By His Grace Aniruddha Dasa
In 2004, we had half a dozen book distributors participate in a marathon. Then, in 2005, we had 40 book distributors participate and 35 were householders. Of course they are not doing huge book distribution, but it all adds up. They are going out on weekends. One of the devotees came to me before I left for India and told me about his method for distributing books. Every morning he gets on the tram and sits down beside someone and tries to give them a book. He does the same thing at night. He may distribute 1 or 2 books per day but over the period of the year, he may distribute several hundred books. In one sense congregational preaching is madhukari, you take a little bit from a lot of people. And that little bit added together, multiplied many times, actually becomes a lot.
I think it is important that the leaders of our society put effort into training and educating the congregation because we have discovered how effective it is, especially if the leaders themselves are the teachers. There is this concern that if we train up all these people and they have home programs they won’t come to the temple. But what we have actually found is that if you put the time in to training, educating and making friends with these people, then naturally they will respect you and they will be happy to support the temple.
There is nothing like the prasada you get in the temple. So if we put our effort into having a strong temple program and plentiful and opulent prasada distribution, then people will keep coming back. As they come back you can train them and cultivate them nicely. The congregation, as I see it, is like a sleeping giant. If you wake him up, you have unlimited potential to do a huge amount of preaching.
Congregational preaching should not be underestimated or ignored. If you ignore the congregation, and don’t bring them to their full potential, you will have real trouble. They are just like everybody. “Hey Prabhu, I want to do devotional service. Please engage me in devotional service.” When they have ideas to go and preach, let them go and preach! They might make some mistakes, but that is how we learn. Then they become mature and grow and become an army of devotees. On Janmastami we have 6,000-7,000 people coming in one day, which is quite a lot of people for a temple outside of India. We have about 300 volunteers who are all coordinated by the congregational devotees. I don’t have to worry anymore about what is going to happen on Janmastami. Krishna is providing all the resources. We just have to recognize and make good use of them.
Preaching to the congregation requires a shift in mentality. His Holiness Devamrita Swami Maharaja mentioned that we must preach as if the person we are talking to is a better devotee than me. In other words, preach to the person in terms of the devotee that they can be. So many people have so many talents and if they can use all those talents in Krishna’s service, then they will get purified. Many of the people coming to our temple have a Masters degree or a Bachelors degree. They’re not stupid people, so we should preach to them in an appropriate way.
Developing the congregation may take time. You have to plant the seed, water it, protect it and as you cultivate and nurture it, it will grow into a healthy plant and produce fruits. Even the fruits take some time to mature. You have to see people in light of their potential and not what they are at the moment. This is actually how Srila Prabhupada preached to people.