By His Grace Aniruddha Dasa
Four core activities are found in every ISKCON community: book distribution, prasada distribution, harinama and deity worship. These programs are our outreach. So as long as we are doing these activities, we will attract people to Krishna consciousness.
Not everybody is going to live in the temple because the temples are not big enough, for a start, and also because the householders have to have jobs to maintain themselves. If they are sincere devotees, then they will always have an interest in Krishna consciousness. A natural consequence of our preaching will be that we will attract people to participate in our communities. So we cannot ignore the fact that we have congregations. It would be like ignoring your right or left arm—you cannot do it. My realization is that this group of people is actually our most valuable source of inspiration, of participation and of involvement. Congregation members are active in preaching, book distribution, chanting Hare Krishna, and prasada distribution. The devotees we attract to Krishna consciousness—whether they live in the temple or whether they live outside the temple—will naturally want to engage in the activities that Srila Prabhupada encouraged us all to perform.
To not take advantage of the resources or to neglect cultivating the congregation is foolish. It’s a natural development of preaching, and of course it has to be managed properly so things develop in the right way. We expect a service attitude from those who live in the temple. We should see the same service attitude manifest in anybody else who is a sincere devotee. That has to be cultivated.
We have to learn to respect everybody. It is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s instruction that we should respect everybody, what to speak of our members. But we as leaders of communities have to learn how to educate and train these people just as we do with the people who live in the ashram and who work in the temple environment. When you treat people with respect and you put the time into training and educating them, the end result is that you get solid strong preachers who will contribute. Contribute means more than just giving donations. People will want to give time to do service. Also, there will be congregational devotees who will participate at a higher level of devotion. They will chant 16 rounds, follow the four regulative principles and become quite strong and active preachers.
One of the most important elements of congregational development is training and developing the people Krishna sends to us. I have noticed in the Melbourne temple over the past couple of years that since we’ve started holding Bhakti-sastri and Bhakti-vaibhava courses, that the devotees develop more faith and knowledge of Krishna consciousness. Next they become more enthusiastic to follow the process of sadhana bhakti. They become very enthusiastic to preach. In our situation, for example, we have probably 1,500 members who at least give one contribution a year, but many times they give more often. Our Sunday Feast program is managed by the congregation. The temple devotees don’t have to worry about preparing the bhoga or distributing it. Even the cleaning is done by the congregation members. The Sunday Feast is cooked by the temple devotees and the householders, and the prasada is served out by the house holders. I don’t have to worry about anything.
In terms of following-up on new contacts, we collect names and addresses. We have our Bhakti-vriksha leaders take 30 of the names and addresses of people who live near them, and they ring them up and invite them to Bhakti-vriksha programs. We find out if people have changed addresses and clear our database regularly. We have 4000 people on our mailing list. Out of thirty people, you might find five families keen to come to a Bhakti-vriksha program. They do a study of Bhagavad-gita, Science of Self-Realization, or one of the smaller books. These new people are being gradually cultivated in their homes by senior preachers. At the moment our goal for this year is to double our number of Bhakti-vriksha groups.