First of all, let us offer our obeisances to all those
Grihastas and their good wives who have decided to
actively support the preaching work of their spiritual
master, even after entering in the family ashram. No
doubt, it is increasingly difficult to actually do
that in proportion as the family obligations grow.
Even for the children of a Grihasta president there
are many sacrifices to accept.
Since the Grihastas are often senior and experienced devotees, it is a great boon for all if they can somehow or other manage to keep themselves in the front-line of preaching. In order for them to also develop their family nicely, and to carefully guard their service and relationships with other devotees, we will try to give guidelines which shall ensure lasting success in this laudable service.
Grihasta and family duties and pleasures: All that is part of the Pravritti marg of devotional service. A married man has to worry practically every day, until he enters into Sannyas life, how to make enough money to maintain a wife and children. That is often a very difficult job to accomplish. As a Temple President the Grihasta has to inform the Vaisnava Council of his temple exactly how he wishes to operate in this connection.
Many varieties exist. Taking regular hours or days off the Temple President duties to collect for those expenses is one. If he has some capital he can separately manage some business to maintain himself. He can also manage one of the temple businesses like a shop or a restaurant and receive a fixed and approved percentage of the profits as a benefit for his private needs. We have also seen cases where a small maintenance allowance was granted to Temple Presidents who were so busy working for the growing community that they had no time spare for any other engagement. That maintenance allowance would be justified if he is actually producing, though his personal encouragement of others, income to the temple and his own maintenance money is of such an insignificant proportion to his service that the Vaisnava Council happily approves of it.
That is the key to success. The devotees should all be very happy with that arrangement, otherwise how can they surrender to such a Temple President if undercurrents of disapproval of his financial dealings permeate the temple. Nobody should take it for granted that others will submit to him. The Vaisnava council is the forum where all voices of active members of the community will be heard. The Grihasta Temple President shall be extremely eager to be completely transparent in his dealings and finances and to get the blessings of the Vaisnava Council on his developments. Love and trust are the pillars of good relationships, but the leaders have to give a perfect example in financial dealings in order to inspire others and to ensure the purity and future of the Vaisnava Community service.
Since our temples often have some type of business to help cover the expenses including Membership preaching, engagements for the community such as gift shops and restaurant, it is no harm if theTemple President or their wife manage such a program and receive a commission that can cover their expenses. Otherwise some other devotee would have to stay back from Samkirtan to do that service, as managers who stick to such a service are very hard to find without financial motivation. Therefore the Temple President may be the ideal solution. This would also keep him on the temple premises all day so that he can always monitor the programs.
The residence of a Grihasta Temple President is also very important. When the infrastructure of the temple supplies a good facility, where neither the devotees nor the possible children are severely disturbed as has happened in the past, than residency within the Temple has worked out quite well. Otherwise a flat next to the temple can be the perfect solution. Again, such ideas should be discussed and approved by the Vaisnava Council.
It should be clearly understood and preferably put in writing, that all the assets accumulated in a Temple Presidents time in that temple or temple business are exclusively the property of the deity. Any privately accumulated asset of the Temple President shall be known and noted down in some Vaisnava Council record book. Thus approved so as not to create a disturbance to the community once that Temple President retires from that service and wanting to take with him what has been bought by him for his family asset. It is a disgrace if money becomes a reason for dispute amongst Vaisnavas, but to make sure that does not happen, we must follow these guidelines as long as time, place and circumstances permit.
The visit of devotees to the holy Dham
Every devotee cherishes the desire to visit the holy
Dhama with the blessings of the senior Vaisnavas. Thus
it is the tradition to organize pilgrimages to Vrindavan
and Mayapur amongst the Vaisnava community.
Since the appearance of Vrinda Kunja, Yamuna Kunja, Vansi Kunja and other holy places intimately connected to our mission it has become even more wonderful to visit there.
The most important features to consider in this regard are the following.
1. To visit the holy Dhama without the blessings of Sri Guru and The Vaisnavas will not reap the desired success.
2. The holy places are very powerful and we shall be careful not to commit any Dhama aparadas there.
3. If a devotee has done some exceptional service he may be able to stay in the holy Dhama for a longer period, to help the preaching programs there, and to get a life long feeling for the holy Dhama and the mood of devotional service.
4. Devotees shall never expect other devotees to cover their travel expenses. For that purpose, once a devotee has received the blessings for such a journey, he shall start making the respective arrangements to cover his travel expenses as well as some Laksmi, to cover any facility in the Dhama. We go to the Dhama to serve there, not to have an easy life at the cost of others. Any temple we visit, we shall always contribute more energy than we consume for our own maintenance.
5. Regular visits of friends of the devotees to the holy Dhama can be organized in order to preach to them. In that case they shall be prepared in advance to realize the meaning of a pilgrimage and not go as enjoyment seeking tourists. It would be offensive to bring people to the holy Dhama who could commit sinful activities.
6. The secret of any visit is to behave in such a way that the local residents of the Dhama, and the local authorities are enchanted with the wonderful attitude the pilgrim has brought. Then you will surely be able to take the blessings of the holy Dhama with you.
7. Make sure your Visa condition is and remains perfect. This is possible by making PREVIOUS arrangements with the documentation of the mission you are visiting. Tourist Visas cannot be extended in India. For long time visits you should try to get five year yoga visas or one year Entry Visas.
The percentages devotees may earn whenever necessary
Devotees are dedicated to pleasing Krishna at every
moment. Ashram life in the present day and age is exclusively
dedicated to organize transcendental welfare activities.
All inmates are aware of that and help as much as they
can. A very basic, down to earth simple lifestyle in
connection with food, lodging and dress is supplied
by the ashram to its full time servants.
But there are many situations, where devotees have personal needs which go far beyond that benefit level. Of course, a devotee community will always try to help their members in particular to obtain health assistance and other facilities. However these conditions are without any gaurantee, and we are focusing now on the situations when a devotee needs Laksmi for private needs.
In that case he shall search out a way to work and keep for himself whatever percentage he considers necessary, with the approval of his Ashram authorities. Obviously it depends on each persons particular situation and degree of emergency. On principle, a devotee gives as much to the temple as he likes to give. The Temple President must also agree with that, since he grants residential permit to the devotee. Brahmacaris are generally without much complications in this regard, but once a person plans to enter the Householder ashram, it is necessary for him to think of how he will finance his future. And since it is not very advisable for devotees to take a job under the authority of non-devotees, unless some first class opportunity arises, it is even more important for him to gain capital so as to be able to start his personal business venture.
We can only pray that by then the devotee is mature enough to know how to handle a business and not to forget Krishna and the Vaisnava seva. Of course, as long as he lives in the Ashram, the Temple President will guide him properly, but even after he gets married and starts his own Griha Ashram he should not forget his responsibilities with the transcendental teachings he has received.
Therefore the temple leaders shall try to facilitate as much as possible this transition period from dependent Brahmacari to the Grihasta life. Otherwise devotees have to leave all together, in order to start their own family. In the form of cooperation the Grihasta community shall try to start business ventures which facilitates new franchises for new members of the Grihasta community. If the Temple President can cooperate in this work, it will be very beneficial for his congregation. Even on the national or international level such networks would be very useful to further strengthen the Vaisnava community.
Srila Prabhupadas formula ( 50% for books, 50% for the temple)
Our dear spiritual master Srila Prabhupada is the incarnation
of the mercy of Sri Nityananda Prabhu. His transcendental
literature distribution reached higher than anyone
could even have imagined. In the world of religious
literature it is amazing how all over the world millions
of readers in all languages got the mercy of receiving
and reading the holiest books mankind has yet received.
But this did not happen automatically. Srila Prabhupada
lovingly pushed all of us to understand the importance
of working hard for Krishna and to give the transcendental
literature to everyone. On one occasion he stayed in
Los Angeles for the period of two months and got the
devotees there to produce 20 hard bound books of his
teachings, while normally they had been producing only
one book in the period of three months. He had already
translated so many books ahead of their production.
"Impossible is a word in a fools' dictionary."
This was often quoted by Srila Prabhupada.
In the same line he guided us to keep our work as preachers organized in such a way that half of the income to the temple would go to print more books, and the other half to maintain and increase the temples. In order to further encourage the preachers he utilized 50% of the profits of the printing division for producing further titles and the other half for giving loans to the contributing temples to help them to purchase buildings for their deities.
Later, when some temples started to get solid income from other sources, they tried to go ahead with the same principle, to give half of their income to the printing division. Then in return, the temples got a lot of books, and sometimes did not even know how to get all these books into the hands of the people.
The Transcendental Function of the Printing Division
Books are the basis. We cannot live without the Shastras
in our attempt to become devotees of the lord. Guru,
Sastra and Sadhu, the inter dependent nature of spiritual
approval is our guiding principle. Thus it is so important
to publish, read and distribute the transcendental
literature. Also a regular Magazine, or newspaper is
a wonderful preaching instrument. Newsletters and Audio
or Video materials are all in the same line of preaching
with authentic authoritative declarations. The Internet,
radio and television are only newer ways of presenting
the absolute teachings of the Vedas to the world. Basically
the BBT or SEVA departments shall serve the purpose
of giving the Shastras to the whole world and to give
practical help to all those who try to spread Krishna
Consciousness in different places.
It is very auspicious to help these departments, and every Ashram, temple, preaching center or active devotee shall try to have all the items that are published and produced by those departments made available to others in his preaching work. We have to work hard and be very generous. Transcendental items are more work and sacrifice than monetary income in general. But it will be our pride to exhibit the mature work of our Acaryas and Vaisnava friends. Our movement has to give real culture to everyone. We need books for every level. For the child up to university research level. We have printed so many books that now we have to distribute it by any effective means we can find. People should read and hear the items with happiness and enthusiasm. If we neglect those details, our preaching will suffer. Every temple or devotee program should be well equipped with a table of all the items. Hari nam Samkirtan is so nice, but many people do not understand the devotees. If there is a wonderful book table, they can approach and get whatever information they may desire. Gradually these efforts will be rewarded with more devotees who have an increased understanding in devotional service.
Aspects of spiritual practice and integrity
The Temple President and his Sadhana
The Preacher must give a good example. That is basic
and even Lord Krishna gives several statements to show
that people will follow their good leaders. A good
leader's example means very well guided devoties. Sadhana
Bhakti is our protection. Many have become crazy thinking
that they have transcended the need for Sadhana. Even
if we are so advanced that Sadhana is not the most
important thing for me; nevertheless, it must be followed
in order not to misguide the young devotees. Temples
with an atmosphere of sadhana generally also have enthusiastic
preaching. When you take the words of the spiritual
master very serious you will also take his preaching
spirit to heart. Otherwise you will get lax TV devotees.
They do not follow strictly and you can imagine their
lax preaching as well. Some times they do gather like-minded
friends, but it will not be easy to convince them to
make any sacrifice for Krishna. Srila Prabhupada complained
about some monkey-like disciples who do not follow
all four regulative principles.
what to speak about Sadhana Bhakti. The Temple President has the responsibility like a father in looking after the well-being of the new devotees. Thus he should be a strict follower of Sadhana Bhakti. If for some reason his preaching work exceeds the normal devotees hours and schedules, he may sometimes be unable to follow all the temple timings strictly. In that case at least the devotees see that he is busy preaching. His higher principle is impeding him to join all functions, but in no way will he discourage anyone with his program. A good general is found in the first line of combat, and not behind a desk while the others are out alone on Hari Nam or other sacrifices. The best leader is someone who can do all the services with great enthusiasm himself.
The Temple President and his own Study of the Scriptures
It is expected that a good devotee knows the revealed
scriptures. Srila Prabhupada appreciated it very much
when his disciples were able to quote the slokas in
order to prove particular points. Gaudiya Kantahara
was published by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta sarasvati Prabhupada
to train devotees in the philosophy and to be able
to quote the authoritative parts of the Vedas. To know
the science of Krishna is a great need for leading
preachers. Since all preachers are instructing spiritual
masters of some kind, we shall take this point to be
very important. We have to maintain the correct line
and dignity of the school of our spiritual master.
The Temple President has the responsibility to train
others in the siddhanta of our school. We need to be
humble and understand that knowledge of the scriptures
is not the most important part of spiritual life. At
the same time we have to serve the scriptures and the
Vaisnavas by being firmly fixed in the conclusions
of the teachings of our spiritual master. The Temple
President should hold special classes for the devotees
to become enthusiastic to study.
Srila Prabhupada created in the line of his Guru different degrees like Bhakti Shastri, Bhakti Sarva Bhauma, Bhakti Vedanta and Bhakti Vaibhaba. Until now the full curriculum of these titles have not been developed. Naturally they are the titles to be obtained if someone has thorough knowledge of the scriptures given by our previous Acaryas.
In the Gaudiya Math tradition it is common to give special titles to those devotees who have shown an extreme service capacity in some area of the devotional service.
In conclusion the Temple President shall try to organize his own life in such a way that he can guide others in the study of the general and more advanced subjects.
Topics to be studied:
General introductory books like the Search for Self realization, Unknown India, The Yoga Course and the Sri Isopanishad.
All the books of Srila Prabhupada.
All the books of Srila Sridhar Maharaj
Children's Vaisnava publications.
The Temple President and his own Lectures
The Temple President should try to become an expert
lecturer. For that purpose he must take some time to
study. Otherwise his classes will become boring after
a short while. He should search out ways to inspire
all capable or desirous devotees to become lecturers,
giving them a chance to give classes. Both variety
and opportunity for spiritual advancement will inspire
the community. The same counts for Kirtans. Outside
lecture opportunities such as college classes, Nama
Hatta Programs, etc. should be taken as often as possible.
Let all devotees feel how important it is to become
a qualified preacher.
It is a wonderful idea to publish a little poster once a month announcing the lectures of the month with the subject and the name of the lecturer. Such posters can be posted all over town regularly and will surely improve the attendance of the temple.
It should be mentioned here that the preacher should not point out failures on the part of particular devotees in class, publicly embarrassing them. That creates unhappy situations. I have seen Temple President lose very valuable devotees because of that mistake.
* If you want to correct someone, the best way is to take a little walk with him and after winning his confidence. Reveal your mind on how you are thinking, so that he can improve his participation in the community.
There are many ways of making lectures more interesting. The devotees should always be encouraged to take notes during classes. Tests on the philosophy and other subjects are to be held totally on a voluntary basis and it is not advisable to make anyone feel bad for his incapacity to study or memorize etc. Competition is only permitted if it leads to the over all happiness of all participants.
Throughout the years we have seen that compitition can get easily out of proportion and shortly later you will hear statements like:
"The Samkirtan devotees are the only real servants."
"Those who are not learned are sudras."
" Only those born as Brahmins can serve the deity." etc, etc.
What is been spoken in the class and in the Istagosthis will reflect on the mood in the community.
In my early days I challenged some Sannyasi, who was denouncing Lady Vaisnavis as a group, in ugly words. When I accused him of distorting the philosophy regarding women, he cursed me right from the lecture seat that I would soon get married. Unfortunately it was he who had to later change his Ashram. This left me with a strong impression that a lecturer has a great responsibility.
If there is any competition, we should compete to become the most humble. There is no harm if some devotees try to "out serve" the other by hard effort, but again, all have to be happy. That cannot be mentioned often enough.
The Temple President as a perfectly disinterested preacher
Fruitive behavior is expected from everyone in this
material world. Therefore it is often suspected that
a preacher, like the Temple President, is also motivated
by material interests, and that his preaching is actually
just another way of "making a living". But
we know that the work of a Temple President is not
possible for a fruitive worker. He would be detected
very quickly. Devotees join a temple motivated by the
elevated philosophy of selfless devotional service,
and will demand to be guided by the personal example
of the Temple President.
The Temple President is benefited by the community in some ways like food and Board, but the main benefit he gets is that he may serve the Vaisnava community. That is a wonderful sacrifice. You cannot be a renounced preacher or Temple President and at the same time make a lot of personal money, career gains or sense gratification. It is a choice. One life for Krishna. If you are successful it will benefit the temple and all members, not like egotistical successes of someone who does not care to share his accomplishments with anyone. Srila Prabhupada encouraged even his Grihasta disciples to accept such a sacrifice and to take responsibility in the preaching work. If we work for Krishna's pleasure, our Vaisnava family will be very grateful and will respond by more and more sacrifice for the cause. Krishna accepts a devotee in accordance with his surrender. If a devotee has fruitive tendencies, but helps Krishna's projects in one way or another, he will still get so many blessings, but if he takes leadership in the life of other devotees, he shall try his very best to be exemplary, and he must be totally honest with the other devotees.
The Temple President and humility and authority
The most difficult position for a humble Vaisnava is
to exercise his authority. By being humble, he wishes
to make everyone happy, but sometimes the misconceptions
and abuses of others oblige the Temple President to
demand respect for the Siddhanta and the Temple rules.
Authority is derived from our own surrender to the
true authority of Guru, Sastra and Sadhus. In order
to minimize the necessity to exercise our authority
it is helpful to have all meetings regularly and to
generally instruct all new and older devotees in the
Vaisnava etiquette and in the goals of the temple.
But in a temple, surprises occur almost daily. Therefore
it is the duty and right of the Temple President to
teach proper conduct to Residents and visitors, up
to the point of requesting them to leave the temple
grounds. It is the most undesirable situation to remove
someone from the temple, but no one shall be allowed
to disturb the preaching and the resident devotees.
It is preferable for the Temple President to have another
devotee take care of such situations, since it does
not look very nice when a Sadhu has to become heavy.
Once I was caught up in the middle of a Janmastami festival with two thieves, who were caught loading half of the temple into a truck, while the devotees were celebrating their festival. I almost lost my self control due to being so upset over such abuse. Always maintain your calmness. The Temple President service is executed in the most efficient way in the mode of goodness. Even anger, which is most difficult to control, can be used sometimes to protect the devotees. Whatever happens, we should always try to maintain the unity in a temple, and if the devotees do not agree with the Temple President action, they can raise their constructive criticism in the next temple meeting. Especially in front of others, devotees should not disagree with their authority.
The Temple President serves by exposing the truth, not by imposing
We have to be very careful to represent the highest
conclusions and be humble and sincere. But unless we
can capture someones heart with our exposition, what
will be the use of demanding that they accept us. We
need to learn the art of teaching the highest, while
actually feeling the lowest. And very often we will
be challenged. These are the opportunities to show
that we belong to the school of humble Vaisnavas. I
have seen that devotees have the tendency to think
too much of their group, temple or country, etc. It
is just like the extension of their old ego. They say:
"My group is the only real one, or at least the
best one. And then they get carried away so much that
they can harbor ill feelings for years against others,
who are really their brothers. We should be careful
to train our devotees to serve their own spiritual
master, but to deeply respect all other devotees as
well, who serve their respective spiritual masters.
And what to speak of other souls, who search after
god in other spiritual traditions. The Paramatma is
in everyone heart and he can save anyone who approaches
him with sincerity. We can preach strongly, but should
not look down on others. We hate sin, but feel compassion
with the misguided sinners. It is more convincing to
see that a devotee has strong faith in his Guru, but
at the same time he is kind with everyone, even if
they do not accept his exposition.
And the devotees will love the Temple President even more if he is very tolerant with them and knows how to convince them without exercising his power.
VRINDAVAN INSTITUTE FOR VAISNAVA CULTURE AND STUDIES