Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
I recently visited New Zealand and while there I went to the centers that I heard were very successful in the loft preaching and I must say that I'm very impressed. So many nice young devotees have come out of this type of preaching. Srila Prabhupada said we should tax our brains to figure out how to attract people to Krsna consciousness. Devamrta Swami has done just that as you'll see from reading the letter below.
Before leaving Christ Church I asked Hanuman Prabhu if he could write something for the BDS explaining how the "loft preaching" works.
Here’s a summary of the Loft preaching program.
The support network for book distribution.
Many people receiving Srila Prabhupada’s books, although interested, may not be ready for the full cultural experience of entering one of our Temples. Though the temple atmosphere may be very spiritually potent, it may also be insensitive for a new comer. People bowing down, chanting japa or sitting on the floor eating with their fingers, may appear quite bizarre (what to speak of Deities or even Prabhupada’s murti) for someone taking their first look into Krishna consciousness. Often first-timers leave with a very superficial view of the movement. Others may be interested, but not ready for the commitment which Krishna consciousness appears to demand. (Such as shaving one’s head and bowing down before statues) Of course we may inform people these things are not prerequisites, but when visiting our temples for a Sunday Feast or at other times, they will be confronted with devotees dressed in saris and dhotis, wearing Vaisnava tilak. For the newcomer these are certainly signs of acceptance and commitment to the faith.
For some, like myself, these things were not at all stumbling blocks, the more “far out”, “spiritual”, “cultural” stuff, the better! But we may have to consider that a high percentage of people will require another entrance to Krishna consciousness.
Another aspect of many of our temple environments; is that the devotees themselves may not be sensitive in dealing with casual guests. For example, one time I met a couple of girls who just spontaneously dropped into the temple to “find out more’. After greeting them at the door I showed them around, speaking the basics of Krishna consciousness. When we went into the temple room, there was some devotees chanting their rounds (really getting into it!). This created quite an intense atmosphere. It was like we had burst in on something very personal. As we walked around the devotee continued chanting (seemingly louder) and then began to stride up and down, shaking their head from side to side. The two girls made no comments, but later I overheard one say, “That was really weird.”
Sometimes our temples have unusual people hanging around them. I remember walking down the hallway with one older couple and there was this strange fellow sitting on the floor eating with his fingers. He moved as if in slow motion, and when we walked past he looked up saying, “Hari bol”, in a deep, low voice. . The couple were obviously a bit freaked out.
Inspired by His Holiness Devamrita Swami, we decided to start a preaching center solely for introducing people to Krishna consciousness. The environment, the devotee staff, the programs, everything focused on making Krishna consciousness accessible. As Srila Prabhupada writes;
“The expert devotees also can discover novel ways and means to convert the non devotees in terms of particular time and circumstances. Devotional service is dynamic activity, and the expert devotees can find out competent means to inject it into the dull brains of the materialistic population. Lord Caitanya and His subsequent followers exhibited expert dexterity in this connection. By following the same method, one can bring the materialistic men of this age of quarrel into order for peaceful life and transcendental realization.”
When creating our new preaching center called “The Loft”, we figured the greatest variety of people contact our society through our restaurants, where they can sit at tables eating with knife and folk, without too many cultural barriers. We decided our preaching center’s dining area would follow the same principle. For our discussion area we created a relaxed environment, with devotional art, plants, water feature, and comfortable seating. (Couches around the edge of the room).
The basic format for an evening at the “The Loft”, is much the same as a Sunday Feast program. Beginning with kirtan, then talk, concluding with the feast. The main difference being, that the devotees are trained in “Loft” style preaching (sensitivity). Our goal is to give the best opportunity for any person to become attracted to Krishna consciousness. We try to assure that any one coming through the door, will have the best possible experience, as much as a good business assures the best service to it’s customers. This is the focus of our preaching team, most of whom, came to Krishna consciousness through this “user friendly” environment.
People are invited to “The Loft” through our Yoga studio and Restaurant (both run; by the same group of devotees), but some of the best customers come through book distribution. In fact they come with the books in their hands. The book distributors can confidently sell a book and invite them to a center where they are assured they will be given the best care and attention. Many people who buy books find them difficult to comprehend (especially the Bhagavad-gita), others have many questions, others want more books. Whatever the case “The Loft” will cater for their personal needs.
Finally and most importantly, it works. Just by making some practical changes in our presentation, having dedicated devotees focused on giving Krishna to others we have seen many people come to Krishna consciousness.
There is much more to this style of presenting Krishna consciousness, which we would be happy to share.