"If someone like that is into Hare Krishna. . ."
Last Saturday I went with friends to Daytona Beach to take part in the Ratha-yatra festival; throughout the spring and summer months there are several such festivals that take place in Florida. I’d taken my car and a few ladies rode with me. One of my passengers had a pack of stickers to pass out (with a Bhagavad-gita verse on them) and she shared them with me. That gave me a way to interact with the passersby in a low-key way; I could simply give them the sticker, read the verse with them (or in some cases, they read it to me) and then invite them to our free feast, right there on the beach. We had a great set-up, with a tent on the beach, a stage, and a couple of different music groups playing.
For the most part, my interactions with the people I met were quite brief. Only in a couple of cases did I actually get into a conversation with them. The very last one was a man about my age; as a way of introduction, he said, “I’m a baby boomer,” and that led into his having been exposed to many varieties of spiritual trends as he made his way through life. He was well-educated, having a master’s degree, and so was his wife, who joined us as we spoke. They were both on bicycles. He said, after having explored lots of options, he was now a Baptist, but not in a sectarian or dogmatic way.
At some point I said “Hare Krishna,” which led him to ask, “Oh, is this Hare Krishna?” I said yes, it was, and wondered what impressions he might have from the past. (Sometimes a preconceived idea can get in the way of a person’s open-mindedness.) He mostly remembered the Krishna people from the 70s, vaguely associated in his mind with the hippies of the day, and he remembered us from the airports, where book distribution had gone on for years. But he had no negativity from those.
He then pointed out one of the devotees at the festival (Krishna Keshava, who serves as vice president of the Alachua temple) that had approached him earlier that day. He said that even without knowing what is our philosophy or the particulars of our faith, he had been impressed by Keshava’s warmth and friendliness. “That speaks volumes,” said. “If a person like that is into Hare Krishna, it must be a good thing.”
This in turn reminded me of some things Srila Prabhupada had said. "Act in such a way that they will see we are of ideal character." And when asked, "How do you recognize a Vaisnava?" Srila Prabhupada had replied, "He is a perfect gentleman."
The Vaisnava philosophy is full and deep, with many details of transcendental knowledge explained. It also has its esoteric aspects, which delve into the intricacies of life within the realm of the spirit. As we study them, and engage in the process of bhakti-yoga, we may sometimes think ourselves learned or advanced, or even better than others. Yet it’s good to be reminded, as I was by this man on a bike on the beach, that first impressions mean a lot. A little personal warmth, reaching out to others respectfully, can go a long way. As the man said, “It speaks volumes.”