The Early Days
During the early days of the Hare Krishna movement, spiritual life was perceived as meaning to live in the temple as a full-time devotee. The word “devotee” referred to someone who was living in a temple and engaged in temple activities full time. Those who lived outside were referred to as “karmis”. That early phase of ISKCON was probably unavoidable. Srila Prabhupada had just started the movement in the West where practically no one had any idea about Krishna Consciousness or devotional service. Therefore, such commitment and involvement was essential.
With the passing of time, the outlook changed – the attitude of the movement broadened and those who were unable to become fully involved for various reasons were also included. This movement is meant to spread all over the world, therefore just a handful of devotees living in the temple could not possibly be the extent of the worldwide movement. As a matter of fact, over time, it became obvious that the vast majority of the devotees would be living outside the temple and that we would have to structure our organisation accordingly in order to grow in an appropriate way.
This development took place naturally as many brahmacharis changed to grihastha ashram. At first families lived within the temple, but as families and children grew, more and more grihasthas had to move out to make arrangements according to their needs. Gradually other people living outside in their households also started to join and their number increased.
Today, the devotees living outside of the temple far outnumber the full-time devotees within the temple. Because of this development, the Krishna consciousness movement has grown with a tremendous speed. Today in ISKCON we see that many householders, though living outside the temple, are maintaining strict spiritual standards, chanting 16 rounds every day, following the four regulative principles, and taking initiation. In this way, they are strengthening the foundation of our movement. They may not be able to participate in temple activities on a daily basis, but they come to the temple on the weekends and render various services regularly.
It is not easy to maintain a household nowadays. To earn the money to maintain one’s family practically compels grihasthas to work for 40 to 60 hours per week. Unless and until one earns a certain amount, he is not going to be able to maintain his family and oftentimes both husband and wife have to work in order to make ends meet. It is admirable that in spite of such busy lives, grihasthas are still chanting 16 rounds, maintaining a nice standard of worship at home, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books and training their children to become Krishna conscious. Through their exemplary commitments, they are, in one sense, the pioneers that are paving the way for the ideal Krishna conscious householder community in our society.
The beginning stage of any development naturally faces various difficulties, because proper arrangements are not there to facilitate the participants. Srila Prabhupada had wanted committed householders to lead a life of simple living and high thinking through the development of farm communities. However, due to the complex economic structure of the world today, it is very difficult to become fully self-sufficient in a farm community. Many families tried to move to the country with good intentions of maintaining themselves through cow protection and farming, but most were not able to maintain such a life and eventually had to leave to find a better financial situation. Through the trials and errors of those pioneers, our movement is learning and has real hope for realizing Srila Prabhupada’s vision. Hopefully we will come to the perfect situation where householders can live life within our community without having to depend on outside sources of income. Many spiritual organisations have succeeded in that endeavor, most notably the Mormons. However, it is important to remember that it took the Mormons hundreds of years to come to the situation they are in today. So eventually with time, ISKCON will also have an ideal situation for householders where children will be educated within our own educational systems and later find employment within our institutions, thus being securely situated both spiritually and materially.
In the meantime, before we can have a perfect situation for householders, it is the duty of the monastic order to give them full encouragement. Even though grihasthas may not be engaged in daily services in the temple, they are very deserving of our respect as a very valuable part of our community. We have to utilize their talents and abilities for the propagation of Krishna consciousness. They should be motivated and trained to become active preachers and spiritual leaders. In this respect, we can closely follow the lives of various exalted householder devotees of the past. Of course, during Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s time, the social situation was not as complex as it has become today. In India at that time, life was very simple, food and other necessities were in abundance and the attitude of the people was also very generous. That is the advantage of living close to nature. However, today’s world has drifted far away from that lifestyle and as a result household life has become so complex. Therefore we must recognize that in spite of such pressure and responsibility, the individuals who are maintaining their Krishna consciousness in their household situation are indeed great devotees and deserve our heartfelt appreciation. For their sake, our movement has to sincerely consider how to create appropriate situations to properly utilize their valuable time.
One of the best ways to motivate householders is by genuinely recognizing their contribution to ISKCON. It is our duty as ISKCON leaders to guide those who are earnestly involved in accepting and propagating Krishna consciousness and engage them according to their talents and the needs of the movement. Let us give congregational preaching the importance that it deserves. Let us recognize that this is the most powerful tool for the propagation of Krishna consciousness all over the world and let us not hesitate to give it all the support it needs to become a very solid foundation for our movement.