Humility in Preaching
Posted September 22, 2010
I sometimes get the impression in the Hare Krishna movement when we go out to preach, that some people think everyone we meet is sinful, destined for hellish life, and that by us being there sharing the holy name, we save them from so much misery.
I understand that the holy name is very powerful and that some people are suffering due to lack of spiritual knowledge. Nevertheless, do we have the right to judge others and assume that everyone besides Hare Krishna practitioners are destined for hellish life? There are many people from all religions and all walks of life devoted to God. Any form of devotion is beneficial for the soul. We learn in the Vedas that not everyone is in the mode of goodness, and not everyone will take right away to Krishna Consciousness, and in that case any form of sacrifice, worship, or devotion to God is beneficial for the soul. Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-Gita that it is better to be a sincere street sweeper than a charlatan meditator, and in chapter twelve of the Bhagavad Gita we read about many different levels of practice one can do - following regulative principles, always thinking of Krishna, working for Krishna, or simply offering some charity. In other words, we need not think in extremes, that one either chants Hare Krishna or is destined for hell. Rather everyone is on a personal, spiritual journey and there is a middle road one can follow to make gradual spiritual advancement, and some people are already following that middle road.
I work a regular job and interact on a personal level with the world outside of ISKCON. I have not found it to be true as I was preached to that everyone is a karmi whose association should be avoided. I have met people outside of ISKCON who inspire me in my spiritual practice, who are wise, devotional, and compassionate. I have learned from and been inspired by Christians, yogis, Jewish people, Muslims, and more. Not everyone out there is living an extreme sinful life. According to my understanding, Srila Prabhupada was not out to convert people but rather asked people of all religions to follow God's laws such as giving up meat and chanting any bonafide name of God. People we meet on the streets when we do harinam or book distribution may be vegetarians already, may be sincere practitioners of another faith - we really cannot judge just by looking at someone - and I personally think it can be a risky attitude to have to think that we are saving somebody from hellish life, but rather we can see it that we are going out to preach to purify ourselves, and to be an instrument to pass on a message and if Krishna wants to help that person, He can help them.
When I meet a Christian street preacher who looks down upon me as one destined for hell, I feel turned off. I wonder how they can judge me when they do not see my daily life, know my heart, or know of my spiritual practice. People can sense the attitude we have when we go out to preach. We need to be careful to not give off an air of superiority or judge people just by looking at them. Some qualities that attracted so many people to Srila Prabhupada were his humility and respect for others, We can try to follow this mood of his. When we pass out literature or go on harinam we can attempt to form a personal connection with the people we meet or speak with, and inquire about where they are in life, and what they are seeking spiritually, so we can assist them in their spiritual journey rather than "save" them.
In conclusion, let us be aware that there are people from all religious faiths devoted to God, and that we cannot judge people without knowing them, or assume that everyone besides us is destined for extreme suffering in this life and the next. Some may be, but others are already on a spiritual journey making gradual advancement by following the rules and regulations within their own scriptures.