Preaching is not a limb of uttamā bhakti

Some modern Caitanya bhakti sects emphasize preaching as the most important duty of a devotee. Preaching in this context carries the meaning of proselytizing, that is, attempting to convert people to become followers of the bhakti path.

This is typically accomplished by selling books to others, by offering them free food, by inviting them to temples with lavishly and beautifully decorated deities, by having smiling devotees dance and sing in crowded streets, by inviting people to ‘house programs’, by seeking donations for temples from business owners, and sometimes by just striking up an empathic conversation.

Rupa Goswami did not include preaching in the limbs of bhakti

An examination of Rupa Goswami’s teachings shows that preaching to others is not included as a limb of bhakti for the sādhaka. The goal of uttamā bhakti is uttamā bhakti, and the means to achieve it are Rupa Goswami’s limbs of bhakti. While the absence of preaching in these limbs does not mean that preaching is forbidden, it does mean that Rupa Goswami, the person who understood Sri Caitanya’s purpose, did not consider preaching as part of a sādhaka’s sādhanā.

Śrī Caitanya did not instruct sādhakas to preach.

A typical justification for preaching is the example of Śrī Caitanya. For example, during his travels in South India, Sri Caitanya at one point told a brahmin he met,

“yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa” – speak Kṛṣṇa’s instructions to whoever you see. Be a guru by my order, and liberate this place.

But there is no indication that the brahmin was playing the part of a sādhaka. This is not a general instruction by Śrī Caitanya to sādhakas, otherwise, Rupa Goswami would have included it as a limb of bhakti.

That preaching is not Śrī Caitanya’s main mission is obvious from the fact that Rupa and Jiva Goswami, and the numerous devotees that followed them including Visvanatha Cakravarti, for hundreds of years, did not attempt to proselytize or make ‘tens of thousands of disciples’ (which is the stated goal for many modern gurus).

Preaching is inconsistent with Kṛṣṇa’s instructions for a sādhaka

Kṛṣṇa rejects mass preaching in the Bhagavad-gītā. In the eighteenth chapter, He instructs Arjuna, who is playing the role of a sādhaka, to become a devotee and to surrender to Him. In the immediate next verse, Kṛṣṇa says,

This confidential knowledge should never be revealed by you to a person who is not prepared to undergo spiritual discipline, or to one who is devoid of devotion, or to one who is not whole-heartedly inquisitive, or to one who is envious of me. (BG 18.67)

The vast majority of the general public is not interested in becoming Kṛṣṇa’s devotee. And in the following verse, Kṛṣṇa says,

One who imparts this supreme secret wisdom to My devotees, thus executing supreme devotion to Me, comes to Me alone. There is no doubt about it. (BG 18.68)

Many consider proselytizing efforts on the streets a public nuisance. Verse 18.68 shows that the knowledge of bhakti has to be imparted to bhaktas alone. If there are people genuinely interested in bhakti due to past saṁskāras, they will be drawn to the bhakti path on their own. This principle is explained in the context of yoga in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā by Kṛṣṇa himself.

Preaching can be an aparādha

In the Padma Purāṇa, there are clear instructions that it is an aparādha to instruct someone who does not have śraddhā in bhakti, or to someone who is not interesting in hearing about bhakti. Many people get irritated by public shows of bhakti, efforts to proselytize, or manipulative efforts to sell books. Many recipients of books simply toss them in the trash. Preaching breeds disrespect in them for Kṛṣṇa which is something every devotee ought to avoid.

Previously, knowledge of bhakti was confined to a small group of people, and a small number of books which were mainly in Sanskrit. The preaching mentality has opened up this knowledge to everyone without providing proper context or methods of interpretation and without personal guidance. It has now become a major headache to counter the widespread misinterpretations and misconceptions of bhakti.

The fact is that Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism was historically never a proselytizing religion; even its founders- Jiva and Rupa Goswami, did not attempt such things. Imitating Śrī Caitanya’s ‘preaching’ is not a good idea for a sādhaka. Adhering to the limbs of bhakti, on the other hand, is a very good idea. The goal of uttamā bhakti is uttamā bhakti, not preaching to others.

Preaching fulfills a psychological need

Preaching fulfills the following psychological need. It is much more fulfilling for a preacher when a large number of people follow his or her path. Increasing the ranks of people in one’s group makes one feel secure in one’s own path. The preacher feels satisfied in having ‘saved’ another soul. Finally, the number of conversions a preacher brings about brings value, respect and (at least in some cases) financial security also. Unfortunately, none of these items fit the goals and/or definitions of uttamā bhakti.

People love to point out how preaching has helped spread (a version of) bhakti and made it available to so many people who have taken it up.

The question, though, is whether those who took up the preacher’s version of bhakti achieved the results of uttama bhakti. The uttama bhakti path, if properly practiced,  makes people happy.

Many preachers try to alienate people from society by creating a deep distrust for anything outside of the preacher’s path. This causes psychological scars which distorts the personality. Preachers attempt to control the thoughts of their flock by instilling fear of ideas and concepts that contradict their preaching.

The question is- did people become better persons as a result of taking up the bhakti process preached to them, or did they become distrusting, paranoid unhappy folk that are afraid to question, afraid to learn new things, unable to improve and afraid to step out of the preacher’s party line?

Are people today proud and happy to be part of the path propagated by preachers, or are they ashamed to admit it in public owing to the many unsavory scandals and outrageous views that are prevalent in some modern sects, caused by misinterpretations of bhakti texts?

Uttama bhakti is for normal people. Preaching can and has driven them away, or made them abnormal. A cloud now hangs over the future of the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava tradition.

7 replies »

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you prabhu! But I was just wondering if the desire to preach is not the result of sadhana – subha da… For instance you all have taken the trouble to make a website and guide others on the right path – which is really your compassion…

    Also we have the general instruction of Mahaprabhu:
    bhārata-bhūmite haila manuṣya janma yāra
    janma sārthaka kari’ kara para-upakāra
    One who has taken his birth as a human being in the land of India [Bhārata-varṣa] should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people.

    So can we say that although preaching may not be uttama bhakti but at some point practitioner gets the desire that others should taste what he/she is tasting and would want to give it to others like how Narada Muni keeps doing? Thank you

    • The desire to preach is not a result of sadhana, because the goal of sadhana is bhava, not preaching. The word subha-da does not mean preaching. It means bhakti brings auspiciousness to the sadhaka. The purpose of this site is not to preach, but to teach- to make Sri Jiva’s theology accessible to those who are already bhaktas, but who are searching for proper understanding of the teachings of the Sri Chaitanya sampradaya.

      As for Sri Chaitanya’s verse you cited – the limbs of sadhana bhakti for the sadhaka must be understood from Sri Rupa Goswami’s BRS. There is no indication that the lines you cited, the verses that came before it, or the verses that came after it, are Sri Chaitanya’s instructions to a sadhaka; they are instructions to His associates who were participating in His Lila. The bharata bhumite verse is contextual- He cited it to support His instructions to His associates; it is not a general instruction to a sadhaka. If it was, then Sri Rupa Goswami, who is the one person who understood His mind, would have included preaching to non-devotees as well as the bharata bhumite lines, in his BRS, among the 64 limbs of bhakti for a sadhaka. He did not. And those who followed him for 450 years- would have tried to convert the whole world as He supposedly wanted. But they did not.

  2. But I thought subha da includes sarva-jagatām prīṇanam. As Jiva Gosvami notes in his commentary on BRS 1.1.27…
    Prīṇana or affection for the world means that he works for the world’s benefit. The whole world is also attached to this person who works for the benefit of all beings.

    Also the sadhaka you mention the kanistha devotee or the madhya devotee? Because even Bhagavatam 11.2.46 says a madhya devotee shows mercy to the ignorant…

    Regarding Mahaprabhu’s order – he definitely wanted his devotees to taste the fruits of bhakti first but he also wanted them to help him in distributing – isn’t this evident from CC Adi Chapter 9? The reason for Mahaprabhu’s descent is also to establish the yuga-dharma… Nama sankirtana… So if nama sankirtana is done in public would it not be following Lord’s instruction even if someone may not like such public shows of bhakti?

    Even Sri Srivatsa Gosvami of Gopala Bhatta lineage has many times said that ācāra pracāra bhaktira dui rūpa – personal practice and preaching are the two forms of bhakti…

    Grateful for the clarification…

    • I have explained this enough. The pramana for our parivara, for what sadhana should consist of, are Sri Rupa Goswami’s limbs of bhakti in the BRS. You are welcome to follow your own understanding of these things. As you point out, there are multiple views available.

  3. Do you want to mean that Srila Prabhupada who preached Bhakti to world (you are getting traffic because of him) done wrong thing?

    • What he did or did not do is not
      my concern. This website explains the teachings of the Gadadhara parivaar. As to your jibe about traffic to my website, I generally get negative comments from the followers of Bhaktivedanta swami. This website is for those who are interested in Sri Jiva Goswami’s teachings. It is not for you.

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