Previously, I wrote about my experiences on the 12-week Alpha Course offered by the Christian Church. I explained what parts of my experience were helpful and which parts were disappointing. I wrote that as a short piece for some of my readers who are actively trying to bring spiritual seekers to Krishna, and who are therefore interested in hearing about any ideas that may make their task easier.
The Krishna consciousness movement is engaged in reaching out to others with its message. Part of the movement is engaged in ‘broadcasting,’ the wide dissemination of information; and part of the movement is engaged in ‘cultivation,’ when the seeds planted previously have sprouted and require further attention. The business of ‘preaching’ must include both of these essential actions. Just as any intelligent farmer can’t reap a crop if he hasn’t both sown seed and cultivated, so there must be a series of stages in the matter of the cultivation of the soul.
Although it is a fact that many people in the history of our movement have come to Krishna consciousness rather spontaneously, and with hardly any prompting at all, it would be wrong to assume that the majority of our future members will join us in the same fashion. It is the business of the present members to go and find the future members, Srila Prabhupada says, and so we have a task ahead of us if this movement is to keep moving. And any campaign to create an effect within the minds of thinking people, and specially to bring about change, must be composed of carefully planned stages.
After the initial event to create public interest, the next stage of any outreach campaign is to meet up individually – one person at a time – with those who are the most interested. Discussion of philosophy and the ethics, values, and life choices that naturally flow from philosophy is very important. And its important that its done individually with a person and that you provide plenty of time for listening.
People like certain things about the Hare Krishnas. There are also things they find vaguely uncomfortable. And there will be some other things they find quite objectionable. Every person will have different items on their list of ‘likes, dislikes and objectionables’ and you need to know what those are.
Ideally, your relationship with someone should progress through stages of friendship, and the level of trust should increase to the point when they feel comfortable in revealing to you their doubts about the Vaishnava beliefs and practises. At this point doubts are good, and the strongly felt and somewhat animated expression of those doubts even more so. This is not the time for you to express your reluctance to listen to someone’s doubts or – worse still – to criticise them for being disrespectful to those beliefs you hold dear. This is the time to actively invite them to describe any contradictions they feel exist between what they hold to be true – and what you’re telling them.
Many people – no matter how sincere they are – just cannot do this in a room filled with people, even people who are fellow newcomers to Krishna consciousness. In Britain it would be regarded as quite rude to begin arguing with someone about religious matters, and many people would be filled with fear at the mere thought of expressing themselves so strongly in public.
After some time it may be good to bring together three or four people for a small dinner party or a friendly kirtan, discussion followed by prasadam. If they all feel comfortable in each other’s company then you can hold the same function again. At some stage a small but important shift in consciousness will take place, where the members feel they have become a ‘group.’ The next important stage after that is when the existing members feel they are ready and enthusiastic to accept new members. These new members should, of course, already have been through at least a few hours of ‘one-to-one’ discussion so that they know what they are joining and are well prepared for it.