I want to present a case study of sorts from which we can learn how Prabhupada first spoke about Krishna consciousness to a visitor to the Ananda ashram. Dr. Mishra was teaching Raja yoga and impersonal philosophy in the ashram. A visitor by name Harvey Cohen was present there. To my knowledge, I think this was the first preaching of any kind done by Prabhupada. By studying this first conversation, I thought we can learn how Prabhupada preached.
Prabhupada, at this time, around 1965 is perhaps just one month or thereabouts in the USA. He barely knew the culture, and the people. He is in an ashram where he is not allowed to speak about Bhaki Yoga to Krishna. Then, by the arrangement of Krishna, Prabhupada is with Harvey Cohen in a room, just the two of them. When Prabhupada asked Harvey about the reason for the visit to the ashram, Harvey responded nonchalantly displaying his lack of interest in Raja yoga. Prabhupada saw an opportunity to preach and he directly went to the point.
Points to consider while this conversation is taking place
In this seemingly unfavorable setting, Prabhupada spoke the following about yoga.
- There are better things than this. There are higher, more direct forms of yoga.
- Bhakti yoga is the highest it is the science of God devotion.
- We are all dependent. No one is independent.
- Everyone here is thinking “Who am I?” I can answer that in one second, I am a servant. We are all servants. Servants of what? Of whom? Servants of God. All of us are serving someone or something, a boss a cat or dog, our family, our country. Why don’t we admit this? We should serve the highest master. We should serve the Supreme Lord.
- This is our constitutional position and the only way to be happy and become liberated from material bondage.
- First Prabhupada downplays Hatha yoga.
- Then he gives hope by saying there are higher forms of yoga inspiring the listener to seek for more and not settle for less (Prabhupada, I want to remind, is precise and not wasting words. He gets to the point without repeating himself or overdoing the points - sensitive to time, place and circumstance).
- After piquing the interest of the listener, Prabhupada delivers his punchline - Bhakti to God is the highest form of yoga.
- Then he scientifically (using logic and rationale) justifies that point by comparing his punch line with the experiences of this relative world thus providing fodder for thought for the listener.
- Finally, he ends by stating the goal of yoga for which the listener was in the ashram in the first place - bhakti yoga to God is (1) our constitutional position – i.e we are servants no matter where we are material or spiritual (2) only way to be happy (3) liberation from all suffering.
Three point strategy employed by Prabhupada;
- De-emphasize the current system quickly followed by stating the highest and best system.
- Provide relative logic and rationale driving home the value of the highest system (the listener will relate to the logic of this world reducing the gap between speaker and listener)
- Once the listener is close, he empathizes with the speaker. Not wasting time, end by providing a positive picture to our current and future states of existence using the highest system as the solution (provoking the listener for more).
- Harvey Cohen later became Haridas das brahmachari and devoted his life to Krishna
Harvey prabhu was interested in yoga so Prabhupada presented a higher yoga system. To Prof. Kotovsky in Russia, Prabhupada just talked about body-soul dual paradigm, to Jean Daniélou – the French cardinal, he just spoke about cow slaughter and in temple audiences (varied), Prabhupada spoke in general terms touching mainly on the basics such as body-soul, miseries of this world, and how Krishna consciousness is the panacea for all of our troubles. Prabhupada clearly was in-tune with his listeners and accordingly delivered his message in a short and precise manner. An important point to note is that not everyone took up the message as Harvey did so we have to give credit to the listener as well. If the listener is too materialistic, these strategies will not work. At that point, we simply serve Prasadam and perhaps give a book.
Srila Prabhupada walked the walk and talked the talk. In this example, Harvey prabhu noticed Prabhupada even before the said conversation took place and he saw how Prabhupada was serene and content. This was also crucial for Harvey to accept Prabhupada's instructions. Therefore preaching is simply not speaking intelligently and strategically but actual preaching is to practice what we preach - Example is better than precept. This is the most powerful and this movement began and thrived in the 60s and 70s simply by the purity and love of Srila Prabhupada. We have to strive for purity and love in our own lives.