Devotee Care Seminar at Iskcon Kolkata

Almost around 12 years back when I was studying I had visited Iskcon Chowpatty, Mumbai, temple where I saw HG Radha Gopinath Prabhu. I had heard a lot about him so had the curiosity to see him so I just started looking at him. Since he is tall so I had to look up, he might have thought who is this person gazing at me so he looked at me and I immediately put my eyes down. As he being very senior and a role model for thousands of devotees I did not have the courage to go and speak to him personally.

Later whenever I attended Kartik Yatra organized by Iskcon Chowpatty, Mumbai, I used to see him and once during Kartik Yatra in Mayapur I saw him and my spiritual master HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj speaking to each other intimately.  I was sitting little far and was observing them although I could not hear anything.

It is said that Krishna is merciful and he reciprocates with the desires of all living entities. I always had this desire to associate with HG Radha Gopinath Prabhu closely and get his personal guidance.

So when I came to know that there will be a four day ‘Devotee Care’ seminar in Kolkata and it will be conducted by HG Radha Gopinath Prabhu then without giving it a second thought I immediately enrolled for it.  Out of four days two days were on weekdays (Thursday & Friday)  which is working day for me but still I decided to manage somehow.

And I was not disappointed. During the seminar I got the association of Prabhuji, I even got an opportunity to have one to interaction and personal guidance from him. The seminar and his personal association cleared many of my misconceptions which I had about the spiritual life.  He answered almost all of my questions patiently and to my full satisfaction. He shared many real life cases where the devotees who have been practicing devotional life feel tremendous challenges in their devotional journey. The problem is not with the practice but incorrect or incomplete application of devotional principles in our life.

I would like to share some of the principles and examples he shared during the seminar and also when I had one to one interaction with him.  This particular Devotee Care Seminar was mostly for the leaders and the care givers. The purpose of the course was to help leaders to equip themselves with certain traits which would help him to provide care to the devotee community.

However here my purpose is to discuss only those points and examples which underlines why devotee care is must.

Why the need for Devotee Care?

In the last 50 years of Iskcon history it has been observed that the devotees in due course of time start facing challenges while pursuing their devotional life.  This is the reason why after being in Iskcon movement for several years many devotees feel dissatisfied and in some cases devotees even quit Iskcon. Acknowledging the gravity of the situation Iskcon leaders decided to do an exhaustive study to understand the needs and concern of the devotees. They even took help of experts outside Iskcon.

Subsequently a “Devotee Care Committee”  was formed which came up with the vision and mission statement.

Vision of DCC

“Every devotee is spiritually happy and materially well- situated, positively identifying with ISKCON as a caring Society. Each devotee (a) responsibly looks after his or her diverse needs (b) can easily and successfully seek qualified help within society, and (c) wholeheartedly extends that care to others.” (Devotee Care Education, Student Handbook, Chapter: The Mandate for Devotee Care, pg 10)

Twelve areas of Devotee Care

Twelve main areas where devotees need care were identified –  Spiritual Life, Healthcare (Physical) & Healthcare (Mental/Emotional), Marriage, Sex & Relationships, Child – rearing and child – care, Education, Career and Employment, Financial, Housing, Travel and Immigration, Consumer and Lifestyle, Legal and civic, Mediation Advice.

When devotees across the world where consulted to identify the three most important areas of Devotee Care out of twelve then 82% choose Healthcare (Mental/Emotional), 66% choose Education and 54% choose Spiritual Life.

In order to lead a healthy spiritual life it is important that our physical, psychological, emotional and bodily needs are well taken care. Else we may look externally healthy but internally we may be weak and any moment we may drop down like a dead tree.

A tree can withstand mighty storms only if it has deep and strong roots and its branches and stems are robust.

Radha Gopinath Prabhu explained an important lesson which we can learn from the life of a tree.

In a tree roots are the most important because it holds the tree but so are branches and stems which provides stability to the trees. And a tree without leaves, flowers or fruits is good for nothing.

We should grow our spiritual roots

Spiritual practices like chanting the holy names, following regulative principles, reading holy books are like growing the roots which strengthen our inner foundation and holds us strong.  A tree without roots won’t survive similarly a life which does not have deep spiritual roots will crumble down at the whiff of a wind.

Strive for Stability

Trunks, stems and branches give stability to the tree, it holds the tree firmly to the ground even during storms.

Similarly taking care of our physical, mental, emotional and financial needs provide stability to our material life. If our material life is stable then without much anxiety we can utilize our energy in practicing devotional life.  Suppose that we are suffering from stomachache, severe headache or fever then to chant the holy names of Krishna becomes difficult. If we are having relationship problems with our spouse then we will constantly feel  miserable and it will affect our spiritual practices.  If we are not sincere in our jobs then we will be a poor performer and will always fear losing job which again will affect our spiritual life.

So we should proactively take care of our physical, emotional and financial needs.

Serve Selflessly

The crown of the tree consisting of leaves, twigs, flowers and fruits serve the society selflessly. Similarly devotees should serve the society without any selfish motives as per the guidelines of holy books and holy sages. Flowers and fruits grow only on those trees which have strong roots and branches. Similarly we can serve others properly only when we have a strong spiritual foundation and a healthy body and mind.

But sometimes we see that some devotees say that you don’t have to put in much efforts Krishna will take care of everything.  Yes it is true Krishna always takes care of everything but he has also laid down the process by which things functions.  Krishna took care of Arjuna during the battle at Kurushetra but it was Arjuna who was shooting the arrows.   In this world we cannot be passive we need to be proactive.

Yes we find many examples in the scriptures where devotees’ needs were automatically taken care by Krishna even when the devotees did not try for it.

Example is of Srivas Thakura in Caitanaya lila. He used to clap three times and Krishna would arrange food for him. Kolavecha Sridhar was oblivious to his bodily needs so was Jada Bharata. So how do we understand this.

Can a six month old child lift a one kg weight? No. Because his muscles have not developed sufficiently. He may even break his bones while trying to lift the weight.

So while taking any steps we first need to analyze our spiritual strengths and act accordingly and not just foolishly try to imitate the footsteps of self-realized souls.

Srivas Thakura, Kolavecha Sridhar, Jada Bharata and other great souls were absorbed in chanting and glorifying the Lord 24 hours a day. They did not bother about their worldly needs because they had transcended the modes of material nature.  Can we artificially think that we are at that stage of bhakti and start imitating them?  Rupa Goswami used to drink one teaspoonful of milk a day? Can we do so? Haridas Thakura lived with a snake in a cave and chanted 192 rounds of Hare Krishna Mahamantra daily without even thinking of food, water and sleep. Can we do so? Obviously no. Then why to imitate them. Instead we should do things as per the instructions given by them to us.

There are nine stages of bhakti and most of us are currently stuck in anartha – nivritti stage i.e. we are trying to cleanse our hearts of the impurities like lust, greed, pride, anger, envy, illusion, false ego. We need to understand that we are souls currently residing within a contaminated material body and in the material world. In Bhagavad Krishna teaches how this material world functions and how to take care of our gross and subtle body while living in this world.

If we try to portray ourselves as great souls then internally we will always be miserable.

Miserable monk

There was a celibate monk (brahmachari) living in a temple. Before becoming a monk he had relationship with a girl and he had committed that he will marry her. But after he joined the temple as a monk the girl asked him to fulfill his promise but the brahmachari was unwilling to do so. It was not that the brahmachari had lost attraction for the girl but he did not want to accept that he still had attraction for the opposite sex. He tried his best to not reveal his inner desire to others for several weeks but internally he was torn apart, he was miserable. And one day in front of senior brahmacharis he broke down and with tears in his eyes he accepted that he is pretending that he has no liking for her.  He was advised to get married to her. It’s not that he left devotional life after getting married, in fact now as a householder he is practicing his devotional life along with his wife with sincerity.

It does not matter whether one is a householder or in a renounced order of life if one is performing all his duties by keeping Krishna in the centre and is always absorbed in Krishna then his life is successful.

A brahmana & a prostitute

There was a brahmana and in front of his ashram lived a prostitute. The brahmana hated the prostitute like anything. He would constantly look out of the window and count how many people are going in and coming out.

On the other hand the prostitute would constantly think that what abominable life she has to live because of her past sins. And she had great respect for the brahmana. She would think how fortunate he is because he can always remain absorbed in chanting the holy names of the Lord. She had a great desire to live a pure life.

One day somehow both the brahmana and the prostitute died.  So there came the Visnuduttas and Yamaduttas. The brahmana thought that the Visnuduttas have come for him to take him to the kingdom of God but he was surprised to see that the Visnuduttas went towards the house of the prostitute and the Yamaduttas came to him.  Surprised, he asked the Yamaduttas – I was a celibate monk engaged always in worshipping the Lord so the Visnuduttas should have come for me and not you? For what sins I have to be punished?

The Yamaddutas replied, “Although externally you worshipped the Lord but your consciousness did not get purified because you were not absorbed in serving the Lord but you foolishly meditated on the activities of the prostitute and so you incurred sins for which you need to be punished.

The prostitute although was leading a sinful life but she always prayed to Lord to free her from all the sins. She had a deep desire to lead a pure life like you because she respected you. Although externally she was forced to lead an abominable life but internally, she always remained absorbed in meditating on the holy names of God which eventually purified her from all past sins. And since she had a great desire to be with the lord, to serve the Lord, to be with the devotees of the Lord so the Visnuduttas, the servants of Lord Vishnu, have come to take her to the abode of Lord Vishnu.

Both Arjuna and Duryodhana were fighting and killing their opponents during the Kurushetra war.  Externally both were engaged in similar activities. But Arjuna was fighting to protect the dharma as per the guidance of Krishna while Duryodhana was doing it to fulfill his wanton desires. Arjuna got the mercy of Krishna whereas Duryodhana had to suffer for his sins.

So based on our psyhco physical nature we need to identify our roles and responsibilities and then do our duty sincerely as per the directive of the scriptures.

We should ensure that while taking care of our physical, emotional and financial needs we should not get obsessed with it so that it starts affecting our spiritual life. The purpose of addressing our material necessities is to make sure that we practice devotional life throughout our life with sincerity else our life will be a waste.

Seminar was interactive, it helped us to dive deep into the subject matter to understand the needs of the devotees.

I have been associated with Iskcon for more than 14 years and I strongly feel that this seminar is a must for all the devotees.

Most of the devotees in due course of time develop good philosophical understanding but how to implement the teachings of the scriptures in their lives based on time, place and circumstances is lacking.

Seminars like this equip us with sastric understanding which help us to practice devotion to Krishna and serve the mission of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

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