Public Sankirtana

Q: We have a harinama sankirtana group here in Miami, FL and we are planning a sankirtana for a music festival. One devotee was concerned because most the attendees are heavily intoxicated and that by performing harinama we could be introducing them to offenses toward the holy name and the devotees. Are these concerns in line with siddhanta? Should we avoid the venue because of the high level of intoxicated people in order to prevent giving any chances to them to make offense?

A: How will you be introducing them to offences toward the holy name? You will be introducing them to the remedy for offences. There is no greater purifying agent than bhakti. And in the form of nama sankirtana, bhakti goes everywhere, even the lowest places, and purifies everyone. The teaching is not that intoxicated people should not chant because it will be offensive. The teaching is that intoxicated people should chant to overcome their bad habits. We do not first become pure and then chant. No, first chant and then as a result of chanting become pure and more.

What could be more purifying than nama sankirtana? To think that one must be pure before chanting is to think that eligibility for bhakti requires something other then faith. It is jnana marga that requires purity first, not bhakti. And in fact, even without faith, bhakti is efficacious if one simply desires to hear about it, as explained in Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.2. So give them the opportunity to desire to hear and understand your Hari kirtana!

The idea of preaching the glories of Nama Prabhu to the faithless is more related to the guru who gives the holy name. He or she should not give Nama to those who do not have faith. In other words, the guru should not be bought and paid for and give Nama to secure an old age pension. No, he or she must awaken faith in the holy name—sastriya sraddha—before blessing someone to chant with guidance.

Some consideration of the nature of the proposed venue nonetheless has its place. When the people of Bombay were disrespectful to our sankirtana, Prabhupada told us to discontinue chanting in public.