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Eleven select international students immersed themselves full-time in ISKCON’s first systematic kirtan course for nearly two months this summer, from June 30th to August 21st, at Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium.
During this time they studied the theology behind kirtan, the proper mood and way to perform it, and its history and tradition, and took practical lessons in how to skillfully sing and play instruments to glorify the Lord.
The course was born out of Bhaktivedanta College’s desire to offer something beyond its usual academically accredited courses.
“We all know that ultimately systematic philosophy must give way to a personal experience,” says the course’s spiritual director Sacinandana Swami, who is renowned for his international Japa and Kirtan retreats. “The essence of Bhakti cannot be had by theoretical teaching; only by practical experience. Kirtan is that experience.”
Another key reason for offering the course was that kirtan is prescribed in Vedic scriptures as the yuga dharma, or the path to spiritual perfection in this age.
“ISKCON has many courses where good systematic training is offered,” says Sacinandana Swami. “But a course that taught the yuga dharma was yet to be designed and given.”
With this in mind, Bhaktivedanta College Director Dinadayal Das and college graduate Manu Das devised a curriculum and brought Sacinandana Swami on board.
Although a larger audience attended select sections of the course, just eleven full-time students were chosen to participate in the entire program, so that each could have personal tutoring from teachers, particularly during practical music lessons.
Although the group was small, it was highly diverse. Hailing from the USA, Spain, Germany, Denmark, the UK and Russia, students ranged in age from 17 to 36 and in background from temple devotees to working professionals. Most importantly, all were eager to learn.
They were in luck, with an extremely busy schedule packed with learning and practical kirtan experience from morning till night.
Every day at 10:30am, after the traditional temple morning program and breakfast, students would learn the theology and history of kirtan from five highly experienced visiting teachers. Each visiting teacher’s seminar ran for three hours per day and lasted one week.
Sacinandana Swami set the mood of the course with his seminar on the Theology of the Holy Name, based on the book Harinama Chintamani by Vaishnava saint Bhaktivinode Thakur. In it, he covered the secrets of attentive chanting, how to move past offensive chanting, how to enter into a relationship with the Holy Name, and the lessons we can learn from Srila Prabhupada’s amazing relationship with the Holy Name.
Sacinandana Swami’s seminar also included “discovery lectures” in the mornings, as well as experience-oriented workshops, lila kathas and kirtans.
Next Kadamba Kanana Swami, a regular teacher at Bhaktivedanta College, discussed the historical mileu kirtan rose from and delved into the biographies of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to look at how he organized his kirtan parties and what melodies and mantras he used. He also covered the kirtan of Chaitanya’s followers, such as Narottam Das Thakur and Srinivas Acharya.
After him, travelling kirtaniya Jahnavi Harrison connected her audience with Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur through prayer, studying his life, and learning and singing his songs, which she says provide guidance and nourishment to every spiritual seeker.
Next Bhaktivedanta College Dean of Studies Krishna Ksetra Swami explored the Chaitanya Vaishnava musical tradition against the wider backdrop of India, teaching students how to explain this rich tradition to others, and playing and discussing relevant samples of music.
Finally former Bhaktivedanta College theology course director Mahendra Das enriched students’ personal appreciation of and commitment to chanting the Holy Name by discussing how the core Vaishnava scriptures describe it as the basic practice in achieving the goal of life.
Kirtan authorities Lokanath Swami, Bhakti Charu Swami and others also surprised students by showing up to spend time speaking Krishna Katha and doing kirtan with them.
In the afternoons, students would take practical lessons in kirtan with resident teachers, most of whom were College graduates and second generation devotees. From Krishangi-lila, they learned vocals and harmonium, from Surabhi Kunja, kartals, and from Balarama Nityananda, mridanga.
“It was very personalized, with students getting personal tutoring in addition to their lessons according to their individual level of knowledge and advancement,” says course manager Dinadayal Das.
After the music and vocal lessons, students also spent two hours every evening doing kirtan before Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath, the presiding Deities of Radhadesh.
“In that way, they could engage themselves from 4:30am until the last darshan in front of Radha-Gopinath at 9:00pm – pretty intense!” Dinadayal says.
As a result, the participants began to bond together after just a few days. “Chanting the Holy Name for a long amount of time binds devotees together, because everyone is there for a spiritual experience,” comments Sacinandana Swami.
By the end of the course, students had not only bonded but had had deeply life-changing, transformative experiences. Some began organizing regular evening kirtans in their home communities. Some travelled straight from the course to Varshana, India, for another retreat with Sacinandana Swami. Others who had been new to Krishna consciousness switched to a spiritual lifestyle. And still others took a break from their jobs to travel and spread the Holy Name.
“You don’t often see such a positive change in people in such a short amount of time,” Dinadayal enthuses. “Their hearts were so much changed they wanted to really do something spiritually profound.”
Next year’s Kirtan Course at Radhadesh has already been scheduled for June 29th to August 28th 2015 – ten days longer than this year’s — and kirtan singer Madhava has been added to the roster of illustrious visiting teachers. Many have already registered.
Sacinandana Swami is excited about the effects the course could have.
“In the old times, in Europe at least, the central object in every cultured house was a piano,” he says. “People would gather in the evenings and sing together. But the modern entertainment industry has stolen the music from the lips and the hearts of the people. Kirtan gives them back the music of the soul. And everyone enjoys it! That’s how our movement can spread in leaps and bounds – through the yuga dharma. We want to empower people to do that.”
Written by Abighail Rocchi.
(Published in Krishna-katha magazine, March 2014)
What made me decide to take this step was no single event. It was the culmination of a process of reflection that I’ve been having for quite some years actually. I was cautious because we have seen in ISKCON’s past what you might call sannyasa casualties, and I didn’t want to be a part of that statistic. So I thought it was better to wait and make sure. I also felt that since Srila Prabhupada gave sannyasa to senior devotees, he had a purpose for this and I want to respect that purpose and, I think, to expand my service by making this commitment. And in one sense people say I’m already a sannyasi. That may be the case, but I’d like to have it confirmed. And since it’s Krishna’s arrangement that there are four ashramas, I thought, “Let me also take advantage of the ashrama.” All of the ashramas are meant to be supportive for devotional service, so I also see the sannyasa ashrama as a means of support for my spiritual life and also as a way for helping others in their spiritual life.
Good! I feel like it’s a good move. Time will tell, but I think it will be good. All the indications are positive. All the senior devotees that I have consulted were very positive, the GBC was very positive, and even the astrologers say it’s positive.
If it’s a change let’s hope it’s in a positive way. But I don’t have any specific plan to make some specific change. I hope that I can inspire devotees more, and I think that is facilitated by the ashrama.
As I began two years ago to sort of step back from regular teaching in universities so I could focus on Bhaktivedanta College, that is still my program. I do plan to continue doing the writing and research that I do, and I think the sannyasa will not be affected. Or that the sannyasa will affect that, one way or another. I hope that I can continue without distraction.
Yeah, that’s what they call me. What does that mean? We’re still trying to figure out what that means [laughs]. We are still trying to figure out what it is that we are trying to do at Bhaktivedanta College. The College is still very young and it has a lot of potential. The Dean of Studies means an emphasis is put on attention to academic quality, overseeing the classes offered to be sure they have a high standard of content and teaching delivery. It also means being connected with the teachers, and seeing that we are all on the same page. We also have to be sensitive to our position with relation to our accrediting institution, Chester University. As long as we want to have that accreditation, we have to follow various requirements that they give. These are the general areas, and then also trying to understand how to facilitate students’ learning, how can they better receive what we are trying to offer, and whether what we’re trying to offer is what they need.
Right now its significance for ISKCON generally is rather minimal, and that is something we hope to change. We would like that Bhaktivedanta College is recognized by the wider Vaisnava community as a significant resource for communities to send students to. They can become qualified to go back into their communities as nicely trained and nicely educated leaders. That’s our idea. Again, we are still a quite young institution, and it could take some time before that happens. We are working on it.
Yes, this is indeed the first of two volumes that have been contracted by an academic publisher in America – Columbia University Press. Initially we proposed to them only this first book, and we proposed it as what we called a companion volume. It would be a companion to the Srimad Bhagavatam for people to appreciate better the Bhagavatam through these articles. There are twelve articles given through twelve different themes, important ways of understanding or entering into what for most people is very foreign material. So, the publishers looked at our proposal and they liked it, but they said: “Where is the Bhagavata Purana for which this book will be the companion?” We might have answered: “Well, it’s already there – Srila Prabhupada’s multi-volume Bhagavatam.” But they didn’t want that, they wanted a one-volume book, so actually they proposed that we ourselves make an abridged Srimad Bhagavatam. We took this as Krishna’s mercy and that’s what we’re working on now, which means that we are doing our own translations from the Sanskrit – selected passages from the Bhagavatam with connecting paragraphs to give it continuity. And then these two books will be a set. They’ll go very much together, and they’re being marketed for classroom use in universities in English speaking countries. We hope these will have some positive impact.
These two books combined constitute what we consider phase one of a four-phase, or maybe it’s even a five-phase research project that we based in Oxford called The Bhagavata Purana Research Project. With this we want to apply all the contemporary methods of academic study of such literature and in effect become the authorities in the academic world on the Srimad Bhagavatam. So, that’s a longer term project – maybe a lifetime project.
Well, the language is different, and I don’t speak Chinese, so we always had translation. It was a nice opportunity to meet some professors and some of their students. We had very nice reception. People are appreciative, because they want to know something about Indian philosophy and religion. This is kind of exploratory work that I am doing, to see how can we develop something more solid, something more substantial, to get something going in the academic world in China. The big obstacle for me is language, because to learn Chinese takes a whole lifetime, and at my age it’s not going to happen. So I’m just trying to explore what can be done, and maybe others will take it up. There are some good prospects, but right now things are still in the beginning stages.
I was in Mayapur in early 2014. We had quite a large gathering called ISKCON Leaders Sanga. There were some 800 leaders from around the world. Two years ago they had this and it was half that number, around 400 devotees. The focus is on what they call strategic planning, and I think there are a lot of good initiatives going on. I suppose in one sense you could say there’s everything there on that level, it’s being taken care of, devotees are becoming engaged in different ways. They had many, many seminars, many of them were focused on one or another sort of outreach and that’s as it should be. I guess my thought when I was there was where is the seminar on “inreach”? What about going inside? What about aids for devotees to more deeply cultivate Krishna consciousness? And of course we see that such things are going on. In recent years we have japa retreats, especially by Sacinandana Swami and Bhurijan Prabhu, and others have developed these retreats. I think that’s a very good sign, very necessary and devotees feel that need. I think there’s also a need for more systematic education projects. Shastric education is there. But how many devotees are actually getting that? I think it is still a very small percentage of the wider population of devotees. So I think there could be more of all the good things for more devotees.
I guess one starting point is to recognize that conflict is going to be there because we are individual human beings. Prabhupada said that having different opinions is not a bad thing. It shows that we are persons, and as personalists, there can be differences. Sometimes we become too quickly anxious that if there are different opinions, then something is wrong. But I would sometimes think, Well, can’t we just have space for the different opinions? Do we have to come up with only one opinion about this particular issue or can we have different approaches? We talk a lot about unity in diversity. Some anxiety I think is there, whenever we encounter some conflict. Usually the problem has to do with communication. We’re not very good at communicating and listening. It’s not such a complicated thing to improve communication, it takes a little time, takes a little humility, patience. It means actually listening to the other person and actually exploring where there may be some truth in what they’re saying, even if we may disagree. It takes a few basic communication skills, which we don’t have to invent ourselves. Others have done so much in these kinds of practices. We can take advantage. I think also to allow ourselves to be in a state of uncertainty. Usually when some issue comes up, we’re in anxiety because we need to come to some conclusion – it’s either like this or it’s like that. It seems to me that the more beneficial position can be: “Well, we have different opinions about this, so let us reflect. Let us not rush to conclusions.” One reason we think we need to have single conclusions is, as an international mission, we value uniformity and that’s natural, because we think if new people are coming, and they hear this opinion and then that opinion, they’ll become confused; their confusion may lead them to give up the process. Well, maybe that’s so. Or maybe they’ll appreciate that we have allowance and space for different opinions. That’s another possibility. That we don’t all become like automatons – we all say the same thing and think the same thing and do the same thing, all the time the same thing. That could not be very attractive for many people.
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
Her Grace Urmila Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi warned us regarding the dangers of focusing 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi asked all participants to make a list of their needs for their projects, so that everyone is prepared for the sharing exercise later on.
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.
Krishna Kshetra Dasa 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 Dasa 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.
Raghupati Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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.
Dina Dayal Dasa 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 Dasa, 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 Dasa 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.
Matsyavatara Prabhu and Ananta Deva Dasa introduced us to the Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta (Ananta Deva Dasa introduced us to the Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta (CSB), which has a huge impact, especially in Italy. It was founded by Matsyavatar Dasa (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.
Maha-vidya Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi, 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi encouraged the attendees to reflect on the elements that could enhance our attitudes and understanding while trying to convey messages.
Bhakti Rasa Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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.
Speaking in name of the Ministry of Education, Ramgiridhari Dasa 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 Dasa, 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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.
Ananta Deva Dasa 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.
Building on Maha-vidya Devi Dasi’s discourse on the invention of letters and the need for personal communication, Urmila Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi 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 Devi Dasi’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.
Sesa Dasa, 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 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 Dasa 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 Dasa 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 Dasa truly hopes that these conferences can inspire and encourage those in the field.
Thank you, Maha-vidya Devi Dasi, 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 Devi Dasi, for putting together a program and organizing the speakers. Thank you, Sridama, for organising the arrivals and funds. Thank you, Sesa, for donating 1000 dollars for this conference.
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,
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.
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.
VTE 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.
Thursday 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
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 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.
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”.
* 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 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,
More about the program:
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.
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.
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.
Our 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:
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.