Spiritual Solutions to Material Problems

Mukunda Goswami and Krishna Dharma Dasa

'I am telling him, "Look, just chant Hare Krsna".  And he is looking at me and thinking, 'Not practical, it could never work".'  Do you recognise the dialogue?  Yes, it's that perennial communications problem we all love to hate.  H. H.  Mukunda Goswami and Krsna Dharma Dasa have joined forces to help us understand the dynamics of getting through to 'Joe Public', and how to address his concerns and needs with practical, Krsna conscious solutions. 

H. H. Mukunda Goswami: In spreading Krsna consciousness we find that throughout the world there are three things that we need to establish in order to gain public support, attract followers and sell the idea of Krsna consciousness - in short, to be successful in propagating Krsna consciousness.  We propagate these different messages at different times according to time, place and circumstance. 

The first is authenticity.  Who are we?  What are we?  Are we part of an old tradition?  Are we something new?  Very often, even in interfaith conferences, we are characterised as a new religion and that is a definition we often have to fight.  What is the size?  What is the scope?  What is our philosophical background?  Are we truly authentic - do we have a book of knowledge?  So authenticity is very important.

Prabhupada sometimes said that Krsna consciousness was a cultural movement.  So our cultural richness should also be considered important.  I remember when I was getting Srila Prabhupada immigration into the United States.  There was a special form to fill out if the person felt they could contribute something culturally, as an artist, a musician, a performer  or architect etc.  So cultural  richness - paintings, architecture, music, dance, drama,  literature and food - are things people find very important and see as contributing to the so-called culture of modern society. Lastly is social responsibility - being seen to contribute to, or improve, the quality of life.

All these things are all going on simultaneously.  We constantly have to teach people why and how we are authentic, expose them to our culture - harinam, deity worship, prasadam - and display our social responsibility.

In this essay we would like to focus on  social responsibility, which is an element which we have perhaps not really thought about very much as a society.  How we are improving the quality of life? People want to know what we have to offer, how they are going to benefit.  When they see that we are contributing towards the welfare of the individual, family, community, society, nation and the world as a whole, that is the beginning of recognising the social responsibility of our movement. 

We have already consulted people who have had many years of experience helping non profit-making organisations get their messages across to the public.  Myself, Anuttama and some other devotees recently spent several days working out a Universal Mission Statement (UMS) for ISKCON Communications.  It is not a UMS for ISKCON in general  although it could, or may be, in the future, but a statement to develop the idea of social responsibility. 

When Prabhupada was in Rome in 1974, he asked devotees to write a book called How Krsna Consciousness Can Solve All The Problems of Life.  Looking through the transcripts of Srila Prabhupada's conversations, one can find at least twenty instances where he says that Krsna consciousness solves all the problems of the world - very clear statements.  In fact, he asked the devotees to bring a new problem to him each day.  One day, Prabhupada talked about how Krsna consciousness can solve the crime problem.  On another, he talked about the oil crisis in the Gulf.  Various social problems, such as drugs, were also discussed, with Srila Prabhupada offering the spiritual solution in every case. 

Inspired by this, we did try to put together a book.  There is a section in The Science Of Self-Realisation headed 'Spiritual Solutions to Material Problems'.  This featured a classic conversation Prabhupada had with Lieutenant Mozee of the Chicago Police Department, where he outlined ways in which Krsna consciousness could solve the crime problem.  In another conversation on the same theme, with Jackie Vaughan, Michigan State Senator, Vaughan is reported to have said to Prabhupada, 'I am completely convinced that this is not simply theoretical and that this movement can solve all problems of life'.

There are different levels on which these problems are solved.  Firstly, there is directly perceived evidence - pratyaksha .  We can see on a personal level how Krsna consciousness leads to a reduction in stress levels, a healthier diet and greater inner peace.  Secondly, there is hypothetical evidence, or anumana.  For example, if everyone is individually peaceful then logically the whole world could become peaceful.  Lastly, there are the authoritative statements, or shabda, which tell us that the whole world will become peaceful by Krsna consciousness.  This is illustrated in scriptures such as the Srimad Bhagavatam, which says that if you water the root of the tree all the branches and twigs will be nourished. There are many other such statements which speak about how Krsna consciousness can solve all problems.

We are preaching on all three levels, according to time place and circumstance.  Some solutions are directly obvious; others sound possible; and there are those which are purely scriptural injunctions.  For example, the statement that cow dung is useful as a fertiliser and cleanser , or that bone is impure but the conchshell, which is bone, is considered pure.  Srila Prabhupada stressed that Vedic knowledge is always pure and perfect; even though it may appear contradictory in places, it is still the best, highest and most perfect knowledge.  We will briefly discuss these different ways of approaching the various problems - putting forward immediate, obvious solutions; presenting possible solutions for argument, and those that just have to be taken on faith.

The problems given in the Universal Mission Statement are immense and perhaps, some day, whole books will be written about how Krsna Consciousness will solve each one of these.  In fact, the Bhaktivedanta Institute have just completed an eight hundred page book called Forbidden Archeology , which deals with the mechanistic worldview.  It is already meeting with some success even though it has only been out a few weeks.  The book aims to make even the most sceptical or athestic person question the popular belief that the world is a dead place, run automatically according to some mechanistic laws, rather than under the control of God.  Not only will books be written, but there might even be colleges or institutions devoted to tackling each one of these problems, just as the Bhaktivedanta Institute exists just to solve the problem of the mechanistic worldview using the Krsna Consciousness philosophy. 

So let us now look at the Universal Mission Statement and how the Krsna conscious philosophy can be applied.


Krsna Dharma: First of all ,I would like to give in full the present Universal Mission Statement as mentioned above by Mukunda Maharaja:-

 The Hare KrsnaMovement benefits the individual and society by offering practical solutions to today's material and spiritual problems.  These problems include:

1) Ethnic, racial and cultural conflict

2) Religious intolerance

3) Hunger

4) Disregard for animal and human life (including the unborn)

5) Health, diet and disease

6) Environment

7) Drug and alcohol abuse

8) Crime

9) Economic imbalance

10) Family breakdown

11) Decline of ethics and morality

12) Stress and anxiety

13) Failure of education

14) A mechanistic worldview
I would like to try and present this Universal Mission Statement using Srila Prabhupada's instructions as well as my own experiences.

Of course, everyone is trying to solve the problems of life and, as we know, human life is meant for making a permanent solution to these problems. In his books, Prabhupada refers again and again to four particular problems with which all of us are familiar: janma, mrityu, jara, vyadi - birth, death, old age and disease.  Every kind of human endeavour is more or less directed towards trying to bring about a solution to one of these problems.  Immediately we are born we need to find a facility for survival and for avoiding the miseries of this world - and that struggle never ends.

Thus everyone is trying to find some kind of improvement or gain in their life.  This is known as artha in Sanskrit - some gain or result to one's endeavour.  The Vedic injunction is jijnasu sreya uttama - we should look for the ultimate solution to life's problems.  And that is discovered when you approach a bona fide guru. Tasmad guru prapadyeta jigyasu sreya uttamam: you enquire from him and he gives you the answer  which is, of course, that you become Krsna conscious, give up material activities in toto, don't get any more reactions (good or bad) for your activities and go back to Godhead.  This is the essential message of the Krsna consciousness movement.  We are saying that if you simply chant the maha mantra and serve, worship and surrender to Krsna - Krsna bhakti kaila sarva karma krta hoy - everything is taken care of or, as Prabhupada says, 'Everything is carried'.  Now the question may be: why is there any need then for us to do or say anything else?  Let's simply go out and spread this core message of the Hare Krsna movement 'Just chant Hare Krsna and be happy'. We are not saying 'don't do that'.  The message here is, yes, we want to transmit the core message of ISKCON, we want to tell people 'chant Hare Krsna, worship Krsna, take Krsna prasadam, go back to Godhead'.  But  we encounter problems - people don't want to do, or accept, that. 

I have personally experienced frustration, as I know many of you will have done, when trying to preach the message of Krsna consciousness.  I've been speaking to an individual and clearly they've got problems and I know I've got the answer in the shape of Krsna consciousness, but I'm not able to convince him.  I'm telling him 'Look, just chant Hare Krsna,' and he is looking at me and thinking, 'Not practical, it could never work.  Maybe it's working for you but my problems are so complex, there are so many things in my life to sort out. How could chanting be of any use to me?'   So there is a communications problem here - I'm not getting through.

What we are talking about here is how to relate Krsna consciousness to specific needs.  Everyone has a need in their life.  Ultimately we know that need is Krsna, so we have to somehow show that to people.

Now, I do not know if any of you have looked at the techniques of selling, but there are certain tried and tested methods by which you can sell anything.  So let us take Krsna Consciousness as our product.  First of all, we have to approach the materialist, or the prospect as they say in sales jargon, and convince him to buy our product.  Salesmen use a well-known method called 'AIDA':  Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.  In order to explain, let us use this idea in relation to the book distributor.  What do you do when you try to sell a book?  First thing is attract attention: 'Excuse me sir, excuse me, please stop a moment.'  So you stop someone.  'Hello, my name is Krsna Dasa and I am here to show you some beautiful books today.' The next thing is, 'I would like you to look at one of these', and you give him a book.  You try to grab his interest by putting the book in his hand, and he looks at it.  Now, you have to get him to the next stage - desire.  You have to make him desire the product.  He has got it in his hand, he is probably thinking 'Do I really need this?  What is it anyway?  Srimad . ?  Bhaga . ?'  He probably can't even read the title and he does not know what it is about.  You have got to convince him to buy it and you do not have much time to do this, he is about to give it back.  Now using all your expertise you try to bring him to the point of desire. You try to understand the particular need of that man.  If you are an expert salesman you will draw it out from him by asking the right questions, and then you relate the product to this need. He starts thinking, 'Hey! I'm looking for something like this.  This is what I want.'  That is the point of desire, when he starts feeling like that: he buys, you should not sell.  Expert salesmanship means that people buy without feeling 'sold'.

Each selling process goes through these four basic constituents. This can be done 'one-to-one' on the street or at the door, or on a larger scale.  Indeed, it is necessary to have this kind of support for men in the field.  It is extremely difficult on a first encounter to take a prospect from having no knowledge of the product to realising it will satisfy his particular needs. Successful companies will always carry out some preliminary marketing by increasing product awareness and stimulating interest.  The salesman just goes in and closes the deal.

There are different kinds of needs and problems which are prevalent in society according to time, place and circumstance, and to which we can relate Krsna consciousness.  Believe it on not, a major problem in many Western countries today is poverty.  There are so many beggars on the street, so many people who are hungry in the so-called affluent West, it is gradually becoming like the third world.  There is a growing feature of degradation, deprivation and poverty in Manchester, which is where I preach.   The idea is that we present Krsna consciousness in such a way that it is recognised as directly addressing this particular need.  If I go to these needy individuals and say 'I see you are lying there on the street and you are hungry, but just chant Hare Krsna and everything will be okay,' they are probably going to say 'I'm hungry, what about some food?'  But if I go to them with Krsna prasadam, as with the Food For Life programme, they can relate to that.  'Yes, this is something I need.'  And, of course, we can gradually introduce more Krsna consciousness. 

By this method we are trying to create environments which are favourable to the transmission of the core Krsna conscious message, which is the product which they are not ready to take, which they do not understand that they need.  We have to create that understanding in them.  Perhaps we can think of possible programmes which could demonstrate how Krsna Consciousness specifically applies itself to solving certain problems, such as Food For Life.  That is the pratyaksa element - the practical evidence of Krsna consciousness working.  We can also think of different arguments why ultimately one has to be God conscious in order to solve a particular problem (anumana).  I have done some research into the Srimad Bhagavatam and have extracted statements from Srila Prabhupada on most of the problems found on the UMS list. Of course, he is always saying 'chant Hare Krsna and be happy', but he also gives more specific and detailed solutions.  For example, in the Srimad Bhagavatam  Prabhupada referred to 'government' 256 times, so we can understand he is interested in governing society.  The Krsna Consciousness movement is not just saying 'Let's forget the whole thing.  The world is a mess and a place of misery, let us just go back to Godhead. Just leave it, there is no hope.'  Perhaps we may find the occasional statement that supports that idea. But the fact is, the material world exists for the rectification of the conditioned souls so they will go back to Godhead, and in order for this to be achieved there has to be a proper functioning society.  Of course, all these problems would be solved in a proper varnasrama society, but maybe that is something for the future. Certainly Srila Prabhupada did not want us the forget this world: again, in the Srimad Bhagavatam, there are 150 specific references to leadership. 'Leadership should be this, leaders should do that, a leader should always act like this.'  Prabhupada is again and again making these points so clearly he wanted us to get involved with the managing of society.  We have to show that we are able to do that, especially in our actions and, of course, in our preaching.  Usually we are expert at presenting the argument but when it comes to its practical application  - well, we may still have some way to go. 

In this way, our preaching approach is related to the concerns of the particular audience, to whatever wavelength they are on, which will depend upon the time and place.  For example, the poverty in Manchester.  In Sweden they do not have such a problem with poverty due to their excellent welfare system, but they have much stress and anxiety, and the suicide rate is very high.  We could therefore show how Krsna Consciousness directly addresses this problem, perhaps by offering 'mantra therapy' or 'anxiety free food', etc.

We thus take the solution from the personal level on which we are trying to attract people, back to Krsna again.  In the Srimad Bhagavatam there is a generic quote that can perhaps be applied to this whole exercise, in the last of the four seed verses: 'A person who is searching after the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, must certainly search for it up to this in all circumstances, in all space, in all time and both directly and indirectly.'  Although we may initially view the solution to a problem from a material perspective, it must be ultimately be directed towards Krsna.  That is the real expertise which we will have to develop and display.  In the purport to that verse Srila Prabhupada writes:  ' . one who is developed in consciousness certainly makes enquiries into the mystery of the self, the cosmic situation, and of the problems of life, in all spheres and fields, social, political, economic, cultural, religious, moral, etc, and, in their different branches.  But here the goal of all such enquiries is explained ... .'  In other words, we should make enquiries into these specific areas, but must always keep the goal in mind. We may formulate programmes addressing specific needs, but even those programmes can incorporate the core aspect of our preaching such as Food For Life.  Or, as I suggested above, we might devise a programme for suicidal cases incorporating sessions of chanting.  In this way, we are still undertaking our main preaching activities.  Whatever we do will, of course, incorporate one or more of the three main limbs of our preaching, but in such an expert way that it is accepted by people.  They feel that 'yes this is what we are looking for, this is what we need.'   From this initial step, we gradually take them higher and higher, right up to the point of ultimate enquiry.  There is a further reference in the Srimad Bhagavatam which supports this: 'Avicyuta-arth' (the infallible purpose).  In the purport to that verse, Srila Prabhupada refers to social, political, religious and psychological knowledge, but emphasises that the infallible purpose of the study of all these culminates in the glorification of the Supreme Lord: 'tad uttamashloka gunarnavarnam'.

Therefore spiritual solutions to material problems does not conflict with the core mission of ISKCON, but rather facilitates it by creating an environment where people can recognise that Krsna consciousness is the ultimate solution to their problems. 

Mukunda Goswami:  'Spiritual solutions' goes beyond acceptance of ISKCON by society, which is sometimes all we are trying to obtain.  But we do not want to just be tolerated.  In the UK  there is this idea that 'well we can tolerate these Muslims, blacks or whatever they may be, even though we don't like them'.  However, Srila Prabhupada expected ISKCON to be a movement for change in society.  By preaching in this way, we begin to see that society is able to do more than just tolerate us.  It is one thing to be accepted, but if we are doing something that benefits society then the next step is appreciation.  In fact Srila Prabhupada said that society would hate, then laugh at and finally adore us - so these developments are moving us towards the level of appreciation and adoration.

Developing our society means a high level of participation and energy, with people putting in their time and money.  The purpose of going beyond acceptance, and being seen as an organisation that is benefitting society, is to create an environment in which people feel they want to participate and are proud to be doing something for ISKCON.  This is the way in which such an environment is created, maintained and increased, providing a foundation in which more and more people can become involved.  There are many people who would get involved but who think 'I do not understand this and nothing really good for society is happening here, they are just into their own thing'.  However, if we demonstrate that something important is happening which is of benefit to people then involvement will increase and increase.

I want to encourage each of you when giving classes, preaching one-on-one or in a small group in peoples' homes, to raise some of these points.  You will find that a lot of things you have read about in Prabhupada's books or heard in lectures will come out and that there is a great wealth of knowledge in preaching this way.

Based on a talk given by H. H. Mukunda Goswami and Krsna Dharma Dasa in Radhadesh, July 1993.