I am getting back into something approaching normal life again and this week visited my first sangha for quite some time. I am in the ISKCON Ilford Sangha, hosted by the Dattani family every Friday in their home in the east end of London; and guided by Madana Mohan Govinda (bottom left in picture)
MMG is quite a preacher and is out most evenings of the week at one group or other. These are groups that he has either formed from interested locals, or groups he has inherited when other preachers have moved on. He seems to have boundless enthusiasm – a very helpful quality in spiritual life!
The Dattani family are also quite special as at seven o’ clock every Friday evening for many years they have served an evening meal to around twenty appreciative devotees. This is followed by kirtans and a class and discussion on the Bhagavad-gita.
I have found in my travels that it is relatively easy to start a sangha in a burst of enthusiasm early on in one’s spiritual life, but to keep it going for many years requires considerable dedication. I have great respect for the devotees of Ilford and indeed, for all the Vaishnavas who open their homes to others for regular sangha.
Our Krishna consciousness movement must find its way into peoples’ homes before we can confidently say that it has grown and spread. The actual measure of our progress can be calculated not only by the number of books sold, but the number of people who are reading them – and applying the teachings inside them to their daily lives. When such people come together regularly for chanting the Holy Names and hearing about Krishna, we know that our movement is on a strong foundation for future growth. Without this phenomenon, we remain limited.
Just a few months ago a survey was conducted in our ISKCON movement to determine how many initiated devotees there are who live in their own homes as compared with those who live in our centres and temples. I have always understood that there were many more congregational members than there are temple residents, and that our initiated members are in the minority compared to all our many practising and committed members. But even I was a little surprised to hear the results.
It seems that 96% of initiated disciples in ISKCON do not live in our temples. What this means is that we are without doubt no longer an ‘international confederation of temples, restaurants and farms’ – something we often mention to the public when they ask us what we are – but a movement which is predominantly made up of independent people living a surprisingly diverse range of lifestyles.
It becomes even more important then, once we acknowledge this, that each and every one of us does our bit to extend both the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His sankirtan mission in our local area. Srila Prabhupada said that the future devotees of this ISKCON movement are already living everywhere, and that it is up to ‘the present members simply to find them.’
Holding a simple gathering in one’s home is one excellent way to reach out and give others an opportunity to discover Krishna. It is also an excellent way to sustain their spiritual growth once begun. All glories to the ISKCON home groups.