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The third Annual Educational Conference took place at the Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh in period from May 2 to May 4 . Unlike previous years, the Conference this year will have a regional European focus.

The aim of this year’s Conference is to consolidate our educational efforts and come together to devise a future strategy for expanding ISKCON Education in Europe and materialize its vision cooperatively.

Report prepared by Anasuya Dasi

  • Key Note Speech – Jewels in our Backyard by Urmila Devi Dasi

    Urmila Devi Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, with decades of experience in education in ISKCON, and a PhD in education, gave the Key Note speech to this year’s Education Conference in Radhadesh. She was also one of the main organizers of the event.

    educational_conference_2014_17

    Urmila Devi Dasi

    Her Grace Urmila prabhu urged all participants to think about what their goals are, especially their goals related to education. Since all participants are somehow engaged in education, what would education in one’s own city or yatra look like in its perfected form? Urmila prabhu warned us regarding the dangers of focussing on the negative. When we feel that our needs are too big or too many, our project seems impossible. However, a lot of what we need actually already exists. It is more a matter of connecting with what is already there. Drawing our attention to some of the issues that make it feel impossible, Urmila prabhu mentioned that, in ISKCON, we often simply don’t connect with others. Relating to her own experiences of connecting, she explained that these connections can be very enlivening and practically helpful. In Mumbai, for example, many devotees sat in one room to talk about school administration, sharing resources, sharing human resources, sharing experience, etc. Sometimes, resources can be obtained from people who are not at all engaged in education. Maybe someone else has done it in a different way or language, but that does not mean it cannot be used for our own project. Have we looked outside of ISKCON for resources, such as Gaudiya Math, Christian Church, or the secular world? There was a time when ISKCON looked down on academics or non-devotees. However, Urmila prabhu explained that she has received resources of good quality for free by professionals outside of ISKCON, especially from educators.

    The kind of people we need to connect with are people with “people networks”, some people simply know a lot of people. All one has to do is find that person and one is connected with that whole network. Then there are people who are resource persons. Urmila prabhu called these “the cosmic librarians”. One has to build a collection of resource people, because they tend to collect within their own field. At the same time, we also need to go beyond that and be able to look at the Ministry. It would be wonderful if it could function as a resource and information centre.

    Maybe the Ministry can also provide validation and support. This can sound scary, but there seems to be a need for such validation, since many devotees ask about the quality of different education projects. Without a procedure for validation, how can we provide an answer based on more than just our own feeling or experience? For now, this question usually gets answered through gossip. Yet, we are all a little nervous about being evaluated like this by a neutral party. However, it would be healthy to learn about our areas of strength, and our challenges from a professional and neutral perspective. In this way, the Ministry can aid the different projects.

    In conclusion, Urmila prabhu asked all participants to make a list of their needs for their projects, so that everyone is prepared for the sharing exercise later on.

  • How the Jesuits Expanded Their Mission through Education and Higher Values by Yadunandana Swami

    Yadunandana Swami

    Yadunandana Swami

    Yadunandana Swami first expressed his gratitude to the organizers of the Conference. Even though not many educators could make it, due to the late notice, Maharaja was very happy to see it happen. He stressed that quality is at least as important as quantity.

    Maharaja asked the audience how many temples ISKCON has worldwide. And compared to that, how many colleges, primary schools, or secondary schools do we have? To find an answer to how we could change this, Maharaja looked to the Jesuits. Maharaja gave an account of how St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the “Company of Jesus” (Jesuits). Ignatius first studied at university in order to prepare himself for his mission. He started a College twelve years after founding the Jesuits with some of his friends. Today, there are 231 Jesuit universities, 462 secondary schools, 187 primary schools, 70 technical institutes worldwide, and nearly 3.000.000 students. The main purpose of the Jesuits is the salvation of souls, for which they primarily use education. In establishing themselves worldwide, they did not try to impose their own cultural values, as the Europeans did. They transferred their values in a way locals could relate. One of the pioneers in China dressed as the Chinese scholars and learned the language and taught in a relevant way to locals. Sometimes, the Jesuits were persecuted because of the ingenuity they used to adapt to embrace a changing world.

    Yadunandana Swami connected the example of the Jesuits and the way they connect education with missionary work and community development, with what ISKCON could do. The Jesuits network with the communities and thus reach out through education. How much is ISKCON doing this? We see the example of His Holiness Sivarama Swami, who has made steps to integrate the mission into the community through education. Now, also the Goloka foundation is taking initiative in this direction, but it needs to be developed more. Maharaja concluded by saying that systematic education is essential to preserve Srila Prabhupada’s legacy. As long as ISKCON does not develop a sound, concrete, and practical educational strategy, ISKCON’s missionary work and Community development will remain incomplete.

  • Teaching Sastra so as to be Relevant to Individual Students’ Lives by Krishna Kshetra Dasa

    Krishan Kshetra Dasa

    Krishan Kshetra Dasa

    Krishna Kshetra prabhu started off by having the group brainstorm about what kind of associations we make with “relevance”, and he suggested two overarching principles in finding relevant ways to teach sastra, Religious Reading and Life Writing. Paul Griffith contrasts “religious reading” (repeatedly going back to one’s reading and finding new lights as one does this) with “consumer reading” (looking for what one can get from the reading and never reading the same material again). Many educators want to instil this notion of reading in students. However, it will not make sense unless we find how the reading is relevant. Sometimes, in consumer reading, we end up losing the point. There used to be a culture of reading and remembering philosophy, lila, and so on.

    One starts with reading the story, sravanam. Then, with sravanam comes some kind of remembering, retention of the content, mananam. As guide, you can draw out some hypothetical questions. This means, creating some discussion where the students think about what would I do or think if I were there. Discussion can inspire interesting topics and bring out incomplete knowledge about the situation. It depends on the age of the students how much of this can be articulated. Further mananam is to identify which part of the lila one likes or dislikes, identifies with, would like to relate to others, etc. The last part of this process is called nidhidyasanam, internalizing the story.

    At this point, Krishna Kshetra prabhu explained the second of the two principles, namely Life Writing. This is any kind of writing about life, like a journal or a blog. The two principles combined, religious reading and life writing, could bring a very rich and powerful experience that brings one to realisation. For example, one could write a few lines of dialogue in case you were the demon, or any other member of the story. Writing dialogue can be great fun and then of course be performed as well. For younger students, it might be more interesting to perform. After this, one can relate this again to one’s present life, or particular situation. To recount in the third person can be easier than in the first person. Otherwise, it might be too confessional. That detachment may help to think about oneself as an observer. And then relate that again to the original story.

  • Creating New Learning Environments by Using Innovative Methods of Teaching by Raghupati Dasa

    Raghupati Dasa

    Raghupati Dasa, in the middle

    Raghupati prabhu commenced his presentation by expressing his appreciation that, after fifteen years of silence, the yearly education conferences are taking place again since 2012. After a brief introduction to the topic he wanted to discus, Raghupati prabhu asked the participants to reflect upon the kind of teacher they think they are. The possible answers he provided for this exercise were: law enforcer to the potentially criminal, carer to the vulnerable, salesperson to potential buyer, preacher to the sinful, sheepdog to sheep, website to surfers, gardener to plants, and tour guide to tour bus. Several issues came up while reflecting upon this. This role depends on the audience one has. We sometimes take more than one role, different roles for different individuals in the audience. Raghupati prabhu continued on to say that also one’s dress and environment help determine the kind of role one takes. There are many external identifications one accepts according to one’s roles.

    Next, Raghupati prabhu asked the participants to answer the following questions in relation to what teaching and learning mean for themselves, in pairs: What do you believe? What do you feel strongly about? What are your priorities? What is your instinctive feeling? Raghupati prabhu then explained the Kolb cycle, going from having an experience to planning the next steps. He also urged the educators among the participants to become learner centred in case they were teacher centred. Instead of being teacher centred, we should be learner centred. To encourage this, Raghupati prabhu gave some examples for making the teaching/learning experience more interactive, and asked participants to share what they will do to create a new learning environment in their classroom.

  • Making E-Learning Work: Case Study Based on Bhaktivedanta College by Dinadayal Dasa

    Dinadayal dasa

    Dinadayal dasa

    Dina Dayal prabhu introduced us to the online learning program of Bhaktivedanta College Radhadesh. Since many of the participants were already familiar with online education, he presented some of its history, in general and at Bhaktivedanta College.

    The first time any course was offered anywhere online was in 1989, with eight graduates. In 2011, 355 000 students graduated online. At Bhaktivedanta College, we had 26 online students in 2011, and 186 online students in 2014. The main differences with offering courses onsite are in Place, Time, and Interaction. Speaking from personal experience, Dina Dayal prabhu, warned against overloading one’s students. Students get frightened by work-overload and tend to leave the program. Furthermore, one should not overlook the importance of real-time contact between tutors and students. At the same time, his experience is to guard against too much personal e-mail interaction with one’s students, he feels it is better to push forum discussions. Nevertheless, daily reminders or small motivating messages are good to keep students on track. Challenges in teaching online are mainly in regards to the difference in time zones between and with students, and the lack of personal contact with students. The tutor tends to spend a lot of time with students individually, addressing their often synchronous questions through personal e-mails. Additionally, it also seems harder to engage silent students, or know how they are doing. Through the medium of webinar classes, where there is direct contact between all attendees, part of this issue can be resolved. Students have expressed challenges regarding self-discipline due to a lack of support and association with peers, which is naturally there when students reside on campus.

    Regarding the amount of students, Dina Dayal prabhu explained that if one has masses to appeal to, one easily gets clients. However, what Bhaktivedanta College offers is not for the masses. However, we experience that when there is some endeavour in marketing, the results come. Students who get attracted to Bhaktivedanta College Online Courses (BCOC) are mainly female, married, in their late thirties, with children, often from the USA, living in big cities, middle class, and initiated.

  • How Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta Educational Programs Specifically Assist Prabhupada’s Mission of Forming a Society by Matsya Avatara Dasa and Ananta Deva Dasa

    Anantadeva dasa, first on left

    Anantadeva dasa, first on left

    Matsyavatara Prabhu and Ananta Deva prabhu introduced us to the Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta (Ananta Deva prabhu introduced us to the Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta (CSB), which has a huge impact, especially in Italy. It was founded by Matsyavatar prabhu (ACBSP) in 1995. It is a non-profit cultural institution, recognized by the Italian Government. Its Academic Department of Traditional Indian Sciences collaborates with several Universities, Institutes, Colleges and researchers worldwide. However, its degrees of MA and PhD are not yet accredited. The degrees they offer stand on their own. Their program is meant to build a cultural and spiritual bridge, a bridge of language and civilization between two worlds, the Western one with its major representatives and the one of the Great Vaisnava Acaryas, by trying to fulfill one of Srila Prabhupada’s main requests, the spreading of Krishna Consciousness in lay society through culture, organizing public events and Courses in universities, hospitals, cultural centers, economical, scientific and artistic institutions. It is therefore aimed at the general public, not only specifically at those who have already made a religious commitment. CSB Courses have already lead hundreds of people to the study of Krishna Bhakti and of Srila Prabhupada’s books and dozens of them to undertake initiation life in our Guru-Parampara. CSB is introducing Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in important cultural institutes and university faculties through hundreds of lectures and conferences all over Italy, explaining Gaudiya Vaisnava Philosophy, Psychology and Spirituality in a scientific language that also scholars can appreciate and feel comfortable with.

    CSB organizes seminars (generally two-day seminars) all over Italy. These seminars are attended by 50-90 people each time and are dedicated to an intensive study of Vaisnava tradition and Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in all their sociological, psychological and philosophical aspects. However, it is especially through the residential seminars, generally attended by two hundreds people each time and offering a full and intense week of study and sadhu-sanga, the participants get the chance to taste practically the main aspects of sadhana bhakti: mangala arati, japa, Srila Prabhupada’s books, prasadam and so on. During these retreats many people have started their spiritual practices and have became devotees.

  • The Meaning of Oral Tradition in the Context of Personalism by Maha-vidya Devi Dasi

    Mahavidya Dasi

    Mahavidya Dasi

    Maha-vidya prabhu introduced us to the importance of the oral aspect of teaching. She asked the attendees to meditate on the importance of how one addresses someone in terms of enhancing personalism. For example, buying some stamps at the post-office. In the West, we have procedures for everything, we do not encounter the persons behind the procedures, we encounter the procedures. In India, there is no such thing as procedures. You are just constantly dealing with the particular person and their mood. In this context, Maha-vidya prabhu looked at our education and teaching, because it is easy to get stuck in procedures as well for Westerners. But we have to remind ourselves that we are dealing with a person. We have to come back to the personal level.

    Maha-vidya prabhu then gave the example of Plato, how all he left was dialogue, an oral act. According to Plato, wisdom can only happen through dialogue. Looking at the Vaishnava tradition, we can recognize the same in the Srimad Bhagavatam. The invention of letters is, for Maha-vidya prabhu, one of the greatest inventions. Letters are a support for memory. The first written testimony of European civilization is receipts, for sheep and wine. These are not really very important to remember. What was important to remember, was kept in the heart. Plato was mostly concerned with “sophia”, wisdom. However, wisdom is only possible when the subject is properly understood. Even when there was extensive literature, they read it aloud in the circle of students, and then discussed. Derveni Papyrus, X 1-8, said:

    “For it is impossible for one who does not utter to say; and (Orpheus) deemed say and utter the same thing. Say and teach have the same sense; for it is impossible to teach without saying the things that are taught by means of words; and teaching is deemed to be a kind of saying. So teach was not distinguished from say and say from utter, but utter, say and teach have the same sense.”

    From the Caitanya Caritamrta (Antya 7.53), we learn that one has to serve a pure Vaishnava in order to understand transcendental topics. It is difficult to grasp the meaning and context of the narrative without someone’s guidance. Maha-vidya prabhu questioned whether we actually know what the popular term “realised knowledge” means. Kala-desa-patra (time, place, and circumstance) is the main consideration for applying book-knowledge. Nobody could find his way on his own according to time, place, and circumstance. In our own practice and lives we can see that personal adjustment is constantly needed.

    In conclusion, Maha-vidya prabhu encouraged the attendees to reflect on the elements that could enhance our attitudes and understanding while trying to convey messages.

  • Teaching Dharma in Religious Studies; Looking into Ancient Histories through Contemporary Arts and Media by Bhakti Rasa Dasa

    Bhakti Rasa Dasa

    Bhakti Rasa Dasa

    Bhakti Rasa prabhu expressed his gratitude and happiness for being able to attend the conference. He addressed the group on the subject that he discusses in his PhD application, namely dharma in the vehicle of the Indian epics. Bhakti Rasa prabhu explained that an important part of his research work is determining who Dharma is as a person, and which dharma is discussed when. Dharma is multi-layered and can be described differently by various translations of the word. One of the questions Bhakti Rasa prabhu wants to address is whether this pre-secular idea of dharma can contribute to the post-secular idea. In order for dharma to be relevant in the post-secular era, one also needs to consider what is accepted as religious education in different countries. Do we look at Ramayan, or Mahabharat, or the Puranas? What combination is best suited for western colleges and university audiences? Since this is the audience Bhakti Rasa prabhu has in mind, it is important for him to focus on them in determining how to present his subject. He also wants to find contemporary ways to present these epics, so that the principles presented are relevant and can be applied in students actual lives.

    After thus introducing his topic, Bhakti Rasa prabhu then took the audience on a journey, a short listening experiment. He presented a five-minute segment of radio, which was broadcast earlier this year on BBC4. It was a section of Ramayan, set in modern India. The approach of the writers and readers was neutral regarding the divine identity of the characters. After listening, the attendees were requested to write about which features of dharma could be illustrated through such hearing experiences, and whether or not they found this presentation of Ramayan at all acceptable.

  • Short, Medium, and Long Term Goals of MoE, and Moving Ahead with Serving Educational Initiatives in Europe by Ramgiridhari Dasa

    Ramgiridhari Dasa

    Ramgiridhari Dasa

    Speaking in name of the Ministry of Education, Ramgiridhari prabhu brought an enlivening and encouraging mood to the conference. There are more than two hundred and fifty thousand children in our movement, but not even 5% of our children attend our own educational institutions. During a meeting of the ministry in October, the members of the ministry decided to again take on the name Srila Prabhupada had given the ministry, namely Ministry of Education. The first concern of the Minister of Education, Sesa prabhu, is to set up a team to do strategic planning. During the many brainstorming sessions that already took place, the ministry set up a framework for how the ministry can globally function more efficiently, and determined three goals for the near future. Firstly, we need to consolidate the identity of the Ministry through one on one meetings with, and conferences such as this for educators in ISKCON. Secondly, we want to connect educators and educational initiatives worldwide. Ramgiridhari prabhu invited all attendees to contribute towards this. And thirdly, to provide some supervising support for the development and execution of educational plans and projects. It is not the intent of the members of the Ministry of Education to interfere, but to facilitate. The most important way to facilitate now is to dig up the jewels in our own backyard, to bring educators and their resources together.

    After this short but powerful presentation, Ramgiridhari prabhu asked for input from the attendees regarding whom could be asked to become the European regional representative for the Ministry of Education. At first the discussion focussed on which countries are included in “Europe”. The discussion then moved towards the qualifications needed for being the regional representative. Funding, and support from the GBC were also hot topics, and specific suggestions of candidates for the role of regional representative were made. This discussion continued the next, and last day of the conference. Plus, the different attendees shared their own needs and offers in regards to their education projects or plans. This was found to be an inspirational and practically very useful session. The process of sharing resources among educators and educational institutes that the Ministry of Education has as one of its goals had successfully started.

  • Available EU Funding and Grants by Dasaratha Suta Dasa and Mukunda Dasa

    Even though the presenters were not physically present, and there had been some technical issues, this session was well received. Through Skype and by showing some introductory videos, Dasaratha Suta and Mukunda prabhus gave an overview of the possibilities of EU funding for the ISKCON Ministry of Education, and the different education projects run in Europe. It was an eye-opener for many attendees and lots of discussion followed, both with the presenters, and among attendees afterwards.
  • Presentation of and Brainstorming for Specific Projects

    Matsya Avatara dasa founder of Centro Studio Bhaktivedanta in Italy

    Matsya Avatara dasa founder of Centro Studio Bhaktivedanta in Italy

    Ananta Deva prabhu elaborated upon Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta (CSB). He explained in more detail what their BA, MA, and PhD programs entail and what courses they have developed for these spiritual degrees. He also expressed the desire to see these degrees accredited by established universities, so that they may also receive recognition by society at large. While most students attend these courses with the aim of self-improvement, and not to obtain a degree, it would still be advantageous if these degrees received some accreditation. Several attendees of the conference expressed their amazement at the vastness and depth of CSB, and their appreciation for having carved out a career path within ISKCON. Independent of accreditation, CSB is offering something important to ISKCON, and society at large. Attendees wondered if this model could be replicated in other countries.

    His Holiness Yadunandana Swami presented the education institute he is setting up in Spain, mainly in Nueva Vraja Mandala. The farm is becoming a wonderful place for sanga and education, whereas it was up for sale until recently. Sastric courses and weekend retreats have been the main focus of the institute. Moreover, now the organizers are thinking of organizing festivals as well, since the Spanish love festivals. So far, there are not many students for the residential courses, but even those few students give life to a place that would otherwise be empty. For half of the planned courses there are enough applicants, the other half we have to cancel. Many of the courses on offer this year are designed based on the needs expressed by the local leaders. The concept is working out well and we have started to offer similar courses in other Spanish city temples, such as Madrid, Malaga, and Barcelona. The courses are tailored to the local needs of those temples. The desire is to ultimately reach out to all of the fifty ISKCON centres in Spain.

  • Metaphors and Stories by Urmila Devi Dasi

    Urmila Dasi

    Urmila Dasi

    Building on Maha-vidya prabhu’s discourse on the invention of letters and the need for personal communication, Urmila prabhu gave a presentation on metaphors and the power of stories. She started off by giving the example that some powerful and very qualified devotees were quarrelling and thus not being very effective in their service. Urmila prabhu addressed the problem by narrating a metaphor, when people do not row a boat in harmony; they go in circles and get nowhere. Instead of addressing what each person was doing wrong, this metaphor effectively addressed the issue without hurting or offending anyone. Urmila prabhu explained different scenarios in which people come to us for guidance, or help, or we feel the need to help someone without being solicited by them. These different approaches to helping someone are efficient in different ways for different scenarios. Metaphors can be a useful tool in most of these approaches. We can also see that they are present in Krishna’s pastimes. Aside from Krishna being a real person and the pastimes having actually happened, there is also a metaphorical understanding for, for example, the demons. Metaphors bypass the false ego, and engage people. One goes into a light trance. The deeper the trance, the more the mind sleeps and the intelligence becomes more active. Stories can turn over culture. As one is exposed to stories, sometimes in the shape of movies, stories change people’s opinion. Opinions do not change because of logic or facts. Abortion, homosexuality, the ecological movement, all these paradigms change through stories, very quickly! Another interesting phenomena is that when you are listening to a story, your body is also active, you are practicing the values and behaviours portrayed by the characters in the stories. That is why the media is full of stories.

    The idea that fiction is not true and non-fiction is true, is false in Urmila prabhu’s opinion. Some fictional stories that did not happen in time and space teach truth, and the other way around. Scripture is also full of stories. The frame of the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam are stories. Srimad Bhagavatam is a good example of how to use metaphors or a story within a story, within a story. Layering stories is one of the most powerful ways of using a metaphor, because it even further removes the story from the person you are talking to. Thus, it is even less threatening. One can either look for a true historical story, or create one’s own metaphor. Acaryas regularly use stories and metaphors. The reason we all enjoy stories is because Krishna enjoys them too. Rasa is made of stories.

  • Concluding Words by Sesa Dasa

    Sesa Dasa

    Sesa Dasa

    Sesa prabhu, the ISKCON Minister of Education, thanked all organizers and participants to the Education Conference 2014. He said he had given up hope that it would happen this year, but then Urmila, Maha-vidya and Ramgiridhari prabhus bravely stepped forward. He felt that a difficult page has been turned for the Ministry of Education, the conference was not put off anymore when the organization became difficult. Uniting educators and education projects is important for the entire society. Sesa prabhu is now on the executive committee of the GBC, and sees that there is a great need for an educated body of devotees. For several issues it has become clear to Sesa prabhu that, in order to understand these issues, in order to analyse them and solve them, we need an educated populace. We will not be able to do it if the devotees are not educated. You think education is expensive, try ignorance. Things will be perpetuated that will hold us back. Therefore, he wants to encourage educators and managers. We need to be able to send our people for training and education. Not that we just educate outsiders. Sesa prabhu truly hopes that these conferences can inspire and encourage those in the field.

    Thank you, Maha-vidya prabhu, for inviting and informing attendees. This gave us hope to take it up. Thank you to all participants for coming and sharing. Thank you, Urmila prabhu, for putting together a program and organizing the speakers. Thank you, Sridama prabhu, for organising the arrivals and funds. Thank you, Sesa prabhu, for donating 1000 dollars for this conference.

syama_sakhi06Theology and Religious Studyuniversity-of-chester-logo-33

ONLINE

Bhaktivedanta College and BClogo
University of Chester

Dates: August 11 2014 – June 1 2015


Bhaktivedanta College’s online three-year BA in Theology and Religious Study (TRS) is going to start a little earlier this year than our usual academic year. It begins on August 11, 2014.

We are doing this to be able to offer you smooth course delivery without any overlap of the modules. In other words, a new module is not going to start until the previous one is delivered and assessed.

The program is offered fully online, which means that you are not at all required to come to Belgium. The TRS program is offered under an exclusive partnership with the University of Chester (UK). Being so accredited, this degree is well accepted and officially recognized worldwide, which gives our graduates the opportunity to continue in postgraduate education or to find employment in the fields of education, consulting, practical theology, and so on.

We are accepting online applications for the TRS online-degree program until August 1st 2014.

Please contact us if you need more information.

With best wishes,  
Bhaktivedanta College

The author of the new academic book Kenneth R. Valpey (Krishna Kshetra Das)

The author of the new academic book Kenneth R. Valpey (Krishna Kshetra Das) is the Dean of Studies at Bhaktivedanta College.

A new academic work by ISKCON scholar and guru Krishna Kshetra Das (Kenneth R. Valpey) aims to give both devotee practioners and an educated general audience a deeper understanding of deity worship, specifically in the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition.

Attending Krishna’s Image: Caitanya Vaisnava Murti-seva as Devotional Truthdiscusses how the ancient historical tradition was brought from India to countries all over the world. It shows how it has taken firm root today in both India and the West. And in a study comparing two temples – one Radharamana in the North Indian pilgrimage town of Vrindavana, the other Bhaktivedanta Manor just outside London – it paints a nuanced picture of deity worship and the theological reflection supporting it.

First released in 2006 by academic publisher Routledge and intended mainly for academic libraries, the hardbound edition of the book cost an astronomical $160. But this year, it has been published in a paperback edition priced just €20 (27 USD), making it decidedly more “affordable for the average mortal,” as author Krishna Kshetra jokes.

Krishna Kshetra intends his book to be an intellectually rigorous work that can be taken seriously by other scholars, as well as an answer to questions by educated people such as “What is the temple worship that Hare Krishnas do?”

“I wanted to be able to hand them a book that would satisfy them that this is a very rich tradition with a deep intellectual background,” he says. “It’s also for the wider devotee community, because I think there is room for deeper reflection and appreciation of our tradition.”

Krishna Kshetra is uniquely qualified to explain the topic of deity worship, as he is not only an academic scholar but also a long-time practioner of the ancient tradition ofmurti-sevahimself.

He first began serving as apujari, or priest, in Germany in 1975, two years after joining the International Society for Krishna consciousness, and did some of the society’s first research on how to worship the Deity of Nrsimhadeva.

In 1995, he produced the Deity worship manual Pancharatra Pradipa, which became an invaluable resource to temples all over the world. And soon after, he helped form the ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry and became its first Minister.

Meanwhile Krishna Kshetra also studied the Sanskrit language in depth and became an academic scholar of religion, receiving a Masters Degree on the subject at Graduate Theological Union in Berkely, California. He also received a D. Phil at Oxford, where he wrote the Doctoral ThesisKrishna-Seva: The Theology of Image Worship in Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

The new book's cover

The new book’s cover

His new book is a direct revision of the ideas in his Oxford Doctoral Thesis, and is in many ways the culmination of all his years of study and practice.

Attending Krishna’s Imagespans four chapters. The first, “Texts as Context: core textual sources and patterns for Caitanya Vaisnava image worship,” gives the scriptural background of the tradition of deity worship. This includes an explanation of Pancharatra, a genre of Sanskrit literature containing many texts – seventy have been recovered so far – that give step-by-step instructions on the rituals of deity worship.

Chapter 2, “Temple as Context: the Radharamana temple as embodied community,” goes into detail about the daily worship at the ancient Radharamana temple in Vrindavana.

“I spent four months living next door to the temple, because I had learned that [ISKCON’s founder] Srila Prabhupada had instructed some of his pujari disciples to study how they do deity worship there,” says Krishna Kshetra. “No one had really done that yet, so I thought, let me do this as a service for ISKCON. While there, I was able to get a copy of their daily worship procedure, which is only eight pages long and is in handwritten Brajabasha Hindi. I got it translated, and I’ve included a portion of that, detailing how they do their middaybhogaoffering, in the chapter.”

In Chapter 3, “Krishna’s new look: a worship tradition faces West,” Krishna Kshetra tells the story of deity worship moving West. He begins with the intellectual preparation by Bhaktivinode Thakura, then Srila Prabhupada’s guru Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and then tells how Srila Prabhupada realized their plans by physically bringing deities to the West.

The final chapter, “Migrant texts, migrant images: resettling Krishna in the West,” focuses on the deity worship at Bhaktivedanta Manor in England, and makes a comparison between it and the Radharamana temple in India. Using terminology coined by the scholar Barbara Holdrich, Krishna Kshetra calls Bhaktivedanta Manor a “missionizing community” as opposed to Radharamana’s “embodied community.”

He also discusses Bhaktivedanta Manor’s ten-year legal battle with the local council for the right to public worship, and how the presence of the deity may have affected the outcome. And he talks about Vaiddhi Bhakti – the rules and regulations of worship – and Raganuga Bhakti – spontaneous devotional service, and how the two may not be mutually exclusive.

Finally, in his conclusion to the book, Krishna Kshetra reflects back on the topics discussed and the academic purpose of comparison, and discusses the notion of “images of religious truth.”

Overall,Attending Krishna’s Imagewill help devotee readers delve into the rich tradition behind their practice, get a better understanding of how rules relate to devotional emotions in the context of deity worship, and become better equipped to explain deity worship to interested persons.

“My hope is that devotees who read it will think more deeply about our tradition, and get a richer sense of just what it is we’re doing when we go into the temple, offer obeisances, offer arati, and all the other things that we do,” says Krishna Kshetra. “I also hope it will inspire some more writings by other devotees.”

Next up,Attending Krishna’s Imageis scheduled to be published in Spanish soon. Meanwhile, Krishna Kshetra is also working on the second in his two-volume Bhagavata Purana series. The first, subtitled “Sacred Text and Living Tradition” is a collection of articles by twelve scholars introducing the Bhagavata Purana’s key themes and examining its extensive influence on Hindu thought and practice. It was edited by Krishna Kshetra with Radhika Ramana Das (Ravi Gupta) and was published by Columbia University Press in March 2013.

The second volume, which will be an abridged translation from the original Sanskrit by the two scholars, is forthcoming.

“We are hoping the book, which is part of the Bhagavata Purana Research Project at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, will come out in the next year or so,” says Krishna Kshetra.

Attending Krishna’s Imagecan be ordered from Bhaktivedanta Library Services here:blservices.com/attending-krsna-s-image. Or email recensiapress@gmail.com.

Written by: Madhava Smullen ISKCON News on July 18, 2014

goloka dhamaVTE Bhakti-Sastri Teacher Training Course in Goloka Dhama – Abentheuer, Germany: October 16th-19th.

Bhaktivedanta College in collaboration with Vidyanagara (the Educational Office of ISKCON Germany)

cordially invites you to attend the

VTE BHAKTI SASTRI TEACHER TRAINING COURSE AT GOLOKA DHAMA, ABENTHEUER, GERMANY.

yadunandana swamiThursday 16th – Sunday 19th of October 2014

Facilitator: Yadunandana Swami

Only 10 participants admitted! Please register NOW!

Registration: Damodara-priya dasi: Damodara-priya.SNS@pamho.net

Deadline: 15th September 2014

Cost: 108 Euros (includes ashram accommodation, prasadam and course fee)

Requirements: The VTE Bhakti-Sastri, TTC1 and TTC2 Certificates (or equivalent)

Venue: Goloka Dhama, Böckingstraße 4a-8, D-55767 Abentheuer, Germany

Telephone: 0049 – (0) 67 82-22 14

Travel Arrangements: Please contact Damodara-priya dasi: Damodara-priya.SNS@pamho.net (details to be found at: www.goloka-dhama.de)

Details:

Learning and teaching sastra is one of the most important aspects of any Krishna conscious education. Srila Prabhupada’s books form the foundation for ISKCON’s activities and therefore ISKCON devotees hold the study of these books as essential to their spiritual growth. Bhakti Sastri study has become an essential anga of Krishna conscious life.

In order for ISKCON to offer excellent opportunities for devotees to study sastra qualified teachers are necessary. VTE, recognizing the need for these qualified teachers, established TTC1 and TTC2. These courses offer training in basic knowledge, skills and values required of an effective teacher.

Bhakti Sastri Teachers’ training is specifically designed to further build on the learning of the previous two teachers’ training courses with the aim of equipping teachers of VTE Bhakti Sastri courses with the specific skillset necessary for teaching sastra systematically.

The Bhakti Sastri Teachers’ training course offers potential teachers training in lesson planning, analyzing the aims of sastric study, effective assessment as well as the practical details of organizing a bhakti sastri

An important note: This course is available only for devotees who successfully completed Bhakti-Sastri, TTC1 and TTC2 courses and are seriously interested in teaching sastra.

Yadunandana Swami

Yadunandana Swami

Yadunandana Swami has been the Principal of Bhaktivedanta College since its opening, in 2002 until May 2014. He joined ISKCON in 1977 in Spain and received initiation from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami and later sannyasa initiation from Jayadvaita Swami (both disciples of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada). He has performed leadership and educational services in ISKCON since 1982. The latter include ministering spiritual education and counseling to many persons; teaching scriptural, academic, and vocational courses; and lecturing in more than twenty universities. He holds a MA in the Study of Religion from the University of Wales. He is also the Rector of the Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta in Spain.

kirtancourse

This year’s Kirtan Course in Radhadesh will open with a training in the secrets of the Holy Names given by HH Sacinandana Swami. It is based on Harinama Cintamani (the touchstone of the Holy Name) by Srila BhaktivinodaThakura.

This seminar takes place from 30th June to 6th July. We also welcome students who cannot attend the whole two months course.

The teaching sessions are called: Mining the jewels of the Holy Names”.

Subjects include:

* The best type of sadhana and how to perform it for best results
* The secrets of attentive chanting
* Shadow chanting (namabhasa) and how to move on to the next stage
* Entering a substantial relationship with the Holy Name and the Holy Named
* The eigth offense and its remedy
* The difference between belief and faith
* Tasting ecstasy – a guideline to ecstatic nama-bhajan
* Srila Prabhupada’s amazing relationship with the Holy Name and lessons we can learn from that

In addition to the discovery lectures in the mornings there will be many experience-oriented workshops, lila kathas and kirtans.

The teaching of Harinama Cintamani will guide and inspire the saintly devotees who stay in this world, but who have developed the desire to live in the higher connection with Sri Sri Radha and Krsna.

Srila_Bhaktivinoda

Bhaktivonoda Thakur

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes:
The touchstone of the Holy Name is an unlimited mine of necterean jewels. Those fortunate souls who find them by the blessings of Lord Krsna will always experience the fullness of joy, for they will be lead to worship Krsna in spontaneous love” (HNC, Conclusion of chapter 15).

One practical tip from Sacinandana Swami: if you wish to experience the next level in your chanting then just listen to yourself chant sincerely!

All the best,
Sacinandana Swami
————————-
More about the program:
www.bhaktivedantacollege.com/events/kirtan-course

You did your Bhaktivedanta College studies in two periods.

Yes. I started in 2007, did two years, then took a two-year break. I started my third year in 2011 and graduated in 2012. I took a break because I wanted to travel and do other things. But since I like to finish what I start, I returned to earn my degree. Coming back was great, because of the improved facility and academic standards. The college had opened its new building, where I had a single room, and had become affiliated with Chester University. Some great new teachers lived on campus, such as Rasamandala and his wife, Abala.

What is your most vivid memory of your time studying?

I first remember the friends that I met. We truly became like a family. They all play an important part in my life even today. I remember with equal feelings the highly qualified teachers who visited the college and their courses. I remember deep, thoughtful discussions we had in the classroom and the interactions between students and teachers. At the same time, Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha stole my heart from day one and arranged many experiences and learning opportunities for all of us. I also remember the many smiling faces of devotees who dedicated their lives to the deities or the community.

2007: Performance during the Sociology course

Performance during the Sociology course (2007).

What is the most precious thing you gained?

Along with the lifelong friends I made, the most precious thing was the college courses. These courses are unlike anything else offered in our movement, except perhaps at the other devotee college in Budapest. The teachers are all highly qualified, insightful, devotional, and in touch with modernity. They shared their knowledge and hearts with us. Learning about our siddhanta in that light was unique and enriching. It is hard to describe how important these precious courses actually are for the education of the members of our movement (or even anybody outside it who wants to understand Chaitanya Vaishnavism). At times it felt like we were making history together as our minds opened to the vast possibilities of establishing Srila Prabhupada’s movement on many levels in the broader society. Additionally, I gained so much faith in our acharyas and their genius. This was exactly what I needed to feed my intellectually inclined mind and a heart eager for devotional progress. I really hope that many devotees will study at the college. The experiences and knowledge are priceless. Although at times I felt that three years would be too long, I now see the positive impact it had on me. It’s like baking bread: You need to “stay in the oven” of the college long enough to be properly baked for Krishna’s pleasure.

Please tell us about your fellow students.

I was always impressed with the students who came to the college. Those who were serious about studying showed in time just what great souls they actually are. I remember sitting among them my first year, looking around the classroom and feeling safe in their association, and safe about the future of Srila Prabhupada’s movement if these students were to become its leaders. The fact that these students decided to dedicate their lives, money, and interests in studying at the college, while also being active in the community and preaching, showed me that these were future leaders of a certain kind.

During Divine Names Course of Sacinandana Swami (2012)

During the Divine Names Course of Sacinandana Swami (2012).

What are you doing now?

I am doing a teaching degree at Southern Cross University at the Gold Coast, Australia. I am doing it together with my fiancé, who was also a Bhaktivedanta College student. I chose to do this degree because I would like to contribute to the field of education both in our movement by teaching and by developing educational programs useful to all kinds of schools. Some may think it is a cliché to speak about investing in youth and future generations, but this does not lessen its importance. Their devotional lives and dedication may very much depend on the quality of education they receive. I saw first-hand what an impact educated devotees have in the broader society. I just finished my first five-week teaching practicum at a high school in Australia, where the kids are coming from pretty low socio-economic backgrounds. Krishna opened up many opportunities for me to inspire these kids in various ways, even to discuss with them spiritual and moral values and challenge them to change their thinking. These kids then ended up writing protest poems on themes like animal cruelty and materialism, and we did pranayama exercises before their exams. I could see how tangible it is to change someone’s perspectives, even just slightly, by investing in his or her education. The biggest part of my own success is owed to the education I received, so I truly hope that Bhaktivedanta College will flourish by receiving the support it needs.

How did the college help your career development?

Successful students will develop very good research and writing skills. Furthermore, they will develop higher order thinking skills, and a range of ways to express their thoughts creatively and effectively. These are only some of the external skills that can be measured. Another way the college helped me was internally, because studying there was like making a journey. On this journey I had to learn so much more than I thought I would. I learned about communication, interaction, and how to find my own dharma and act on it. Hence studying there will challenge static thinking patterns and make students find out what is important for them and then how to go for it with determination and conviction. Even though theology may not be a promising “career,” studying Vaishnavism was never my career choice. It was an inner calling and an investment in my spiritual life. What I gained from it was very fulfilling. I developed practical skills that help me in my current studies. I had contact with devotees who have successfully established their lives in their dharma and service, and this allowed me to thoroughly think about how I want to use my short life in Krishna’s service. Thus I am grateful that I had a chance to be a student and really believe that it is a privilege to study in such devotee association.

Do you have a message for the present and future students?

For the present students, I would say give your best and use all you have in your learning experience. Try to find and hold onto the opportunities you will get to develop your own life. And seek positive learning experiences and think of ways that you can use what you have gained to make someone else’s life better. Have faith that Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha know what is best for you and that all the experiences will end up being positive and enriching. For future college students, I would say that success is measured on many levels: financially, socialy, spiritually, and internally. The success of your studies will therefore depend on your own readiness to independently seek the success you are looking for. Bhaktivedanta College can open up many doors, if you are ready to find them. Studying theology may not seem like a practical career choice externally, but theology was never about this anyway. It is about developing the right internal attitude toward your future, a life that is not only a career path but an offering of service. Therefore if you seek something unique, which will help you develop a deep and vast understanding of spirituality, then the college may be the right place for you.

sns_4Our general policy for devotees joining the course on a part-time basis is that they can join part time during the weeks when one of the five main guest teachers are teaching. But the practical courses during those weeks with the resident teachers (who teach the instruments and singing) are open only to full-time students (about 2-3 hours a day). Part-time students are welcome to audit these sessions and even take part to some extent if the teacher is ok with that. But if they wish part-timers not to take part, then that wish should be respected, as it is difficult to teach more than fifteen full-time students at the same time.Per week for the course we ask for a donation of 108 EUR to cover costs. This does not include prasadam and accommodation, which need to be arranged separately. Dinadayal Dasa is taking care of the lodging, meals and fees.

More about the program:
bhaktivedantacollege.com/events/kirtan-course/

Radhika Ramana Dasa (Ravi M. Gupta) is an internationally known Vaishnava scholar who has been on the faculty of Bhaktivedanta College since it opened, in 2002. He teaches Sanskrit and a module on Jiva Goswami’s Sad-sandharbhas. He holds the Charles Redd Chair of Religious Studies at Utah State University. In this video he is sharing his experiences of being associated with Bhaktivedanta College.

What were you doing before starting studies at Bhaktivedanta College?

Gurusevananda (right) received a gold medal for placing first in the Military Pentathlon during the Army Olympic Games (1999).

Gurusevananda (right) received a gold medal for placing first in the
Military Pentathlon during the Army Olympic Games (1999).

I had studied Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam for six years in India. Then, for another six years, I was a teacher of those scriptures, mostly at the Mayapur Institute and the Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education. I am originally from Brazil, and before going to India I was an officer in the Brazilian Army.

Why did you decide to study theology at Bhaktivedanta College?

I developed a desire to communicate the philosophical treasures I found through my studies and experiences in India. I also wanted to broaden my understanding of other religious traditions and become acquainted with Western philosophy, to be better equipped to teach in a Western context what I learned in India. My aim, however, is not to promote Hindu religion in the West, but to use the Vaishnava scriptures as a reference point to identify essential spiritual science, foundational to all religions.

This was the first year of our online study. What did you find most enjoyable about it?

In Mayapur (2007), Gurusevananda recited slokas to start his class (an eight-month course on the Gita at the Srimad Bhagavata Vidyapitham, a school training Sanskrit translators).

In Mayapur (2007), Gurusevananda recited slokas to start his class (an eight-month course on the Gita at the Srimad Bhagavata Vidyapitham, a school training Sanskrit translators).

I enjoyed learning about religious and philosophical worldviews, not least because these were presented by devotee scholars. I wouldn’t like to study under atheistic scholars, but I enjoyed studying Freud and writing an essay about his perception of religion. Above all, I enjoyed writing essays, because they entail research and make me think deeply about many interesting topics. Researching and writing are the best learning experiences.

What was your greatest challenge?

Sometimes, while researching, I had a hard time locating relevant scholarly books and articles online. Now, though, I have become more experienced in that. Another challenge for online students is the lack of personal interaction with the teachers and students. Also, there is a tendency to lose focus on the studies. I plan to move to Radhadesh whenever possible so that I will have access to the college library and will have the personal association of the teachers and students.

What can the college do to improve its delivery?

I am pretty satisfied with the online study I have done so far. I can’t think of any room for improvement.

Based on your experience and the high grades you got, what are the main principles for successful online study?

Gurusevananda at a Ratha-yatra in Brazil (2009).

Gurusevananda at a Ratha-yatra in Brazil (2009).

My overall learning experience has been great. In my short experience, it seems to me that the main principles for successful learning online are to listen to the classes, to take part as much as possible in the forum discussions, to select appealing essay topics, to find good reference books besides the ones suggested by the teacher, to thoroughly research, to take some time to reflect, and then write.

Did one module offer you the best learning experience?

I felt that all the modules were extremely relevant.

What are your career goals?

I hope that this degree course will equip me with the knowledge and the credentials to effectively contribute to a healthy religious dialogue in today’s society. My aim is to teach Religious Studies in a university. Thus I plan to continue my studies and get a Master’s degree and a PhD.

Written by Ananda Murti (the first year student).

Founded in 1872 in Molignée Valley by Benedictine monks, Maredsous Abbey is built in neo-gothic style.

Founded in 1872 in Molignée Valley by Benedictine monks, Maredsous Abbey is built in neo-gothic style.

Who would have thought that taking a field trip with my seven classmates, all girls except me, and three adult teachers to two Benedictine monasteries in Belgium’s Ardeen region would be enlivening and eye-opening?

Discussion about Nataraja, dancing Shiva.

Discussion about Nataraja, dancing Shiva.

As usual, we were an hour and a half late (following our ashram time), and so the priest, Pere Luque, who had to show us around Maredsous Abbey was unavailable. We waited for a bit before he finally came and engaged us in an extremely wonderful conversation regarding his monastary’s founder, followed by questions from us on traditions, rules, and values.

Surprisingly, he was more interested in our culture than we were in his, and thus we students answered his questions.

Lunch was simple yet satisying. We had a few other brothers from the church join us, and they were extremely friendly and open to talk. I personally loved talking to the head father of the monastery as he was so overly confident of himself and took joy in having us inquire about his personal spiritual practice and the monastery rules and schedule. It goes something like this:

  • prayer
    Students and Benedictine monks during the lunch time.

    Students and Benedictine monks during the lunch time.

  • service
  • breakfast
  • prayer
  • lunch
  • free time to watch TV
  • evening prayer
  • dinner
  • 8 p.m. sleep

 

The second monastery was shared by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. It is called an ecumenical church. They see it as a way to do research into other religions and let all the different paths meet at certain points and topics.

Chevetogne Abbey is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery dedicated to Christian unity located in the Belgian village of Chevetogne.

Chevetogne Abbey is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery dedicated to Christian unity located in the Belgian village of Chevetogne.

To sum up, they were very open-minded, and what we liked the most was their attitudes toward other religious groups. To be honest, we are usually a bit closed, but they were not at all like that but rather inclusive. Although their philosophy, for some of us, is not as deep as our own, their attitude is what struck us the most. To end the day we drove back to Radhadesh eating whatever ladoos were left over. We really learned a lot about this two-thousand-year-old religion.

Interior of the Eastern church.

Interior of the Eastern church.

The library is having  the Summa Theologica from year 1604, the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas.

The library has a copy of the Summa Theologica from the year 1604, the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274).