Challenges, challenges and only challenges. Is that the only thing life has to offer to us? Even when in spiritual life, why do devotees face so many challenges? And what are the probable solutions of such complex challenges? A survey has been conducted in ISKCON East Africa.
Srila Prabhupada paves the way by saying: “Life is but an adventure if we can just detach ourselves a little bit. The only thing that really matter is how much spiritual development you make in this life. Everything else will pass. Adversities, trials, difficulties, calamities, diseases, afflictions, pains and sufferings are all blessings in disguise. They strengthen the will and increase the power of endurance. They turn the mind more and more towards God. They instill in us discrimination and dispassion. They draw out all our latent faculties. They force us to perform even beyond our ability. They develop all the talents and capacities lying dormant within us. As it is often said, if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger. It is often the reversals or challenges in life that draw out of us many of the abilities that we never knew we had.....”
Over the last couple of decades devotees in East Africa have faced many adverse situations during preaching, which resulted them in building a “fence” around themselves, limiting them in their endevours to spread Krishna-consciousness.
Recently, a survey was conducted within the ISKCON East Africa community the primary goals of which were to explore, brainstorm and discover the inhibiting factors and to derive tangible ways of overcoming these stumbling blocks.
Altogether sixty devotees of ISKCON East Africa (Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Kampala, Arusha) took part in the survey. 45% of the interviewees were senior devotees, 35% of them were intermediate devotees, and 20% of them were neophytes. All of them carry out preaching activities in this part of the World.
They were asked twenty-two questions, such as the following:
• How long have you been in Krishna Consciousness?
• What services do you carry out at the Temple?
• Do you do preaching service?
• What kind of preaching service do you do?
• What are the main challenges (any three) you face when you go out to preach? Share some personal experience.
• Why do you think such challenges exist?
• What are the reasons for these challenges?
• Suggest at least two solutions for each challenge you face during preaching and which are stopping ISKCON from spreading.
Among many others, some of the difficulties that were discovered are related to the age-old African traditions, some of them to the Western influences and some of them to the secluded nature of the Hindu culture present in Africa.
The epicentre of the African culture ornamented by simplicity is human relationships. Despite the individualistic Western influences, strong family connections still have a huge impact on people`s decisions in life. Although theistic and religious-minded, people in this part of the World have been practicing gambling, meat-eating, getting intoxicated and having more than one spouse for centuries. When asked, a surveyed devotee of African origin chuckled and said: “I cannot stop my family from cooking or eating meat, or stop them from gambling in casinos during Christmas, nor can I ask them not to drink during festivities, even when I know it is wrong. I have been brought up in such a way, that I cannot revolt, or do something they are not doing or say something which they do not want to hear. Being the youngest, the elders are to guide me. But the elders, I feel, need guidance themselves. I feel helpless. It is just that African children are brought up like that; they fear being misjudged, isolated, mishandled or ill-treated, so the best option is just not to do anything against the family...”
African Youth is rapidly being drifted towards the Western Culture and are becoming more materialistic. This has caused joint families to become obsolete and nuclear families to grow exponentially. 73% of the interviewed devotees believe that people strive to achieve a balance between material progression and traditional African culture, which is inhibiting them from accepting Krishna Consciousness.
Since the Asians have moved into Africa, the Hindus have practiced Hinduism in seclusion. Over time, a gap has developed between the Hindu and the local Christian communities. Most of the local people refrain from accepting Krishna Consciousness, since they confuse it with Hinduism practiced by the isolated immigrants. According to 27% of the interviewed devotees, this is one of the major inhibiting factors that prevent ISKCON from spreading in this part of the World.
A couple of devotees when interviewed during the survey said: “Honestly Krishna-conscious people do not face much of a difficulty here.” Another devotee affirmed: “What we have to offer is for free, and as soon as people realize it they embrace it with both arms. After all, what we are giving them is the best, it is the Love of God, Love of Krishna.”
35% of the surveyed devotees completely rejected the idea that they do face obstacles while preaching.
55% of the m felt that the obstacles in preaching Krishna-consciousness have persisted for the last couple of decades.
At the end, the devotees unanimously agreed by saying that it is not at all difficult to spread Krishna-consciousness in East-Africa. All they need to do is, to become skilful, to approach people humbly, talk to them, listen to them, and make sure that they are clear about the distinction between the Hindu groups that prefer to be isolated and the ISKCON devotees.
As far as taking advantage of the great preaching opportunities in East-Africa, 90% of the surveyed devotees suggested to increase book distribution, publishing, the college and university preaching, to organize more public speeches, festivals, or by simply talking and listening to the people. They further proposed to set up a small ashrams or bhajan kutirs everywhere where people can peacefully sit and pray.
A devotee very creatively gave a mathematical interpretation of success in this part of the World:
SUCCESS= (PATIENCE+CREATIVE EFFORTS) x DETERMINATION x ENTHUSIASM
Srila Prabhupada seems to approve that equasion:
“You will succeed with patience. Never despair. There is enormous power within you. Tap that power diligently and come out victorious. Then share your knowledge with others and be a blessing to this world. At the height of spiritual realization you will understand that all there is in the end is love. The foundation upon which the universe manifests is compassion, and that compassion is to help and support you, only if you are open to it. Only if you are willing to perceive it, like the sun shining on everyone, unless they cut themselves off from it...... There is another old occult saying that points out that every problem is only a temporary illusion. They may have a cause, a beginning, but they also have an end. They are all temporary and it is not to our advantage to get so wrapped up in the illusion or temporary nature that we forget the real goal of life, which is to focus on our spiritual progress....”