In the later pastimes of His Divine Grace Om Viṣṇupāda Paramahaṁsa Aṣṭottara-śata Śrī Śrīmad A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda, he manifested many divine instructions in the presence of those who served his lotus feet with great love and affection.
Although Śrīla Prabhupāda, from an external point of view, may have appeared to be suffering physically due to his deteriorated bodily condition, His Divine Grace always remained absorbed in the plane of transcendence – remembering the lotus feet of his most worshipable Deities, Śrī Śrī Gaura-Nitāi, Śrī Śrī Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma, and Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Śyāmasundara.
One day, seeing that it was with great difficulty that Śrīla Prabhupāda continued to speak into the tape recorder – translating the verses of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and giving his Bhaktivedānta Purports – Śrīla Prabhupāda’s secretary (Śrīpāda Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja) asked him why he continued to translate and preach at this advanced stage of life – when in fact Śrīla Prabhupāda had already written so many books and preached all over the world. The secretary suggested that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s daily working on the Bhāgavatam was not necessary at this time.
Śrīla Prabhupāda replied very humbly by telling us the story of the ‘Good Soldier.’ Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “Even if a good soldier (who serves in the army of the King) is struck down on the battlefield and his head is severed from his shoulders – still even if he is lying on the ground in such a condition – if he is a ‘good soldier’ he will try to wave his sword in the air with the hopes that he will somehow strike the enemy.”
“Similarly,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “I am a servant in the army of my Guru Mahārāja and as long as I have life I must preach – even in my present condition (and he waved his hand about in the air as if waving a sword).”
Then shortly before departing from this world Śrīla Prabhupāda gave a blessing to the devotees present – he said, “Live long and preach.”
It was indeed a favourite saying of Śrīla Prabhupāda (and also of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura) that, prāṇa arthe yāṅrā sei hetu pracāra – ‘one who has got life, he can preach.’ Preaching (kīrtana) is actually real bhajana, not simply sitting idle – at least that was the opinion of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and our Guru Mahārāja.
In the logo of the Gauḍīya Maṭha, which was designed by Sarasvatī Thakura and which Śrīla Prabhupāda had painted on the left and right sides of the main gate at ISKCON Māyāpura (still existing), we find that the mṛdaṅga drum and the printing press are located in the section of the logo under rāgānuga-bhakti…certainly a contrast of thought to those that think that kīrtana, (preaching, and book distribution) is a lower form of bhakti – the higher form of bhakti being to always discuss gopī-rasa.
Is preaching the essence? Preaching is something more – preaching is the highest form of bhajana life. Just consider the following – kīrtana, book publishing, and thus distribution also have been accepted by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and other great ācāryas as service in the line of rāgānuga (also rūpanuga). To write about the Lord is also kīrtana and similarly to preach (to assert and convert others) is also kīrtana (when our preaching is performed – for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa and His pure devotees it is kīrtana).
In his song Vaiṣṇava Ke (‘Who is a Vaisnava?’) Sarasvatī Thakura says:
kīrtana prabhave smaraṇa haibe
sekāle bhajana nirjana sambhava
“Internal remembrance (smaraṇa) can occur by the power of kīrtana, and only then is solitary (nirjana) service possible.”
The Guardian of Devotion, Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja has said:
“So also, to be engaged in (preaching) answering the questions of the environment automatically demands concentration, which is very rare in this age. When one is doing kīrtana, he automatically cannot but give all concentration and attention. He cannot speak independently; intuitively, he must be all-attentive. For this reason, kīrtana (preaching) has been recommended as the highest form of bhajana, especially in the age of Kali.” (Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion Ch 2, Bhajana – Real & Apparent)
Of course, we must raise the question here – preaching about what and printing books about what? And what is the conception in kīrtana? Surely if such things are in rāgānuga-bhakti they must have some distinguishing characteristic.
To answer my own question I must say that certainly every musical sound made with a mrdanga, karatālas, and shouting the name is not really kīrtana. kīrtana which is performed for gaining prestige and fame, which is filled with the false ego of being the enjoyer and does not carry the proper service attitude, is not really kīrtana (śuddha-nāma) and thus it cannot be rāgānuga. Similarly, to preach with the view to become a world ācārya and to do good to the people is also not pure devotion due to being tinged with the false ego that ‘I am the doer.’ Thus, every book published under the banner of “we are preaching” does not actually come under the category of rāgānuga-bhakti. Even when such books seemingly only speak about prema, gopīs, mañjarīs, and other such lofty topics, this does not mean that such books are automatically rāgānuga. We should remember that the sahajiyā section also publishes books on such topics. Real rāgānuga necessitates higher backing from above (the subjective plane). The inspiration to preach and write must come down to us – then it is transcendental. Then that may be considered rāgānuga.
Sometimes devotees like to read many unauthorised books with a view to deepen their understanding of rāgānuga, but unfortunately the unauthorised attempt to enter into aprākṛta-līlā never attains success. What then to speak of reading books, etc. that are simply concerned with varieties of mundane topics such as vegetarianism, social politics, the ‘Big War’, ghostbusting, worshiping crystals, alien beings, New Age prophecies, etc? (I say this because it is a fact that devotees these days tend to not only absorb themselves in reading unauthorised books, but in publishing them as well). Such books are certainly not rāgānuga because they are lacking the sense of a serving disposition in the inner plane of divine service to the Supreme Lord. Although such topics may sometimes be beneficial from a mundane point of view, they are not aprākṛta-kathā, transcendental topics of conversation, and thus they cannot help us to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness (kṛṣṇa-prema).
Before one can attain prema he/she must acquire the necessary qualifications. Without proper progress in the right line, it will all be imagination – a madman’s feat. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja used to say, “One must gradually reach the plane of truth, śuddha-sattva. There are so many planes to cross – Bhūr, Bhuvar, Svar, Mahar, Janar, Tapar, Satya-loka, Virajā, Brahmaloka. Mahāprabhu says that the creeper of bhakti grows and rises up to Goloka, and she has to cross all these planes.” (Sermons pp.29)
upajiyā bāḍe latā ‘brahmāṇḍa’ bhedi’ yāya
‘virajā’, ‘brahma-loka’ bhedi’ ‘para-vyoma’ pāya
ttabe yāya tad-upari ‘goloka-vṛndāvana’
‘kṛṣṇa-caraṇa’-kalpa-vṛkṣe kare ārohaṇa
“The creeper of devotion is born, and grows to pierce the wall of the universe. It crosses the Virajā river and the Brahman plane, and reaches to the Vaikuṇṭha, finally reaching to embrace the wish-yielding tree of Kṛṣṇa’s Lotus Feet.” (Cc Madhya-līlā19.153-4)
But the pseudo-devotees do not want to cross these planes – they want everything cheaply. They want to go on uttering the names of gopīs, but in their next life they will attain the bodies of mundane women, bewildered by the three modes of material nature. They will not attain the aprākṛta-gopī-deha, the form of a gopī, in the transcendental land of Vraja.
Śrīla Gaura Kiśora Dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja used to say with regard to those who think they can enter the higher plane simply by imitating the higher devotees, “If a lady enters into a maternity ward, she cannot produce a child only by imitating the sounds and symptoms of labour. Many things are necessary before that. Only by imitation, bhajana cannot be effected. One must have connection with śuddha-sattva, the real plane, and then all the higher symptoms may appear. Otherwise, only those speculative antics will manifest.”
Even a liberated soul, aprākṛta-jīva, should externally take constant shelter of kīrtana (chanting hari-nāma) – that is the advice of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Internally, such a liberated soul (in the eternally perfected form as a gopī) should render service to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī while deeply meditating on Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s eight-fold daily pastimes (aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā). In other words, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that this is the culmination of bhajana for devotees who have taken shelter of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s lotus feet. (The deep meditation on Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā is not possible for those who are filled with material desire, misconceptions, the likes of which come with being a neophyte).
So how can one think that preaching (kīrtana) is something inferior to meditation (remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes) when even the aprākṛta-jīvas are advised to take shelter in kīrtana? Such thinking is certainly due to a lack of proper knowledge (sambandha-jñāna). Those who have no real sambandha-jñāna are not fit for entering into the higher plane of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They are also not fit to preach the message of Mahāprabhu because they cannot impart to others the proper method by which the living entity attains the ultimate goal of life.
Indeed, at present, there are certain parties of devotees around the world who are at serious odds with each other over the ‘preaching’ issue (even to the point of physical outbursts) – I wonder though, how well either parties have grasped the ‘essence’? One thing is for certain though – they all became devotees because of preaching.
Paraṁ Vijayate Śrī Kṛṣṇa Saṅkīrtanam!