Srila Prabhupada emphasized that management and preaching go together. “Good management follows preaching like a shadow,” he wrote, “and the best thing is that the managers should always be preaching.”
At a certain stage in India during Srila Prabhupada’s presence, Tamal Krishna Goswami, who was the GBC for India, wanted to leave and go to the West to preach. At first Srila Prabhupada was reluctant, because he depended on Tamal Krishna Goswami to manage activities in India, but eventually Prabhupada concluded that a brief change might be beneficial, and said, “Yes, we can always pay a manager, but preaching is a matter of realization.” He stressed how important preaching was to the movement. “Without it,” he said, “ISKCON will become rubbish. The management will be at our fingertips if the devotees simply follow the rules, chant, and take prasada.”
In his purport to Bhagavad-gita (12.10), Srila Prabhupada writes, “Every endeavor requires land, capital, organization and labor. Just as in business one requires a place to stay, some capital to use, some labor and some organization to expand, so the same is required in the service of Krsna.”
And Srila Prabhupada said that although we do not want to waste any of those elements, the one element we cannot afford to waste is the labor or the manpower. In other words, we have to take very good care of the devotees and make sure they are engaged.
Srila Prabhupada often said that the first duty of a manager—or the government—is to see that everyone is engaged in service, even if dealing with some of the devotees is difficult. Once, when Srila Prabhupada wanted his disciple Nara Narayan to take charge of the garden in Juhu, he wrote me, “You can have the gardeners decorate the whole land with flowers and if possible some fruits also.” And a week later he added that he wanted Nara Narayan to take charge of the gardening. “Sometimes he may be difficult to live with,” Prabhupada acknowledged, “but good manager means he is able to satisfy everyone and live in cooperative manner with all the devotees, and if you manage things nicely he can do tremendous work. Practically no one has more energy than Vishwakarma” [the demigod architect and master builder after whom Prabhupada had nicknamed Nara Narayan].” So, yes, Prabhupada often said that the first duty of the leader, or manager, or government, was to see that everyone was engaged (and Nara Narayan was one example).
Three days after his directions to me about the gardening, Srila Prabhupada wrote again, chiding me and instructing me how to manage and engage the devotees. He knew our natures, and he was simultaneously engaging and training us all. “I have received reports from Mahamsa and Cyavana,” he wrote, “and it appears they are doing nicely. Some of the men, however, are complaining that they have no sufficient engagement. Two girls have already left Bombay, and their complaint was that they had no sufficient engagement. Similarly, I have received letters from Puranjana, Vardhana, and Atmarama, and either they are not willing to work according to direction or, otherwise, how do they complain there is no sufficient engagement? I think that there is more than sufficient engagement for everyone. We have got so much to do.”
Srila Prabhupada, in his letter, is simultaneously instructing me and instructing the devotees. To the devotees he is saying, “I think there is more than sufficient engagement for everyone. We have so much to do.” And then to me, he’s saying, “We have to deal with so many men with different personalities. So kindly utilize their energies and at the same time keep them satisfied. That is leadership.” So, he is instructing me, guiding me, with this very important instruction. And he addresses the devotees: “If one man is appointed as leader, all must follow him and be obedient. ‘Obedience is the first law of discipline.’ They are pointing out irregularities, but they themselves are not doing their duty, so they are pointing out the irregularities in others. They came to serve; now they don’t want to serve, so there is some excuse. Oh, irregularity, let me go away. The workers should not suggest irregularities.”
Srila Prabhupada reminded us of our greater mission, our higher responsibility: to reclaim the fallen souls on behalf of Krishna. We were always inspired to try to work cooperatively to please Srila Prabhupada, because he had given us such an important mission. In his letter he wrote, “So actually we have taken a very responsible task on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. At the present moment, to speak the truth, the whole population of the world are demons and animals. It may be a very strong aspersion on the people of the world, but that is the fact. But still, because they are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, so originally they were pure, and therefore it is the mission of Krishna to get back His parts and parcels to home, exactly like a father likes to get back his son at home because this son had gone out of home for false happiness. But the people are so mad, they are talking so many nonsense things—nonsense philosophy, nonsense science—and our task is to meet all of them and at the same time pacify them in their lunatic condition. So I am sure you are a very good soul to act on behalf of Krishna, and do it nicely. Krishna will give you the proper intelligence. He is sitting in your heart. Simply, He wants to see us working sincerely.”
Srila Prabhupada put everything in the light of Krishna consciousness, that whatever service we were doing was meant to further the mission of Krishna, to get all the fallen conditioned souls back home, back to Godhead. To fulfill that mission, we should be prepared to go beyond our expected limitations, and Srila Prabhupada inspired us to do so.
So, I was affected by the criticism of the devotees, and there was also criticism from Prabhupada in relation to some neglect of the Deities. In his letter to me, he wrote, “This is a most abominable affair.” He was so angry. And it really affected me, and I tried to summon all my courage and strength and write a proper reply, but I had to mention that I was struggling, and Prabhupada wrote back a very nice letter in which he explained his criticism, and his letter pacified me. Understanding my heart, in his next letter Prabhupada explained his service in such a way that I could appreciate his criticism, which was clearly meant for my benefit. “Actually,” he wrote, “it is the duty of the spiritual master to find fault with his students so that they may make progress, not that he should always be praising them. So if you find some criticism, kindly accept it in that spirit. I am only interested in that you along with all my other students should become Krishna conscious.”
Prabhupada’s words and sincere desire acted upon my heart and influenced me to improve my efforts, and I reported to him about some of the progress I—we—had made. In his next letter he expressed his appreciation for my efforts and reinforced his earlier statements about management, encouraging me to continue in the same spirit: “I am glad to hear your explanation of how the men are being engaged there in Bombay. That will be the test of your management, how well the men are satisfied by their engagements. I am very glad to hear that Nara Narayan is doing so much work and that Puranjana has decided to remain there. He has decided rightly.”
Seeing things from the perspective of shastra and reminding us of our higher goals and the means to attain them, through parampara, in his next letter Prabhupada wrote, “Yes, by Krishna’s grace we have a very responsible task before us, so combinedly we should do it nicely so that everything goes on systematically. Rupa Goswami says that the things are enthusiasm, patience, conviction, acting according to the sastra and guru, and always keeping oneself in the society of devotees, and this makes our devotional service successful. So our serious students should follow Rupa Goswami’s advice.”
Srila Prabhupada hadn’t yet translated Rupa Gosvami’s Upadesamrta, and here he was basically repeating what Rupa Gosvami says in Upadesamrta: utsahan niscayad dhairyat tat-tat-karma-pravartanat. So, you could say that part of Prabhupada’s management was to keep us Krishna conscious, and so, at the same time that he was giving us instructions on management, he was also giving us instructions on how to maintain our Krishna consciousness, because everything in ISKCON pretty much depends on Krishna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada knew my mind. This incident goes back to maybe 1974 in Juhu. I was very attracted to the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan, and I imagined that one day I would be like them, roaming the forests of Vrindavan, chanting “Krishna! Krishna!” But Prabhupada was concerned that his property be managed properly, and one evening he spoke to me about it. “Raghunatha dasa managed his father’s estate just like an expert businessman,” he told me. “Similarly, you should also manage your father’s estate”—meaning his, my spiritual father’s, estate. “Raghunatha dasa managed his father’s estate just like an expert businessman,” he told me. “Similarly, you should also manage your father’s estate. Then you go to Vrindavan and become a gosvami.”
So, maybe a year or two later, we applied for permission to build the temple in Juhu and the police commissioner wrote a letter refusing permission on the grounds that “the bhajan singing, which had been complained about in the past, is likely to be a nuisance in the future as well.” So, this drew fire from Srila Prabhupada. He was so upset and angry.
In Vrindavan during the Mayapur-Vrindavan festival, Srila Prabhupada received this news and asked all the devotees in Vrindavan for the festival to come to Bombay to protest the refusal. So we began to organize preaching programs, but most of the devotees who came from Vrindavan would be back at the temple during the day. And Prabhupada was concerned about how the devotees would be engaged. Again, the first duty of the manager, or the leader, is to see that devotees are engaged. Prabhupada was concerned about how the devotees would be engaged, and he asked his managers what the devotees would do. We replied that we would have a program in the temple all day long, alternating readings, kirtans, and discussions about Krishna consciousness. “Very good,” he approved.
After a few days, Prabhupada asked how the program in the temple was going, whether the devotees were enjoying chanting and reading and hearing.
“Well, frankly, Srila Prabhupada,” Tamal Krishna had to inform him, “most of the devotees aren’t coming, and the ones who do come—most of them fall asleep.”
“All right,” Prabhupada replied, “if they are all sudras, let them work in the garden—but everyone must be engaged. You tell the devotees that if they are actually brahmans, they should sit in the temple and be engaged in kirtan and krsna-katha, and if they are not brahmans, if they are sudras, they can work in the garden. But nobody can remain idle; nobody can sleep.”
Vishnujana was in charge of the temple program, and he was a very charismatic figure and led beautiful kirtans. Still, and in spite of Prabhupada’s words, the devotees didn’t come—or work in the garden. One day Vishnujana told them, “Prabhupada is not pleased that we are all so lazy. We should be doing something. He says that if you just sit around, you’ll get sick.”
After two weeks, the Australian devotees became restless and asked me to approach Prabhupada on their behalf. There was little engagement for them in Bombay, they said, and they would have a lot of work to prepare for Prabhupada’s imminent visit to their country.
When I passed along their request to leave, Prabhupada had me deliver them a stern reply: “What is the question of ‘no engagement’? There are so many opportunities to read and chant. Don’t be impatient wanting to go here and there.” So, there is always engagement. We can always chant and hear. And do other service as well.
Now, I wish to address the important point of cooperation that Srila Prabhupada emphasized, especially toward the end. In Vrindavan Prabhupada told the devotees, as Tamal Krishna recorded in his diary, “Your love for me will be tested how after my departure you maintain this institution. We have glamor, and people are feeling our weight. This should be maintained. Not like Gaudiya Matha: After Guru Maharaja’s departure, so many ‘acharyas’ came up.” Later, Tamal Krishna told Satsvarupa that Prabhupada had said, “Your love for me will be shown by how much you cooperate to keep this institution together after I am gone’’—the same message.
And Bhakti Charu Swami recalled, “When Srila Prabhupada was in Vrindavan during his last days, Tamal Krishna would read him the letters that devotees wrote to Srila Prabhupada, and His Divine Grace would dictate his replies, and sometimes he would also make comments. One devotee had written that he wanted to offer his longevity to Srila Prabhupada so that Prabhupada could continue to be with us on the planet. It was a very sweet letter, steeped with emotion. However, Srila Prabhupada reacted in what seemed to me a rather unusual way and commented that our real love for him would be shown by how we cooperate with each other to maintain his mission. . . . That incident left a very deep impression in my heart, and I became aware that the best way to show my love for Srila Prabhupada is through my cooperation with the devotees of ISKCON who are serving His Divine Grace so sincerely to continue his mission.”
Prabhupada had made the same point in a letter in 1973: “The test of our actual dedication and sincerity to serve the spiritual master will be in this mutual cooperative spirit to push on this movement and not make factions and deviate.”
This reminds me of a very beautiful purport in Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.5.12), in which Srila Prabhupada describes the mood of service and appreciation among devotees, as it should be:
“Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another’s service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking, Vaikuntha thinking. There may be rivalries and apparent competition between servants in performing service, but in the Vaikuntha planets the service of another servant is appreciated, not condemned. This is Vaikuntha competition. There is no question of enmity between servants. Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (15.15), sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca: the Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, giving dictation according to the attitude of the servant. . . . As the Lord says in Bhagavad-gita (10.10):
dadami buddhi-yogam tam
yena mam upayanti te
‘To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.’ Everyone is actually a servant, not an enemy or friend, and everyone is working under different directions from the Lord, who directs each living entity according to his mentality.”
So, that should be our mood amongst ourselves: “Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another’s service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking.”
Also in Vrindavan, Srila Prabhupada had for years directed the managers that the temple bell should be rung every hour on the hour and every half hour. So during his final weeks, when the time came for the temple bell to ring but Srila Prabhupada didn’t hear it, he said, “This is my concern, that such a huge, huge establishment, if not properly, regularly, managed, then everything will be finished.” He had been insisting for years that the temple authorities arrange for the regular ringing of the bell and considered it a test of their management.
So, when Prabhupada said, “This is my concern, that such a huge, huge establishment, if not properly, regularly, managed, then everything will be finished,” Tamal Krishna responded, “I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’re too much indebted to you to allow what you have established to become spoiled.”
And Prabhupada replied, “Please see to that.”
In relation to temple construction, after Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura constructed a big marble temple in Bhag Bazaar, his disciples fought and quarreled over who would occupy which room, which I take to mean who would have what position, and at Radha-kunda, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, told him, “If I could take the marble from the temple and sell it and print books, that would be better. If you ever get money, print books.”
So, in Juhu, Srila Prabhupada had us build a big temple, and in a talk in Mayapur in 1974 he had explained his purpose in constructing such big temples—and his concern that we use them in the proper mood: “We have got this nice, grand building. If we think, ‘This is my building,’ then there will be mishap. My guru maharaja personally told me, ‘When we were living in a rented house, if we could collect two hundred or three hundred rupees we were living very nicely at Ultadanga. But since we have been given this marble palace, there is friction between our men: “Who will occupy this room? Who will occupy that room? Who will be proprietor of room?” ’ Everyone was planning in a different way. . . . If we forget our position—if we become pound-shilling men, property men—then Krishna will be lost, because Krishna is akincana-gocara, easily approached by those who have no material possessions. Therefore we should always remember that we possess this nice house not for our comfort, but so people will come, because they are not accustomed to uncomfortable living conditions. If we would have invited people, ‘Come and sit down on this ground,’ there would have been no possibility. Therefore we must keep Krishna’s temple very nice so that people will come, and we shall preach. That is the philosophy—not that because we have got this nice house, therefore we should be very much attached. Attachment must be there, but for Krishna’s service. The temple must be very clean. The establishment must be very nice. What for? For attracting devotees. This is the purpose. Not for our personal benefit.”
Hare Krishna. Are there any questions or comments?
Devotee (1): Tamal Krishna Goswami desired to go and preach, and Prabhupada accepted the concept that managers could be hired and that it was okay for him to preach. At the same time, you also shared your experience that you had a desire to live like the Six Gosvamis but that Prabhupada wanted you to manage the estate. So, what do we learn . . . why withdraw from the management to preach? Is one easier than the other? Can a devotee do both?
Giriraj Swami: Different devotees have different natures and propensities and inclinations; for one devotee preaching might be easier, and for another devotee managing might be easier. Personally, I was more inclined to preach; although I did have some strong points as a manager, I didn’t really consider myself to be a manager as such. But Srila Prabhupada wanted me to manage, so I surrendered, because our duty is to obey the spiritual master and please the spiritual master.
Tamal Krishna Goswami, he could do both—preach and manage—and as I mentioned, Srila Prabhupada was relying on him in the management in India. But Tamal Krishna Goswami wanted a break, and although at first Srila Prabhupada was reluctant to agree, in the end he did give him permission. The result was that Tamal Krishna Goswami returned to America, where he began the Radha-Damodar Travelling Sankirtan Party, which was very successful.
The first time back in America that Srila Prabhupada met Tamal Krishna Goswami, in Los Angeles, Prabhupada was still a little annoyed that Tamal Krishna had left his service as GBC in India and asked him, “How is your preaching going?” “It is going well.” And Prabhupada said, “Preaching means there should be some result. What’s the result?”
Meanwhile, as Tamal Krishna Goswami had arranged, seven new devotees who had joined the Radha-Damodar temple were waiting downstairs, all shaved up and nicely dressed in dhotis and kurtas. So, when Prabhupada said, “Where’s the result?” Tamal Krishna Goswami called them all up, and Prabhupada was happy—there was some result.
Devotee (1): Thank you, Maharaja. Isn’t there sometimes a conflict when we are trying to make sure that devotees are happy based on their nature but also dealing with situations that arise day to day?
Giriraj Swami: There are two factors—the devotee’s nature or propensity, and the requirement of service—and sometimes a service requires that a devotee act in a way that’s not according to his nature. Of course, his highest nature is to be surrendered, so in that sense it is according to his nature. But the situation may require that he do service that is not according to his material nature. Srila Prabhupada often would say, “Do the needful.” We have to be able to do the needful. So, yes, as authorities we can take advantage of devotees’ propensities, but we are not bound to engage a devotee according to his propensity, because some other service may be required of that devotee.
Devotee (2): You said that if devotees simply follow the rules and chant and take prasada, then management will be at our fingertips. So, I was just wondering on that point—does that mean that management becomes effortless or just sort of happens by Krishna’s grace? And do you have any experience, can you share some experiences, of how that happened for you or others you know?
Giriraj Swami: I’ll share an experience, and the experience itself might address the other questions you asked. At one stage in Juhu, Srila Prabhupada had a very staunch devotee named Mr. P. L. Sethi, and Mr. Sethi belonged to a group that did twelve-hour akhanda kirtan, unbroken Hare Krishna kirtan, every Sunday. These devotees had a teacher, or guru, in Vrindavan, and they would do this twelve-hour continuous kirtan and then, for an hour or so, sing songs from Vraja.
One day, Mr. Sethi had the idea that instead of meeting at one of the grihastha’s homes, the group could meet at our temple. So, they did—they did the twelve-hour Hare Krishna kirtan and then one hour of Vraja songs—and Srila Prabhupada loved it. The next day he called me and said, “That was wonderful. We should invite them all to stay at Hare Krishna Land, and we will maintain them. All they have to do is twelve-hour kirtan every day.
I thought, They have families, they have jobs, and their children have studies—I didn’t see how it would work. Then, Prabhupada said, “All right, then our men should do twelve hours continuous kirtan every day.” I said, “Srila Prabhupada, we are trying to build this temple here. If we do twelve hours kirtan every day, how will it work?” And then finally Srila Prabhupada said, “All right. Then on Sunday twelve hours.” By then it was such a relief, going from twelve hours every day and maintaining all those families, to twelve hours on Sundays. I thought, “Oh, well, yes, we can do that.”
Afterwards, Tamal Krishna Goswami said that Srila Prabhupada had done transcendental bargaining with me. If Prabhupada had started with twelve hours a day on Sunday, I might have said, “Oh, twelve hours—that’s too much! Maybe three hours.” But because he started twelve hours a day every day, when he came to twelve hours a day for one day, on Sundays, I thought, “Oh, what a relief. Yes, we can do that.”
What I found as the manager, as temple president, was that all the problems that came up would be solved in the kirtan. Either the devotees who came to me with the problems would realize that there was no problem after all, or Krishna would make some arrangement to solve the problem. So if someone came to me on Monday or Tuesday, yes, I tried to deal with their problem, but by Wednesday, because I knew the kirtan was coming, I would say, “All right, well give me a few days to think about it.” And almost invariably, every time, the problem was solved by the kirtan—either the devotee had realized that there wasn’t a problem, or Krishna had made some arrangement.
Devotee (2): I was thinking that there are devotees who are very nice devotees—they are regulated and have good sadhana and sweet temperaments—but if you make one of them the temple president, then the management might not be so meticulously done.
Giriraj Swami: Yes, the person should know how to manage, and some people are natural managers. It is not an absolute rule that if you chant and read and take prasada, you will be a good manager, but I think that it’s pretty sure that if you don’t chant and read and take prasada, you won’t be a good manager.
Devotee (3): Maharaja, you quoted Srila Prabhupada as saying that our love for him will be shown by how much we cooperate. How do we deal with disagreement, when we disagree with somebody else and have reasons, but we have to cooperate? How do we reconcile the two?
Giriraj Swami: We had a farm in Hyderabad, and the three disciples whom Srila Prabhupada put in charge of the project were very strong willed and independent and they often did not agree. Srila Prabhupada told them, “You sit together, you fight like cats and dogs, and then, when you agree, you go ahead.”
So, yes, sometimes we have to . . . I don’t know if compromise is the right word, but yes, sometimes we may have to sacrifice a lesser principle for a higher principle. Cooperation is a high principle.
Shortly after Srila Prabhupada left, one of my godbrothers came to Juhu and was demanding money from me because Prabhupada had left me in charge of some of his funds. Within my heart I was quite sure that Prabhupada would not want the money to be used in the way my godbrother was intending, but the devotee was so attached to the idea of getting the money to use for that purpose, that I apprehended that if I didn’t give it to him, it would cause a terrible strain on our relationship. So I made the decision to give him the money, even though I felt that Prabhupada wouldn’t have really wanted the money used for that purpose. I thought having a cooperative mood amongst us disciples of Srila Prabhupada was a higher priority than saving some of the money, and I never regretted my decision.
We often have to prioritize; it depends on the situation. In some cases, we can’t compromise. I know there have been cases when a godbrother really wanted me to go along with something but I was sure that Prabhupada wouldn’t agree, and I didn’t go along with it, even if it upset the other devotee. But in the first case, I felt that it was better to give him the money and maintain the cooperative spirit.
Devotee (4): Hare Krishna, Maharaja. You made the point about how preaching and management follow one another, and you also emphasized the point of caring for devotees, that everyone should feel cared for, even if they are difficult. So, preaching can take us to far corners of the earth or different places where there is nothing in terms of a program. And caring for newer devotees can be very time-consuming. So, between these two things, sometimes we might find ourselves without too much pure association, which may only be possible on a phone call or going to Vrindavan once a year, or something like that. So, what is too little association, and how can preachers and managers make sure that they have the right amount of association?
Giriraj Swami: There was a period in ISKCON’s history when there was a lot of chaos. It was after the falldown of some of the zonal acharyas, and senior devotees were struggling just to keep their areas intact. I was in Mauritius and South Africa. I was not getting peer association, and I was feeling deprived of it. But then I got a chance to go to Dallas and associate with Tamal Krishna Goswami. Once, we were talking about association and he said, “You have to go out of your way to get it.” And then he said, “With all of my association with Srila Prabhupada and my three initiations from him, I still feel I need siksa-gurus.” And then he listed a number of people whom he considered to be his siksa-gurus. I felt that what he said was really true—that we need that association and, as he said, that we have to go out of our way to get it, because we don’t want to allow ourselves to become weak. If we become weak, then the people who are depending on us will suffer.
Devotee (5): In the early days the majority of the devotees were out there preaching; now we see a lot less of that. Is that due to the psycho-physical nature, or how can we get more into that spirit?
Giriraj Swami: Everyone should preach. Preaching is our life. Once, after a long day in Bombay, I came back to Juhu and said to Srila Prabhupada, “I really like preaching.” And Prabhupada replied, “Not ‘I “like” preaching,’ but ‘preaching is my life.’ ” Everyone should preach; whatever their capacity is, they should preach. There’s preaching to new people, and there’s also preaching to devotees. As Srila Prabhupada said, it is more important to maintain a devotee than to make a new devotee. Preaching means glorifying Krishna and the process of devotional service, so yes, everyone should preach in their own way.
Devotee (6): You talked about caring, and everyone can care, but those who are really in a position to care for others are the leaders. And then we also talked about Prabhupada’s statement: “Your love for me will be shown by how you cooperate.” Sometimes there is a possibility of conflict, and a leader will say, “Your love for Prabhupada will be shown by how much you cooperate with me as a leader.” So, it can be kind of weighted to one side. I don’t know if you can elaborate on that.
Giriraj Swami: The way I took Srila Prabhupada’s statement is that he meant cooperate with each other, give-and-take for his sake and for the sake of ISKCON. The word cooperate can mean “cooperate with me,” or “do what I say,” and our cooperating with each other can mean that, like in my example of the senior devotee who wanted money, but I think generally it means that we work together, co-operate—operate together, conjointly.
But it is true, Prabhupada did want us to follow our authorities. We might not agree with them, we might not think they are right, but we do have to follow them. Srila Prabhupada gave the example that you’re riding in a car and someone else is the driver and you think you know a better way to reach the destination than the driver does. You can tell the driver, “It’s better we go this way,” but ultimately, because you are not in the driver’s seat, you have to go along with what the driver decides. Still, you can within yourself hold the idea that your way was better.
Srila Prabhupada was saying that you can make your suggestion to an authority, but because they are the authority, ultimately they make the decision. But even if they don’t agree with you, you can still maintain the thought within yourself that your idea was better; that’s not an offense. You can still think that your idea was better. But you have to go along with the authority, because he is in the driver’s seat.
Anyway, that’s the general principle; it might not fit every case. Prabhupada said that disciple means discipline. There has to be some authority.
Devotee (7): Hare Krishna, Maharaja. Could you maybe share some practical examples of times in Bombay when there were devotees who had problems but then once the kirtan happened, they just completely forgot about those problems or considered them not to be problems anymore?
Giriraj Swami: I can’t remember offhand, because that was forty-five years ago, but I do remember the principle, and I do remember the experience, and I also remember Srila Prabhupada complaining that . . . I think maybe Mr. Sethi told Prabhupada that some of the devotees were leaving the kirtan; they weren’t staying in the kirtan. And Prabhupada complained to his servant, Upendra, “Why can’t my disciples stay in the kirtan like these householders? All my disciples can do is eat and sleep.”
Devotee (7): Were the congregation devotees actually staying for the twelve hours, for the entire kirtan?
Giriraj Swami: Yes. The Radha Madhava Prema Sudha Sankirtana Mandala. Not suddha, which means “pure,” but sudha, which means “nectar.” The Radha Madhava Prema Sudha Sankirtana Mandala people were very special devotees. There was one lady who would sing the Vraja songs after the twelve hours of kirtan, and she sang so beautifully. She would sing, “Jaya Radhe, Jaya Radhe Radhe, Jaya Radhe, Jaya Sri Radhe.” Mr. Sethi said that when she was singing, Srila Prabhupada had tears streaming down his cheeks.
Devotee (8): Can you comment a little about how in management sometimes we get a little tired or frustrated? Maybe we’ve worked a little too hard or pushed a little too much, and we need to take time out for ourselves, we need some recreation, we need some alone time, without feeling guilty about it. Can you maybe explain your realization or anything you saw from Srila Prabhupada in this regard as far as charging up instead of a continuous day-to-day week in, week out, which can cause burnout? Can you share any thoughts on our mental and physical health?
Giriraj Swami: Balance is very important. We always have to keep a balance. And what constitutes the proper balance at one time may not be the proper balance at another time. I know that when I was the temple president and had to deal with a lot in Juhu, I was very protective of my japa, my morning program and my japa.
When Lokanath Swami came to the temple for the first time and wanted to meet me, I think someone gave him the message—maybe I told them to give him the message—that I was busy and couldn’t meet him immediately, that he would have to wait. And then he found out that my business was that I was chanting japa. At first he thought it was odd, but then he came to appreciate it.
To maintain a balance in your life so you don’t get burned out, I mentioned japa, but it could be reading, it could be kirtan—whatever will nourish you and make you feel strong in your service. We don’t want to burn the candle at both ends.
Just a sort of a humorous point related to balance: Once, His Holiness Indradyumna Swami and I were invited to a couple’s home in South Africa for prasada, and they were very tricky in the way they served the prasada, because we would think we had come to the end, and then they’d bring out more. Then we’d think, “Okay, that’s it; we’ll have a little more.” And then they’d bring out something else. I was starting to feel uncomfortable. Then Indradyumna Swami said to me, “As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, one should not eat too much or eat too little. Today we’re focusing on not eating too little!”
Devotee (9): For devotees in leadership positions, there are higher expectations for them to perform and serve, and rightly so. And different devotees have their own understanding and ideas and perspectives about how a leader should be, or how that leader should express and show care, or how they should manage, or what they should be interested in. I personally experienced that, that everyone has their own wishes and desires and expectations for me and I don’t meet them, and I am faced with my limitedness—I’m limited.
So, when it comes to performing at a certain level and doing outreach, managing, devotee care, self-care, balance at home, that’s a lot, and I find that people are dissatisfied with me. So, how do I overcome that? Is it just that I stay humble, or is there something, or some understanding, that helps?
Giriraj Swami: People often don’t remember what you say to them, and they often don’t remember what you do, but people do remember how they feel with you. Personally, I’ve always been happy with your husband and you in terms of my experience with you. I think these devotees should count their blessings and be happy that they have your husband and you.
You can’t be all things to all people. It is not realistic. And I think of an instruction that His Holiness Radhanath Swami gave to His Grace Vaisesika Prabhu, that the best thing he can do as the temple president is to be happy.
Devotee (10): My question is about obedience being the first law of discipline, and we’ve also studied in class that bhakti is individual, spontaneous, and voluntary. It could seem like two opposite ends of a spectrum when dealing with devotees. Can you help us see how they can be reconciled? Because obedience is a word that not everybody likes, and if you bring it up, it’s kind of like a red flag. Everyone wants individual, spontaneous, and voluntary, and everyone wants to have that independence, and then if you are a manager you get questioned. So what are you doing? Not managing; facilitating. I’m sure there’s a connection, but I am not able to see it. Can you elaborate a bit?
Giriraj Swami: If the situation allows, we can encourage devotees to do what they want for Krishna, but if a devotee is needed to do something that the devotee doesn’t particularly want to do, but the devotee is needed, then they should be ready to do the needful, as Srila Prabhupada said. And if you think it is appropriate, you can apologize and say, “I know that this particular type of service doesn’t suit you, but the situation is such that we need someone to do it, and you are the only one who can do it. I am sorry that I have to ask you to do this, but under the circumstances I have no choice.” And I think the devotee would appreciate your care and concern and be willing to do the needful.
Devotee (11): You talked about how, by performing kirtan and bhajan, management can go on, and then we have that well-known conversation when you were serving Srila Prabhupada and Srila Prabhupada asked you, “How will this movement go on?” You said, “By chanting and following the principles.” And Srila Prabhupada thought and said, “By intelligence and organization.” So how can we blend those two statements together?
Giriraj Swami: When Srila Prabhupada asked me, that was in his last days; I think it was November 11, just three days before he left. “Do you think this movement will go on after I leave?” I said, “As long as the devotees are sincere and chant their rounds and follow the regulative principles, it will go on.” And then, as you quoted, Srila Prabhupada said, “Organization—intelligence and organization.” Reflecting on what Srila Prabhupada said, I understood that, yes, we do have to be sincere and chant our rounds and follow the regulative principles—that’s a must—but we can do that for our own benefit. If we really want to spread Krishna consciousness, we have to be intelligent and organized. And so what I got from Srila Prabhupada’s answer is that yes, we do have to be sincere and chant our rounds and follow the regulative principles, but we also have to think of others and spread Krishna consciousness, and to do that, we have to be intelligent and organized. So, I don’t think the two are contradictory; they are complementary.
Devotee (12): We are coming to the end of this GBC College zonal supervisor course, and many of us will be encouraged to take up these responsibilities, which means that we’ll have a zone and different temples within the zone, and we’ll need to go and work with the temple presidents and managers there. But it may be that we don’t really know, that we are not familiar with the goings on at those temples and don’t have personal relationships with the managers there or even know the temple presidents. And they don’t know us, either.
So, can you give us some tips on how to establish relationships with the leaders we will be supervising as zonal supervisors and how to build trust, how to win their trust so that we can work with them nicely? Because we don’t want them to think, “Oh, here comes a big, freshly trained person. They are going to try and take over and tell us what to do.” We don’t want it to be like that, especially because it may be that the temple presidents and leaders are senior to us, at least in terms of time in the movement. So, how to develop that trust so that we can have a working cooperative relationship?
Giriraj Swami: What would your role, or your duty, be?
Devotee (12): Our training is for zonal supervisor, so we’re sort of in between the temple presidents and the GBC for whatever our particular zone is.
Giriraj Swami: And how will you get assigned to a particular temple?
Devotees (13): The GBCs will nominate us, and the entire GBC body will approve our appointment, and we will be assisting the GBC.
Giriraj Swami: Okay. Well, what comes to mind is that when the Parsis—Zoroastrians from Persia—came in a boat to India and wanted to land in Gujarat, in response to their request, the king there sent a cup filled to the brim with milk, meaning, “We are already full. We don’t have any room for you.” And the Parsis very intelligently added sugar to the milk and sent it back, to say, “We’re not going to displace you, but we’ll make everything sweet and better for you.”
So, I think you can approach the temples in the mood of a servant, of a servant of the servant, and just say, “Yes, I am here to serve you, to assist you.” Srila Prabhupada said that GBC doesn’t mean to control a center; it just means to see that things are going on nicely. Just say that you’re there to serve them, that if there’s anything you can do to help, you would be happy to do so. And you can say, “If I see something, I’m duty bound to point it out, but I won’t try to enforce anything on you; I’m just here to support you.”
Host: Thank you very much, Maharaja, for your excellent lecture—so instructional, and imbued with your devotion and your experience. We are grateful that you gave us so much of your time.
Giriraj Swami: It’s a pleasure.
[Discussion with the NA GBC College, June 9, 2021, via Zoom]