Where Are All the Bhaktas?
Posted December 11, 2005
Having come to ISKCON in the early 90's, I wanted to share a little of my journey that I know is individual but not isolated. I want to encourage all who read this not to read it with me finding any fault or blame and without criticism, and some will say "Oh! its just his karma", but I am not directing this to any one temple or anyone in particular.
I am wanting just to share the experience and some thoughts , especially with those who have or are going through similar experiences. I wanted to share with new bhaktas in particular, but I hope this gives some inspiration to any devotee who finds difficulty or disappointments on this glorious path. Yoga of Love, Bhaktimarg, which we come to know as the path of nourishment, pusti marg.
I myself, like us all had received the mercy of one of Srila Prabhupada's books. They affect each of us in our own way, where as for me it's touch having the efficacy of wanting to drop everything and run and find him, to talk to him, be in his presence. I had so many questions for you, Prabhupada.
A quick digression here, one of my 1st of Prabhupada's time bombs was given to me by an employee. Someone gave it to him .."the guy wouldn't let me go until I took it"..he told me. Having the misfortune of not reading it himself, he brought it into work and it was on his desk. I said "cool book" and he asked if I wanted it. Life and story of Ajimila. I took it and read but with little obvious impact on my life at the time. The obvious change wasn't until I read 'Chant and be Happy' that had sat on a book shelf of a friend of mine for years and after I read it I carried it with me pretty well everywhere I went. One day while on our main street, I was reading the book and as I sat there on the side of the street reading and thinking about everything Prabhupada was talking about, then in what seemed to just appear out of nowhere, Ratha Yatra was coming down the street.. I heard the devotees chanting and saw the chariots and then I saw what I thought was Prabhupada physically. I flipped the book over to examine his picture and thought "That's him..I have to meet him..I can't believe it!". You can imagine the excitement was just flowing ..wow! So I then followed the procession to our center island and the rest is history....it brings such a smile and makes me laugh till I choke up sometimes at the thought.
As I continued reading his books and listening to his tapes, I felt as if Prabhupada was talking to me personally, as I do today, for he has such a way of making it so personal. I wanted to share my mind and heart with him. Thinking how loving he must be. How gentle he must be, how knowledgeable he is, as I have come to understand that he is and was when he was physically present - as expressed by those who served and knew him personally.
I am fortunate to have found the devotees, his disciples and grand disciples but it was disappointing to say the least to find that he has left us physically. I thought "Ok, well he has his disciples what more could I ask for?"
The way Srila Prabhupada clarifies everything in his teachings, makes it so wonderfully understandable and warm, and again, personal. It was only natural and expected his representatives would exhibit and possess the same gentleness, loving and caring qualities.
Shortly after my Ratha Yatra experience I was a new temple resident. There was no bhakta program, no introductory manual for the new bhakta, no welcome wagon per say. Recognizing that I have a responsibility for my own spiritual life, I felt "How can I grow with out being given the tools to nurture it?"
I have to state, without minimizing my fortune, that throughout my stay no one invested or gave the time to ensure I knew what the purpose is/was behind particular activities or functions that I participated in, other than what I could guess or understand in our books and the classes or by the examples given that I could interpret. I found that no one ever asked if I was doing ok with the transition, asked if I was feeling comfortable in my new situation or about my health, physical or emotional. No one gave the sense of caring or sensitivity that I found in Srila Prabhupada's life work and that we should and could expect from the devotees anywhere and everywhere. I can see this is not realistic in this day and age, but I know is possible.
My initial experience was isolating for a new bhakta and at times in the hands of the leaders, quite impersonal, which reflected in the congregation. It can be confusing in that type of atmosphere... demotivating really, and when this taste accompanies the experience, as it did at times for me, it was so very easy to embrace old habits and old associations. Finding that with old friends and in maya I was always more than welcome.
I certainly do not want to give the impression that all of the experiences I had can be said to have been negative or bad if you will, on the contrary - but I want to share that I know very well the lack of concern sometimes given to our overall well being by those whom we see as senior and in management positions or recognized as leaders, but surely I was given a broom and mop.
In the ashrama environment many things need to be done like any family situation nothing can be neglected, which I agree and I am always willing to participate, but in saying that I feel the knowledge base for me to have had a solid grasp in understanding why I was doing what I was doing was neglected... and having that understanding which is a necessity to advancing, not just spiritually but to form the foundation and knowledge base that's a must for the neophyte devotee.
We all need a solid spiritual platform to work from but all too often we see a common shared experience and repeatedly we see and hear how this is an important element that is missing. Not just the do's and the don'ts. But a rounded program with how's and why's.
Without sincere and soft hearted leaders we can see the effects are adverse and work in reverse. We can have the training in place, but it can come from a loving hand not necessarily a heavy hand.
The monotonous "don't do this, don't do that". How is this constructive?. I can add in most cases it's not... its destructive!. A poor understanding, regardless of training will make havoc in our lives and create many offenses.
We all know too well the influence of kali yuga in this age of hypocrisy and quarrel, that not everyone gets along, seeing eye to eye. His Divine Grace had a few situations that come to mind that demonstrated this for us all, he also set the example in dealing with such matters.
Many times Srila Prabhupada has stated that we can make it difficult for someone to stay or to come back to pick up their spiritual lives. How unfortunate for us all when this happens.
Like most of you, I am fortunate to have found those that I love and trust. It is stated in so many of our literatures that if we are sincere Krsna will send those we can take shelter of and find devotees that bring out the best in us. We should be sure to never give up hope (even in a process where hopelessness is a symptom of humility - of course that is not the type of hopelessness we are addressing here). Of course, this is easily said, but perhaps not always easy to keep in mind when at lows in our lives. It's not easy to maintain the determination when we find ourselves in an oppressing or depressing environment. By the grace of Srila Prabhupada, their Lordships and the devotees I continue to find fortune, with the right devotees that contribute with love and are concerned about my spiritual well being and life. Needless to say devotional life is not without it's hardships, but I find renewed strength by the association of those around me, their warmth and sincerity.
The test of our own sincerity and determination comes in all shapes, sizes and ashramas. The mind will accept and reject but in our heart lies the real measurement. Having faith in Srila Prabhupada, Guru and Gauranga, seated within our hearts we should not forget they are listening and directing.
My intention is to give hope to those who feel down and perhaps hopeless at times. To say that we can expect a loving, nurturing environment when trying to give up our karmi lives is too much to expect- It's not. It just has to be sought with all our heart and soul.
We are all bhaktas..not too dismiss or minimize "sadhu sanga" but seniority doesn't always mean advanced. We can find even in those who may not be pure devotees but that are sincere, that they may offer the greatest association for advancing ourselves.
Asking myself as I am asking us all, If we can't look at the person beside
us in the ashrama- nay, the world - but particularly in the ashrama and the
community and be able to truly say, "Yes I care about his/her well being and
spiritual life" then where is the goodness? Where is the compassion? Where
is the love? and with all this in consideration, Where are all the bhaktas?!