“The process of devotional service – beginning with chanting and hearing – is called sadhana-bhakti. This includes the regulative principles that are intended to awaken one to devotional service. Devotional service is always dormant in everyone’s heart, and by the offenseless chanting of the holy names of the Lord, one’s original dormant Krishna consciousness is awakened. This awakening to Krishna consciousness is the beginning of sadhana-bhakti.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.117 Purport)
Friend1: Well, it happened again.
Friend2: What’s that?
Friend1: Another ridiculous experience at the temple.
Friend2: Again? That place is full of stories.
Friend1: This might have been the most entertaining visit there yet.
Friend2: What happened?
Friend1: The same political games, but this time it got really heated. There was a large group of attendees there, most of whom don’t come very often. They wanted to take the temple, saying that it actually belonged to them. I was sitting right in the middle of it. I thought a fight was going to break out.
Friend2: Unbelievable. This was in front of the deities?
Friend1: The curtain was closed for most of it. At one point the pujari stuck his head out from behind the curtain and started shouting at one of the guys. So the deities were visible at that time, but then one of the people asked the pujari to close the curtain before he continued shouting.
Friend2: That is nuts.
Friend1: It makes me wonder. I know that you urge me to keep going, but I think it is getting to be a bit much. I don’t know if I’m getting any value from this.
Friend2: I know what you mean. It’s sad that these places are run over by politics and the like. It seems to be this way everywhere.
Friend1: I talk to people who visit other places and they tell me the same thing, so you might be right. Can you tell me again why I should continue going? [smile]
Friend2: [laughing] Well, the ultimate benefit is hearing the holy name. If you get to hear it at least once a week, then that’s a very good thing. Even a second’s worth of hearing in the right mood can change your life.
Friend1: I know what you’re saying, but the people there seem to be a little too aggressive. They’re always asking me about my personal life. They want to know what I do every day. If I don’t show up one week, they want to know why. It’s eerily similar to a cult.
Friend2: There’s no doubt about that. Sadly, that’s the way it is. I still think you should try to tolerate it.
Friend1: Yeah? Even with the overbearingly evangelical attitude?
Friend2: Well, if you think about it everyone is trying to sell you something. Some are more subtle, but each person has reached a conclusion as to the mission in life. By default it is sense gratification; “seek as much of it as you can.” It is not surprising that those who have tasted something higher would be eager to share that secret with as many people as possible.
Friend1: In my heart I know that you’re right. If I look at things objectively, my life has changed since regularly attending. I do find myself humming the maha-mantra to myself throughout the day. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is what immediately comes to mind whenever I’m in trouble.
Friend2: Right, the bhakti-yoga stuff is good, but the rest of it seems to get in the way?
Friend1: Exactly. Sometimes I feel it’d be better if I didn’t go.
Friend2: Well, you realize that the books are there to save you from this, right?
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: The books on bhakti-yoga allow you to connect at any time and at any place. It’s like sitting down with a saint and giving them your undivided attention. When you sit down for the lecture each week, surely people are coming and going.
Friend1: Most of the people show up late, right before it’s time to eat. But I see what you’re saying; at least one person is listening.
Friend2: Yeah, I always get a kick out of the late-arrivers who are there just for the food.
Friend1: And then you’re sitting there and people’s cell phones start ringing, they whisper something in your ear, or their baby starts crying. It’s hard to pay attention. I like sitting in the back, out of the spotlight, but then there are more distractions.
Friend2: So if you read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, it’s like you’re listening to His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, with him sitting right in front of you. It’s like he’s talking to you only, no one else. That’s pretty neat if you think about it.
Friend1: But is that as good as going to the temple? Is that as good as chanting the maha-mantra in congregation?
Friend2: In many respects it’s better. With more focus, you will learn more quickly. That’s why the people who practice bhakti-yoga in the line of succession descending from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu put so much emphasis on the distribution of such literature.
Friend1: So I should just read the books and not go to the temple?
Friend2: I wouldn’t say that. The more you read, the more you will want to go. The more you hear from Prabhupada, the more you will want to chant. It’s just nice knowing that if things ever turn sour, you have the books there to guide you. The temple helps to keep you in a routine. Sort of like going to see a movie in a theater versus watching it at home.
Friend1: I see. At home I might go on the internet instead. I might pick up the phone or flip the channel to something else. It is a chore to go to the theater, but then at least I know that I will watch the movie.
Friend2: Right, so if you chant congregationally it’s like having someone there to build your routine. There are difficulties for sure, but at least it gives you some level of sadhana, adherence to regulative principles. And through sadhana the bhakti hopefully matures into bhava and beyond. Devotion to God is at the soul’s core, and in its ideal state it is spontaneous and unmotivated. No one will be able to stop you from being with the Supreme Lord if you really want it.
Since with politics never to quit,
Tainted is recurring temple visit.
Why not at home to stay,
And from trouble remain away?
Prabhupada sacrifice for this took,
To create his presence from reading a book.
Alone with so many things distracting,
Together easier for sadhana practicing.