The Counseling System: Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees
I have been reading an excellent booklet entitled "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" by H.H. Niranjana Swami. It outlines his experience and advice regarding the counseling system successfully used in Chowpatti Temple, as well as in many parts of Russia. The following is a summary of some of the book's presentation. I recommend reading the complete book since it contains much more detail and inspiration.
Everyone needs to take shelter of something. Everyone needs friends in Krishna consciousness. Everyone needs spiritual strength. Spiritual strength comes from Balarama. Balarama's representative is the guru.
A good Krishna conscious leader gives encouragement and care to his dependents. He or she is interested only in other people's Krishna consciousness; not in exploiting their skills, their money, etc. Therefore, the essential ingredient for a successful counseling system is: caring (thinking of the welfare of others).
Counselors are not official authorities. They are simply friends. They give advice only when asked and don't force their counselees to do anything these strongly resist doing. Some pushing may be there, but only out of concern and love. Aspiring devotees should deal with their counselors not because they have to, but because they want to. Devotees should trust their counselors. This is, after all, a volunteer movement. There should be no arm twisting or threatening. Devotees should not feel like they are constantly under the Sword of Damocles.
Inspiration should be the first principle, the organized system can come later. Prabhupada wrote in a letter: "This is the duty of the leaders to bring up this voluntary spirit and to fan it so that Krishna consciousness becomes an ever-fresh experience." Devotees can best inspire others if they themselves are highly inspired.
It is not so much a counseling system; it is rather more a means of establishing friendships / loving relationships. It has to come naturally and cannot be forced by the temple authorities. If someone is forced to accept someone as a counselor then they will not necessarily trust the counselor's advice; they suspect that the counselor has some hidden agenda. True friendship is secret of the success of the counseling system in a place like Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandir in Chowpatta, Mumbai. Devotees there love each other and that makes all the difference. They chant together, associate together and thereby learn to see each other's good quality. They are one family.
Fault finding can manifest if devotees associate only for the purpose of service. Therefore, in addition to service, there needs to be association in kirtan, study and support for a nice community to develop. If this is not there then association with materialists starts looking more and more attractive to the aspiring devotee.
Counselees should use meeting with their counselors to benefit personally. The meeting should not be used to complain about other devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakur said that if someone speaks about others with an attitude of pride or envy, they cannot fix their mind upon Krishna. So, meetings should only be used to discuss personal problems, both material and spiritual, as well as general Krishna conscious philosophy.
It is not that a devotee should only associate with those devotees whom he likes and avoid those whom he does not get along with. That is a kanista (neophyte) mentality. Instead, all devotees should chant very attentively, learn to see each other's good qualities and bring out the best in everyone. There must be an emphasis on internal transformation as well as external distribution. Both must go on equally.
The devotees who take up the position of counselors should expect nothing in return for their service. They should be materially stable with an honest source of income. Counselors should also be stable in their particular ashram (ideally as a householder), so they don't misuse their position of authority. They should be inspiring preachers who lead by their own example.
The counselors should ideally not be involved in temple management (or, if they are, be able to clearly distinguish between the needs of the temple and the needs of their counselees). They should be free thinkers (although strictly principled), who may, in certain circumstances, disagree with the management's ideas and plans. Management should not only appoint counselors who are sympathetic to them. Otherwise, if the counselors are simply an extension of the management, their counselees will doubt their commitment to their dependents' best interest. If a counselee cannot trust his or her counselor then the counseling will be ineffective.
Important qualification for counselors are:
- Counselors should have a nice understanding of the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness.
- They should have been active within ISKCON for a reasonable length of time.
- They should be able to give balanced advice according to time, place and circumstance.
- They should not be prone to taking extreme and controversial positions on issues..
- They should be willing to extend themselves to help others and have a spirit of sacrifice.
- They should be compassionate and have a genuine concern for the welfare of devotees.
- They should be good listeners. They should be able to listen to the people they are trying to serve.
- They should be mature and sober.
- They should demonstrate a good standard of sadhana, etiquette, behavior, and commitment to serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
- They should be stably situated within their own ashram.
More information on the counseling system from H.H. Radhanath Maharaja is available here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1378
Another review of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1421
An electronic version of the complete text of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/wp-content/uploads/tckd2_web.pdf
Printed copies of "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" are available for a very reasonable price by contacting Lila Smarana devi dasi at: firstname.lastname@example.org