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THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES is a 3-year study program validated by the University of Chester which offer a broad and yet profound understanding of Vaisnava heritage, culture and theology…(Read more)
DIPLOMA IN VAISNAVA LEADERSHIP AND MISSION is a program designed specifically for those striving to contribute to ISKCON leadership and missionary work in all its aspects from a Vaisnava point of view….(Read more)
TRANSCENDENTAL ART SEMINAR is an intensive biennial art program where, during at least 6 hours of the course daily, one can get a complete experience of art and producing a painting, as well as hints on how to have a deeply spiritual experience while doing it…(Read more)
Transcendental Art Seminar is an intensive biennial art program where, during at least 6 hours of the course daily, one can get a complete experience of art and producing a painting, as well as hints on how to have a deeply spiritual experience while doing it. All levels of advancement are welcome. This year the dates are September 1-14.
“All I can say,” said Krishen Kanadia (from London, UK, participant of the seminar in 2013), “is that the experience was very sacred, something to treasure. To meet the devotees who had preached to me through their artwork felt surreal, and they were supportive. A rich, fulfilling, inspiring experience. And a great way to meet other artists involved in Krishna consciousness. This is no exaggeration: these two weeks have been one of the biggest highlights of my spiritual life. The teachers showed us how to meditate on Krishna all the time in developing our paintings.”
Reflecting upcoming Bhaktivedanta College event in September Dhriti dasi (teacher) said: “We invite all devotional artists and those desiring to explore this amazing devotional art to join us for this two week intensive course. We will delve into the practical points of executing a painting, and then using those tools to paint and express our devotional vision.”
Teachers: Ram Das and Dhrti, based in California, are disciples of Srila Prabhupada, famous and celebrated painters of the BBT for decades. Their art is admired by devotees and the public alike. It is our great honor that we will be able to host these artists for the second time whose fine works can be found in almost any canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. Bhaktivedanta College invited these artists to offer their seminar in 2013 (previously hosted several times by the BBT in Vrindaban, India), and the teachers’ high level of expertise won over the students.
The ISKCON Studies Institute cordially invites you to attend its upcoming conference at Radhadesh (Belgium) from May 22-24, 2015.
The ISI Conference 2015 features an outstanding array of academic scholars from around the world, who will gather to present their research on this year’s conference theme- Devotional Ethics, Community, and Practice in Caitanya Vaisnavism.
The 2015 conference schedule is finalized and a list of speakers and presentation topics is included below. Presentation abstracts are also available HERE.
Space is limited, so please register as soon as possible by completing and submitting the following online form HERE. The deadline for registration is 30April 2015.
The ISKCON Studies Institute is committed to cultivating scholarly discussions in conference forums that cherish a devotionally respectful and academically rigorous ethos meant to foster critical thinking in relation to concerns of ISKCON and its broader cultural, religious, and intellectual environments.
We look forward to seeing you at the conference. For further questions and inquiries, please write to
Mahalaxmi is a graduated Student (BA from Chester) at the Bhaktivedanta College, Radhadesh. She received her title in 2013.
What did you do after graduating from Bhaktivedanta College in 2013?
“I went to Vrindavana and took Bhakti Vaibhava courses there, and it was great.
After that I came to Belgrade, where I am now working on opening a cultural outreach center called Bhakti Hub. I also organized a Bhakti Shastri course here, and I co-run two new sangas here.”
Are you planning to stay in Serbia?
“I do not have fixed plans to do that. We will see how the services here go. It takes time to seriously try, so I am taking that time here.”
Do you remember your time at Bhaktivedanta College?
“Yes, I do. Especially the conversations. That was a time of intense
philosophical exchange with some wonderful devotees, and I really miss that. I even missed it in Vrindavan while doing Bhakti Vaibhava, simply because that was something different. In our classroom in the college, there was a very special atmosphere, because we could and we did ask and discuss any question.
We were very open-minded and broad-minded, all the while keeping our devotional goal and identity in mind. This atmosphere was created by our teachers. They were not at all afraid to dig beneath the surface, to poke, to disturb, and to test the limits and depth of our understanding. We had to grow.
And the group, the students, had bright intelligence. They were not afraid to ask questions. We never played a false humility or an artificial shyness. Our courses were varied and interesting. There were so many topics: the very important topic of the significance for the development of ISKCON, the world situation and our place in all that, and we went into great detail with some of them. At moments it was so brilliant, you wanted to clap.
And we all did service together and lived together, and there was a lot of joking and a lot of chanting. So it was a good balance. It was a very dynamic time.
If you ever do Master’s course, I am coming.”
We are happy to announce the 2015 Communications Seminar to be held in Radhadesh, Belgium from 30th May till 2nd June 2015.
In 2015 we are having an international seminar since we are planning to invite devotees from other continents to discuss important issues and international strategies. The seminar will be followed by a communications course from the 3rd of June till the 6th June. The course will be given by HG Anuttama prabhu.
The main topic for this year’s seminar is “Preaching, Undue Inluence, Conversion and Religious Freedom“. There will be several experts on the topics as well as Senior Devotees like Anuttama, Shaunaka Rsi and Gauri prabhus.
We will discuss 50th anniversary plans and other strategic plans for ISKCON worldwide.
There will 15 minutes reports by national representatives on (only) communications achievements and challenges.
There will be an outing in Belgium and Brussels with interaction with NGO’s or European Parliament, Interfaith visit, harinam, lunch, shopping.
The price will be subsidized and will be only 100 Euros for the seminar and 100 euros for the course including food, shared rooms and outing. If devotees come to both it will be only 180 Euros.
Please register with Nanda Priya dasi.
Looking forward to seeing you end of May.
What is the purpose of the new Kirtan Course at Radhadesh and what is it`s significance for devotees?
Krishna Kshetra Swami: Kirtan is our most essential activity. We have sravanam – hearing and kirtanam – chanting or glorifying the Lord. This is the movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in late 15th, early 16th century Bengal. He spread the chanting of the holy name, especially the Hare Krishna mantra all over India and it`s now being spread all over the world. In order to help facilitate this spreading process, musical ability in the practice of kirtan, following the tradition of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Bengali kirtan is very much wanted. Srila Prabhupada himself had some of his devotees actually rehearsing, practicing together. His intention was that they then travel worldwide and perform kirtan in an attractive way. So the Kirtan Course is a beginning attempt for Krishna devotees in the West to get some systematic training in this very nice tradition. It has run for the first time this summer in Radhadesh, Belgium with 10 to 12 students, devotees staying for a period of seven weeks, engaging fulltime in practice with resident teachers who are very qualified in their own musical practice of singing, playing instruments, especially mridanga, karatals and harmonium.
In addition to the regular teachers who were there keeping everyone engaged throughout the day, there are visiting teachers. I was asked to be one of those visiting teachers for a period of five days and my function was to give a kind of overview of different elements of Indian music in the broadest sense. So we spent some time looking at the ancient Vedic tradition, out of which classical music comes. Then we considered north Indian and south Indian music, we played some samples of the different styles. We also looked at some of the folk traditions of Indian music including dance, the Rajastani practice and Kerala, some dance drama from Kerala. Then we spent time focusing more on the area of the tradition that we follow, the Bengal tradition, where we focused also on different famous poets and saints of the bhakti tradition widely understood – that means across from South India to North, from the Alvars to Mirabai, to Tukaram and Surdas and so on – in order to give a very broad picture of the wider and extremely rich tradition of Indian music.
It seemed that for a first time the venture was quite successful. The response of the students was very positive and these were a broad variety of students. Some older, some younger. Some with more experience, some with less experience in music. I was told several times by the local teachers that the group, as a group, had worked very well together. They were all very happily studying, learning, experiencing and practicing together. They all felt challenged, whether they were beginners or more advanced, to progress from whatever position they were. So, I think all in all it`s very promising and we`re looking forward to this program expanding in the future.
Monday 24th – Friday 28th January 2014
Facilitator: Yadunandana Swami
Cost: 79 Euros, excluding meals and accommodation*
This six-day intensive course is highly participatory and suitable to a broad spectrum of devotees with a wide range of teaching experience. It is particularly appropriate for devotees involved in training. Preachers, managers, gurukula teachers, communications specialists and others interested in systematic training and education will also find it of immense value and interest.
Students will be taught mainly in groups, with a focus on interactive, reflective and experiential learning. The tutor uses short, interactive lectures backed with PowerPoint Presentations and extensive use of flipcharts. There will also be opportunity for individual reflection, peer learning, pair work, role play, and group tasks followed by diverse means of feedback. Learning is reinforced by the tutor modelling and exemplifying excellent teaching/facilitation skills. Personal mentoring and group mediation are used as needed.
The features of this course are as follows:
For bookings, please contact Mangala Candrika Dasi
Email: email@example.com or tel: + 32 86 32 32 77
* Please make separate arrangements with the Radhadesh Guesthouse.
Contact them through email on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meals are available at either the Radhadesh temple or the Restaurant.
Written by: Madhava Smullen from ISKCON News.
Video done by: Gour Govinda & Suravarya.
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.