Feb 03, 2016 INDIA (SUN)
Preaching is the essence of the Krishna conscious society, as quoted by Srila Prabhupada. Different techniques of preaching are tried like scientific preaching, college preaching, festivals, harinam sankirtan, book distribution, etc. Bridge preaching is a popular word used in the current days in our society. This has been considered in our society as a recent innovation to preach to people who are at different levels and help bridge the gap. Various techniques are followed in this regard. People are shown some documentaries, some contemporary news, encouraged to donate for feeding poor, etc. The goal is to gradually introduce people to the philosophy. Bridge preaching in essence means that we build a bridge between a newcomer and the society and then help the person cross the bridge and develop the necessary understanding and start practicing Krishna consciousness.
Considering this, we can realize that all preaching is bridge preaching. Any preaching attempt would involve relating with people at their levels and then working out a plan to bridge the gap. The goal of all bridge preaching is to bring the newcomers to our side of the bridge. Unfortunately, preachers tend to miss this goal and this ensures that both the preacher and the new devotee stay on the bridge forever, or both move to the other side of the bridge. For example: we encounter people who have sympathy towards mundane charity while preaching. If we don't explain initially itself that mundane charity is useless and the goal is Krishna consciousness and nothing less with the intention to clarify these doubts once the people become fixed up, the stage where they are fixed up never arrives.
Hence it is observed that devotees hold a lot of misconceptions even after years of coming to Krishna consciousness, chanting Hare Krishna and even getting initiated. Preachers generally tend to get afraid that they may lose people if they preach these things in initial stages. But people read Srila Prabhupada's books and these things are present clearly in these books. At any point of time, people will read them and the risk of losing them perpetually exists. One way preachers deal with the situation is that they promote the mood that Prabhupada's quotes need clarification and the readers must clarify the points from the preachers. This is not a bad thing if the preachers clarify in a way that the message of Prabhupada is presented as it is. Generally this doesn't happen due to the fear of losing the people. Thus the message gets diluted. This also subtly puts a consciousness in new devotees that all of Prabhupada's statements need clarification. It is this consciousness that is inviting wrong ideas like feminism, homosexuality, considering mundane charity superior to devotion, contraception, abortions, mundane education, etc. in our Krishna conscious society.
Although Srila Prabhupada has time and again in his writings and conversations criticized modern education, feminism and mundane charity, we tend to filter them due to the samskaras that we have received from the beginning days of our Krishna consciousness. If devotees get a feeling that a few instructions of Prabhupada can be applied and a few not, that is a total failure of our preaching. The fact that such thoughts exist indicates that our preaching strategies that we brand as 'bridge preaching' have failed miserably because Prabhupada has not left such confusions unaddressed.
It is not wrong if we bring in some changes in our bridge preaching strategies. Since shabda pramana is superior to pratyaksa and anumana, we must first verify whether any bridge preaching strategies are discussed in the shabda pramana available to us and then think about the pratyaksa and anumana. We have done it the other way round. Let us first identify the root cause of the problem. Preaching strategies are different for the classes and for the masses. The preaching strategies followed in initial days of the movement were to gather the classes. When we tried the same strategies for the masses, they didn't work. This de-motivated the preachers and they re-designed the strategies to attract the masses. But in an attempt to do so, we missed on attracting the classes. The classes need good philosophy. If we study Srila Prabhupada's preaching in the West, we understand that he spoke philosophy day and night. Whether it was morning walks, Bhagavatam, meeting guests, interviews, public programs or translations that he would do in the night, Prabhupada always preached philosophy. In an attempt to gather the masses, we are avoiding philosophy due to which the philosophical health of our movement has significantly weakened and the classes are not getting the necessary nourishment.
Having discussed the problem, we need to study whether Prabhupada has addressed it or not. The following quote exactly hits this problem:
"Now we are picking some of them, best. That is another thing. But Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said para upkar, why a certain section should be picked up? Para upkar means mass benefit, not certain section. Then we have to introduce this varnasrama dharma. It must be done perfectly and is possible and people will be happy".
(Room Conversation, 14 February 1977)
The above quote indicates that the program for the classes is different from the program for the masses. When we club the two, we will either loose the classes or the masses. The classes must be preached using philosophy, book distribution, college preaching, scientific preaching, etc. It is quite necessary that the philosophy must be uncompromising for the classes. For the masses, varnasrama is the best preaching method as indicated by Prabhupada in the above quote. We can analyze how this is true. Today, if we focus on tuning our preaching program to favour brahmacaries, we may end up neglecting grihastas. If we focus too much on grihastas, we may end up having very few brahmacaries. By focusing too much of women, we may have more grihastas and the brahmacaries and sannyasis may face difficulties in practicing renunciation. When Srila Prabhupada spoke about the need for varnasrama, his disciples questioned about its need as devotees are transcendental. Prabhupada's response was that if they were transcendental, why they were falling down. The real problem is that we are not able to relate to people on their level and hence our bridge preaching is a failure.
Varnasrama is Krishna's bridge preaching method. If human society has this template, then we can relate to people at their level and help them advance. The brahmanas can be trained in the gurukula. The kshatriyas also get their training, but all through their life approach brahmanas for guidance. The vaisyas and sudras hear Ramayana and Mahabharata and in this way the preachers can relate to them at their level. Grandmothers can relate to the young ladies and preach to them. Once the society has such a scientific division, preaching will be very effective and natural. Preaching will not be considered an artificial phenomenon. People are differentiated in Krishna's system based on their qualities and activities.
In the modern context, one's individual qualities are killed by the education system and the activities invented by man further pushes one in darkness about one's nature. Due to such a chaotic condition, the establishment of varnasrama seems impossible and so Krishna's bridge preaching appears to be a utopia. But the above conversation has an assurance from Srila Prabhupada that it is possible. If our society encourages farm communities where people strive to establish varnasrama dharma and not complicate themselves with the modern man-made innovations of illusory happiness, then bridge preaching will be effective. We have tried our way of bridge preaching. Why not try Krishna's way as indicated by Prabhupada?