It is very common and natural that devotees visit each
others' programs. Actually that gives new life to everyone.
But it can also be a problem. Therefore we should try
the following guidelines in this respect.
1. Every devotee visiting should be first approved to stay over night with the respected appointed authority.
2. Devotees should only visit other temples with the desire to help to improve the temple.
3. Devotees can be received for one or two nights free of charge. After that, they should pay a daily rate set by the temple Board. Temple Presidents of other temples should stay for free and be asked to deliver lectures.
4. Devotees should be eager to help the temple they are visiting in some way.
5. If any discontent is revealed to a visitor by some resident devotee, he should carefully avoid taking sides, but rather humbly inform the local authorities about that devotee's feelings. In the past some devotees visited temples and tried to take devotees away from that temple to their project, encouraging discontent secretly and thus causing great disturbances. This is an offense to the community. Only after the agreement of two leaders should one devotee go to another project or exchange service with some other devotee.
6. Never forget that your critic is your real friend and that those who flatter you are actually not good for you. Therefore if a visiting devotee dares to comment on something he considers could be improved, then we should at least carefully consider whether Krishna is sending a message through him to improve our service. That is practical humility.
7. Make sure that visiting devotees do not keep valuables lying around to avoid the embarrassment of any theft of their goods.
8. Always lock away all valuables. It is a great disturbance when anything disappears in an Ashram.
9 .Try to help visiting devotees in whatever they may need locally, but do not allow yourself to be exploited by them. If they ask to much, do not hesitate to tell them your limits. We should always keep happy relationships and even in the presence of conflict maintain our happy and peaceful mood. There are so few devotees in the world. Let us try to get their mercy and make them happy, but at least not have conflicts with them. Those who misbehave will appreciate that you corrected them in a loving and understanding way.
10. Be careful with your telephone. All long-distance calls must be carefully monitored and written into a book. Noone likes to pay others' phonecalls. Local calls may be exempted, but actually noone should give expenses of any kind to the deity, who is the owner of everything in the temple.
The Temple President and other Temple Presidents or leading devotees
It is very important to show respect to other leaders in this tradition. We will see that real devotees always try to show the superiority of other Vaisnavas. They are never envious of others qualities. On the other hand those who are still unfortunate will try to show their own "superiority". Always have special seating arrangement for older devotees, and other leaders. Teach your temple members to offer seats to senior devotees spontaneously. Keep contact with other presidents. It keeps us on the ground to learn from others and to get help from our friends and brothers. The greatest illness is the thought that we have got nothing to learn from anyone. That will make our temple unattractive for intelligent devotees.
Let visiting Presidents feel how happy you are that they grace your temple. Invite them to offer new ideas to your service. Try to cooperate with their needs. Charity is a great quality. We should always, within the frame of our possibilities, help other temples. This mentality will only bring blessings. Srila Prabhupada told us on numerous occasions. "World fist, your temple or zone second".
The Temple President and other preaching programs in his city related to his spiritual master
If in the same city of your temple there are further
projects of other god brothers, that is very wonderful.
1. Have regular meetings minimum once per month to discuss how to preach better in the city and resolving any little conflicts which may arise.
2. Remember that a temple should be in every part of town and that we need unlimited preachers.
3. Never talk bad about the other temple to the congregation. If any problem cannot be resolved, please refer the situation to the spiritual master.
The Temple President and other preaching programs in his city related to other spiritual masters
The principle of Unity in Diversity is the backbone
for a growing Society full of Krishna Consciousness.
A group may at some point grow so much that no one
leader or Guru can adequately take care of all it's
individual needs. Thus the spiritual tree of Lord Chaitanya
has provided us with it's branches stretching mercifully
around the world to counteract the passion and ignorance
which keeps souls tied to Maya. Thus it may easily
happen that in one city many different spiritual masters
start their missionary work, such as in Mayapur where
so many temples stand side by side
Obviously, relationships are something very personal and also depend on how the different spiritual masters of different missions relate to each other. Nevertheless we should not forget that the majority of friends and members of our congregations are not highly prepared to distinguish between one mission or another. There should not be any unfair competition between Vaisnavas. That will create the offense of Vaisnava aparadha which can make us even lose our spiritual life.
Actually the only acceptable competition should be to try to be more loving, humble and service oriented. If any soul is destined to find his spiritual master in your mission it will definitely happen, and you can do best by representing your spiritual master's dignity through your own qualities.
When you meet with members or friends of the other missions who are not antagonistic to you, be very comforting and treat them as Vaisnava guests. If they exhibit unfavorable attitudes, understand that they may have been misguided and are innocent at heart. Therefore still exhibit your natural Vaisnava humility, and pray to Krishna to enlighten them.
The World Vaisnava Association has been started among other reasons to help cause association and communication amongst different Acaryas and their missions. Those who do not accept the validity of other Vaisnava preachers very obviously disqualify themselves, and such narrow-minded, sectarian view points are better keep at a safe distance. Srila Sridhar Maharaja instructed us that if someone declares: "I have it... I have realized it all. My Guru is the only real one" etc. We should rather keep a distance from that camp. This is the material world and there will always be those who misuse even the highest mercy.
Recently I read in a paper the advertisement of an esoteric Ghost Guru promising to be the expected Avatar. In Germany also I saw that some so called spiritual group is offering seminars for becoming an Avatar in six weeks. Sometimes people with such a mentality even sneak into the Vaisnava community and try to reap some mundane results.We should be very careful to respect all those who try to spread the holy names around in this world though, regardless of what personal realization they may or may not have, unless they openly subscribe to the practice of Vaisnava aparadha or teach things which severely contradict our siddhanta.
The Temple President and the national council
It is wonderful to have many temples in one country and it will require certain cooperation between temples to try to organize programs which go beyond the capacity of one single temple. Also there are considerations of national concern such as book production, festivals, accounting and national permits of public relations.
This is an excellent opportunity to share and associate with the other devotees. We should always remember ourselves to be servants of the other Vaisnavas. The national council also represents your spiritual masters wishes. We should try to relieve our spiritual master from too many managerial responsibilities as much as possible. But this is only possible if we do things properly. Always keep the spiritual master informed on the changes you are making. Unless he is pleased, how can we make any progress. One should be careful not to think himself independent from the blessings of the Guru or the other leading preachers.
Every temple should present to the national council an inventory of the property of his temple. Decisions made by the national council should be considered law, unless they are revoked by the spiritual master.
The Temple President as an inspiration for future Temple Presidents
We should train others to become excellent leaders. That is easily done if we let other good devotees share in our decision making. They should be members of the Vaisnava council and all important topics, including financial ones should be discussed there. Try to give opportunity to future leaders to go through many types of services, so that they can gain personal experiences in the various fields of responsibility.
Let them study this book. Every temple meeting is a
nectarine study on how to make everyone happy in the
community and how to deal with all kinds of impediments
Be proud if your temple members become so enthusiastic that they also desire to expand the mission taking personal responsibility.
The Temple President as the servant and not the master
It cannot be repeated often enough. Temple President means servant of the community. Both those who live in the Ashram as well as the external devotees and the general population are to be served by the Temple President. Otherwise what other purpose could it have to take a leading responsibility in the community of God's servants. That must be felt by everyone. Thus everyone will like the Temple President and be enthused to participate in devotional service, helping the temple. A temple is not an elitists breeding ground. Whatever is special in the Vaisnavas will be seen in their service mood, their kindness and their all forgiving attitude.
Srila Prabhupada served his young disciples in every aspect of life What better example could their be? His love and tolerance changed our lives. He even cooked and served us Prasadam. Always aspire to be like the pure devotee and you will be guided to act properly. Sometimes it is necessary to take the position of the authority in order to teach others the right path. That is love. Like a father has to chastise his child sometimes, the Temple President will be strict against abuse of Krishna property. At the same time it is his responsibility to not lose his temper and to protect the fragile plant of the devotion of the involved devotees and friends. It is sometimes good to let other devotees do the correcting while the Temple President rather keeps the enthusiasm protected. We should be careful not to chastise anyone in public. That will burn their spiritual enthusiasm. Srila Prabhupada once told to a devotee who had made the mistake of embarrassing another public: "You have killed that devotees chance to come back."
We should be so extremely careful not to turn anyone away from the devotional path. The wife of one Temple President dreamed that Srila Prabhupada asked her why she was making abortions. She insisted that she had not had any abortion. But Srila Prabhupada insisted, saying: "Why do you commit so many abortions?" In desperation she repeated to him that she had never had an abortion. Then Srila Prabhupada told her: "Then what about all these girls you are driving away from the temple?" As a matter of fact, she was very jealous and was mistreating any visiting girl, because she was afraid that her husband the Temple President would be attracted to them. Just imagine; a visitor to the temple who has the opportunity to take his spiritual birth. It is his chance to leave the circle of birth and death. And you are the one who could help her delivery. But it is neither easy nor automatic. Your mercy will be required.
We often hear the stories of enthusiastic preachers out on Samkirtan, but when someone new dares to step into the temple, he finds only busy signals from the Vaisnavas present there. Why do we go out to preach if not to bring the souls into Sadhu Sanga? Thus we should make arrangements on all levels that our preaching is well organized on all levels. The receptionists duty is foremost in a temple. He has to be kind and sweet. A real preacher at heart. The receptionist of the temple must have the character of a professional hotel receptionist; and no one who comes to the temple or calls should feel turned down in any way.
The Temple President shares the preaching opportunities
Preaching is life. Preaching is nectar. We all have
the mercy to participate in this wonderful engagement
of our senses. Sometimes a Temple President dominates
the preaching and the kirtans in a temple excessively.
They forget that all should be trained as preachers
and for that, practice is required. The older devotees
whom have lives outside the temple should not be forgotten
either, otherwise they will gradually become indifferent
to the temple. Here are a few suggestions on how to
deal with the distribution of classes and kirtans.
1. Try to make a plan for the whole month. Fill it with a variety of lectures from different, good preachers. Give titles to the classes. Cover different books and compose a little leaflet and poster of the month programs.
The plan can be distributed on Hari Nam and the poster can be hung regularly in special bookstores and public places to inform the public about the cultural programs in the Hare Krishna Cultural Center.
2. People do not take us seriously until we present ourselves us such. That means the lecturer should be introduced in the poster with a full respectful title.
In addition, it is necessary that the lecturer be introduced to the audience by another devotee who will say something very nice about his service and importance in the community. It is also necessary to have a second devotee whose exclusive service is to protect the class from noise, see to it children are not running around, and properly recieve the elderly and disabled. Such persons should be taken to a sitting facility like in the cinema, without creating a disturbance to the running class. Water for the lecturer should be supplied before class. The same counts for the book, songbook and tulasi plant. The books should be placed on a respectful table higher than the speakers legs. All this is quite important.
3. Every night many visitors repeat, but the class is quite repetitive to accommodate newcomers arriving for the first time. That is quiet boring. Many times devotees and repeat visitors come to join the evening class. If possible, every temple should have two night classes in different rooms. One is the introduction class and one is the advanced class. This also gives a chance for more preachers to participate.
4. In addition, your community should offer regular weekly or monthly meetings such as:
Vaisnava matajis meeting.
Children in Krishna Consciousness. Vedic culture education. This service can also be offered to the friends and to the Indian community.
Vegetarian cooking classes.
Vaisnava theater meeting.
Vaisnava music classes. Learn Mridrunga and Kartal. Form music groups to glorify Krishna.
Vaisnava artists meeting. ( Harmony school of Conscious art).
Other special interest meetings which will lead people to closer contact with the Vaisnavas.
The Temple President and admission of new ashram members
Different standards have been applied to receive new members in the Ashram. It is not an easy decision to make. I myself came to the temple with the desire to stay immediately. Mercifully the devotees received me, and I am still here with them. You can understand how much sympathy I thus have for receiving someone easily. But it has also been shown to me that more discrimination is necessary to protect the new members of the Ashram from external disturbance.
Here are some recommendations:
1. Try to verify facts about the person before admitting him into the temple.
2. Have a separate guest room where newcomers will be checked out by an experienced devotee, who can decide whether that person is an actual candidate for your new Bhakta program.
3. Fill out a form with the new aspirant's personal data.
4. Try to get his mother's address and telephone.
5. Speak to someone who knows him.
6. Find out whether he is healthy or not.
7. If he is questionable and does not provide good information, ask him to visit the temple for two weeks before moving in. Don't forget that a person who just shows up to join and who has no clear idea of the philosophy is definitely motivated by something. But everyone may get mercy in a surprising way.
8. Try to keep his identification documents with you from the beginning to discourage him from running away with some property of the temple.
9. Instruct him well regarding the basic rules of the Ashram.
In general use your own heart and be merciful to both the aspirant and the other members of the Ashram.
It is advisable that only one person in the temple make the decisions on who is admitted as a new student. If decisions about admitting new devotees are made by more then one devotee, they should never disagree with each other in front of the new devotees. It creates disturbance if devotees have any fights. For that reason disagreements should be settled peacefully in the regular meetings.
The Temple President and Prasadam distribution
Srila Prabhupada conquered so many of us by his divine
Prasadam distribution. He once wrote in a letter:
There should not be any scarcity of Prasadam in the temple. In Radharani's kitchen there is no scarcity. During the whole day, there should always be nice prasadam for the visitors.
What to speak about the feasts. They should be very nice with good varieties of prasadam. We will get help from so many sides if we keep that principle alive. Prasadam should be distributed by advanced devotees who do not put the receiver in anxiety. We may naturally be reserved if someone comes only to eat and has no interest in the process at all. But even such persons often bring someone else who turn out to become a devotee. We can never loose by distributing Prasadam. Just like in Vedic times the householder would step out of his door and call out: "If anyone is hungry, please come along, the Prasadam is ready." Then if somebody did come he was received as a guest at his home.
We have also received so many indications about the benefit of Prasadam distribution. If it can be done, then it is nice to do it. It is modern practice to charge for the Sunday feast Pasadam; However, this is not in line with the above principles, even if the reason is to bring only the more serious people to the program. It is, of course, valid to conduct programs in rented halls or Hotels and to charge a fee for participation in order to make it exclusive and to cover the costs, but in a temple itself, charging does not fit well.
The Temple President and his service to the Deity
The supreme lord is the real owner of everything. All residents of the temple are his own property. We aspire to become divine slaves of the Lord's wonderful wishes. Thus we are admitted into the temple congregation by his divine mercy, regardless of what our service may be. We learn from our spiritual master how to adopt the mentality of a surrendered servant who makes sure that he contributes to the lord's Ashrams substantially above the energy he extracts from the community as a natural side effect of eating, sleeping, using electricity, telephone, etc. Before understanding life in this way, we used to see everything in the consumer mentality. We hardly ever asked:" What do I have to do to make myself useful to Krishna and to the other Ashram members?" Or simply, "How do I make myself useful as a member of the human race and the world that surrounds me?"
Through the acceptance that the deity is actually an incarnation of God, mercifully appearing in this world to bless us all and to receive our devotional service, our spiritual vision becomes a reality. Thus egoism becomes an actual enemy to our own understanding. The deity is every person's well-wisher. Thus the Temple President is training himself and all the members of the Ashram to be real pleasant members of the supreme Lord's local servant group. Cleanliness, punctuality in the offerings and pujas, excellence on all levels, loving relationships between the members and true compassion with all souls, are the natural results from this effort. It is easy to enthuse others to do something for the supreme Personality of Godhead, especially when you yourself are inspired to work in this way. Harmony within the community becomes a reality by such a transcendental central focus.
We should try to follow the standards of Srila Prabhupadas deity worship in accordance with time, place and circumstance. Installed deities have to be taken care of very carefully. It all depends on real devotion, not a show of opulence and superficial dealings with the Vaisnavas, which is a Kanishta Adhikary mentality. If the temple is poor and cannot be decorated that nicely there is no harm, but a devotional standard must be maintained. Sravanam and Kirtananam are the substance of any Vaisnava Community. In many preaching centers and Grihasta houses where the deity, also known as murti, has not been installed yet, we should not diminish the supreme Lord presence there. For the sake of preaching it may be kept so simple that all the food eaten in this place is definitely offered to the Lord and regular morning Artik and Class programs are held. Other programs can vary due to time and preaching conditions.
Murti level of Worship can go on until it reaches full Deity service standards like explained in the Arcana Kana and other books on that subject. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is very merciful and even more merciful is Lord Nityananda. They are often found to give mercy in their murti form to many Vaisnavas. Sri Sri Radha Krishna and other deities like NARASINGHA Bhagavan, Jagannath Swami and others are not recommended for worship as murtis. They should be properly installed in temples or where there is the capacity to do the full program of Deity worship. The same goes for the worship of Salagram Silas. Sri Giriraj Maharaj, the Lord in his Govardhana Sila incarnation is also extremely merciful to accept such service in a simple way, even though he is a full deity without being installed.
The more we do to please Krishna the better everything becomes, and in this age the Samkirtan Yajna is what pleases the Lord the most. Srila Prabhupada once said: "Without the deities my movement would not have spread." Deities are those who make us realize that we have to follow Sadhana Bhakti and the rules and regulations that go along with preaching and other devotional activities.
No one shall worship any deity without getting the blessings of his spiritual master. Even though the markets in India are full of Murti forms for sale, it is inappropriate to independently buy and worship a deity without the consent of our spiritual guardians. As many persons as possible should be enthused to participate in the Worship of the deity. Those who have recieved second initiation in the community, both living in the temple as well as those outside, should be encouraged to sometimes make Aratik, make dresses for the deity, and help the Chief pujari in many ways to improve the worship and thus increase their own spiritual feelings for Krishna. This is a unique opportunity for a conditioned soul to start his relationship with his eternal Lord by serving his Arca Avatar.
The Temple President and his relationship to Householders in his Congregation
The Temple President is very important for every member
of the congregation. Householders need his support
and he also needs their friendship and help. There
should be no competition between Brahmacaris and Grihastas.
Both are equally important in the Vaisnava family.
It is natural that the Temple President will spend
his time first with those who give substancial help
to him to maintain the community. But it is a danger
to forget the Grihastas. They should be educated to
have paternal feelings towards the newcomers and Brahmacaris.
Actually it is the duty of the Grihastas to maintain
the other Ashramas. Due to lack of good Grihastas this
condition is not fulfilled at the present moment, but
at least it should develop in this direction.
The Temple President should organize several meetings always trying to include those who live outside the temple. If he can manage that, he will get lots of help. Every devotee wants some personal attention, but often those who live outside compare themselves with those who live in the temple or amongst each other, and the atmosphere can become somewhat filled with envy and contempt towards others. That especially is the danger amongst god brothers. Outstanding or older devotee usually are not so easily affected by our natural envy. But in general it is common for Householders and also those who are unmarried with too much attachement to money, name and fame etc., to have a contaminated attitude towards others. Only love and trust in a Vaisnava is the medicine against this illness. We have to regard the person who takes responsibility in our community with a charitable heart. Do not expect him to be perfect. Just consider his purity in purpose. That of course works in both ways. Love means to be able to forgive others' mistakes as well. There will always be the one or the other, which is rather a disturbance to the community, and we have to try to avoid such company. But that is unfortunate, as the more you try to conquer every persons heart, the more you are appreciated by the community, even if in some particular cases you might fail to achieve the desired success.
VRINDAVAN INSTITUTE FOR VAISNAVA CULTURE AND STUDIES