2005

Since this Chakra is an open discussion for Krsna-conscious topics, there is some open discussion. Bhaktin Sara began one such discussion with her posting Holy Prasadam -- please don't waste!

One time early on I had written the Honolulu temple president about a vision for spreading Krsna consciousness on the isle of Oahu, utilizing a country agricultural ashram for new people in order to engage them in producing fruits and vegetables and thereby to have another ashram for some new people who might not be acceptable in the city ashram. I think the Honolulu temple has tended to be centered on collecting laksmi over the years, rather than being centered on expanding the number of devotees by various means of simple preaching programs.

When we prepared fresh bhoga and distributed prasadam from the Honolulu temple to take to the homeless in Ala Moana park for the last four years, I did exactly the same as the devotee Jashoda Dulal das mentions in his article On Wasting Prasadam, as had those before me. (This seems to be a reaction to articles saying that cookpot leftovers such as rice should not be reheated.)

I went out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays without fail, did the food preparation, serving-out and cleanup of the pots and the truck. That was approximately 620 days distributing Food for Life, sometimes feeding 80 people in a single day. During the last year I was assisted by Robert Gunnerson, who served out the prasadam while we held kirtan using drums, electric guitar, kartals and a microphone. As a rule, the temple devotees never joined us for kirtan at the park. They used to say that we were simply "feeding the bums," which was certainly not the case. Many people accepted books from the prasadam truck, and many of these people engaged in Krsna-conscious conversations over the years. We would take the overs that were day-old and suitable, mix them colourfully, as Jashoda Dulal prabhu said, and distribute them. This has been done for the last eight years from the Honolulu temple. Many times, however, we cooked spaghetti or rice with vegetables. Often there were also many leftover sweets, or we made fresh cookies, cakes or pies.

After some time doing Food for Life, I thought I should also have some salary at least to pay for my $40-monthly bus pass, so I was given $115 per month for my service. Although I had been earning zero salary, the previous president had warned me in a formal letter that if i kept a $5 or $10 donation I should be expelled from my service, as it was considered "stealing from the Deities." That is after I had washed and painted the entire temple twice, at a time when I had been more enthusiastic about this temple's expanded future. I have had to accustom myself to living apart from the ISKCON devotees here, since I have been working seven days per week. I had hoped for more of an emphasis on daily Harinama sankirtan, but that is not the temple's focus. I have found that associating with devotees who are very interested in laksmi collection is practically as painful as associating with nondevotees.

One weightlifter devotee here, who doubted whether Lord Chaitanya even existed and who has lived in the forest the last seven years, used to come and consume two or three plates. After three years he told the president that the food was "rotten," and he stopped coming, although it was the same food. For Jashoda Dulal prabhu to suggest that devotees had served "rotten food" shows uncritical acceptance of what is, in my opinion, a false statement.

Devotees who were colourful or "different" were not tolerated at this predominantly Indian temple. During the four years of my service there, at least three non-Indian devotees were asked to leave the ashram, including Malati prabhu, an older Prabhupada disciple and an adult gurukula alumna. While admittedly colourful in their own ways, they were also conscientious in their service. This is another reason why a country ashram would likely have expanded Krsna consciousness in Hawai’i.

As Jashoda Dulal prabhu pointed out, the Honolulu temple has an ambitious college program of selling prasadam, for which apparently someone outside is paid a salary for his service. Currently, the temple has about five devotees who each collect about $250 a day while distributing books in Waikiki. It appears to be a very lucrative business. Since I left, apparently, a $4 fee is now charged for guests at the Sunday love feast, which further emphasizes the "laksmi consciousness" of this temple. Mike, a former participant, told me that Food for Life no longer distributes food on Wednesdays and the time spent serving has been reduced to less than an hour. To their credit, however, the temple still maintains a free Food for Life program on Mondays and Fridays.

Jashoda Dulal prabhu asks newcomers to come from the icy cold of continental North America to the warmer climate of Honolulu. They are short-staffed since many devotees have left the temple over the last five months. Gregory Kirk's article Where are all the Bhaktas? seemed to point out a similar problem at the Toronto temple, of which I also was a part when Srila Prabhupada was with us.

Indradyumna Swami is quite a different phenomenon in ISKCON, because it seems he makes thousands of new devotees in Europe and spreads the movement there tremendously, as in the old days. His spirit is infectious, as was Jayananda's, and as was the spirit of Tribhuvanatha prabhu, the devotee in England who joined at 17 having been an orphan all his life, and who pleased Srila Prabhupada very much by helping to spread Krsna consciousness enthusiastically all over the globe until he passed away on Oct. 16, 2001.

If we wish to expand the number of devotees, we need to maintain and expand the Harinama and preaching programs in our movement. I remember one time chanting alone with kartals at a bus station in Buffalo. A young long-haired man came up laughing, but still he repeated the maha-mantra. Fifteen years later at the Los Angeles temple, he asked me: "Do you remember me?" He was by then living there as a householder. We may similarly not realize the great effect of our devotee-centred Harinama programs for many years.

In the early days of the movement, we served Srila Prabhupada out of inspired love, as many still do, and there were always many newcomers. The visa green-card business, now often used to attract newcomers for free labour, had not become popular at that time in ISKCON. Nowadays, devotees generally come from India or Russia, etc., get their green card and leave, unless they are earning sufficiently at the temple. (If they are distributing books and earning around $250 daily that is sufficient, or if they are paid to work there as cooks, etc., also receving free room and board.)

Simple devotees are enthused by programs which are centred on preaching rather than on collection of laksmi. That is what Srila Prabhupada taught us to do.